LOS ANGELES — We’ve spent the last few days looking over Ry Rocklen exhibitions from the recent past. From the trio of exhibitions we have for you today, you can explore Rocklen’s obsession with the object and see how he is able to build these into personal narratives that cleverly avoid the pitfall of sentimentality.
Local Color was Rocklen’s exhibition at Dodd Galleries (Athens, Georgia; September 12 – October 10, 2014). Gallery director Katie Geha confronted Rocklen with the “sentimentality” question head-on, only to get an answer from Rocklen stating, “I am not a sentimental person.” The conversation began around a body of work in which Rocklen cast his clothing in porcelain. Geha explains the effect:
The result is a flat dimensionality—a series of white shirts, pants, and sweaters neatly folded and hung on the wall. The porcelain, as a fine material, allows the sense of the fold to emerge and defines the groove of every pattern and the thread in each fiber, leaving the clothing virtually “unchanged.” But since Rocklen’s clothes were all ruined in the process of casting, I was led to wonder, “Might not casting each piece of clothing—which holds such personal history—be construed as a kind of sentimental act?”
She said this creates an artifacting effect on the clothing, allowing people to connect Rocklen’s shirt to all shirts and connect that to their own experience. That artifacting process is done differently in other pieces, such as a chair made out of trophies. We have the linguistic associations of the trophies, combined with the familiar architecture of the chair. Both objects are removed one step away from their typical modes, allowing us to see them with fresh eyes.
It’s through tricks like the above that Rocklen is able to take the most common details of his autobiography and connect them to us. The directors at Rocklen’s exhibition at Untitled (New York City, April 27 – June 15, 2014) pick up on the paradox of a personal narrative transitioning into shared experience. It starts when the artist selects common items for special treatment.
Through the poetic, universally intimate, pieces Rocklen touches on one of the most pressing realities of our contemporary moment– the fixation on self recognition and individuality through gesture or presentation of taste. These self-affixed realities are immediately sublimated into a cacophony of voices in search of the same individuality. What results is a shared banality. Both intimate and universal, the exhibition isolates this moment.
These themes — the recognizable objects memorialized forever in casts and the recognizable objects mutated by some other architecture— were brought together in A Living (Paris, February 2 – March 29, 2014). These objects included a gold-plated phone book, the trophy chair, a flat tire cast in bronze, a recliner chair with a faux-marble finish and the T-shirts. Taken together, we get a near portrait of not only the artist, but the artist’s living space. Molded by his artistic interventions, we don’t only see the artist’s space, but our spaces as well.
It may be that observations like these are more unifying for people than poetic platitudes about empathy or bad song lyrics with lines like “everybody hurts.” The banality sells it. It draws my attention to the ephemera that I take for granted in my own life. By connecting my ephemera to another person’s ephemera, I feel a connection to that person. It’s nothing to write poetry over, but it gives me a sense of a shared reality that I would otherwise neglect in favor of brighter, flashier observations. The world feels fuller than it did before and I have a slice of pizza cast in porcelain to thank for that.
Rocklen is based out of Los Angeles. He was born in 1978 and attended UCLA. He works primarily with sculpture and often uses found objects, which he modifies. He’s been shown internationally, including at the 2008 Whitney Biennial. He’s been included in institutions including the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and MoMA PS1 in New York and the Whitney Museum. He’s represented by Thomas Solomon Gallery in L.A. and by Praz-Delavallade in Paris.
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.