Ceramics Now Magazine: Collecting the edges is the name of your work exhibited at the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition. It’s a site-specific project that enhances the corners and the ceiling of the space, but it also enhances the edges of the exhibition. Tell us about this project.
: Collecting the edges is a response to the architecture of the two buildings one designed by Ponte and the other by libeskind. The work I made collects and focuses their shared dialogues of space and light across the whole museum site. When moving thought the two buildings you become aware of the complexity of architecture of both guiding you through the depth and layers of the buildings, my work responds to this. The soft rich clay dust has collected in the edges of these architectual details and staggering flights of space in both buildings. The clay acts as one authorship uniting the two buildings for the time of this exhibition. The pure red Colorado clay drifts describe the material alone, the way they ease up against the architecture describe the shapes and light in the building. The temporary nature of this work allows it to be at a different pace to the monumental structures it is formed by. It is a reminder of a moment in time, rather than a permanent demand.
Clare Twomey, Collecting the edges. 2011. Red clay dust. Site-specific project for the Denver Art Museum supported by Jana and Fred Bartlit. Photo by Jeff Wells
Ceramics Now Magazine: From all the artists exhibiting at the Overthrown, you seem to have an outstanding easiness of making site-specific installations. Where did you learn this? (Or is it learnable?)
Clare Twomey: When I left the RCA 15 years ago installation work in the field of the applied arts was in its infancy. This allowed me to create my own language of large scale and temporary works that did not become a competitive language but a meaningful exploration of potential within a material specific dialogue. Through critical appraisal and practical learning in visual languages and context the work I have made has developed and is nurtured by all the wonderful curators I have had the opportunity to work with. In all the projects I have worked on the curators and myself have only hoped to make new work that can question the current contexts of making and meaning within the structures of craft, clay and the wider visual arts. Part of this is my personal drive to make work that continues to challenge the work i have made and that I want to making the future. To learn this is to only look at a set of skills, to want to be immersed in this, is a personal undertaking that involves the kind of risk that is outside of a given learning environment.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Your previous works have been exhibited at Tate and Victoria and Albert Museum; how did you receive Gwen Chanzit’s invitation of exhibiting your works at the Denver Art Museum? With excitement, or with reservations? You can also tell us how long it took to come up with the project.
: When I was installing my work “a dark day in Paradise” 2010 at the Brighton Pavilion I received a phone call from Gwen Chanzit. I remember this clearly as I was sitting in a chair looking at a stuffed duck on a platter in the grand kitchen whilst also directing the composition of hundreds of black ceramic butteries from the ceiling in the great kitchen. Gwen talked with great passion and intelligence of the museums intention to focus on clay across the whole museum for the duration of summer 2011. This was an amazing idea that a whole museum and its collection would lay emphasis on one material. I was immediately taken with the ambition of this and Gwen’s invitation to make a new work across the whole museums architecture was second to none. This felt like it would be a defining moment to examine scale, architecture and languages across a broad site.
Clare Twomey, Collecting the edges. 2011. Red clay dust. Site-specific project for the Denver Art Museum supported by Jana and Fred Bartlit. Photo by Jeff Wells
My work would sit across the whole museum and also reach into the contemporary clay exhibition – Clay with out limits. The artists invited to this exhibition were all my contemporaries, they are the defining makers of our time, I was thrilled to have a shared dialogue in this context. It was a privilege to be invited to make a vast work and be in the context of such a ground breaking and enabling exhibition.
From London to Denver we shared books, pictures and architectural plans, Gwen visited my studio in London and I made a site visit to the Museum. When visiting a site one must arrive with a very open mind, I had on our first visit no planned ideas for the work. I made a response to the architecture I experienced and this was vastly influential in the development of the concept. The whole development happened in one year from invitation through to delivery in the museum. The museum was incredibly supportive of a challenging work.
Ceramics Now Magazine: What do you think about the exhibition, about it’s scale? Overall, there are 25 exhibiting artists.
Clare Twomey: The exhibition Clay without limits is a moment in time; the lead thinkers and makers of clay work in the USA and beyond responded with ambition to Gwen’s invitation. The nature of Gwen’s invitation is the core of the curatorial prowess of the exhibition. She approach the artists and gave them an opportunity to make works for the future, each artist I feel has not done what they did before, Gwen’s good curatorial sensibilities drew out the best work these makers have produced to date. It is a great exhibition.
The groups of artists that are bound together in this exhibition possibly for the first time, here they are seen as a movement. We can see in the landscape of making how these artists make sense as a group, a large group. We can see what happens at the centre what happens on the edges. If this show had been any smaller it may have replicated exhibitions that came before but its scale means that now we can see clearly where we are now and what the future holds.
: I am currently the artist residence at the Victoria &Albert Museum in London. This is a 6-month residence that is in a studio in the middle of the ceramics collection. The residency acts as live studio in the museum; I am working experimental works looking authenticity and multiples. The web pages that link to this are http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/people-pages/clare-twomey/ As research Fellow at the University of Westminster I have just started work on a 3-year project that investigates the history and impact of ceramic installation in museums. Within this project given funding from the AHRC myself and my fellow investigators Christie Brown and Edmund de Waal will be publishing works, a website and a collection of texts. The next fully formed work that will be on exhibit is that for an Art Museum in Bergen, Permanenten The West Norway Museum of Decorative Art. For the exhibition Thing Tang Trash-Up cycling in Contemporary Ceramics. This work is a vast work that spreads from the grand entrance to the main exhibition gallery.
Born in 1968, UK, Clare Twomey lives and works in London, UK.
Clare Twomey is a British artist and a research fellow at the University of Westminster who works with clay in large-scale installations, Sculpture and site-specific works. Over the past 10 years she has exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate, Crafts Council, Museum of Modern Art Kyoto Japan, the Eden Project and the Royal Academy of Arts.
Within these works Twomey has maintained her concerns with materials, craft practice and historic and social context.
Clare Twomey’s installations have the social and historical context in which the installation is created as their point of departure. Often they only exist within these frameworks. A number of her installations disappear or perish in the course of the exhibition period as part of the work. Often the onlooker’s mode of behaviour is conceptually included in Twomey’s works. This, for example, applied to the artwork Conscience/Consciousness (2003), in which Twomey had covered the floor of the gallery with very thin ceramic tiles which broke when trodden on.
At the Brighton Pavilion she housed thousands of black butterflies that became a veil of mourning in amongst the wonderful yet menacing rooms of the Pavilion creating a discussion about the indulgence and excess of the building and its creation.
At the Royal Academy she worked with the traditional flower makers in stoke on Trent to make hundreds of exotic flowers in a work titled Specimen that examined the protection of objects and the destruction of objects as the flowers were not fired and exposed to the publics touch through the exhibition. This vulnerability relates top the losing of craft skills in Stoke on Trent.
