The ceramics diploma project presented by Timothée Maire (Switzerland, 1991) at the CEPV (Vevey professional training centre) was an ambitious one. This young sculptor designed a huge bust of a gorilla that only just fitted into the centre’s kiln. But why a gorilla and not a chimpanzee or a baboon? We’ll let its creator explain: "Because we’re related to it, because it’s huge, massive, powerful, because it inspires fear and the sense of an irresistible force emanates from it - we can’t even begin to imagine the damage that those colossal arms could do if it were to strike us. But it’s also an extremely intelligent, touching and sensitive creature, with a highly ambiguous expression, oscillating between kindness and animosity: so human!"
Figurative representation, both human and animal, is inseparable from the history of ceramics. The modelled figure even preceded the utilitarian conception of ceramics – the bowl, the container. In 18th century Germany, the first monumental porcelain pieces produced by the Meissen factory were of animals (including a gibbon), designed for the Japanese Palace owned by Augustus the Strong, the Elector of Saxony. In contemporary ceramics, sculpture consistently occupies a pre-eminent position, relentlessly questioning the human condition.
Yet the sources for Timothée Maire's gorilla come more from film or popular imagery than its ceramic precursors. In addition to its massive form, it’s the gorilla’s eyes and its ambivalent expression that capture our attention: is it friendly or wildly ferocious? Is it about to leap out at us or envelop us in its soft fur?
After taking pride of place in the entrance to the CEPV for several months, Rolph Kong will be stopping off at the Musée Ariana for a while before moving on to its next port of call.