‘Difference’ is a group of 24 jugs each about 20cm tall displayed together. The jugs were made at the same time, with identical materials, and fired in a single firing of the wood kiln. The varying glaze effects come from wood ash floating through the kiln. The passage of the ash is affected by the particular position of the jug in the kiln. Those that are directly in the path of the flame will be exposed to more ash and heat. Those jugs are darker on the side facing the fire. Jugs that are more sheltered by other pots in the firing are a lighter colour being less exposed to the full ferocity of the flame. This work was purchased by the Aratoi Museum of Art and History Masterton, and is in their collection. The comparison with the circumstances of people under differing conditions of experience (firing) is quite direct. I am interested in the emphasis western society puts on difference when what we have much more in common than distinction from each other.
Often the establishment of identity precludes the notion of commonality. Even so, we construct this world of distinctions using a common cultural, experiential and inherited language. The tendency to cultivate exclusive social memberships that thrive on the distinction from others is only modified by the concentrated focus of intellectual understanding and the use of empathy. In order to overcome the barriers of ‘otherness’ one has to actively imagine the situation of the other as being comparable to oneself. This focus on difference and the difficulty in understanding the other is the basis of most personal and international conflict. Indeed the attempt to create distinctions and clear definition of a particular social membership is the basis of fundamentalism, persecution and injustice. One only has to think of the multiple racial, sectarian, gender and other cultural conflicts that beset contemporary society to find examples of the destructive inability to embrace otherness as a part of our human condition.
Difference tries to challenge the tendency to look for features that encourage the idea of distinction by offering the option that difference can become part of commonality. When the viewer looks at this group of jugs he/she is faced with the clear choice of ordering the collection on some basis of preference or seeing the array as representative of the diversity of what jugs can be. A selection on the basis of preference or style excludes the idea that all shapes, colours and sizes are equally legitimate and merely reflective of circumstances, and that our commonality resides in diversity.
The juxtaposition of the group and the individual was consolidated by the alternate display of paintings of individual figures and groups of people in the exhibition at large. Many of the paintings in ‘Crowds’ were part of this exhibition.