If the eternal quest of the contemporary artist is to create something, ahem, “new” or “original” — forgiving the triteness of the implications of that generalization — then the contemporary artist who works in a traditionally process-driven medium like ceramics is challenged all the more to think beyond the formal techniques dictated by their praxis.
Ceramics artists Katie Parker and Guy Michael Davis, who teach at the University of Cincinnati and frequently create installations as a duo known as Future Retrieval, are well versed in the traditions upon which their art relies. But in their effort to push the limits of their studio practice, they’ve found ways to incorporate technological innovations and play upon thematic conventions to make their work fresh and relevant.
“A majority of our ideas come from looking at history and trying to find out a way to resurrect some pattern or form or surface using what we have available now,” Parker and Davis explain via email. “The process [of ceramic making] can be very fussy, but the results are unlike any other, so it is hard to entirely ditch tradition.”
In their experimentation with process, Parker and Davis often utilize three-dimensional scanning and digital manufacturing of found forms that they mold and construct in porcelain — innovating the more analogue method of creation with current technology.
The two researched Rookwood’s collection of historical forms before settling on the art pottery company’s Honeybear cast to include it (among other Rookwood influences) as a major design element in their current exhibition, The Living Room, at the Contemporary Arts Center — a group project with local artists Paul Coors, Terence Hammonds and design collective Such + Such.
The artists felt the piece was “one of the most approachable” casts found in the Rookwood’s collection (originally produced in 1948), and they use it in the form of everything from hanging chandelier to decorative figurine in their installation.
“We chose the Honeybear because of the quality of the sculpting and the stylization of the form,” they say.
Site-specific pieces are nothing new to Parker and Davis, and it only made sense to tie in Rookwood’s Cincinnati-centric aesthetic, as the two have been visiting artists in residence at Rookwood for the past year.
Using artifacts from Rookwood’s archives, Parker and Davis also created a “loose narrative interpretation” of the ceramic factory’s current location in Over-the-Rhine as part of the tile mural above The Living Room’s central fireplace, which Parker and Davis created in collaboration with screenprinter Hammonds.
“We made numerous drawings of things we saw everyday and morphed that with imagery from historical tapestries and prints,” Parker explains.
The result is a mural that involves formal motifs like animals and fauna (they even sculpted barley and hops as a nod to the brewery district as decoration for the fireplace’s mantle and hearth) but makes the content all the more contemporary by linking images of domesticated dogs (pit bulls, daschunds and chow chows), pigeons and rats (the indigenous animals of an urban setting, if you will) with that of cheetahs, wild birds and a lion feeding on a hooved animal.
All three artists worked with Rookwood’s glaze chemist Jim Robinson to formulate colors for the mural tiles based on the current production options available to them and the appropriateness for the imagery.
Parker and Davis have also been resident artists at the Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, China — the porcelain capital of the world and a town filled with artists working traditionally in porcelain.
“Artists travel from all over the world for a chance to use the finest porcelain that exists,” the artists say of their time spent in China. “Once everyone has the ability to make beautiful fine pieces, the challenge there becomes what do you make and how to stand apart by playing with the tradition and techniques in a contemporary way.”
And it is clear that Future Retrieval is up to the task. Even Parker and Davis’ collaborative title implies that they work in ways that are both progressive, yet rooted in tradition. Relying upon time-honored techniques of craft can allow artists like Parker and Davis creative freedom to explore unorthodox themes and content.
THE LIVING ROOM is on display at the Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, through Sept. 2. The space holds summer performances every other Monday. The next performance is NANOworks Opera’s THE PURE AND THE WASTED at 8 p.m. Aug. 5.