Clare Twomey is actively involved in critical research in the area of the applied arts, including writing, curating and making. She has developed work, which expands the fields’ knowledge of larger scale installation works.
: I chose the Oak, America’s National Tree, because it has long been a symbol of endurance and strength. The title, Mast Year, refers to the phenomenon in which Oak trees produce a prodigious abundance of fruit. This proliferation has been recreated with emblems of beauty and nature: birds, butterflies and moths. Lacking life and using forms present in death such as bird “skins” and insect mounts, the connection between the tree and the fauna (pins and cable ties) highlight the forced, unnatural attempts to recreate the sublime by using synthetic, man made modes of connection. Historically, swarms and flocks and have been viewed as omens of both luck and death and such sights in nature are rare if not completely absent. The ultimate goal of Mast Year is to invoke something beautiful yet dark that speaks to the fragility of nature as well as the more poetic and undefined feelings of loss and the desire to exert control despite its futility.
Mia Mulvey, Mast Year, 2011. Stoneware, porcelain, cable ties, and pins. Photo by Jeff Wells.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Your works have a very strong connection with nature, and you can almost say that they are indeed natural. How come you are exhibiting them in museums? Shouldn’t they be part of a free, wild space?
Mia Mulvey: I am interested in creating sculptures that, while realistic in form, are models or copies. Like plaster casts found in both art and science museums they stand in for the original that exists someplace else. They are re-creations that reveal and highlight our misconceptions, viewpoints and our “understanding” of the world.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Why did you take this challenge of exploring the nature in a scientific way? Are you trying to replicate the nature?
: The idea of replication and recreation is central to this piece. It is both integral to the concept as well as technically significant. In my work I spend a great deal of time making sure my work is real and factual. I spend a great deal of researching and manipulating my forms so that they are as realistic as possible.I want my work to correlate to a nature “out there” that exists in one form or another. In Mast Year, it exemplifies a nature that we are trying to put back together.
As to why am I exploring nature in a scientific way? I am continually inspired by science, specifically the ideas of discovery and wonder. Albertus Magnus defined wonder as: “Wonder is the movement of the man who does not know on his way to finding out, to get at the bottom of that which he wonders and to determine its cause.” Under this definition, wonder is not a static moment; it is the moment of inspiration through the act of learning and discovering the truth. These ideas are present both as concepts in my work as well as guides for my studio process and research.
Mia Mulvey, Mast Year, detail, 2011. Stoneware, porcelain, cable ties, and pins. Photo by Jeff Wells.
Ceramics Now Magazine: You are inspired by an environment that is eternal - the natural world, but unfortunately, your works (or anybody’s works), are ephemeral. Are you disturbed by this, or are you happy with the fact that some day your works will be taken away by nature?
Mia Mulvey: I view this as opposite really. For me, nature is ephemeral and our understanding of the natural world and science is always changing. Part of the reason I work with ceramics (porcelain specifically) is that is has a history of delicacy and beauty in tandem with strength and longevity. Ceramics hold up remarkably well while many other things decay. For Mast Year I wanted to juxtapose fragility with strength both physically and conceptually.
: I am very excited to spend the rest of the year back in the studio. I have long been interested in digital tools and how I can use them with ceramics. For Mast Year, I worked with a material called porcelain tape (Keraflex). I experimented with a laser cutter and developed a process for cutting and handling the material to achieve pieces more delicate and exact than I could create by hand (the butterflies and moths). I plan on starting on a series of works which explore these new possibilities and also incorporates 3-dimensional printing.
"The scientific and museum context identifies a system based on order, fact and discovery. It is within this system of scientific display, process and ideology that my work exists. Museums of Science and Natural History evolved from the curiosity cabinets of the 16th and 17th centuries. These collections were displays of specimens, oddities, art and inventions. They permitted the viewer to relive the moment of discovery and to inspire ‘wonder’. In the 18th century there began a shift, instead of poetic spectatorship objects began to be classified and ordered. Taxonomy gave way to the museums of natural history and the museums of art. I am utilizing the scientific/ museum context to explore the notions of ‘wonder’ and the ‘real’. . In my work I am inspired by science and in it our ability to discover wonder. In nature, we are faced with a familiar but superficially understood natural world. It is through such discoveries of wonder and beauty that we deepen our understanding of the inner workings of nature and how they may be applied to our lives.
In Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Albertus Magnus wrote: ”Wonder is the movement of the man who does not know on his way to finding out, to get at the bottom of that which he wonders and to determine its cause.” Under this definition, wonder is not a static moment; it is the process from the unfamiliar towards understanding. I am interested in the illustrative, educational representation of objects that reflect the notions of wonder and natural beauty. Nature is an infinite spectrum of such ideas. Through science and mathematics this world can be delved into and discoveries of wonder can be made. Through the investigation of scientific processes and contexts I can present real and imaginary objects that hint at the multi-layered discoveries of wonder, innovation and beauty found in nature. I seek to present the unknown and make the irrational rational.” Mia Mulvey
Ceramics Now Magazine: Tell us about your work exhibited at the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition.
: An incomplete articulation is a new work designed for the Denver Art Museum. The piece utilizes the conceptual framework of a schematic diagram to point towards differing ways of articulating form. Sagging mounds of ceramic extrusions are situated alongside precise mathematical models and awkward structural forms. Individual components are physically and conceptually networked together, creating an elaborate three-dimensional system of mapping that becomes suggestive of propositional models and utopian systems. The work is comprised of objects that are intentionally fabricated in a variety of ways, ranging from digitally rendered and prototyped to more direct, analog processes.
Paul Sacaridiz, An Incomplete Articulation, 2011. Cast, extruded, pinched ceramic, wood, powder coated aluminium, cut vinyl, board. Photo by Jeff Wells.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Does your work, An Incomplete Articulation, trying to reach an agreement between simple/ decorative and geometric/ architectural forms?
: For a number of years, my work has looked at the visual correlation between domestic objects, such as decorative food molds, and the actual structures of built architecture. In many of these works, the approach to abstraction has relied upon decoration and pattern becoming something structural, rather than simply applied to a surface. An incomplete articulation follows this approach, but is less metaphorical than past projects. Ultimately, the piece is a response to considering systems of abstraction and the seemingly impossible task of understanding something in its entirety.
Ceramics Now Magazine: You have an amazing ability of transforming every-day forms and simple objects into a complex statement. Isn’t it hard? From our experience, keeping it simple is sometimes the hardest thing to do.
Paul Sacaridiz: There is a tipping point in every piece, that place where what you have done is simply too much. One of the greatest challenges that I set for myself is figuring out what can be removed before the overall work starts to break down. This results in a very slow pace of observing and responding to a piece of sculpture. As time has passed, I am most interested in exploring a sculptural logic that is both pragmatic and highly allusive at the same time. This relies on a specific balance, which has to be reevaluated with each project.
