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Shary Boyle - Heartburnt Porcelain

Category: Portrait 25. March 2009

For a long time, porcelain was imported into Europe from Asia, obtaining values on the market comparable to gold. In 1708, alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger discovered the formula for hard porcelain. As a result, Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and Böttger's employer, allowed for the first porcelain manufacturer to be established in Meissen. The alchemist and his colleague at the factory were prohibited from traveling in order to prevent the spread of the formula. But by 1718, an arcanist fled from Saxony and smuggled the formula to Vienna, where another manufacturer was developed – Augarten, the first competitor of the Meissen porcelain.

Porcelain production in Meissen specialized early on in figurines, which were status symbols of the wealthy upper class at this time. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, production methods and tastes changed. The porcelain figures soon gained the notorious reputation of being a mass-produced form of kitsch. After a visit to the Meissen factory, Goethe wrote that "it is bizarre that one finds very little there that one would like to display in one's own household." On view "are only items which are undesirable and no longer sought after, of which there are not only one, but hundreds and thousands.”

Shary Boyle, a Toronto-based artist, began in the late '90s with sculptural work. Initially, she used a modeling compound for her figures that can be hardened in a regular oven. Inspired by a combination of mythology and current events, her figures are fantastic, fragile interpretations of the world. She uses the fantastic as a form of escaping from the banal and depressing elements of our daily existence, which, according to her, was how the whole theme of her work began. Almost ten years later, the artist continues to working with porcelain, having become an expert on the techniques of its production, as well as its history. Contrary to the modeling compound she used for her early work, porcelain is a medium rich in history. She therefore no longer creates these figures only from the material. They are part of a tradition which began in Europe in Meissen, and whose symbolically strong references the artist uses.

For the development of her knowledge of the techniques, Boyle visited the porcelain factory in Meissen. The lace ornamentation of her porcelain is originally a Meissen invention. She utilizes this delicate detail in the representation of contradiction and hybridity. The content of her work is about creating a space for what is less accepted, turned out of order, and uncontrollable. The lace ornamentation covers and runs amok over the figures, whose limbs are often wrongly attached or cut off. Biedermeier-like figurines that seem to be frozen in a humble stance stand beheaded or with detached limbs, exhibiting wounds and cuts, their faces showing desire, but also sustained injustice and pain. The beauty of the medium and its rather conservative tradition becomes a study in contrasts: for example, how a veil lays a delicate lace shroud over everything and seems like it's trying to cover that which is erupting from within. (wh/jn)

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