During a studio visit in 2014 an idea was raised that continues to inform my creative work today. My visitor, a well-known multidisciplinary artist, suggested I find the punctum of each of my projects. Literally, this means “the point,” but he was referring to Roland Barthes’ usage of the term in Camera Lucida, in which punctum’s Latin meaning encompasses its etymological root in the Greek word for trauma. To Barthes, specifically, punctum meant the “wounding, piercing,” detail that establishes a direct, emotional relationship between an art work and its viewer. Understood this way, the significance of an art work relies upon the human quality of vulnerability as part-and-parcel of its ability to mean anything at all. This idea has held special significance for me due to my interest in the conjunctions between artistic representation and suffering, and between the rituals of art with those of spiritual and social-emotional healing processes. My thoughts about suffering are generally grounded in Buddhist philosophy: the truth of our vulnerability to suffering must be fully recognized, and its causes reckoned with; the structures and poignant details (puncta) of art can help us with this; there are also ways to realize freedom from suffering; art also holds a place among these methods. Though the profound healing, “enlightenment,” of both self and society might only seem possible under mystical circumstances, in some unattainable utopia, or as the result of esoteric practices, my work asserts this as its polestar. So, in my art projects I find I must also explore the dynamic tensions felt between the miraculous and the mundane, the uncanny and the familiar, the ideal and the real. I work to evoke the potential for enlightenment: in public, as in private; in reality, as in imagination; if not immediately, then as progression; if not in totality, then in part/s.
Also implied by the punctum is a level of communication between artwork and viewer that is authentic and intimate. Through my projects in animation, installation, and public ritual/ceremony, I work to facilitate this kind of intimacy. Clay, for me, with its direct, primordial, and mythic relationship with the human body, is the art material that best expresses intimacy. And so even though I work with a range of materials and art processes, I find clay at the center of my practice. Being geologically and geographically definite, clay also holds the capacity for me to address specific concerns about Earth – issues of ecology and geography – in relation to social and environmental justice concerns that are at once broadly relevant and rooted in unique and deeply personal experiences. The epochal now. Ceramic vessels such as my bowls and cups are familiar: they immediately establish a tactile relationship both with skin, our impressionable surface, and with interior (visceral) bodily spaces and exterior bodily forms. When I fill these vessels with various substances, I complicate this familiarity with the suggestions made by what is inside: vermilion dust and sand, potsherds, polluted river water. Figures made of clay seem uncanny, because like clay vessels do less directly, they establish and express a kinesthetic sense of posture, gesture, and character even when vitrified, immobile.
Working with clay, it is essential for me to perceive and highlight how the material naturally behaves in flow, stretch, fold, and break. As I manipulate clay, by hand as well as with various tools and machines, I conceptualize the forces of these processes as different metaphors operating within the context of my project’s defining ideas. I relish shifting the balance between control and spontaneity, cultivation and naturalness, plasticity and fragility, generating a form of expressive dialogue and movement – a kind of dance – from which I crystallize artifacts: ceramic pieces that belong in one of my project-worlds. Glazing and firing methods endow these physical forms with color and texture, through which they are rendered even more alive. So, I turn to the idea of animation, as this is a primary thread woven through all my work.
I connect making animations with creating the ritual activities that define my installations. They both accumulate their power and meaning over time and through repetition-with-variation, and also follow certain parameters that are imbued with significance both symbolic and real; rules that exist both by necessity and by design. In this sense, all my projects are of one piece. Yet these works are also undeniably made using very different methods and they function for audiences in different ways. My animations are narrative fictions: imaginative, figurative, surreal. They are mediated through technology: digital capture, files, and screens. My installations are grounded in real situations, and characterized by their use of utilitarian vessel forms. They are experienced directly, immediately. I find these “contradictions” define a kind of dialectic mode in my art practice that is generative. Yet even in my installations, I find objects can evoke some of the uncanny power of animation without actually moving: it is in the spaces-between – as defined by physical placements of iterative forms – that establish rhythms, just like the life-energy that activates and sets patterns of breath, heartbeat. The simultaneity of multiple objects installed in space also invites my viewers to abide, explore, recognize, and take pleasure in pattern and difference, pattern-breaking. I give away the components of my social practice ceramic installations to serve in participants’ lives both as memory-beacons for issues addressed in the work, and to act as a kind of social glue joining public and private experience, space, and networks of people. Objects can “animate” us.
With each of my projects, I hope to generate an atmosphere that encourages heightened awareness, presence, and receptivity to depth-encounter: between self and other; between unconscious and conscious experience. And, I hope to help transform - on some scale, on some level – situations marked by suffering; to help arouse the compassionate heart; to stimulate insight and imagination; and to help unify people as we personally and collectively face the realities of our mounting social and environmental problems.