BELLEVUE, Washington—Featuring figurative beings held captive in womb-like terrariums, Walter McConnell‘s latest exhibition Itinerant Edens: A Measure of Disorder (October 20, 2017 – February 11, 2018) at Bellevue Arts Museum is the latest chapter in the artist’s ongoing Itinerant Edens series, which examine the relationship between nature and culture.
McConnell’s earthen forms—sustained momentarily in their fictional landscapes—appear fragile and ghostly, positing impermanence as the inevitable condition of natural systems. The figure’s encapsulation is not simply a convenience of display, but rather an act of preservation; like a terrarium of rare flora these atmospheric capsules become veiled in condensation as light and heat draw moisture from the earthenware clay over the course of the exhibition.
Each figure in McConnell’s installation is digitally scanned and prototyped from live models, including members from the artist’s own family. Using a full body scanner, housed in the School of Human Ecology at Cornell University, data files are used to 3D print forms, from which molds are made.
The figures in the installation are terracotta clays, cast and pulled from these molds. Itinerant Edens offers a look at intersections between analogue and digital processes in the service of art, illustrated through the device of the human figure.
McConnell tells The Seattle Times, alluding to creation myths, that he views each of his 7 installations as an “events” in a timeline.
“They’re dependent on light, heat, moisture, time. All of them act a bit like a slow fountain. There’s 30 percent water in all that clay, so the heat brings the water out. It rains down the inside of the scrim and creates this atmosphere. They’re almost like their own encapsulated biospheres.”
One such “event,” shows a rendering of McConnell’s father desperately reaching his arms towards another figure (McConnell’s own nephew). McConnell’s main interest, he continues telling the Seattle Times, is in “the choreography of the poses between all of the different figures. They have a sort of animated conversation based on their different gestures that are somewhat enigmatic and not easy to place.”
McConnell’s installation isn’t a dystopian future, but rather an uncomfortable truth: you will die, I will die and Earth as we know will come to an end. Neither crude or harsh, McConnell’s installation with its gentle ambient lighting imbues contained calm and peacefulness revealing a universal truth each visitor recognizes as his or her own. In their raw clay form, each is a blank canvas only one’s personal context of their own existence and time can truly encapsulate.
About the artist: Walter McConnell is a professor of Ceramic Art at Alfred University’s School of Art and Design. Born in Philadelphia in 1956, McConnell studied at the University of Connecticut, Storrs (BFA Sculpture, 1979) and Alfred University (MFA, Ceramic Art, 1986). He is the recipient of numerous grants, including awards from the Bemis Foundation, The New York Foundation for the Arts, The Tiffany Foundation, The Joan Mitchell Foundation, and The European Ceramic Work Center. McConnell’s sculpture has been featured in exhibitions at venues such as Harvard Center for the Arts; Denver Art Museum; The Philadelphia Museum of Art; Mass MOCA; and The Freer/Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian. He is represented by Cross Mackenzie Gallery in Washington, DC.
Do you love or loathe this exhibition from the worlds of contemporary ceramic art and contemporary ceramics? Let us know in the comments below.