Welcome to the mold-making room in the ceramics department at UW-Madison where I have set up camp. Late this spring I began a crash course in learning all-things-mold-making. It has been years since I have been so focused in making molds and the first time I’ve worked with plaster as a casting material. Plaster as I am learning, is an incredible material to make molds with. It is way less forgiving than silicone. There is no fudging, no bending around an undercut and a strategic approach is required when deciding which part to cast next. Basically in order to make a successful mold you have to think backwards and in negative space. It hurts at firsts, but slowly becomes addictive. Beware.
“Goodbye” was the first piece I made with this process for my MA exhibition in May. I cast three pairs of shoes in porcelain and sandblasted common email sign-offs into the heels. The molds were small and manageable, something that apparently this summer I had to overcome…
“Handle with Care” is the largest piece I will be making over the next few months. Thematically it speaks to transience, the act of moving, how location is not visible on the body and paradoxically how location shapes ones sense of culture and therefore, self. The presentation of the work is (at this point) a gallery installation incorporating a partial moving van, altered commemorative plates and porcelain blankets.
Another piece I am preparing, tentatively titled “Home Sweet Home” involves cast stacked mailboxes. I am toying with the idea of incorporating soil from previous homes I’ve lived in inside of the mailboxes. In an effort to be able to visualize this piece beyond the drawings I have, I made a number of paper replicas last night. I will be working on different configurations over the next few days. (New images to follow as this progresses.)
Here’s the mailbox being blocked up for the first pour:
And here is the corresponding plaster bleed that was miraculously stopped when that part was cast:
While seeing negative space is becoming easier, casting this mold made it brutally apparent that I need to work on reinforcing my coddling boards. I also learned that large simple objects are still LARGE, and that means preparing for plaster weight and volume is key to efficient casting, no matter how simple the design. I can’t believe it took three tries to quit fighting that one! (I should take a moment here to thank Bruce, the night janitor, for his expert driving of the floor scrubbing machine that saved me from a long night of cement scraping.)
The deadline for these projects and my imminent graduation have made it imperative that I balance my love for process based projects with simple direct fabrication. Making “Caregiver” earlier this month puzzled me and also gave me a few clues in how I can do this. Essentially I had a deadline that I had ignored for several weeks. Three days before the piece was to be installed I fired the bucket and began collecting materials for the remaining part of the structure. (I never do this.) As it was that I had no true plan for the piece, I followed my instincts, making quick decisions and silencing my inner critic. What resulted was a piece that read simply, without the intellectual workout required by of much of my recent work.
Formally this piece is quite minimal. It directly references a graveyard watering station at the local cemetery in the small town where I live. The watering bucket is cast porcelain while the other components of the piece are true to life: wood, steel, brass and cement.
It took two days after it was finished before it I realized it was a portrait. Not an anthropomorphized object as a human figure, but a vignette, sketching out the fleeting existence of those who care for others. I was disarmed when I realized I was openly grieving through my work, yet was strangely please to see that I could be so frank. While specific personal relationships are at the root of this piece for me, I feel that “Caregiver” reads with a particular kind of plain honesty that encourages personal investigation of it’s components.
Perhaps this is a good place to address the most recurrent questions I’ve been asked over the past few weeks. (This get’s a bit manifesto-y, so you’ve been warned.)
In respect to the content of the body I am currently working on:
The projects I am making this fall are based on questions I have about how identity is formed and perpetuated. The theme of identity is central to my work, however in these projects I am challenging myself to create work that comes from my own story, choosing symbols from my past to speak through. Up to this point I have created imagery and objects legible to society as a whole in an effort to critique the broader systems that shape identity. With this body I want to draw closer to the marrow of what makes us who we are by addressing the individual.
Addressing casting and materials:
Casting existing objects into incongruent materials (like making a porcelain blanket or a rubber television) triggers a place for the known to become foreign. Each material carries it’s own associative properties to the object. Porcelain for example, has the ability to inference a history tied to class struggle, the evolution of mass production or perhaps the adaptation of it’s manufacturing techniques worldwide. On a more physical level it is a fragile material and holds a relationship to preciousness. Visually, it’s chalky whiteness renders a cast object’s otherness, recontextualized in the phantasmic or perhaps as a memory made present.
My decision to utilize mold making and casting is in part wrapped up in my reverie for manmade objects. Casting’s relationship to multiplicity gives me the ability to surround myself with these objects; to handle them and impart a new symbolic read to them. Porcelain is important to this new body for all of the reasons mentioned above. In addition, I will be casting rubber, resin and cement to complete these pieces.
What I’m aiming for ideally:
Successful artwork disturbs the linear progression of time in one’s day. Beyond stopping you in your tracks, good art haunts you, escaping language like unrequited love, confusing boundaries between the known, the desired and the feared. Good art brings us back to the marrow of things and is usually uncomfortably pleasurable.
And so, after a morning of writing it all down I am leaving the computer pod and going back to the studio. More to come. Stay tuned.