Prairie: Traces gallery talk

Howdy. For those of you who missed it, here is the text from my gallery talk about Prairie: Traces, my latest piece. Yes, I am one of those people who writes out their entire speech! I’ll copy/paste it as it was written (to be delivered in person) so you can get the full experience. Hee hee!

If you want to see the piece first, please visit my vimeo page: https://vimeo.com/141752197. I’ve also posted a photo strip at the bottom of this entry.

If you would be so kind as to leave a comment or hit the “like” button below, I’d be forever grateful, as it will help with my final report for my grant. Thank you!

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Thank you for coming tonight. My name is Amy Uthus and I’m a local artist. I earned a BA from North Dakota State University in art and English in 2007. I attended graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and I earned my Master of Fine Arts in ceramics in 2012.

I’ve shown widely across the United States and I’m grateful to Ted and Shari and the Wesley House for the opportunity to show Prairie: Traces here this fall!

I currently maintain an independent studio practice, making things and selling them, as well as teaching and doing private commissions. I have prior experience at a variety of studios; I was the Artist-in-Residence and Education Coordinator at RDG Dahlquist Art Studio here in Des Moines from 2012-2014. I’ve also been an International Student Resident at the International Ceramics Studio (Hungary), and an Artist-In-Residence at Guldagergaard International Ceramics Research Center (Denmark).

In 2014, I was awarded an Alumni Achievement Award for early career success from the North Dakota State University Alumni Association. Prairie: Traces was made possible in part by a grant from the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Prairie: Traces is made of porcelain and steel. Porcelain is a white clay that is translucent when it’s thin. As you can see in the photos and in the actual piece here, light passes through the porcelain. Natural sunlight creates a different effect than halogen lighting. Sunlight creates a really crisp, focused circle, as well as the parabola of light across the top of the panels. Halogen lighting creates a fuzzier, wider circle and no parabola of light across the top. The piece was designed with natural light in mind. Ideally, this piece would sit in front of a large south-facing window.

However, we don’t have a south-facing window here, so I’m showing it with halogen lighting. The movement of the light is the same, though. I have the lamp hooked up to a telescope star tracker. The star tracker is a machine that rotates the light at the same speed of the earth’s rotation on its axis. Normally this machine would be used for astrophotography – you would attach a camera to it instead of a light, and then use it to follow the stars, taking really long exposures of things in outer space without getting streaks and blurs. So, if you watch the light tonight, it will travel slowly across the piece from left to right, just as it would facing south in the sunshine.

One of the most frequent questions I hear basically boils down to, “Why did you make this?” There are several ways I could answer that question. I’ll discuss the two reasons that seem the most important to me – the prairie, and time.

This piece contrasts unyielding steel and fragile porcelain while harnessing and focusing the natural elements of light and time. The fragility of porcelain and the unforgiving hardness of steel remind us of life on the prairie: a delicate, subtle beauty belying incredible natural dangers. By distilling light and time into a single entity, we are reminded of the major roles each play in life on the Plains.

Traces’ connection to the land is familiar to Iowans, who live surrounded by growth and sky. The shapes of the porcelain panels are reminiscent of aerial views of farmland, and the texture of the panels references flowing river water.

I photographed this piece out on the prairie. It’s the largest piece I’ve ever made, but in the photographs scale is tricky to decipher because the space is so open. I love vast spaces. They’re comforting to me deep inside. I assume other prairie-raised people feel the same, and one of my goals with this piece was to allow people in the heart of the city to escape to the plains momentarily, without ever leaving town.

I had the opportunity to study abroad in grad school. During that time, I met up with a friend from high school who was currently living in Germany, in Istanbul for a few days. One of the most compelling things I saw there was the impact of human touch upon the architecture.

This subject has made its way into a few different pieces now, but I keep revisiting it because it was so fascinating to me, a girl from ND, where we’re lucky if a building is one hundred years old. Some of the buildings in Istanbul are 1500 years old!

When you have a structure that’s that old, some parts of it are naturally going to start to fall into some sort of decay, no matter how good the upkeep is. What was curious to me, though, were the places where people have inadvertently caused the erosion. In those places, the degeneration of the building’s original form didn’t seem like a loss.

For example, when you pass a marble column and absently let your hand trail around its corner, you don’t usually think you’re leaving a mark.  But if thousands or hundreds of thousands of people over one and a half millennia do the exact same thing when they walk past that exact same column, all of those casual caresses add up.  The stone corner becomes soft, rounded and smoothed into a new shape by nothing stronger than human skin. We don’t usually think about a random touch here or there affecting anything.

When you stop to think about it, how many little actions do you do each day, that you think don’t have any effect on anything in the future? I know I routinely spend moments of my time on things that I think don’t, or can’t possibly, matter 5 minutes from now. But what about 5 days from now, or 5 years from now? Or 500 years from now? It’s hard to say if any of my absentminded or unconscious actions will be present in the future in any way, shape, or form. My second goal with Prairie: Traces was to get people to stop and think about time. To think about how we spend our time, and how our actions can unexpectedly affect the future. I decided to do this by making time visible, through the circle of light traversing across the porcelain.

Does anyone have any questions?

Prairie: Traces by Amy Uthus Porcelain, steel, sunlight, time. 7' x 7' x 24".

Prairie: Traces
by Amy Uthus
Porcelain, steel, sunlight, time.
7′ x 7′ x 24″.

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Please respond below. I like to hear responses to my work and ideas, even if they are different than my original intent. Thank you!

This Friday in Des Moines – Public Art Reception for Prairie: Traces

Prairie: Traces by Amy Uthus Porcelain, steel, sunlight, time. 7' x 7' x 24".

Prairie: Traces
by Amy Uthus
Porcelain, steel, sunlight, time.
7′ x 7′ x 24″

You’re Invited!

Please join me this Friday, from 6-7:30PM, at the Wesley House – Drake University, for the unveiling of Prairie: Traces, my latest artwork. Standing seven feet high and nearly seven feet wide, the piece contrasts unyielding steel and fragile porcelain while harnessing and focusing the natural elements of light and time. A twist on the ancient sundial, I’m really excited about how it works and am thrilled to be able to share it with the Des Moines community.

The fragility of porcelain and the unforgiving hardness of steel remind us of life on the prairie: a delicate, subtle beauty belying incredible natural dangers. Distilling light and time into a single entity, we are unconsciously reminded of the roles each play in life on the Plains. Traces’ connection to the land is familiar to Iowans, who live surrounded by growth and sky.

You and your friends are invited to experience Prairie: Traces in person. Here are the details…
Wesley House Gallery
2718 University Ave.,
Des Moines, IA 50311
October 9-November 5
Opening reception: Friday, Oct. 9 from 6-7:30pm,
Artist talk: Thursday, Oct. 22 at 8:30pm
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All events are free and open to the public.

This project is funded in part by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

To see a video of Prairie: Traces in action, please visit this link to vimeo.