An installation by Grace Pardun Alworth. Luther Seminary’s Gullixion Pop-Up Gallery. January 5 – February 15, 2015. Porcelain, crystals, beads, polyfill, glitter.
Ceramics artists occupy an interesting intersection in the arts. On one hand, we are crafts people making practical items for every day use: coffee mugs, cereal bowls, and fermentation crocks. Our craft is judged on functionality and aesthetics. On the other hand, we are trained as fine artists. Our art is judged on aesthetics, conception, and message. Sometimes, the craft world doesn’t understand the fine arts world. Sometimes, the fine arts world doesn’t value the craft world.
Furthermore, artists and audiences take art very seriously. What does it mean? What difference does this art make? What am I trying to express? With they understand my work? Is this any good? These are questions an artist wrestles with as she creates. Viewers struggle to understand what they see. I’ve heard from viewers of my work, “I’m not an artist, or even an artsy type- can you explain this to me?” Viewers want to get it right. Viewers think of art as a puzzle and they want the know the answer.
This intersection of art and craft is where I often find myself navigating. Sometimes my response is to only make craft- a plate, a bowl, a blanket, a button. Sometimes my response is to only make fine art- a painting, a sculpture. But, as I reflect on this meeting place of creating, I realize that the values from each field benefit my work. My quest for meaning and purpose in my every day existentialism is practiced in my studio.
There is another tension found in my craft: valuing concept and theory of fine arts while enjoying the craft. When I say, “enjoying the craft,” I mean both creating my work, but also using that work. An example would be enjoying the construction of a fermentation crock made by my husband Jim, as well as enjoying the process of fermenting cabbage in that same crock.
An underlying theme in both Jim’s and my work is fun. We deeply enjoy working in clay and we deeply enjoy playing. Often Jim will declare, “Well, I’m going to go play in my studio now!” This installation at Luther Seminary is all about play.
One viewer came down to the gallery and seeing the 178 pieces of porcelain hanging from the ceiling, “Well that couldn’t have been fun, hanging all those pieces!” My response was, “Actually, I enjoyed the installation of this show very much.” And its true, I loved every minute of hanging each piece. As each ceramic disk went up, the piece changed form. I wouldn’t have done this show if I didn’t enjoy doing it.
I visit my installation regularly and I play with it. I tap each disk. I spin the crystal beads. I step back and watch the show move and dance. Shadows play across the walls.
One day, I sat in the chairs underneath the rainbow side and I watched the disks slowly swing back and forth. I was filled with gratitude. What a joy it is to make art with my husband. What a joy it was to make each disk. What a joy it was to install this work at a place, Luther Seminary, that has been responsible for so much joy and play in the last 5 years. What a joy it is to dabble in the intersection of arts and crafts!
For some, change is difficult. Transition into a new reality conjures up anxiety. Fears cloud one’s appreciation for new opportunities possible because of the shift. Luther Seminary is a place of myriad transitions. This is the new reality for seminaries – to promote transformation from within the institution and from without the institution. Because of this calling to encourage transformation, transition and change will abound here- and also anxiety.
What is a pastoral-type person to do in the face of change? What’s an artist to create when her community feels anxious?
This installation is made to be read from left to right when standing on the stairs leading down into the gallery space. It begins with darker clouds and raindrops and transitions into a bright rainbow. I’ve arranged the lighting to point towards the rainbow. You will find that the clouds, made from polyfill stuffing and paper lanterns, are sprinkled with glitter. The circles hanging down from the ceiling are handmade porcelain disks glazed in eleven different colors. If you sit long enough, you’ll notice the Swarovski crystals reflecting light throughout the gallery.
Don’t take this installation too seriously. I made this for you to enjoy and to play with. Be gentle with each piece as you are gentle with each other in this community.