Paul Sacaridiz, An Incomplete Articulation, detail, 2011. Cast, extruded, pinched ceramic, wood, powder coated aluminium, cut vinyl, board. Photo by Jeff Wells.
Ceramics Now Magazine: What advice can you give to those who look at your works? Should they be aware of something in particular?
Paul Sacaridiz: Looking at sculpture should be experiential; the scale of the work and its materiality are as critical to the overall reading as conceptual concerns. Viewing work should never be a passive activity and one needs to be engaged in deciphering images and objects at a multitude of levels. If I have done my job correctly there will be multiple entry points in any given piece. There are many tropes that allow this to happen, and they should be taken as such. If an object appears to be beautiful or illogical, it has the capacity to operate on an emotive or philosophical level. Both are equally valuable, and afford a jumping off point from which one can look at something from a position of curiosity, questioning and wonder.
: I am on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and will be teaching a workshop next summer at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, in Deer Isle, Maine. Over the next year I will be working on a project that seeks to explore the limitations of three-dimensional scanning and the possibility of translating that information into tangible objects. Scanning is generally successful with objects that are solid volumes and therefore “readable” as a continuous surface. My primary interest is in scanning things that are not single surfaces, but rather conglomerations of multiple layers. Such information may prove challenging, if not impossible to fully record, resulting in a surface that is technically a failure in terms of the computers ability to read and render it in a complete mathematical state. I see this research as being as much a question of physical possibilities and limitations (of machinery, technology, etc…) as a philosophical investigation into abstraction and the limitations of understanding something that is perhaps impossible to fully grasp.
Paul Sacaridiz (b.1970, Brooklyn, NY, lives and works in Madison, WI) received an MFA (1998) from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a BFA from Alfred University (1993).
Since 1997 he has been active in solo exhibitions, collaborative projects and group shows at a diverse number of venues including: The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the Icheon World Ceramic Center, Icheon, Korea, The Dubuque Museum of Art (IA), The Alfedena Gallery, Chicago, The Northern Illinois University Art Museum and the Ceramic Research Center at Arizona State University. His work has been the subject of reviews and articles in Ceramics: Art and Perception, The New Art Examiner and Art Papers among others. Sacaridiz has been the recipient of residencies at the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, The Ragdale Foundation, The Vermont Studio Center and the Art/Industry Program at Kohler Company.
He is currently an Associate Professor in the Art Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
: Diminutive and impossibly fragile my instillation is an object. Constructed on site I consider the project situational and site specific, a foil among the monumental scale and mass of the exhibition. An intricate composition of splintering porcelain extrusions cantilevers across a clear acrylic box reflecting its madcap geometry in the surface below. Suspended within this labyrinth of line are wafer thin peals of acrylic paint laser cut from direct scans of the ceramic assemblage on which they’re applied. A weighted cast chunk of underglaze balances the porcelain constellation, perched atop its laminated mass is a piece of chewing gum. This functions as a placeholder for concerns with a visceral relationship to scale and a figural/literal jest on taste. More broadly, I’m concerned with traditions in the decorative arts and a modernist handling of material, I aim to afford my audience a friction between wonder, curiosity and the trepidation felt by prospects of uncertainty.
Benjamin DeMott, Untitled Thumbnail, porcelain, paint, glue, glaze, gum, 2011, H 6” x W 9” x D 7”
Ceramics Now Magazine: Your works are mainly assemblages of a variety of materials, which make different connections. How do you make them, what is the process?
: The most playful part of my process is also the most tedious. The task of fixing one end of a ceramic line to another with Elmers glue, Tweezers, fly-tying vices, and at times the aid of an Optivisor. The subtle character of any given connection and the consequential angle and line, generates a case of questions regarding formal relationships of intuited proportions. The parameters of my own patience, vision, and precision with tweezers or lack thereof often define what gets accomplished or not. I approach my assemblages like drawing in space. There is a lot of failure and loss in the studio the happenings of which are great teachers.
Ceramics Now Magazine: There is a high level of uncertainty in your work. Is that induced, did you wanted to be that way?
Benjamin DeMott: If there is any uncertainty in the work it’s seated in the conditions of material and the specific method of construction. A teacher once told me that I shouldn’t be making this kind of work out of clay. That wire would work just as well as it wont be as fragile. I rely on the meaning associated with materials. The myriad implications and signifying qualities of a ceramic line shift the conversation to our shared cultural experience with it. In context fragility operates as an underscore to set of references, and personal insights. The ephemeral and precarious nature of the work imparts a sense of urgency. As a provisional object it directs you to the present. What is happening now? What is being seen now? What are these consequences?
Ceramics Now Magazine: What motivates you and where do you get inspiration for your works?
Benjamin DeMott: Sentimentality, Waning middle class idealism, the color beige, Fischli &Weiss “Quiet Afternoon”, Louise Lawler’s “Pollack and the Soup Tureen”, Richard Tuttle’s drawings, the religious experience of fly fishing, Anne Dillard, and the sensual enjoyment of fine food, drink, and sex.
: I’m moving to Chicago this week, which will be a major sea change and hopefully rejuvenate the work. This September, I’ll be collaborating with Eric Miller, an artist from Philadelphia on our continual project “Practice of the Druggist” at Hunter College in NY. Next year I am in a two-person show with Julia Haft Candell at the Greenwich Pottery House.
"Fragile, thread thin ceramic extrusions are tenuously bound to one another by glues and household fix-it material. The painfully delicate fired ceramic line, zigs and zags splintering into a complex network where the familiarity of scale shifts from that of the watchmaker to the astronomer. Interspersed within these precarious structures are decorative debris. Chips of acrylic paint, and colorful skins of latex hover and sag demarking their compositional space. Highlighting impermanence, these assemblages are contingent and situational, potentially configured for only a short duration.
A playful longing for solidity amidst operatives of change inspires my dialogue with material. My intent is to afford the audience a confrontation, a friction between wonder, awe and the trepidation felt by the prospects of uncertainty. The motive of my work is to question our relationship with impermanence. To be a companion and embrace what uncertainty offers is the aim of my agenda.” Benjamin DeMott
: The Hamilton building at the Denver Art Museum responds to the natural landscape with carefully calibrated geometric volumes. I think of my installation as a kind of tapestry – or embroidery – embellishing this architecture with a more intricate structure.
Many of the qualities of ceramics make it ideal for large scale architectural applications: it is permanent, colorful, and relatively simple to form.
But clay also presents considerable challenges. It is fragile, heavy, and requires a kiln large enough to contain and carefully heat each component part.
