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July 30, 2021 – October 03, 2021

We Do Not Work Alone

Artist Multiple Artists

Inquiry What is Progress?

Featuring Works by:

Steven Brekelmans, Roy Caussy, John Charnetski, Kybor Dancer, Walter Dexter, Kay Dodd, Marty Gross/Mingei Film Archive, Hamada Shōji, Gordon Hutchens, Charmian Johnson, Kawai Kanjirō, Sam Kwan, Maria Martinez and Santana Martinez, Kate Metten, Wayne Ngan, Lari Robson, Akira Musho Tomita, Hiro Urakami, Laura Wee Láy Láq, and Gari Whelon.

Laura Wee Láy Láq
Sawdust fired ceramics
Photography: Sean Fenzl

We Do Not Work Alone activates Nanaimo Art Gallery’s collection of more than sixty-five ceramic works from BC through encounters with contemporary artists, craftspeople, and other cultural practitioners. The exhibition includes works by influential 20th century potters Kawai Kanjirō, Hamada Shōji, and Maria and Santana Martinez, films by Marty Gross/Mingei Film Archive, and new installations by artists Steven Brekelmans, Roy Caussy, Kate Metten, and Laura Wee Láy Láq.

Download our exhibition pamphlet before your visit to learn more about the works and ideas of We Do Not Work Alone.

Download Pamphlet Here

Throwing Castoffs (1 of 4)
Lucky Charms (An Endless Land, A New World)
Wayne Ngan

Special Exhibition Videos

Nanaimo Art Gallery Curator Jesse Birch, in conversation with Marty Gross, filmmaker and creator of Mingei Film Archive.

A Conversation with Marty Gross from Mingei Film Archive from Nanaimo Art Gallery on Vimeo.

Laura Wee Láy Láq speaks about her work, life, and career path in conversation with curator Jesse Birch at Nanaimo Art Gallery on September 18, 2021.

Laura Wee Láy Láq is an artist who has been working with clay for over fifty years. Her stunning and resonant forms are in dialogue with global contemporary ceramics while deeply connected to the land, the elements, and her Sto:lo and Kwakwaka’wakw communities. Laura’s work was featured in the exhibition We Do Not Work Alone (July 30 – October 3, 2021), at Nanaimo Art Gallery.

Thank you to Douglas Harding of StoryLife Films for recording and editing this video.

Artist Talk: Laura Wee Láy Láq from Nanaimo Art Gallery on Vimeo.

“Any work of art belongs to everyone, because it is whatever each person sees in it.” – Kawai Kanjirō

We Do Not Work Alone

The title comes from the writings of Japanese potter Kawai Kanjirō (1890-1966) who, along with fellow potter Hamada Shōji and art critic Yanagi Sōetsu, founded the Mingei movement, which championed everyday folk crafts made by generations of unknown artisans. For Kawai “we do not work alone” refers to a potter’s collaboration with the elements, and with previous generations of artists. This exhibition both celebrates and flips this perspective, considering pots themselves as social objects that come to life through relationships with users and viewers.  

Museum collections are often compared to graveyards. Divorced from context and out of sight, artworks can lose the vitality that made them compelling in the first place. This critique is highly accurate when applied to ceramic vessels. When they enter into the care of a museum or art gallery, they are usually stripped of their original purposes. Vases are devoid of flowers, teapots remain dry, cups avoid lips, casserole dishes are never heated, and jars only contain air. 

In We Do Not Work Alone, however, ceramics that have been donated to the Nanaimo Art Gallery collection will be presented in an interactive “Library” where pots can be held, vases will contain flowers, and tea will occasionally be served. Pottery librarians from wide ranging perspectives will be on hand to share and discuss works by John Charnetski, Kybor Dancer, Walter Dexter, Kay Dodd, Gordon Hutchens, Charmian Johnson, Sam Kwan, Wayne Ngan, Lari Robson, Akira Musho Tomita, Hiro Urakami, Laura Wee Láy Láq, and Gari Whelon.   

Historical works in the archive section have to remain in cases, but we hope they can also be brought to life through imagination and conversation. As Kawai himself put it “Any work of art belongs to everyone, because it is whatever each person sees in it”. Often when we connect with others around art, different understandings emerge; we hope that conversations between visitors, artworks, and pot librarians will bring new perspectives to light. 

In the central area of the gallery new installations by artists Steven Brekelmans, Roy Caussy, Kate Metten, and Laura Wee Láy Láq were developed in dialogue with the works in the Gallery’s collection. Through their dynamic approaches to ceramics, the artists in this section complicate ideas of use and expand traditional understandings of the potential roles of pots in both galleries and homes. 

The exhibition will be accompanied by a market table where visitors can purchase and bring home wood fired pottery from Tozan Society, a local organization of potters who work together to steward a large noborigama kiln, and a smaller wood fired train kiln, in Cedar BC. 

We Do Not Work Alone is the second exhibition in Nanaimo Art Gallery’s inquiry, What is progress?



Nanaimo Art Gallery is situated in the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of Snuneymuxw First Nations, and we are grateful to operate on Snuneymuxw territory.