This is Part II of Eric Mirabito’s extraordinary essay on his art. If this is your first encounter we suggest you start with part one. Mirabito explains signifiers in his work, but without subtracting from their visual potency. Its a great read, give it time. Maybe give it a second read, particularly if you are a maker.
The tool shape in my work is a symbol of service and labor but also of skill and even prosperity and growth. I have always thought that it is good to see labor and construction in the culture; it means that things are happening; growth is happening and there are social reasons that allow change to happen. The information imbedded in the tool comes through in the handle, where the user most likely held the object. The implied history of service and labor conjures memories linked. I strip away much of the detail in the selected objects in order to generalize them and present them as a prop or a cue. I’ve found that when the object is too real, it becomes a fact, and as conscious thinkers we tend to focus on facts. The fact of the tool is too direct for my purposes and causes the viewer to concentrate on the physical reality rather than what it signifies. The shape of the tools that I curate is a little more ambiguous and does not directly read “tool,” per say, but alludes to a use of some sort, some kind of interaction. For example, I alter the mold of the drill by sanding out most of the detail i.e.: screw heads, logos, and cooling vents. This way the drill becomes a symbol of what the drill means, not necessarily the fact of the drill. Giorgio Morandi spent much of his time investigating the relationships that are created through objects. He would remove the labels from bottles and much of the other detail in order to leave the object available. I want the viewer to figure out through their own history what the object is and relate to it that way. The object you see is a reproduction, a representation much like the way a story works. The author is giving you characters and a situation but it is up to you to comprehend its meaning.
In some of the most recent works I have incorporated found objects unaltered into the finished piece. It may be an old foot stool or tea tray or small maple box. I am interested in these objects because the have their own story and had a life before they existed in my work. They are from a part of a domestic system that is private and not meant to be on display. Making ceramic parts to exist with these found items is a way for me to reflect on the past.
We have our own stories and I embrace that they are going to affect the way that we look at things and experience them. It is the responsibility of the viewer to find the direction that they want to take the conversation. When having a conversation I am frequently fingering through the Rolodex of my life experience. In the conversation your story may trigger memories for me and in turn I will use the triggered memories as a way to relate to you. I may tell you my stories to show you that I understand what you are saying or I may tell the story as a bridge connecting our ideas and building from them. The give and take is a very important part in understanding the world around us. In my work I aim to address the possibility of connection through give and take mechanisms and, use them to have a conversation. A conversation about your history and mine.
I will tell you a story detailing an experience of mine. I chose this story because it is sometimes in the back of my mind when I am in my studio and working. The experience has elements that relate to my work, namely preconception and meaning:
There is a jazz club on the south side of Chicago in which I would occasionally pass some time. The neighborhood is not the cleanest or safest to be around but the club is a little oasis. Nearing the address you begin to get the feeling that you are in the wrong place because everything is boarded up and there are no signs for anything resembling a bar or jazz club for that matter. There is an unimposing red door that barely reads Velvet Lounge near it and that is it. When you open the door it is like you’ve been transported to another place. The man at the door asks you for ten dollars and you hand it over not realizing he is one of the greatest living trumpet players of Chicago Jazz in its heyday. The bar is dark and above your head hang chandeliers made form leftover city scraps, copper tubes, funnels, pipe fittings and somewhere in there dim light bulbs. The sound from the players on stage reaches out and snatches you out of your socks and sits you down for a conversation. You’ve never heard more physical music in your life. You close your eyes and let the snare become your heartbeat. Bang! The front door is slammed open and everyone turns to see what’s happening. Everyone but the musicians, they are doing just fine. Standing near the entrance is a young man dressed like the streets. He is angry and excited; his motions are that of a scared, cornered animal. On his back he carries like a backpack some type of case or box made of black canvas. He rushes into the tabled section and throws the box onto one of them. The quartet is in a furious state, the music energized like a fire. The commotion of the man cannot break the wall of emotion coming from the stage. But he can become part of its construction. The man opens the box to reveal a violin. From the touch that violin receives you know it is precious. In a quick skip the man is on the stage pouring his heart over the strings. The members who where already playing don’t skip a beat and just let that violin cry. Before you are able to grasp what you are hearing he is done. Down off the small plywood stage in a step. The cradled violin is put away and the man leaves having never spoken a word, but we’ve heard his whole life story.
Eric Mirabito is an East Chicago sculptor working in metal, wood and ceramics. His day job is running the metals workshop for Theaster Gates.
Above image: Work by Eric Mirabito in wood, clay and glaze, 2013, 10″ H x 16″ W x 10″ D.
Using the plinth in my work began from thinking about story and theater. Creating a stage for the objects became a way for me to address the display and presentation of my history. I want the piece as a whole to exist like a conversation. I use the plinth as a way to create an arena for the conversation; the plinth is a player as well. Molding or pattern is used to create a sense of belonging or nostalgia. Much like the quote earlier from Antonio Damasio about feeling good in a new house, I want to create that feeling with the plinth. Pulling from the history of the space in which the work will be viewed, I try to create that comfortable sensation that the objects belong there or have some connection to the space. Sometimes I use a familiar molded edge or wallpaper pattern as a way to address the ceramic surface. I build specific hand tools to recreate the molding and patterning in order to generate a more direct relationship to the ornament of the interior space.
Molds are a fitting way for me to manipulate a found object and make it my own. Adjusting an object that I have chosen to represent an experience in my life by altering its form gives it authority. I consider molds in the same way I consider stories. A story is a recreation of a thought or experience told through the filter of the story teller. A mold functions in much the same way. I mimic an object and retell it like it is or I adjust it somehow and rewrite its story as mine. Using the mold to create multiple objects I create a history, the cast pieces, in effect, contain generations. The repetition that I am able to achieve is another factor in my choice to use molds. I am able to produce multiple versions of the chosen item which gives me the option to have the same object in more than one place in the gallery setting. At the same time I have committed to a vocabulary of objects, to a specific selection, so I can fully investigate them and their relationships.
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