MONTREAL, Canada — Fall is here and I’ve been fighting against cosmic forces to ignore Halloween at least until October starts. Garth made that harder for me by sending me this assignment about Quebec’s Laurent Craste.
If Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn were directed by John Carpenter, you’d get something close to Laurent Craste. His vases and sculptures look like they were attending a carefree college party at haunted cabin in the woods before being picked off one-by-one by an axe-wielding maniac. We literally have one vase with an axe buried in its face, another stomped to death by a heavy work boot and a third skinned and pinned like a frog in biology class. Laurent plays the part of the psychopath very well, just check out his picture on this web site.
The comical, playful thread is easy to see here. Humor works by presenting you with a register of acceptable ideas about a subject and then introducing a new idea that runs in direct opposition to that register. There are times when artists or critics gripe at me for bringing up “low” topics like comedy, but it’s needed here. It’s needed because there’s a turn that happens with Craste’s work and it starts with comedy. You see the dissonance between a pristine porcelain vase, all the ways one is expected to treat such an object and then the way Craste has subverted that. So you laugh. That laugh ends pretty quickly as the show goes on and it becomes apparent that this isn’t slapstick violence, but real, visceral brutality. Everyone comes to the freak show to laugh, but nobody laughs when they leave.
The goal, according to Craste, is to use this jarring, difficult contrast to dissect our relationships to decorative objects. Many of these evoke very classic 18th and 19th century porcelain vases, so in a way it’s like he’s pulling the idea of “porcelain vase” directly from your brain so he can stab, bludgeon and crush it. And since it’s the generalized idea of a porcelain vase he’s abusing, he’s also experimenting on the register of ideas you associate with a porcelain vase: class, politics, history, luxury, your high school art teacher, or the almost ridiculous fetishism that has been built up around these objects. All of them go under the knife of a man who freely uses words like “contamination” and “corruption” in his artist statement. If you find that this mad scientist’s work turns your stomach, maybe you should sit with that feeling for a moment and ask why.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.
Do you love or loathe these works of contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.