Clay Gulgong 2016: a novice guide (part 4)
The final days brought a noticeably more relaxed programme (and possibly a more relaxed approach to its mandates). This was no bad thing, as information levels had reached saturation point.
Because of this, and because by now you’d seen pretty much everyone else in all shades of intoxication (even if you didn’t remember fully, due to your own inebriation) a general sense of affinity seemed to settle over Red Hill like early morning fog. By Friday Clay Gulgong felt more like a relaxed party full of interesting friendlies, than a conference with stars and the rest.
So it was fitting that the last talk of the week, by Ian Jones, would be in this community-togetherness vein. Ian makes impressively colourful wood-fired pieces using a porcelain blend developed by his partner Moraig McKenna. (Indeed, from Ian’s pictures, she should be up for consideration as a Master herself next time.) It was funny because, in retrospect, his talk touched on many of the same themes of the opening night – the history of Clay Gulgong, the importance of the sense of community it fosters and the desire to preserve and nurture that into the future.
Hearing this for the second time, and on the back of the weeks’ experiences, made me less inclined to dismiss it as part of the self aggrandising hyperbole that hung around the fringes of the event (and to an even greater degree, pervades the art world generally) and more inclined to see how truly important Clay Gulgong was to the gathering of people; not just on a professional level but a personal one. The in-jokes that I’d resented because they made me feel excluded took on a more benevolent hue, recast as testament to the almost familial feeling that appeared to hold such a wide array of people together with common purpose.
Probably there could have been some sort of semi-religious solemn kiln-lighting at this point, but in true artist form, there was copious drinking under the stars and dancing up an actual (dust) storm instead.
Probably just as fitting.
Next morning, with sore heads under brilliant blue skies, we witnessed the age-old struggle of returning one’s tent to its impossibly small original casing and the occasional muttered resolution not to sleep for a week on the ground again (such resolutions are made to be broken).
Saving the ANU bus dinner stop at the surprisingly exceptional Cowra Seafood, the last stop for the day was the by-this-point-almost-mythological-Morning View farm outside Gulgong. Almost mythological because, of course, Morning View was where Clay Gulgong began - over two decades and untold bottles of wine ago.
Almost mythological or not, Morning View is certainly one of the loveliest farms I’ve ever been to. Nestled partway up a rise and with 260-degree views back across the vast golden valley, it is a motley collection of cottages and bunkhouses, workrooms and kiln-sheds, hexagonal libraries and galleries; all huddled together with bougainvillea, succulents and bamboo. It really is the most-lovely-least-farm ever.
Oh and there’s a TREEHOUSE.
With four actual walls and an actual paned window.
I’m not sure how I forgot about that since I was so smitten with it on the day that I was prepared to try and scale the tree to gain egress as for some strange reason they had removed the ladder permitting access.
Back down on the ground, a carnival atmosphere had developed: Cameron Williams was on the wheel throwing ludicrously large pieces, Simon Reece was playing with earth-moving equipment to compress his multi-tonne clay cube installation and the mobile pizza oven had arrived to feed the masses.
Capitalising on this descent into frivolity was Michael Keighery, who appeared, like the Good Witch from Hangovers Past, decked out in leopard print and tulle topped with a military coat and a red glitter hairpiece that almost certainly escaped the set of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, to announce that the fashion show was about to commence.
I will admit, when a man I hadn’t met approached me in the pub on the second night and asked if I wanted to ‘model in a fashion show’, I was not a little sceptical.
But here it was. And here we were (without me modelling, thank god) and there was Keith clutching a giant clay phallus and wearing a crown. And there was a simulacra Jesus from Queensland, heroically meeting his fate as a giant raw pot (thrown by Cameron) was placed upon his brow. And there was a modern dance number involving so much slippery slip that it must surely have slipped into every nook and cranny. And there were more entries and messier, and the crowd roared and my stomach hurt from laughing almost as much as my cheeks hurt from grinning. And I realised, in the murk and mayhem, that a bunch as mad and creative as this wasn’t such a bad thing to be part of, at all.
While you will sadly have to wait at least two years to partake in the full Clay Gulgong experience, you can see selected bits and bobs which were on display at the Best of British exhibition on now at Mansfield Ceramics, Darlinghurst Sydney