The Gulf War, which has persisted since 1991, was the starting point for May Ayres series of ‘ceramic’ works. Soon after the beginning of the second period of specifically the War in Iraq May Ayres began to make small sculptures which drew their imagery from stories and images of the conflict which were broadcast on TV and printed in daily newspapers. She did this to exhaust her anger about the extreme level of suffering experienced by the ordinary people living in unimaginably dangerous conditions that modern warfare can inflict. May’s empathy with the misery of defenceless people suffering at the hands of the worlds imperialist powers is expressed in the detail of ceramic forms of broken people. Their stories and quotes from ministerial speeches are imprinted into their very surface – as if branded by the aggressor.
May’s mix of imagined suffering with factual evidence of the human condition in such an extreme situation as war is difficult to look at, it’s not an exhibition of work which can be viewed lightly. To walk amongst such abject figures which rage against ceaseless atrocity actioned in the name of ‘peace’ by the worlds democratically elected governments shames us and reminds us of our individual impotence.
The combination of exaggeration and decoration in the ceramic works also straddles danger. They veer towards the satirical through greatly exaggerated forms which express a character or physical condition. The delicate drawings and textual content transferred into the clay make them highly decorative. And we gaze on them and then realise that we are looking at a child who has been physically deformed by shrapnel or a young girl who carries a Kalashnikov and pointedly eyes the UK’s prime minister who at the same time is oblivious to both the doves of peace imprinted on her back and the girl.
May’s most recent exhibition “Stuff Happens” may be the last show of her large scale ceramic works. Not because of the subject matter but because of the medium’s unsustainable costs to produce and store. The body of works shown in “Ceramic Pictures (2011) and “Stuff Happens” (2016) is impressive and a hugely valuable contribution to our understanding of what happens when we do nothing.
The publication which accompanies the exhibition: ‘War of Aggression – fired clay sculptures” with a foreword written by John Molyneux, is published by AND Association ISBN 978-0-9533977-2-3 • Designed and printed by ArtZone – available from AND Association (www.and.org.uk) or from May Ayres (www.mayayres.com).
The Exhibition “Stuff Happens” showed from 2 Sept – 6 October 2016 at the Belfry, St John on Bethnal Green, London E2 9PA
An accompanying book “May Ayres • Ceramic Pictures” published by AND Association, (ISBN 978-0-9533977-1-6 • Designed and printed by ArtZone) is available from AND Association (www.and.org.uk) or from May Ayres (www.mayayres.com).