Stepping Forth into Knowledge

This past week one of my professors assigned something that I immediately began to dread, gathering books from the library.  The actual library, not the online interwebs I love so much, but physical books from within a physical building.  My mission was simple, get five books; three that relate to something you're interested in, one that is completely off topic, and one that you just happen upon and "found".  I put it off until the day before class because I personally don't like the "idea" of going to the library and searching for books...or at least I thought I didn't like it.

After just over two hours of exploring the "N" section of the Henderson Library at Southern, I'd gathered up seventeen books.  Yes you read that right, not just the meager five, but seventeen books ranging in topics from ceramics and their glazes, to theory and how to critique contemporary art.  I was a kid in a candy shop.  I'm still not sure what made me feel such distaste for the assignment to begin with because I ended up having a very good time searching for things to read and pilfer through.  I've had them for a couple of days now and I'm already preparing to try out new glaze tests, make a porcelain clay body, and read up on how to show your art when you don't know what your art means.  And the best part is that the books aren't due back to the library any time soon because I am a grad student.  Lucky for me, I get to keep them for the rest of the semester until May, unless someone requests them (which I doubt will happen).

Aside from the book adventure, my friend Jessamy and I took a trip to the local saw mill on Thursday and saw the complete process of lumber production from start to finish in the Claude Howard Lumber Company mill.  We submitted weeks ago a proposal to paint Statesboro's Eagle Nation on Parade plaster eagle, and we won the proposal!  So the whole week was spent planning our pitch, meeting with Mr. Howard, and then actually seeing the mill.  Now we have to come up with proposal #2 for our next meeting and incorporate all of the things we saw at the mill and what was discussed in our meeting.  It might sound a little odd for someone like me, who does sculpture and ceramics to want to paint a giant bird, but I'm down for a challenge.  I painted multiple murals before my time here at Southern so I'm not a stranger to painting, but this will surely be a challenge.  Once we begin the painting job I'll be sure to mention our progress briefly here in the blog.

Sadly I missed the very famous Carrie Mae Weems give her lecture at SCAD this past week.  She presented her work Considered at the Trustees Theater at SCAD through the deFINE Art 2016 program.  My fellow grad Carrington who did get to attend gave me a brief run through about the lecture, and how Carrie Mae Weems touched on her appropriated pieces from the Harvard Library.  We went over these the day before her lecture in class when we were discussing appropriation and what it's limits are within art.  I think it's crazy how Harvard originally was trying to sue her for the image use, but when she accepted the lawsuit and said that people needed to hear about these images, and see what was being "studied" Harvard dropped the case.  A few years later Harvard invited her back to give a lecture and exhibition about those very works.  Simply amazing!  This prompted me to investigate the history behind the photographs and Art21 has a great video on Appropriation and Borrowing.  I found out that the people featured in the images were treated like experiments, and specimens.  The professors at Harvard wanted to prove that the black man was inferior to the white man, genetically, physically, and mentally.   Weems brought these images to light, and I'm looking forward to seeing some of her works on display in Savannah when I visit this weekend coming up.  I plan to kill two birds with one stone and take a side tour to SCAD while I am at m conference for the British Commonwealth Liaison Program.

Overall this whole week was centered around stepping forward into knowledge and not fighting it so much.  I have a tendency to get overwhelmed with task management and assignments but this past week I really focused on just going with the flow.  I didn't want to go to the library but once I accepted that I had to go, I really enjoyed myself.  I thought the saw mill was going to be a waste of my time but in fact it was a huge eye opener for me.  I never would have known that this city was actually built around the mill originally, or that they supply 90% of the building materials for the city of Statesboro.  Plus the process was so cool to see from start to finish and it's definitely gave me ideas for when we begin to paint the eagle. And finally even though I did not get to go listen to Carrie Mae Weems lecture in person.  I took it upon myself to do a little searching and read up on what she is currently doing as well as a little history about her work.  I really believe the seventeen books I gathered up will help me finally get an idea about what my ceramic pieces mean...maybe.  Now I just have to get to reading them!