For a thousand years architects have developed strategies for constructing large surfaces by connecting many clay pieces (The Sydney Opera House and the Alhambra are two of my personal favorites). Innovations in complex geometry have emerged from their solutions. Peter Lu, a Physicist and Harvard Professor, discovered the use of Penrose geometry in Medieval Iranian architecture. Penrose geometry – an idea not discovered in the west for another 500 years – is a series of non-repeating tessellating polygons – in this case a functional solution for aligning ceramic tiles on a wall, and also a revelation as a component of fractal geometry; a mathematical concept for reflecting on form in nature.
While more modest in scale and complexity the components of this installation are borne out of the same impulse. The Hamilton Building at the Denver Art Museum is an ideal site. The building responds to the natural landscape with carefully calibrated geometric shapes. My installation is a second layer – a more intricate structure for weaving together the geometries of nature with the volumes of this architecture. The scale of the building and the significance of this exhibition have provided the catalyst for my largest and most ambitious work to date.
Del Harrow, Wedgewood Black Hive/Hole, 2011. Slip-cast black porcelain. / Links, 2011. Earthenware, glaze, and platinum luster. / Copper Fade, 2011. Earthenware and glaze. Photo by Jeff Wells.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Tell us about your works exhibited at the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition. What do they represent and what message do you want to deliver?
:The work in this show was partly a response to the architecture of this building. The pieces deal with pattern, repetition, geometry, and difference. The textures and patterns that come from the many stages and layers of the process of making something with clay. I don’t have a particular message that I want to deliver.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Have you ever attempted to create a new material or to replicate a texture of a material in order to make your installations more exclusive?
: I do think a lot about the qualities and textures of materials but I don’t think I’m trying to make the installations more “exclusive”. I think of my use of materials as pretty inclusive or democratic. My installations are compositions, there are a lot of different metaphors I use to think about their structure - music and cooking are a couple - so I’m thinking about creating an experience that comes out of a play with repetition and difference. Material qualities are one layer of the composition.
There is a chapter in Baudrillard’s book “The System of Objects” called “Natural Wood and Cutural Wood” where he discusses the cultural hierarchies of various materials. For example vinyl siding imprinted with a wood grain is typically assigned a lower position in the hierarchy of materials that natural wood siding even though the vinyl siding probably performs it’s function better (of course Baudrillard also wrote this book in the 1960‘s before we were aware of some of the health risks of “off gassing” from too much plastic in building materials). We also have an aesthetic experience of material qualities. Man made materials tend to have more uniformity in their pattern and texture. I don’t see one type of material - synthetic or natural - as inherently superior and I think that even the line between the two categories is pretty fuzzy. Ceramic materials have a long history of borrowing qualities and textures and even mimicking other materials. For example Terra Cotta Building cladding made to imitate stone, or pots that borrow texture from basketry or metal work. Certain ceramic materials also have very strong - and sometimes paradoxical - cultural associations. “Porcelain” still has associations with ideas of quality, purity, exclusivity, and at the same time it can feel nostalgic, kitsch, and low brow. I’m very interested in these ideas and I see my work as playing within this territory.
Del Harrow, Copper Fade, 2011. Earthenware and glaze. Photo by Jeff Wells.
Ceramics Now Magazine: How much have you been influenced by the Aboriginal Art and your time spent in Australia?
Del Harrow: I don’t know if I’ve ever come a across a plastic knife and fork and thought: “this is a really nice thing to use”. I wish I would. Cheap, disposable knives and forks certainly serve a function. I don’t use them very often but at picnics they are pretty handy. I wish the knives didn’t always break when you’re trying to cut your steak. They should also be biodegradable.
Ceramics Now Magazine: If you would have to recreate the nomadic Brancusi exhibition, what other object would you add that could empathize with the philosophy of the famous Romanian sculptor?
Del Harrow: When I made that piece it started out as an idea about reproduction of objects and authorship. As I was working and started doing more research I became more interested in Brancusi’s ideas about his sculptures being dependent on specific spatial relationships to each other and on the architecture of his studio space. Along with his work making discreet forms/sculptures Brancusi had a parallel practice of photographing the work within the space/context of the studio. The composition of objects in my piece was based on a specific arrangement from one of his photographs. I chose a picture that contained several very iconic forms: bird in space, endless column… I think if I made this piece again it might be interesting to chose a photograph with less well known forms. Some of his photographs are just piles of molds and raw materials in a corner of the room. In some ways these types of photographs make more space for thinking about his objects as provisional and contingent on qualities of light, context, and arrangement.
Del Harrow, Wedgewood Black Hive/Hole, 2011. Slip-cast black porcelain. / Links, 2011. Earthenware, glaze, and platinum luster. / Copper Fade, 2011. Earthenware and glaze. Photo by Jeff Wells.
: I have a couple of exhibitions coming up, one in November at Vox Populi Gallery in Philadelphia. This show will be the result of a collaboration with Chadwick Augustine. I also have a solo show opening in February at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.
"My current studio practice consists of two activities: the production/fabrication of objects from a range of materials, and then, a sustained investigation of these objects by way of successive experiments with strategies for placement, arrangement, and organization.
Individual objects emerge from a confluence of form, material and process. Many sculptures begin as digital models – employing computer software as a tool for generating abstract form. As material culture an objects’ subtle textures and marks contain and reveal information about methods of fabrication – manual or mechanized production – and by extension the scale of economy, culture, and the objects meaning within it.
Objects within an installation are built on a range of scales – of objects, furniture, architectural fragments – creating a composite scale/space, shifting between the miniature, the architectural interior, and the landscape.
Installations borrow organizational strategies from both art historical compositions and vernacular spaces: game fields, farms, domestic interiors, forests. These spaces share abstract forms: planes, mesh-works, surfaces, and hierarchies. Like a mathematical model or interior architecture, the installation is a diagrammatic construction built within the gallery.” Del Harrow
: This installation, Mine: i hear him unclip me, explores forms and structures of uncertainty height, and depth. I am curious about the sites and processes of mining. Two years ago in my installation “Rift” at the Middlesbrough Museum of Modern Art in the UK, I invited the curator, James Beighton, to crawl through a Plexiglas tube high in the air, wearing a mining hat and safety goggles. I asked him to “mine” the tunnels of the work by breaking open my hand-built porcelain pieces with a wooden hammer and chisel.
For this current installation in Denver, I scavenged and borrowed materials and objects from the Colorado School of Mines and Geological Museum in Golden, CO, and the Edgar Experimental Mines in Idaho Springs, CO. Boulder ReSource and thrift shops in the area were also sources of materials and forms, including a stained glass door picturing a coyote and flowers, and a large brown ear-less plastic bear head.
Linda Sormin, Mine (i hear him unclip me / blood runs cold), 2010–11. Glazed ceramic; souvenir kitsch. Photo by Jeff Wells.
