International or Internationalism?

Article excerpt

FOR THE LAST FEW DECADES, CERAMISTS HAVE been fortunate with a number of accessible international opportunities. Unlike venues of 'high art' that are predominantly by invitation, international exhibitions for ceramics are primarily open to everyone, even at the highest level. There are four major international ceramics competitions: Premio Faenza: International Competition of Contemporary Ceramic Art in Faenza, Italy held internationally since 1963, The International Ceramics Competition Mino, Japan established in 1986, International Ceramics Biennale in Korea established in 2001 and Taiwan Ceramics Biennial since 2004 (previously Taiwan Golden Ceramics Award).

Being selected by jurors is 'all' that it takes to participate. Of course, this is easier said than done. At their best, international competitions have reached more than 3000 applicants, having an average somewhere between 100 to 200 works in each venue. I have been applying since I was a student in the mid 1990s. Of course, I have been rejected far more than accepted. Early on, rejections became a common part of my artistic practice. The most recent experience, however, applying for the 9th International Ceramics Competition Mino, Japan is so unique that it made me wonder about the true nature of the event. International competitions always have national undertones of the countries (or the regions) in which they are held. It is logical that organisers want to promote their national and local artists. Looking at the statistics of the awards and selected works gives a good insight into how 'international' an event truly is. Of course there are also practical considerations. Simply, the closer you are, the easier it is to deal with transportation of fragile and large scale works. On the other end, the relevant question to pose is how far can the definition of 'international' get stretched before it becomes an empty phrase and a gimmick.

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The International Competition Mino has been a leading international exhibition in Japan. Until 2011, its prestige was somewhat illustrated by the fact that it was juried based on the actual works. Transportation costs to Japan were covered by the organisers in order to attract artists from abroad. The majority, however, were eliminated during judging and many artists faced steep costs for return shipping. It was a risk and an investment one had to consider and take in order to compete. This year the rules changed, specifically regarding how the show was juried, making it similar to other competitions that are based entirely on images.

The procedure had three stages: the preliminary screening involved only images; the first stage considered images and a written work concept, while the final stage that was to be focused exclusively on the awards was held in Japan based on the actual works. All works passing the first stage that arrived undamaged to Japan were supposed to be featured in an exhibition, with the exception of works that significantly differed from the images used in previous stages of judging. Shipping work only for the purpose of judging was no longer suppose to be a practice. It seems, however, that this was simply a bait to entice people to enter, adjusted as soon as the works arrived.

I was excited that one of my works passed both stages of judging and I sent it to Japan. A few days after final phase of judging for the awards I was eager to see the results, only to be surprised that my work was not on the list. I thought it was simply an error so I sent an inquiry to the organisers. The first indication of what actually happened came, surprisingly, from the transportation company that handles this event. The email was short: "To whom it may concern. We will send back your art-work. The art-work is returned by weight charge collect (Cash on delivery). Will you be all right. Thank you and best regards. Signed: Tadashi (Teddy) Yoshikawa; Yamato Logistics Co, Ltd. …