Finding Purpose and Direction in Your Studio

It might be the fact that I've been listening to the soundtrack of Shawshank Redemption on repeat, or that another month of school is slowly ticking it's life away, but lately I have been having a hard time finding the purpose behind making work.  Countless hours spent in the studio till odd hours in the morning must produce some sort of reasoning right?  When does this moment of "ah ha" happen, because I am not finding it.  (I assume this is a normal conclusion for someone in my predicament, but it is never the less frustrating.)  All I am getting is more and more questions. Questions like what happens when I wrap and tie my ceramics up to the point they look constrained and bound to no end? What does it mean to want to contain this space within, to restrain it from escaping with strings, twine and bindings? What does color do to the pieces, does it make them less chaotic or more so?

Never ending questions that I still can't even begin to answer.

But enough of the whaoo is me, I can't figure out the meaning of life bull crap!  I have made some big leaps since last week.  First off, I am going to my second conference of my grad school career in Savannah this upcoming weekend and will actually be Chairing my very own panel session.  This is a big deal people! Its through the British Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies International Conference and I am one of four conference liaisons that will help host, direct, and chair the conference as a whole.  I am extremely excited about this since it's a major opportunity to learn the insider scoop on how conferences work and how to properly chair panel sessions.  I will be watching a number of sessions on Friday at the Conference, and then actually running a panel by myself Saturday, called Gender Equality in a Postcolonial Context with three foreign presenters discussing their papers.

This week also brought about my first exhibition of the semester, in Gallery 303 at Georgia Southern called Inspired.  It's a mixture of student work, both graduate and undergraduate level and will be on display for just over a months time.  I also applied to the Vermont Studio Centers residency program in hopes to land a residency over any of the school holidays later this year.  We'll see what happens I suppose.  There's also one other major event that happened but it's still under the radar so I won't be able to disclose it this week but maybe next week I can spill the beans on another great opportunity I received.  Until then I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the best!

I found a number of different artists to highlight in this weeks blog, and narrowing them down to one I really wanted to discuss was tricky.  Right now in my studio I am dealing with figuring out the right size my pieces should be, their color, and their texture.  The artist I found that helped me most answer these questions is Canadian sculptor Susan Collett.  She creates large scale ceramic works that she pushes towards the edge of collapsing by stacking hand built clay slabs one on top of the next.  He pieces are extremely sculptural which is something that I like because my works also have no functional purpose.  This May, her and two other ceramic artists are exhibiting in Montreal at the Galerie Elena Lee in a show called Master Ceramicists.  She's had her ceramics displayed all over the world, in places like Dublin, Taiwan, and New York to name a few.

Two of her body of works from 2015, called Aggregate and Maelstrom are probably the most influential to me at this time simply because of their visual qualities.  Maelstrom is mostly black and white while Aggregate is full of color.  The contrast in surfaces in the two groups has shown me that one artist can swing both ways and doesn't have to commit to one style.  The works are very much alike structurally, but their glaze coloring groups them into different collections-something that I want to try in my future pieces.  I miss working with bright obnoxious colors, but making that happen in ceramics and it not look muddy or like a big accident is a logistical nightmare.

I completed four new pieces this week and tried color out for the first time in them.  I am still not sure if I like the results yet or not.  I am working with stains that do not run or flux much, but that leaves them almost with a milky surface texture.  I only glazed the string and twine a color, leaving the body of the piece a soft white.  So now I am left with collapsed and slumping forms wrapped and tied down with bright yellow, orange, green, and black "string" which isn't actually string at all because it's all just ceramics.  One piece in particular which I have named Box is encased in black thread, even across its gaping opening.  But one yellow piece of string works its way throughout the encroaching blackness on the white body.  It's a pretty powerful looking piece in my eyes, but I think only because I know how much went into making it work.  I'll have to see what the audience thinks about it, and it's fellow colorful companions next critique.