With the extraordinary technical assistance of my partner Seth Hisiger, I worked at my studio in Providence, RI for 4 months to create the ceramic components for the work. With extruded stoneware tubes and hand-pinched grids of red earthenware clay, we created linear drawings in space with fired and glazed ceramics. Because the installation was sited on a large slanting wall in the museum (it leans 110 degrees away from the viewer), we needed to build a mock wall at this exact angle in my studio. After Seth built this wall and developed a system of steel pipe to be mounted to it, we were able to test the structure by threading sections of the ceramic grids through the pipe. I’ve been interested in “skewering” ceramics (like meat!) in this way for a few years now. Final installation at the Denver Art Museum took 12 days. For the first three days we worked closely with John Lupe’s outstanding installation team of eight, two motorized lifts and (for me at least) high levels of adrenaline. At first, I felt quite daunted by the large number of heavy, super-fragile objects we needed to mount to and balance on that wall – and I’m a little scared of heights. Maybe more than a little. While hand-pinching raw clay into the piece at 25 feet up, my knees went weak and I had to sit down. So I worked that way in the gallery space – harnessed and clipped into a metal basket, legs dangling down.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Do you find it challenging to construct your works with objects from different places? You can also tell us what it’s like to work with recycled materials.
: I am always grateful for the opportunity to work with objects from different places, with different histories of function and use in specific cultures. It’s a challenge that whets my appetite for making. I hope to tell stories with these things, to weave together abstract real-time narratives that invent or re-establish connections between objects, situations, people and places. Recycled objects are used objects with a past life. Their lack of innocence prevents them from being predictable to me, and their idiosyncrasies help to shape my installations. Their flaws resonate in the work, and in my imagination.
Linda Sormin, Mine (i hear him unclip me / blood runs cold), detail, 2010–11. Glazed ceramic; souvenir kitsch. Photo by Jeff Wells.
: In some ways, I think this could be true. On the other hand, I question if we can consider anyone working in a craft-based art profession to be extreme. In comparison to what? is what I’d ask.
I imagine that being balanced and moderate would lead to a steadier, more peaceful way of life. I do often feel compelled to explore the edges of experiences, and feel that it is necessary to push boundaries and takes risks in order to comprehend the situations and behaviors of materials, things and people. This is the normal task of the artist, however – so it’s not extreme, just a choice – a research methodology perhaps. If I were less “extreme” I might not get into the messes that I often find myself in. And then where would I be? These messes keep me alert and attentive to the work.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Where do you get inspiration for your works, do you have any hobbies?
Linda Sormin: I enjoy learning about objects and how they seem to behave in the world. From tools to clothing, domestic interiors to trash, digital technology to hands-on processes, I draw ideas and narratives from how people interact with things. Recently, I’ve been interested in the powerful machinery and risky methods used by people in so-called “manly” professions such as mining and marine work. When I visited the Edgar Experimental Mines in Idaho Springs, CO this past spring, I met miners who were studying outer space mining, as well as working with the military to develop approaches for underground operations. I’ve often used “mining” and un-grounding” as metaphors in writing and making – so it was humbling and enlightening to witness the real thing, and get to know the people actually working in these fields.
Ceramics Now Magazine: You tend to take adventurous tasks and use all kinds of materials. Do you think that one day you will be able to interfere with fashion to create pret-a-porter clothing from recycled materials?
Linda Sormin: There seems to be a growing number of people practicing apparel design in this way. I absolutely love clothes and am always excited by garments that offer material or social meaning from unexpected places. I would be thrilled to collaborate with a fashion designer or textile artist someday. Do you know anyone who’d be interested in working with someone like me who can’t sew a straight line?
: From August 4 - September 17 of this year, I will be in Norway making new work in the studios of the National Fine Art Academy in Bergen. My partner Seth Hisiger and I will be installing the work in the context of the China Collection at the West Norway Museum of Decorative Arts. From October 7-10 I’ll be giving a workshop at the Haystack Mountain School of Craft on Deer Isle, Maine. From October 27-29, I’ll be back in Bergen to speak at the Thing Tang Trash: Upcycling in Contemporary Ceramic Art Symposium.
Linda Sormin, Mine (i hear him unclip me / blood runs cold), detail, 2010–11. Glazed ceramic; souvenir kitsch; and studio remnants from Tim Berg, Gerit Grimm, Nathan Craven, Robyn Gray, and Ted Yoon. Photo by Jeff Wells.
The site looms above and veers past, willing me to compromise, to give ground. I roll and pinch the thing into place, I collect and lay offerings at its feet. This architecture melts and leans, hoarding objects in its folds. It lurches and dares you to approach, it tears cloth and flesh, it collapses with the brush of a hand.
Nothing is thrown away. This immigrant lives in fear of waste. Old yogurt is used to jumpstart the new batch. What is worth risking for things to get juicy, rare, ripe? What might be discovered on the verge of things going bad?
Linda Sormin is a Canadian sculptor based in Providence, Rhode Island. Through objects and site-specific installations, Sormin’s work explores issues of fragility and aggression, mobility and survival. Born in Bangkok, Sormin has a BA in English Literature and worked in community development for four years in Thailand and Lao PDR. She studied ceramics at Andrews University, Sheridan School of Crafts & Design (Grad 2001) and Alfred University (MFA 2003).
Sormin’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, most recently at the Denver Art Museum (Denver, USA), gl Holtegaard (Denmark), Vallauris (France), Middlesbrough (UK), Providence, Philadelphia and New Orleans. From 2003-06, Sormin taught ceramics at Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver, BC. For 5 years, she taught at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI, first as Assistant Professor (2006-09) then as Associate Professor (2009-11) and Head of Ceramics (2010-11).
Ceramics Now Magazine: Your collaboration transformed into an outstanding piece of contemporary art, Apoptosis. What can you tell us about this collaborative work?
Working in collaboration with Martha Russo was such a positive and inspiring experience. We have known each other’s work for years, and always seem to be following similar paths and forms. It was exciting to work with someone who is so on the same page as you. For example, the day I did my preliminary sketch of the work on an airplane ride to Detroit, Martha created a small model of the work. We were shocked to discover, that separate from each other, we both sketched pretty much the same piece. It was quite eerie!
Artist Statement for Apoptosis: The site-specific installation connects the museum’s own architecture to a floating swirl of motivated chaos made from a host of ceramic and mixed media materials. Apoptosis references the genetically directed process of cell self-destruction that makes way for new growth to occur.
Evoking growth and development, lightness and weight, the work suggests both biological membranes and intertwining industrial lines, conjuring up a tangle of beauty, grotesquerie, buoyancy, and energy.
The suspended composition has a brace of vantages: the first, a treasure-mesh conceals from the viewer the cryptic viscera of this complex organism, while the second vantage unfolds and unfurls, being pulled by gravity and holding the viewer in a state of suspended wonder.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Apoptosis looks powerful, twisted, and somehow embrace you to look further. Maybe it’s because of Katie’s previous works that experience illusions, or because of Martha’s work with the physical nature of sculpture?
