The Body, the Object, the Other Explores the Boundaries of Self
Craft Contemporary, Los Angeles
through May 10
Written by Genie Davis
The Body, the Object, the Other, at Craft Contemporary through May 10th, is the museum’s second clay biennial, and it is an excitingly fresh one. The group exhibition of 21 artists use the human body as the central figure on which all the images are based – but although this is the starting point, it is a much broader, more poetic exhibition than that.
Co-curators Holly Jerger and Andres Payan Estrada rooted the exhibition on creation myths in which humans arose from the earth itself. Clay as a body as well as an “other” – whether object or something more ephemeral or alien – is the overall conceit; the result is both figurative and abstract, shifting viewer perception between the corporeal and the malleable and transient nature of clay itself as a medium. The highly tactile nature of clay creates an almost visceral exhibition, one in which the viewer feels as if they are drawn into the surfaces.
Exhibition artists include Alex Anderson, Jenny Hata Blumenfield, Jason Briggs, Cassils, Sharif Farrag, Nicki Green, Phyllis Green, Raven Halfmoon, Roxanne Jackson, Anabel Juárez, Cynthia Lahti, Galia Linn, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Gerardo Monterrubio, Brie Ruais, Anders Herwald Ruhwald, Nicole Seisler, Meghan Smythe, Cammie Staros, Wanxin Zhang, and Bari Ziperstein.
Along with sculptural images, Nicole Seisler created a site-specific wall drawing, “Preparing,” consisting of patterns formed from wedging clay; their repetitive red marks remind the viewer of teeth or piano keys. Additionally, an immersive sound work by Cassils captures the hypnotic sounds of the artist’s efforts in wrestling with a 2,000-pound clay block. Jenny Hata Blumenfield’s “The Vessel As Female” series is also a site-specific installation, featuring clear plexiglass shapes both abstractly geometric and of vessels; a blue vessel shape mirrors itself in shadow. There are also three-dimensional sculptural vessels, and an image of a woman in a yellow bathing-suit-like-garment holding a geometric shape. Working in a palette of bright blues, reds, gold, and canary yellow, the work is a visual dazzler that seems to defy gravity.
Some works feel deeply intense, fierce and spiritual, as with Raven Halfmoon’s “Caddo Dancing in Binger, Oklahoma.” The stoneware and glaze sculpture is a multi-sided, totem-pole-like series of visages, the dark red coloration of the piece and the black stripes on the bottom section of it evoking a ritualistic, tribal experience. Four partially visible upper faces – eyes and long, continuous, bridge of nose – are stacked on top of the full face, as if a fully-formed person were being shaped through a process as old as the earth.
A personal favorite is Roxanne Jackson’s “Metal Goddess,” created from ceramic, faux fur, glaze, lace, and shell. With long, bright-yellow finger-tipped nails and a soft-looking pink pad of a palm, this is both wild animal and human hand, an alien creature clutching a delicate seashell. Both recognizable and mystical, the unknowability of the piece is compelling in and of itself.
Cynthia Lahti’s “Brown Skirt” is both a ceramic sculpture and a mixed media work; it’s top section a partial nude torso depicted in a found photographic image on archival paper. This is not precisely matched up to the golden-brown skirted waist-to-toe ceramic bottom-half. It is haunting and oddly elegiac, a tribute to the unknown.
With the sculptural wall art of Brie Ruais’ “Topology of a Garden, Southwest,” viewers are invited to map the earth from which we may have sprung in delicately fragmented, under-glazed pigmented clay; equally of the soil is the free-standing ceramic created by Anabel Juarez, “Vestigio III.” Both vessel and body, the piece resembles a kind of personal armor.
A full sense of both whimsy and menace are present in Sharif Farrag’s glazed stonework “Split Face Jar,” in which sharp teeth contrast with red sneakers and a yellow, flower-like nose on the figure’s face.
Nicki Green’s “The Porous Sea (Tub)” of glazed earthenware, uses a brilliant turquoise with her red clay; the vivid color, as if it were sea water in the most dazzling shade, is bubbling and dripping from the middle of the piece. At first glance, the color’s vividness had a jeweled quality, reminding the viewer of raw turquoise gemstones in a rift of the earth.
An overall absorbing and lovely exhibition, this iteration of the biennial is seductive and welcoming, mysterious and recognizable, somewhere between earthscape, form-made-flesh, and symbolic dream.