I began my first semester in graduate school by researching the nature of the religious experience. This came from a desire to reflect on my upbringing in a devoutly Christian family. Specifically, I looked into the material settings used to engineer these experiences. My goal was to replicate them in my artistic practice. My first installation, called Temple for One, presented a set of hands formed in the sign of benediction. The repetition of the hand pointed to the ritualistic nature of Christianity. I erected simple fabric walls around them to direct one viewer at a time to encounter the altar-like display.
My next attempt to design a contemplative experience was a dismal failure. I ventured into wood-working to build an octagonal room. It was 8 feet tall and 5 feet across. Its simple white exterior contrasted with a bright blue interior that offered blankets on the floor, in which the viewer could sit and relax. Not only was this piece a chore to construct (I am not a wood-worker or an architect!), it did not succeed in welcoming the viewer into a contemplative space. I was so fed up with this project, I didn’t even take photos of the finished product (which I regret).
At around this time in the semester, my research was also pointing me to the conclusion that transcendent experiences – whether routed in religion or not – do not depend on particular physical settings. So in my next works, I returned to clay where I reflected on the idea of labour as meditation. Instead of chasing the unfeasible goal of crafting a contemplative space for everyone else, I pursued my own reflective practice. I was so happy to have my hands in clay again. I was in a much better head space with this exploration, compared to my brief foray into construction. The repetitive mode of making in Pinched Tiles allowed me to slip into an altered state of consciousness within the confines of my studio. The intuitive interaction with clay reflected my acceptance of the futility of attempting to reach some greater understanding. I suspended the tiles to allow viewers to walk through the installation, where they could see the marks of my fingers. The magic enters into the piece as the viewer realises the dramatic shift in the porcelain – opaque from one side, and translucent from the other.
I have also been staging Interventions in spaces that already hold a sense of mystery. I take my small ceramic components and place them in locations where people may stumble upon them. Taking the work out of the gallery is exciting for me. Not only am I free from the hierarchical nature of the “white cube”, but by interrupting the viewer’s expected reality, the work reawakens their childlike curiosity.
During the Christmas break, I plan to read a few of the pile of books that have been waiting for me. I will also take time to luxuriate in the studio, starting a new project and re-approaching old ones. This semester was about veering away from my core interests in order to find them again. I feel as though I’ve found the beginning of the path I want to follow.