: Both of our goals were to engage the viewer to look further, but in different ways. My previous work, as you mentioned, involves the creation of illusions where the viewer is asked to question: what’s real and what’s fabrication? I am fascinated with our cultures need for escapism, and how we have become addicted to the virtual windows of social media and entertainment. I hope to tap into this obsession, using theatrical effects to create objects and environments that entice the viewer to look closer and longer. Asking how virtual objects may compete with virtual media?
Ceramics Now Magazine: Is this a site-project? Did you experience any challenges? (here you can tell us when did you start working on it, or how was the process, if you had any difficulties with the space, etc.)
: Selection of the space came first, and then the concepts for the work. We were interested in using a space that had never been used to show work, a space that was unusual. The architecture of the Denver Art Museum is so powerfully unique, and so we chose a 30 foot slanted wall as our catalyst.
I began drawing concept sketches for forms, materials, and use of the space. I wanted to create an installation that looked like it was co-dependant, both foreign to the space, but dependent on the space for survival. I compare it to animal architecture; the way some insects parasitically transform man-made spaces to suit their needs.
The Denver Art Museum was a huge technical support to our installation. They provided us with the necessary lifts, equipment, and assistance to stage such a complex work. Mounting the utility poles took some serious preparation and support. There are over 200 lit porcelain and paper forms, plus another 3,000 other components mounted to the 30 foot slanted wall with steel rods. The installation was quite labor intensive to say the least.
Katie Caron: It has been an honor to exhibit with such a prominent group of artists. Gwen Chanzit, curator for Overthrown: Clay Without Limits, has done an admirable job of selecting and encouraging artists to be ambitious. The scale of the space has pushed all the artists to think big, both physically and conceptually. The exhibition, technically demonstrates the inventive use of such an ancient material, while raising contemporary issues. The works in the exhibition challenge traditional notions of “objectness”, providing a depth of content, and creating a diverse dialogue.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Where do you get your inspiration from and what motivates you, what do you want to discover through your works?
Katie Caron: We started off with the idea of a chaotic tangle, which led us to look at all kinds of forms, both from biology and industry. My personal interest was in power lines. For years, I have looked upward at utility poles, and found their functional aesthetic inspiring. After undergoing major spinal surgery in 2009, and looking at x-rays of all the hardware in my back, I began to draw connections between the aesthetics of my hardware and the power lines. Both aesthetics were determined by utility and appeared parasitic to their host forms.
While creating the work, I discovered I was pregnant. I believe this change in my biology positively affected the work to create an illusion that the work was alive, and powered by an external energy force. Creating cell-like forms with illuminated interiors became my focus for the work.
: We are currently looking for another site for the work on both east and west coasts. I have two solo shows in 2012 in Denver, at Ice Cube Gallery and Hinterland Gallery, where I look to explore the progression of these ideas and materials further. You can find my work online at http://www.icecubegallery.com/ , and http://www.katiecaron.com/
Ceramics Now Magazine: Please give an advice to young ceramic artists.
Katie Caron: My advice to young ceramic artist is two fold: First, make, make, make! Ceramics is such a challenging material, so practice exploring all the ways to manipulate the clay is very important. Don’t be afraid to fail or let the work lead you. Too often ceramic artists try to control the clay, rather then using it as a guide. Second, explore other materials as well! Do not limit yourself to just clay, but build confidence with other materials, processes and concepts. The more interdisciplinary your work becomes the more questions it can raise.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Your collaboration transformed into an outstanding piece of contemporary art, Apoptosis. What can you tell us about this collaborative work?
We both started with something that we wanted to investigate from previous works. For Katie is was light and translucent porcelain and paper and for me it was clay combined with metal. We would work independently in our studios and then show each other what we had done and then make more work off of what each other responded to. Conceptually, we started with the word “tangle” and sent each other a flurry of images of any kind of tangle. Our “image swap” generated a rolling progression of ideas and possibilities. What began to resonate with both of us were notions of electricity and wires, morphing cell production, masses of jumbled objects, and much more. We tested different groupings of the pieces in our studios and got a sense of how to make them physically cling to the wall. With time our ideas began to coalesce into a hazy notion of what the thousands and thousands of pieces would form. Because of the enormous scale (30 feet high and 25 feet wide) we really did not know how the installation would work until we put it up in the museum. I think the most important thing about our collaboration is that Katie and I gave each other complete freedom. We deeply trusted each other. Working with Katie has and continues to be a complete joy and one of incessant wonder and possibility. I feel infinitely fortunate to know and work with her. The future is BIG.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Apoptosis looks powerful, twisted, and somehow embraces you to look further. Maybe it’s because of Katie’s previous works that experience illusions, or because of Martha’s work with the physical nature of sculpture?
: I think Apoptosis is a wonderful hybrid of our aesthetics, ways of working, trust in the unknown, and ideas about art.
I just learned of a new word, phototaxis, which means that light compels one to move closer to an object. I think the mystery and lure of the glowing porcelain forms and the hovering translucent paper spheres draws the viewer in closer to decipher the mass and weight of the cascade of objects, the jumble of metal burned into the clay coupled with the odd beauty and decisive scale of the utility poles. I think Katie and I share the fascination and try to mind the psychology of what intrigues someone to stay with a work of art.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Is this a site-project? Did you experienced any challenges? (here you can tell us when did you start working on it, or how was the process, if you had any difficulties with the space, etc.).
: Because of so many conceptual crossovers and interests in experimenting with materials, Katie and I toyed with the idea of some day doing some work together. When we were invited to the show, separately, the thought of having such a huge gallery space seemed like a great opportunity to collaborate. After we decided to work together, we picked the space, which had not been used before to exhibit work. The prospects of such an unusual space set us in motion. I was most interested in creating some kind of wave of objects that would appear to have tumbled down the slanted thirty foot wall and Katie had the brilliant idea to connect an existing free-standing gallery wall to the slanted wall with some sort of floating forms.
The turn-around time for the show was about eleven months, so we had no time to waste. The time pressure really made us work quickly and intuitively while also solving a plethora of technical challenges like using translucent porcelain, learning how to cast and create forms with paper, and coaxing the clay to co-mingle with lots of different kinds of metal. The process was all about discovery - brilliant fun and incessant challenges. With a very carefully orchestrated plan, full support from the Denver Art Museum every step of the way, and an extremely smart, professional, and adventurous installation crew, the knitting together of the thousands of forms went off really well. Each day brought different challenges and unknowns and after two solid weeks of installing, Apoptosis came into focus.
Martha Russo: The exhibit, curated by Dr. Gwen Chanzit, is smart, diverse, beautiful, and eye-opening. With every turn in the gallery, there is something really compelling to experience and to ponder. The show gives a fresh look into the contemporary art world at artists who use the clay process in some innovative and inventive ways. Being included in the exhibit has not only been and continues to be a great honor but has opened up a breath of possibilities for the future.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Where do you get your inspiration from and what motivates you, what do you want to discover through your works?
