Moulding her own world
Review by Farah Dianputri

“Don’t touch the artwork” – That’s an implicit agreement you make when you enter an art exhibition.
You’d understand my immediate reaction on entering Tan Yi Hua’s first solo exhibition at putticoop, What if the World Was Made of Clay?, when that was not the case.

In this quiet, hidden enclave of the Zhongshan Building, in Kuala Lumpur, was a table populated by ceramic cups and vases, of bulbous forms, the colours running across a gradient of muted greys, yellows, blues and burnt umber. Miniature cut-outs of the artist herself could be found hiding behind vases or perched on the rim of a vase. My friend and I made it our mission to touch and hold every piece of ceramic.

There was the cool slippery glaze that just let your fingers slide through. Each gentle rib of the cup became like seamless waves that moulded to fit the shape of your hand. There’s the more stone-like texture, unglazed on the outside, some with swirling marble patterns of two types of clay intertwining. A quick peek with the help of my phone light revealed a transparent glaze shimmer on the inside, impossibly pristine. When you rub the palms of your hands against the surface it feels like the finest grain of sandpaper. Another vase has bits of gravel embedded which gave me the feeling of bare feet on tarmac.

Tan had travelled to Jingdezhen, the ancient pottery capital of the world to learn the craft. She later took a leap of faith in 2018 and founded her own pottery studio in Kajang, 22 Craft Studio, where she encourages sharing and expression using pottery craft in the local community.

The works are a harmonious ensemble of the ceramicist’s mastery of her craft. There are 200 pieces of impossibly smooth pottery handmade by the artist herself in the span of a few months. It’s a combination of her unified aesthetic and being unafraid to relish in chance and alteration throughout the process of making, which makes the installation compelling worldbuilding. Like a modern cityscape, there is a desire to create order and harmony, yet the true flourishing of a city depends on its organic growth and malleability in the face of change.

What if the World was Made of Clay?
is unpretentious and unique in how it gets its message across. The central question of the exhibition invites the visitor to take reality as a ball of clay in their own hands. Even as we are swarmed by uncertainty and anxiety, spinning round and round like a turntable, our reality is still uniquely our own. We do have the power to mould and meet the resistance we face, not to fight it but to channel it, morphing it to something else.
For more of the artist’s works and studio: @22tutucraft.

‘What if the world was made of clay’ is on display until Jan 3, 2021 at putticoop, in The Zhongsham Building, 80A Jalan Rotan, Kampung Attap.

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Farah Dianputri is a writer under the CENDANA-ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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