Raymond Rorke, has recently returned to ceramics after ten years of pursuing Renaissance and Baroque music. This March he discovered that someone had entered him into a photography competition hosted by Australian Ceramics magazine for knolling, with images of ceramic tools he had made and grouped into compositions. And he won.
The surprise was twofold. He also did not know what knolling is. According to Wikipedia the term was first coined in 1987 by Andrew Kromelow a janitor at Frank Gehry’s furniture fabrication shop. At the time, Gehry was designing chairs for Knoll famously known for Florence Knoll’s angular furniture. Kromelow would arrange any displaced tools at right angles on all surfaces, and called this routine knolling, in that the tools were arranged in right angles—similar to Knoll furniture. The result was an organized surface that allowed the user to see all objects at once. The tools will be on exhibit at the Zanesville Museum of Art in Ohio (September 25, 2015 to January 2, 2016 ), as part of the Zanesville Prize for contemporary ceramics.
The American sculptor Tom Sachs spent two years in Gehry’s shop as a fabricator and adopted the term from Kromelow. Nowadays, knolling is integral to his process. Sachs adopted the phrase “Always be Knolling” (abbreviated as ABK) as a mantra for his studio (in direct reference to Blake’s infamous “Always be Closing” in Glengarry Glen Ross), which he expands on in his 2009 studio manual:
- Scan your environment for materials, tools, books, music, etc. which are not in use.
- Put away everything not in use. If you aren’t sure, leave it out.
- Group all ‘like’ objects.
- Align or square all objects to either the surface they rest on, or the studio itself.
Now that both you and Raymond know what knolling is let’s return to the artist, “I instantly recognized and connected with it, once I learned what it was. Since then I’ve recently begun making photo studies of found objects — ‘Object Lessons’ — where I’m exploring the (quiet, maybe even subconscious) bonds we have with objects — our tacit, emotional subjective responses, how we organize and make sense of them, as makers and users — and trying to see what connections can be revealed (in a “neutral” context) between aesthetics, memory, intellect, desire… It’s still in progress.”
We have posted two articles about Rorke, this one deals with his ceramic tools and the accompanying text was written by the artist in response to his winning the knolling prize. A second post this week of his Object Lesson (while not ceramics) compliments his process.
Garth Clark is Chief Editor of CFile
One day, while digging in my garden, I found a horseshoe. It was old and rusted, and had taken on the exact color of the soil, but I could tell instantly what it was – a real horseshoe. As I turned it over and over in my hands, I suddenly felt a wave of camaraderie for this poor, bent handmade thing. And even though I had never handled one before, I smiled at it, as if meeting an old and cherished friend. I thought of the horse-drawn milk wagon that must’ve clip-clopped down my street a hundred years ago, all the plants and flowers that must’ve grown out of this patch of ground. I decided to leave it where it was, and patted the dirt back on top. See you later, old friend.
What inspired this series of handhelds was that feeling I get whenever I find an object in the ground, half-buried, unidentifiable, but you can instantly tell it’s man-made, and feel the connection. Whether it’s a broken teacup handle, a rusted pair of scissors, a piece of iridescent glass: here, in my hands, is human intelligence.
I decided to investigate that feeling of recognition by making newly invented objects in clay. I wanted to understand how it is we know, in our bones, that something we’ve never seen before is man-made.
What’s behind our primal, intimate knowledge about objects?
I didn’t want to make objects that looked ‘primitive’ or ‘dumbed down’, but well-crafted, mindfully finished and serviceable, even if weathered by use and time. At the same time, I didn’t want them to look machine-made or mass-produced. I wanted these objects to honestly reveal their human making — to ‘show their hand’, so to speak — and to express the necessity and intention behind their creation, that essence of the human hand and mind working together.
While making these objects, I discovered a few things:
Even though my conscious mind intended to make imaginary objects that weren’t ‘real’ or literal copies of anything that existed, my hands kept making things that were symmetrical, pleasingly proportioned, and balanced in weight. And It was actually difficult not to make something I already knew existed. And so I started sketching imaginary objects onto scraps of paper, as a kind of guide to follow, to keep my hands and mind from ‘wandering’ back to the known and familiar. I taped these scraps together into a kind of patchwork quilt, which grew as I got more ideas, and soon, without realizing it, I had a ‘knolling’ pattern in the works. (But more about that later.)
As I was making these objects, it wasn’t long before I began thinking about tool-making. The objects I was making reminded me of implements, or utensils, things that fit just right in the hand and had a specific purpose. And then I began to think how tool-making, as a human activity, is very, very old, and long predates any art or craft in human history. (To get an idea of this in terms of time’s scale, consider that humans first began making pottery some 10,000 years ago, and cave paintings 30,000 years before that — but we began making stone tools 3.2 million years ago. In that sense, painting and ceramics are relatively new, and all human artifacts, including art, can trace their long lineage back to tool-making.)
And yet this bond we have with tools is stronger than ever today, with our indispensible digital devices: cellphones, touchscreen tablets, Apple Watches, GoPros and Google Glasses. Our physical bodies are merging ever closer with the tools we make and use, and our senses are becoming synonymous with how we communicate and connect, feel and know — how we live.
After I made the handhelds, I wondered if their human ’spirit’ or ‘essence’ would speak loud and clear, even when seen in another context. I tried to recreate my experience of finding something by chance, so I staged small encounters with them, examining them individually and in groups.
Individually, the objects are recognizable as implements of some sort, but not readily identifiable; they each feel a bit ‘off’, but the urge to pick one up and handle it is strong. Something different happens when they are in a group. Those that seem more familiar help familiarize the ones that don’t, and the one that look alien help make the familiar ones seem more referential, metaphorical. As a whole, they are strangely identifiable, identifiably strange — a kind of culture unto themselves.
I loved arranging and rearranging these objects in neat organized groupings, and noticing how they each created their own shaped spaces, invisible vibrations brushing against each other, creating narratives of connections. Also, my background working at an archaeology museum may have come into play. I remember seeing ancient artifacts neatly arranged as specimens for study in a researcher’s drawer, or for public display in exhibition cases. In these careful arrangements was another story, of symmetry, balance, proportion: the human mind at work again.
And the human hand: When my handhelds were on display recently in an art gallery (Pervasive Clay, 13–24 October 2014, Charles Addams Gallery, University of Pennsylvania, USA) arranged like unearthed archaeological artifacts, I loved watching visitors want to pick them up and turn them over and over in their hands.
I never knew what this was called — this special arrangement of objects — until I saw a posting about ‘knolling’ on Facebook. I immediately connected with that idea, and was excited that others had also been doing it! The idea that people everywhere share the same impulse to collect and organize objects as a way to understand and appreciate them is a powerful one, and speaks to that deep, intuitive connection with objects that makes us human.
I want to continue making these invented handhelds. My next series will be in porcelain, I think. I also want to do a series of objects that are beautiful, but whose function is ugly, inhuman, perhaps even evil.
Raymond Rorke March 2015, Philadelphia, USA
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