Martha Russo: Here is the short list:
not knowing cellular complexity and simplicity a burl on a tree logs jammed in a river bend the odd hardware and connective gear on utility poles the periodic table the miracle of systems in the body how my kids explore things goo and glue and Dragon Skin my husband, Joe, the scientist telling me about how chemicals interact how to negotiate with the water content of clay being a pyro the light of the moon eking out behind the clouds
Martha Russo: In the upcoming year, I may be in exhibitions in Seattle, Denver, and Aspen. I am in an art collective, called “Artnauts, which is a group of artist put together by Dr. George Rivera and Garrison Roots, from University of Colorado, Boulder. This year we have shows in Chile, Cuba, Brazil, and two venues in the Middle East. To see more of my work please go to: http://www.martharussostudio.com/
: WORK WORK WORK and WORK SOME MORE. Making anything takes a long time. Staying in the studio and staying with a new idea or process simply takes time, concentration, and focus. Avoid editing away ideas too early. Give everything a long incubation period with unfettered flurries of making and then look at the work carefully. And lastly, be open to every possible material and process in order to bring an idea to fruition. Plus have fun.
Apoptosis 2010-2011 Porcelain, paper clay, glaze materials, colored pigments, assorted tools, steel and hardware, silicone, LED Lights, compact fluorescents, electrical cables, wires and conductors, utility poles, abaca paper, beeswax.
Apoptosis is a floating swirl of motivated chaos that inhabits the museum’s architecture. The cascading mass of morphing cell-like forms evokes growth and development, lightness and weight, and connects biological membranes with intertwining industrial lines. With a cacophony of sculptural forms, colors, textures, cables, utility poles, and lights it conjures up a tangle of beauty, grotesquerie, buoyancy, and energy. Our goal is to create a state of suspended wonder.
Katie Caron Born 1978 in Manchester, Connecticut; lives in Lafayette and works in Lakewood, Colorado
Katie Caron graduated summa cum laude from Boston University in 2000, and received an MFA in ceramics from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2009. Her work has been in national exhibitions such as Breakdown at Guggenheim Gallery: Chapman University, California, Reinventing Beauty at the Museum of New Art: MONA, Michigan, and Elastic Authenticity at the Morean Art Center in St. Petersburg, Florida. Caron is presently an Assistant Professor in Fine Arts & Art Education at Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, and a member of Ice Cube Gallery. She lives with her husband in Lafayette, CO.
I am fascinated by escapism: how and why our senses transport us to imaginary worlds, how electronic media change the way we feel the present moment and how it can mediate our lives. Through film and theatrical effects, I immerse viewers in the experience of an illusion—what’s real and what’s fabrication? These new worlds are uncanny and mysterious. I explore how unconscious reactions shape emotion; how certain spaces, sounds, and objects may provoke fear or incite wonder.
Martha Russo Born 1962 in Milford, Connecticut; lives in Ward and works in Lakewood, Colorado
Martha Russo earned a BA in developmental biology and psychology from Princeton University,1985. Formerly a world-class athlete, she suffered a career-ending injury in 1984 while preparing for the Los Angeles Olympic Games. After her recovery from surgery, attracted to the physical nature of sculpture, Russo studied studio arts in Florence, Italy, and continued at Princeton University. In 1995 she earned her MFA at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Martha is represented by Allan Stone Gallery, New York, New York and Ron Judish, Denver, Colorado. Martha also teaches at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Lakewood, Colorado.
Before children have the language and cognitive skills to name an object, they explore the world with all of their senses. For instance, a chair is not a “chair” but rather something to climb on, to crawl under, and, perhaps, even to lick. With the acquisition of language and the awareness of the purpose of something, the investigations dwindle and the senses simmer. My hope is that people approach my work and stay with it because they are not quite sure what it is: What are the forms? What are they made out of? How are they suspended in space? I make abstract organic sculptures to give people a place to let language and purpose slip away and to allow the senses to frolic, to delight, to muse.
The UN has officially declared two parts of Somalia to be in famine amid the worst drought in east Africa for 60 years.
Mark Bowden, humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, said on Wednesday that famine conditions now existed in the Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of the country.
He warned: “If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks.
"We still do not have all the resources for food, clean water, shelter and health services to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Somalis in desperate need."
He added that the lack of resources is alarming. “Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine-affected areas.”
UN humanitarian agencies have welcomed the recent statement by al-Shabaab, Islamist insurgents affiliated to al-Qaida, requesting aid in southern Somalia, but said the inability of food agencies to work in the region since early 2010 has prevented the UN from reaching the very hungry – especially children – and has contributed to the current crisis. The Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions are understood to be controlled by al-Shabaab. The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, said it was seeking further security guarantees from the rebel group that it can deliver greater amounts of assistance in the area to prevent more hungry people from becoming refugees.
The drought in east Africa has left an estimated 11 million people at risk, but Somalia has been the worst hit country as it is already wracked by decades of conflict. The most affected areas of Somalia are in the south, particularly the region of Lower Shabelle, Middle and Lower Juba, Bay, Bakool, Benadir, Gedo and Hiraan, where the UN says an estimated 310,000 now suffer from acute malnutrition.
The Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) said the crisis represented the most serious food insecurity situation in the world today, in terms of scale and severity.
"Current humanitarian response is inadequate to meet emergency needs," it said. "Assuming current levels of response, evidence suggests that famine across all regions of the south will occur in the coming one to two months. A massive multisectoral response is critical to prevent additional deaths and total livelihood/social collapse and, most immediately, interventions to improve food access and to address health/nutrition issues are needed."
Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s international development secretary, said: “In Somalia, men, women and children are dying of starvation. The fact that a famine has been declared shows just how grave the situation has become.
"It is time for the world to help but sadly the response from many countries has been derisory and dangerously inadequate. Britain is playing its part, with help for more than 2 million people across the Horn of Africa. Now others must do the same."
A famine is measured by rates of hunger, malnutrition and deaths, but the key to it is that it must be widespread.
Technically, a famine is a mortality rate of more than two people per 10,000 per day; acute malnutrition reaching more than 30%; water consumption becoming less than four litres a day; and intake of kilocalories of 1,500 a day compared with the recommended 2,100 a day.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Somalia due to the drought and conflict, and refugees are dying of causes related to malnutrition either during the journey or very shortly after arrival at aid camps. On Sunday, the UNHCR began emergency airlift flights in Nairobi to help hundreds of thousands of Somalis who have taken refuge in neighbouring countries.
A giant cargo jet chartered by UNHCR landed in Nairobi with 100 tonnes of tents for the Dadaab refugee camp complex near the Kenya-Somalia border.