The newer pieces I am working on have scaled up in size, as well as techniques.  I've changed clay formulas, adding more alumina hydrate to stiffen the mix, and sprayed white engobe on the forms to give them a whiter base once bisque.  This should increase their opaqueness once glazed and the underlaying clay body will not be as visible.  I will also be making a porcelain body clay this week to try out, because the type of clay a person uses is just as important as what the final piece looks like.  Not saying that my clay body is bad, but to a ceramicists, a stoneware clay, and earthenware clay, and porcelain clay all come with different difficulties and qualities once fired.  I'm going for a whitest of whites clay body, so porcelain is my next move.  I may not know all the reasons yet as to why I am making the things I make, but I at least have a direction and that's all that matters at the moment.

Realizing a Critique is Around the Corner

Nothing puts a little pep in your step like realizing your first big critique is just two days away and you technically haven't "mounted" or "finished" any of your pieces...

[Insert mind exploding rambling and crying in the corner]

But all of the stressing and freaking out about what to do for critique is ok, and well worth it because I have found over time I work best under pressure; as long as that pressure isn't skull crushing.  Amongst the chaos that is my life in grad school, I have none the less had quite a productive and enlightening week.  I found out on Tuesday that I was accepted into the 3 day, all expenses paid Conference Liaison Program at the British Commonwealth Postcolonial Studies Conference in Savannah, GA.  I am pretty excited about that seeing as it's the second conference I will be putting under my belt.  I'm also currently working towards submitting a proposal pertaining to ceramic glazes for the Research Symposium coming up in a month.

Thursday the Atlanta based artist Megan Mosholder did a visiting artist lecture about her string based installations as well as discussing her many successes in traveling, residencies, and grant writing.  It was nice to get to talk to her one on one finally, after having the opportunity to meet her via Web Chat last semester in my Theory and Criticism class.  Prior to her lecture she visited my studio to talk about what most graduate students want to talk much their professors hate their work.  Ok, that isn't all we talked about but it was something that I brought up in terms of my reasonings for transitioning to ceramics from plastics.  She told me I needed to read The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, and that any questions I had needed to be directed to my Theory and Criticism Professor and her old SCAD Professor, Jason Hoelscher.  I have to admit I am kind of worried about reading it because she wouldn't tell me what it was about other than it involved space and the body.  We'll see how that goes later on.

Friday I busted my butt to submit a joint proposal with my colleague Jessamy for the Eagle Nation on Parade project.  It might sound weird for a sculptor who hates to paint, to want to paint a 6foot tall plexiglass bird, but it all counts towards being active participant in the art community.  Not to mention there is a prize involved and who doesn't need a little financial aid every now and then.  I am hoping that we win the proposal, but at the same time that is just adding one more thing to my plate.

As for what artist I found this week while searching for the reasons why I make the things I make, I came across the Swedish ceramic artists Eva Hild.  If the name isn't familiar, then the work surely is.  I have seen her pieces everywhere, in magazines, in books, and I'm pretty sure I've seen it in a gallery in person.  I am attracted to more than just the visual qualities of her work, but to how she writes about the objects she creates.  Currently she has a solo exhibition going on in Stockholm, Sweden at the Galleri Andersson Sandström called Sinkhole.  A snippet from her artist statement reads:

My sculptures are bodies, exposed to pressure and movements.  Delicate continuously flowing entities in thin-built clay. They reflect varying degrees of external and internal pressures, and how, as a consequence, perception of inner and outer space is changed or challenged.  My fascination is about the relationship between internal and external realities; the dualism between inside and outside, content and form, feeling and shape, impression and expression. It is a reflection of my inner landscapes of form. Everyday, I experience the tension between presence and absence. My sculptures show me the necessity of opposites; they are paradoxes. Bodies where presence and absence meet.

This non "art speak" statement is where I feel I can get the most information to help me in my own exploration of my work.  The forms she creates from ceramics and even steal aren't exactly like mine, which is fine (I don't want them to be) but the way she talks about them I can really relate to.  My work is clearly about chaos and the difference between containing the inner feelings with the outer feelings.  So when she says she experiences presence and absence, I see my ceramic pieces (featured above).  They are a present form, but completely absent of what they were originally made of.  It's definitely something to think about for when we have the roast, I mean critique on Tuesday.  I have already been told my pieces are very "body like" and the idea of containment is clearly important since they are solid masses, so seeing someone else deal with those ideas is reassuring.

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