I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane
I was the smudge of ashen fluff -- and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky.
This is a space between faith and fact. The lines at the top come from Vladimir Nabokov's fictional poet, John Shade, in his final work, Pale Fire. They describe the violent death of a bird, who couldn't tell the difference between the sky and its reflection in a window, whose shadow miraculously enters into the world beyond the mirrored surface where it continues living.
A number of influences position birds as a symbol of faith to me. Being raised Catholic, I am reminded of the ubiquitous renderings of the Holy Spirit as a bird afire.
Maybe more importantly, I am an individual who is obsessed with tactility. As a ceramicist who closely identifies with their material, physical engagement defines much of my formed knowledge. Birds represent this elusive manifestation of life to me. They are something I can see or hear, but I never touch. All tactile connection is eliminated. How do I experience their presence so strongly? And what does that mean? How else can I comprehend them but abstractly and emotionally.
Birds are poetry because what we cannot comprehend, we project meaning onto. The caged bird, the raven who said "Nevermore". I try to let go of my faith, because I don't want to believe in a God that rejects people from his mercy for arbitrary reasons, let alone one who orchestrates and plans the calamities that befall innocent people.
But there is a part of me that cannot stop believing in God, and hoping that I am worthy of mercy. Emily Dickinson's "Hope" is the thing with feathers will blaze through my mind whenever I don't want it to. I find it hard to let this hope go.
"Hope" is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
Many cultures regard mirrors as doorways, as portals, to another world, or another plane of existence. But mirrors are objects full of illusions. Their reflections are shallow, hallow. They cannot contain the objects they seem inhabited by. Yet they offer an ability that no human has, which is to see yourself. Once I have seen myself, once I am aware of that knowledge, I become culpable, accountable, for what I am showing.
The breaking mirror behaves as a "proving ground" against the promises that faith offers me. It is also a space where I rebell against the part of myself compelled toward holding onto this faith. The viewer can choose to focus on the projection on top of the mirror or as intersecting their own body, with themselves framed as the central image in the work. This references a longing I feel for some tactile proof.
In February, I exhibited Pale Fire in my BFA group show at ASU. The object at the center of the space was a 30" x 30" x 3" mirror with a carved ceramic frame. I made a video piece of myself throwing stylized ceramic birds to break a constructed mirrored window, that was then projected onto this mirror, and reflected onto the viewer who stood before it, and on the floor when unoccupied. I presented 11 ceramic bird constructions around the walls of the space that cast illusive shadows on the walls behind them.
For a more detailed view of the construction process and installation, you can view the slideshow below.
The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) just announced its lineup of the 6 Emerging Artists for 2016. This year, maybe because it is the 50th anniversary of the organization, these artists are not so much ‘emerging’ as being recognized as new leaders in the field.
I’d like to focus on Bobby Tso’s, Assistant Professor of Ceramics, Department of Fine and Performing Arts, at Northwest Missouri State University, and his work for NCECA, Moment of ‘Re’inventing. This project is about the making of objects in an environment where every form has already been made, and the artist’s work is to create a newness from amalgamating these known forms. He recreates and uses assemblage to create mechanical-like forms in slipcast ceramic and wood. There are even wires connecting parts of the machines, almost as a sort of absurd laugh. The materiality of the forms is enough to have the viewer abandon expectations of the functionality of the object, and this allows one to look more directly at the object’s many component shapes, and their arrangement.
Tso’s presentation is seamless. His handbuilt wooden tables and shelves are fully incorporated into the aesthetic of the work, and seem another component of the form rather than a displaying or supportive structure. His craftsmanship is impeccable, fashioning perfect wooden pins and plugs to stand in for metal dials and braces.
While Tso has been elevated for this body of work, I’d like to focus on one piece from a newer, maybe less complete body of work called Voice-Over. This work is created with the idea of a voice that does not get included in a narrative, often inspired by social commentary. The series combines 2- and 3-D perspectives to associate itself with layers of ‘factual’ information.
This work speaks of object, place, and context in a much simpler, though in my opinion, much more compelling way than the work of ’Re’inventing. In the image to the left, the blackness of the tree limb, and the empty delineated spaces of landscape, strongly suggest a disconnection, even a violent one. The restraint of color and inclusion of realistic detail in both the 2- and 3-D renderings have a quality of being more factual, more archetypical of the dislocation of trees from land. I see the straight cut at the end of each side of the log, and the browning empty area on the maplike drawing,, and my mind is compelled toward the consequences.
View Bobby’s full portfolio at http://www.bobbytso.com/.
I was 24 years old before I made anything I considered to be art. I had never taken an art class, I learned ceramics through watching others in the studio where I assisted and later taught children's classes. As a potter running a studio in downtown Manhattan, I focused on teaching and honing my technical skills to produce functional vessels.
I always believed in the poetry of clay vessels: how earth could be shaped through the force of human hands, tempered by fire, and become an object that serves intimate functions.
But is a mug a piece of art?
There is a knowledge that potters have of how the human body fits itself into utilitarian items: how a hand holds a handle; the way an arm must turn to pour from a spout; how you press your bottom lip below the rim of a cup as you take a drink. The vessel is shaped accordingly. I watched and learned these things. Slowly, I began to realize it was the relationship between the human body and the ceramic vessel throughout both their lives that I found so engaging.
I decided I wanted to make ceramic vessels that were more about this sustained relationship with the body. I explored other ways to design a vessel to function in response to humans. The objects pictured above represent two series I committed myself to making in 2009, urns and life portraits.
It was the success of the idea in the objects and the production of a series of work surrounding a single conceptual framework that convinced me this could be something. I might get to make a living learning. I can work as someone who explores the intersections between what we use and what we learn to make through careful implementation of the resources available to us.