Reinventing Consumption, Preliminary Explorations

The Inventor’s Room presents images and objects related to the invention and subsequent exploration of the vacuum forming process for wet ceramic material; the intention was to develop an invention as a means or path to a tangentially related and unforeseen discovery. The installation offers a point of access into the physical process of the invention while also immortalizing the discovery in an overstated museological display intended to artificially boost its importance and value to civilization. The Inventor’s Room begins with a focus on the approximately 750 initial experiments done in the Netherlands at the EKWC residency. In The Inventor’s Room, original forms like a telephone, kettle and light bulb casts are presented in vitrines. A small selection of the objects created during the initial Dutch experiments are presented on pedestals and the walls of the room. Some of the more visually compelling photographs documenting the experiments are presented as back-lit photographs.

Artist Ian Johnston brings his architecture and ceramic background to Reinventing Consumption, a dazzling installation in three parts. The first section, The Inventor’s Room, presents artifacts related to his original experiments and investigations into a vacuum-forming process for ceramics. The Antechamber is a repeating-motif ceramic environment crated through this process, which evokes the massive scale of consumer goods manufacturing today. And finally, The Chamber is an inflating and deflating piece which shrouds and reveals an enormous mass of household items diverted from the waste stream in Medicine Hat.

Johnston comments that although his invention of the vacuum forming process for ceramics is unique, his actual intention in developing it was simply to see what would happen, to open up new opportunities for his art practice. And after seeing 12 year-old Alistair Aiken’s game Inv-Ento-Opoly, he realized that his purpose had shifted to the idea of invention itself. Through the invention process, there are always surprises and unexpected results, and for Johnston, this proved to be the possibility of radically adapting the ceramic vacuum forming process to create The Chamber.

In the exhibition, Johnston interweaves a critique, both ironic and earnest, of our human obsession with glamorizing and inflating the unimportant, along his exploration of invention and development of remarkable forms from mundane origins. Mesmerizing, intriguing and sobering, Reinventing Consumption brings home to viewers, as Johnston comments, “the paradoxical relationship between limited resources and seemingly unlimited appetite.”

Statement from Joanne Marion, curator Esplanade Art Gallery, June 2013