POTTERY FOR PERSPECTIVE
A CONVERSATION BETWEEN SARAH WEINMAN AND YAEL SHOMRONI Sarah Weinman: Why do you like working with pottery? Which themes does your work address? How did you come to be a ceramicist? Yael Shomroni: I’m mostly self-taught, and I just had a feeling about ceramics from the time I was a child. When I was in elementary school in Jerusalem, the teachers picked a few kids who were talented in art to take painting classes at a local art museum. In the corner of the painting room was a pottery wheel and all I wanted was to work on the wheel, but I wasn’t allowed. In the late 1980s, after I came to the U.S., I took two years of pottery classes at St. Louis Community College - Meramec. Then I transferred to Maryville University and took pottery classes there. In the early 2000s, I took classes at Craft Alliance. That was when my career as a ceramicist took off. I started to see myself as a professional potter. SW: What kind of objects do you enjoy creating? YS: I like functional pottery, which is the term for useful items. I like art you can use. I make a lot of liquor containers, which also relate back to my life in Israel. To pay for college there, I worked as a bartender in Jerusalem in inclusive bars. This was at the end of the 1970s, a brief moment when Palestinians and Israelis got along. None of those bars exist anymore. The liquor bottles I make evoke those amazing places and amazing people. The containers actually have very little to do with alcohol itself. The shapes of my pieces have to do with my childhood. The pottery in Israeli museums is mostly ancient and my pieces evoke the shapes of this ancient pottery.
SW: Who are some artists who inspire you? YS: I like the pottery shapes and glazes that Bede Clark uses. Nick DeVries makes functional pieces which are also art. Other potters include Laura Ross, Sophie Cook, and Nicholas Bernard. SW: What do you hope viewers take away from your work? YS: The best thing is when someone tells me they use my work all the time. My work doesn’t only look good, but it’s functional too. SW: How does being Jewish influence your work? YS: We were raised atheist, which is very Israeli, but being Jewish is a cultural thing. I relate more to Jon Stewart than to the AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] people. Judaism isn’t a religion for me, but a culture. I do need to hear Hebrew when I work, and always listen to Hebrew music or talk radio. When I hear that language, I can connect to myself better. The effect it has on my work is amazing. Immigration is a hugely emotional thing. It doesn’t matter if you wanted to do it or not. People deal with this in different ways. Some ignore the past completely, while others remain in the past – they only have friends from the old country, for example. I dance between these two extremes, and language is one aspect I keep. SW: Tell me about your choice of colors for your pieces. I use a lot of blues and greens. Nature is a huge part of my life and these are the colors of my childhood. When we lived in Tel Aviv we were always by the sea.
Yael Shomroni, Happy Wine Set (photo credit: Lon Brauer)
Also, Arab villagers in Jerusalem paint their houses blue and green to keep ghosts away. I never know which color combinations I’ll get. I use two glazes and a stain for the blue, and then fire the items in my kiln. Each batch turns out differently from the others. SW: Why are you drawn to vessels? YS: This shape is stuck somewhere in my childhood. Also, it’s challenging to make a vessel with a neck and I’m drawn to the challenge. I’m drawn to the form itself, and to other potters who make vessels. The form of a vessel is ancient and I’m attracted to that. Also, a lot of my work is oval-shaped, feminine, and I’m drawn to that as well. SW: Talk about your life in Israel – are you from there? When did you come to the US? YS: I lived in Jerusalem for eight years between the ages of ten and twenty. I spent two years on a kibbutz. Being Israeli doesn’t have a huge effect on my work, but the Israeli occupation of Palestine does. I feel guilty about it and try to do something about it. That’s why I make my containers, to evoke peace. Israelis start learning English in third grade. I don’t really have a language barrier, but I express myself better in Hebrew.
FO·MO ‘fōmō/ noun informal
1. anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.
Amelia Jones discusses Impossible Wants with Maura Pellettieri and Laurencia Strauss Amelia Jones: Maura Pellettieri invited me to her event Impossible Wants Tile Tour and Poetry Reading last November and I had to work, or I was too tired, or something, and I didn’t go. Afraid of missing out completely I asked Maura if I could write about Impossible Wants, a collaborative effort started by Laurencia Strauss. Strauss, whose interdisciplinary practice often involves the participation of the public, invited Pellettieri, a fiction writer, to collaborate, and together they put together a team of poets and artists to engage with the city as well as the City of St. Louis Street Department. The project took on a life of its own and lives in the city of St. Louis in the form of hand-made tiles embedded in the city streets. 11 ALLTHEARTSTL.COM FALL 2015
Maura Pellettieri: Impossible Wants is a collaboration between Laurencia and myself and it’s an experiment in that it’s an evolving series of exchanges between a lot of different types of creators in the city. It was important to figure out how all of these collaborations would work together, so the project was constantly evolving. Laurencia Strauss: This project is investigating vulnerability as a catalytic gesture in public space and how that encourages extensive interdependencies between self and other and self and the city. One of the groups that is important to us is the Situationist International (SI). They were involved in protesting social structures. They took the stones from the street to create holes in the road so it was hard for ARTIST INTERVIEWS
cars to pass. One of the phrases the Situationists used was, ‘beneath the paving stones, the beach!’ For me that phrase is for thinking about what is beneath the surface of the city and what are our unexpressed wants and desires. It’s talking about materiality but it also has a social component to it. I see this old city (St. Louis) as a place of shared spaces that witness our learning and growing (as individuals and as a city) across generations. The Situationists were primarily a pedestrian movement. Another group we referenced is Hybrid Center, a Tokyo- based group. The artists dressed up in medical garb and scrubbed the road and inspected it. People passing by thought that they were part of the city crew. It’s really like an absurd