I was trained to produce functional ceramic objects however my practice has grown to encompass large-scale, contemporary sculptural installations. Clay continues to be a pivotal conveyor of meaning along with the inclusion of other materials and practices.
Formerly I chose to attribute open-ended meanings to my work. With Loss the exploration, both in the making as well as in the viewer’s experience, is more specific, focusing on the idea of human relationships in transformation.
In 2005 I started teaching the elderly to explore their creative sides. Through my job, I meet people who are healthy and others in decline. Many are storytellers, caring individuals or grumpy ol’buggers. They teach me that every day counts and no life is without merit. Their strength and bravery are inspirational in showing me what it means to be part of the life cycle, highlighting the experience of hurt and mourning for those individuals we will eventually lose.
These “students” became guides, allowing me to appreciate the future I have. They face their share of remaining days with dignity and grace. Without intending to, they teach me about my own inevitable death.
In anticipating loss, the installation reflects the very image of my fear and emotions around death which I wish to share with the viewer. It explores the identification and acceptance of our fleeting existence, along with my ongoing struggle in acknowledging not only my limited lifetime, but also of those I love.
The installation consists of two pieces. The first is The Culture of Loss which was made specifically for a gallery space. On the floor, in the room’s centre, is a bed of black sand. In the centre of this sand field is an etching of my body, a trace of my figure in the shifting substance.
Surrounding my body fragment, nestled in the sand, are multiple mottled grey and white organic clay forms. Their formal essence has been minimized to allow for a strong visual impact. Grouped together they emanate a noticeable sameness, however seen closely every stressed egg-like form is noticeably individualized into a representations of a scarred, skin-like tissue.
Each sculptural element has two shells of low-fired clay layered one inside the other to create the egg form. Fired beyond the working temperature of the clay body, the inner shell melts while the outer shell remains intact yet is deformed. It is as if the egg is being eaten from the inside or being physically degraded from its core. Small, intimate objects have been collected from family and nature, discreetly placed in the cavity of randomly selected eggs. Words are sometimes inscribed; other eggs contain photographs, fur, twigs or shells. All of these mementoes suggest heightened memories, storytelling, moments of connection, the longevity of living, both life’s continuity and fragility, or relationships of love.
I see the grouped eggs around the body not speaking of health and life; instead they appear as ruptured, heavily textured forms beginning to decay. They refer to both the space once occupied by a living being and the power of nature to reclaim. Looking more carefully at individual eggs, the sadness of loss is sweetened by memories left behind in the form of found objects. A reminiscence of life and the joy of living are part of the mystery and/or /secrets concealed through objects, photos and words. The implication is of a space once occupied and of what now remains.
The second part of the installation, Isolating the Culture of Loss, consists of three wall mounted over-sized petri dishes made of acrylic. Each contains a simulated culture of bacteria made out of clay. The art work can be experienced from – at least – two perspectives: if viewed from right to left, it is as if one sample of bacteria feeds and multiplies rapidly as one passes from one petri dish to the next. Conversely, if the viewer moves from left to right, it is as if the same tissues are decreasing in number.
These small eggs are similar to the forms of a phagocyte, a type of human cell capable of engulfing and ingesting foreign particles, cell waste and material bacteria. The three petri dishes can therefore be seen as containing different stages of this phagocytic behaviour.
In essence, the cell-eggs appear to be diminishing or being eaten away. The representation of this transformation indicates a loss – of the bacterial form acting as the emotion of loss. An accumulation of bacteria indicates my increasing fear of death. I imagine a decrease of bacteria indicating the calming of my emotional turmoil, allowing me to slow down and take in texture, colour, line, and the finding beauty within the objects themselves.
Every day I experience an overwhelming exposure to loss. I claim this intense part of living by isolating these incidences of demise, allowing me to understand and embrace my anxiety. By doing so, I hope to accept these losses, pay them tribute and move forward.
In using strong conceptual underpinnings and refined aesthetic qualities, I realize the experience of my installation can be a challenging and exposing experience. The viewer becomes a witness of multiple organic forms, but also to the sharing of my private experiences, my secret desires and fears recognized by my most intimate self. I wish to fill the gallery with the strength of these quiet, reflective pieces and await the viewer’s interpretation.