The UN says nearly half of the population in Somalia is facing a humanitarian crisis and in urgent need of aid. The number of people in crisis has increased by more than 1 million in the last six months. More than 166,000 Somalis have fled the country since the start of the year, with more than 100,000 of those leaving since May.
Ceramics Now Magazine: You use many materials and different techniques when making your works. What did you learn from the process?
John Roloff: The earth materials (and photo images) used in The Sea Within The Land/Laramide were based upon paleogeographic research of the site. A lot was learned about the previous landscapes and geologic materials/processes involved and their relationship to the current central Colorado landscape. These materials (as are all) have many narratives or stories that can be viewed through one lens or another. The lens I am most familiar with or knowledgeable is geologic transformation, history and process which informs my relationship to the materials and how I might work with or present them. For the mold/casting sculptural element, I used a variation of an unfired rammed earth process, this state of materiality is copasetic with the very low degrees of lithification and metamorphism of the sediments relative to the geologic and landscape concepts used in the project. I often look for analogs to natural processes for how I might interpret how to work with materials or sites.
Ceramics Now Magazine: What’s your connection to the sea, to the magic and eternal world of the ocean? Your work The Sea Within The Land/Laramide approached this matter.
: A basic idea of this project is that in many ways the ocean and the land are analogs of each other, so in this regard the land is also magic and co-eternal as well as co-mutable and co-evolving. I think it is really beautiful that much of the land in the middle of North America was the result of marine depositional processes, sediments slowly settling or precipitating and consolidating on the sea floor. Two selections from poems of the poet Gary Snyder have been very inspirational to me for many years have resurfaced and found their way into recent lectures:
Red ooze of the North Pacific — only shark’s teeth and the earbones of whales. An endless mist of skeletons, settling to the ocean floor.
(Japan First Time Around, “Anita Maru” at sea, 7: V: 56, Earth House Hold, 1957), and
sea-bed strata raised and folded, granite far below. warm quiet centuries of rain (make dark red tropic soils)….
(What Happened Here Before, Turtle Island, 1974)
In the Colorado area during the Cretaceous, the Tethys Sea, an incursion from the south (now Gulf of Mexico region) merged with the Mowrey Sea from the north to create what is called the Interior Seaway, rich with Mesozoic dramas of life and death and an ongoing erosion of the surrounding land sending clays, silts and sands into the sea, later to be further eroded by human agency in the Holocene and transformed into brick, paving, artifacts and re-deposited as the Denver built environment, which is currently undergoing erosion… the cycle continues..
Ceramics Now Magazine: Why did you took this challenge of working mainly on site-specific projects? Do you find it easy to express yourself through the openness of the space, rather than to an exhibition space?
: For me these spaces are really the same space, it is difficult for me to see architecture (or space definition in certain terms) without considering the origin of the materials of the building itself and some relationship to the space it encompasses. A building for me is a landscape made out of previous landscapes, which has an effect on the space, either of the building or its paleogeographic history – how that transformation (from one landscape to another) occurred through this lens, is the product of generations of climatic systems, earth forces and human agency to name a few (see question 2 above). This attitude, I believe, is a basic extrapolation of more familiar site-based strategies. In this sense it is not really a question of ease or expediency more of perception, extrapolation and intrinsic relationships.
Ceramics Now Magazine: How long it takes to make a project like this? (ex: for the Overthrown exhibition)
John Roloff: Gwen Chanzit, curator of Overthrown, visited my studio in mid- 2010 and invited me to so site research and photography in early December of that year to further develop a basic idea I was interested in to work the the central Colorado landscape and my previous knowledge of what is called the Cretaceous Interior Seaway, an broad incursion of the ocean into the middle of the North American continent about 90 million years ago and that some of the current landscape would be made of sediments deposited at that time. The themes of Sea/Land, Land/Sea, Sea/Sea and Land/Land is intrinsic to my work. As in this project, 6-9 months are typical due to an often complex array of research, gestation and implementation.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Where can we find you and your works in the next future? What are your plans?
John Roloff: I am working on several projects, one hopefully for the Exporatorium in San Francisco when it re-opens along waterfront, a couple of public art projects in the works for many years in Oakland, CA and Minneapolis, MN, that may come to fruition this year or next and a lot of on-going research for other works. One thing I am hoping will happen in a panel/conversation for NCECA Seattle 2012 with John Delaney, a scientist from the University of Washington, working on an amazing project that includes a huge array of real-time sensors gathering data on the active Juan deFuca plate off the coast of Washington – forces driving the evolution of the North Western North American landscape, the eruption of Mt St. Helens, growth and potential activity of Mt. Ranier and other Cascade Range volcanoes, etc.
Ceramics Now Magazine: We somehow find your works complementing Ai Weiwei’s works. You are both searching for/ and trying to learn about the human’s conditions, but you are approaching this through our Earth’s history and throught nature (unlike Ai Weiwei’s political themes). What do you think about the Ai Weiwei’s detention? (the recent crackdown on artists)
: For me the situation of his detention in China is first unfortunate on many levels that one could easily imagine and be sympathetic with. At, I think, a more important level, I am interested in his situation and the relationship of risk, artistic process and the formulation of questions of our time, whether political, ecological, perceptual and/or existential. In a way it seems natural that Ai Weiwei would be challenged by his government as his work is challenging many ideas including political ones of theirs. My thought is to see his situation is a very broad context critical to the asking, visualization and engagement with fundamental questions for our time as well as the role of the artist in society/nature.
John Roloff is a visual artist who works conceptually with site, process and natural systems. He is known primarily for his outdoor kiln/furnace projects done from the late 1970’s to the early 1990’s as well as other large-scale environmental and gallery installations investigating geologic and natural phenomena. He studied geology at UC Davis, Davis, CA with Professor Eldridge Moores and others during the formative days of plate tectonics in the mid-1960’s. Subsequently, he studied art with Bob Arneson and William T. Wiley also at UC Davis in the late 1960’s. In addition to numerous environmental, site-specific installations in the US, Canada and Europe, his work has been included in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, UC Berkeley Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian Institution, Photoscene Cologne and the Venice Architectural and Art Biennales. He has received 3 artists visual arts fellowships from the NEA, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship and a California Arts Council grant for visual artists. He is represented by the Lance Fung Gallery in NY and Gallery Paule Anglim in San Francisco. He is currently a Professor of Sculpture at the San Francisco Art Institute.
"My work is a examination of psychological and conceptual relationships between humanity and nature, materiality and process, often evoking a poetic interplay between primal and scientific conditions. This exploration was inspired in the work of 1970’s through the early 1990’s by qualities of the sublime evoked by the geology and natural dynamics of the North American landscape. Since the mid-1990’s other, related issues, particularly structural and systemic relationships between landscape, architecture and technology, have increasingly characterized the work."