Featured photo: Sam Brennan, “MOIRÉ,” 2013. Still from video, image courtesy of the artist and Jack Tompkins.
The expectation upon entering the Ceramics Research Center, a well-respected satellite of the Arizona State University Art Museum, is to see prized works in clay, porcelain and mixed media, and usually that is the case. But for the current exhibition, “Recorded Matter: Ceramics in Motion,” the CRC asks you to consider not just the outcome of an artist’s work, but also the process and performance, with the latter, as captured on digital video, perhaps being more salient than the finished piece.
The best example of this is Roberto Lugo’s short video “Ghetto is Resourceful,” in which Lugo chronicles the making of a simple clay bowl, keeping the camera entirely on his urban surroundings: the garbage-strewn vacant lot where he sifts dirt to make clay and gathers junk metal to cobble together a potter’s wheel, all the while cluing us in on his hard-knocks life. It’s the video narrative, not the finished product, that’s simply incredible.
Or take the surreal and psychologically probing video by Eva Vogelsang, “My Wall,” in which a woman encloses herself in a cocoon-like shape by using an infinitely long coil of clay. And then the cocoon comes undone, like the unraveling of yarn from a sweater. Just as mesmerizing — despite its length of 9 minutes — is Ben Harle’s “Percolation Theory,” which gives you a bird’s-eye view of a red vessel (spoiler alert!) slowly disintegrating from a constant spritz of water until the clay oozes away like blood.
It is these kinds of experiments in marrying ceramic craftsmanship with video that make “Recorded Matter” such a fascinating show. By the way, this is the first exhibition curated by the ASU Art Museum’s new curator of ceramics, Garth Johnson, and it bodes well for innovative themes in future exhibitions. Included in “Recorded Matter” are a couple of videos aiming for humor that I didn’t particularly care for. On the other hand, one of the first videos to greet you is “Welcome Home” by Forrest Sincoff Gard, and it’s charming. It’s a short, cleverly edited reel of museum visitors attempting to toss ceramic caps glazed in primary colors onto ceramic pegs and then watching the caps hit the floor, creating a mess of brightly colored shards. The original, untouched set of pegs and caps is on display right next to the video screen.
As ASU notes in a press release, the 11 young artists represented in the show often favor the process over the finished, fired object, and the use of video documentation is an effortless part of their style. A few of the artists, in fact, have a YouTube following, signalling perhaps that the video-meets-clay concept is shifting the definition of ceramic art.
See the exhibition through July 18, 2015, at the ASU Art Museum Brickyard, Sixth Street and Mill Avenue in Tempe.