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!

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Images from my project in Denmark

Here are some images of the installation I made in Denmark, for those of you who have been waiting patiently!

The inspiration for this piece was Spanish moss. Overall, I was pretty happy with it, considering this was the first time I’ve installed outdoors. I definitely learned a lot with this piece! The materials I used are slipcast porcelain (fired to Orton cone 11), fishing line, and light. Click on the little images to open a bigger picture viewer.

The first day – 1500 time-lapsed photography

Hi everyone!  Here are the time-lapsed images of 1500 from the opening night of Glass.Fiber.Stone.  We had a great turnout (around 450 people in 3 hours, I think).  It’s hard to see the changes in these photos, but they’re there, I promise!   Tomorrow I think I’m going to zoom in a little closer.  I’ll also space the photographs farther apart – an hour between each instead of a half-hour.  Thanks for joining me as I learn how to present and document an interactive piece like this.  🙂

Newfangled Lights

Hey!  Where are you and what are you doing?  I’m back in God’s Country and I’m a bit behind on my blog…

I wanted to write tonight for two reasons:

1) My Kickstarter project is funded.  Thank you to everyone who contributed; you’ve made an impact on 1,500 other people as well as my life and future!  I’ll be working on Backer rewards soon.  There are still some rewards left, if you’d like to donate and push the project over 100%.  Click here to check it out.  It closes tomorrow night at 11:59pm.

2) I ordered the lights for said project a couple of days ago.  Now, I know this is probably not very exciting to the rest of you, but the UPS man brought them this evening and to put it simply: they made my night.  They are SO COOL.  I don’t know nearly enough about lights and lighting systems to completely geek out over them, but if I did, that’s what would be happening right now.  My original plan called for regular light ropes to wind under the 1.500 individual ceramic pieces on the floor.  I was a little worried about the thickness/bulk of the rope in comparison to the size of the heartstones, but I figured I’d make it work somehow as I didn’t know of any other options.

That is, I didn’t know of any other options until Amazon.com, that creeptastic genius, kept track of what I was clicking on and suggested “micro LED string lights.”  These lights are on two superfine silver wires that can be bent and rebent to any shape.  They’re small and bright and battery operated, which is perfect because the Feed & Grain is going to be running on generators during the show, and my other piece (Invincible Summer) is going to be an energy suck.  Beautiful, but definitely in need of strong halogen lighting.

At any rate, after opening the packages tonight and rigging up the batteries, let me tell you something – this is one time I was glad my so-called internet privacy was non-existent.  I promptly went back online and ordered another string, one that’s longer with more lights per foot (20′ and 120 lights vs. 7′ and 20 lights).  Here are some pictures of these sweet sweet babies.  I hope they’ll allow you to at least partially join in my joy… 😉

Micro LED string lights

Flexible light rope (my other purchase for experimentation) – probably not quite as usable in my work as the string lights, but still pretty neat.  I wish it retained its shape when bent, like the string lights.

Okay so maybe I did geek out, just a little bit.

See you soon (probably from Colorado!).

Into the Fire

Ready to fire!

Well, peeps…  Here’s my first major project of the semester, in the kiln and ready to fire.  These particular pieces are for the show we’re having in NYC at the Thomas Hunter Projects in a couple of weeks.  If you’d like to come to the (closing) reception, it’ll be from 6-7:30pm on Friday the 24th of February.  It would be nice to see you there!  The show itself opens on the 13th.  I believe it’s open to the public free, on weekdays.

This load will be fired to Orton cone 11.  What does that mean, you ask?   Cones are little tall skinny pyramids that melt at different points in the firing.  Notice them in the upper right and lower left of the photo above.  You can think of them as temperature gauges, even though that’s technically not correct – they measure the heat work done inside the kiln, not the temperature.  For example, cone 11 will melt somewhere between 2359 and 2394*F, depending on how fast the kiln is fired.  If the kiln is fired really slowly, the cone will melt at a lower temp than if it’s fired quickly, because there’s more heat work done in the slower firing.  [Please see comments below for more explanation of heat work.]

So, to cut to the chase: you place cones in specific areas of the kiln, typically where you can see them throughout the firing.  This kiln has two peepholes (or spies) in the front door.  When the kiln is going, I can take out a peep (little refractory -non-melting- plug) and look in the hole to see my cones.  As they melt or “fall” I can tell what’s happening inside the kiln.  I can see if it’s firing evenly, from top to bottom, and adjust it accordingly.  I can also tell when to start the reduction process (starving the kiln of oxygen to produce certain color response from the clay) and when to lighten the reduction.  [To read more about reduction, see the comment section of this post.]  The cones also tell me when my firing is finished.  When cone 11 falls in this kiln (it’ll look like it’s bending in half and touching its toes), I know to shut the kiln off.

These pieces are paper-thin porcelain, so they should be super duper translucent after they’re fired (and changed from ‘clay’ into ‘ceramic’).  I’m a little worried about the kiln itself though, because the last person who fired it had some problems with it randomly shutting off when it got to the higher temperatures.  So, I might end up babysitting it on a nearby chair with a book for several hours tomorrow.  Good times!  Hopefully it won’t come to that, though.  Wish me luck!

Orchid update. Because I know you were dying to know! 9 blossoms and 2 itty bitty buds 🙂 Also, please enjoy the pictures of my family and friends in the background.

Review Today!

I just found out that my mid-semester Skype review will be at 2:45pm EST today (8:45pm my time).  Wish me luck!

This morning I had a nice conversation with Jona Gudvardardottir about my piece.  She mentioned a lot of things, but one in particular was that I need to decide whether or not to allow people to view it in the round.  While I do think the silhouettes that happen (see pic below) are pretty neat, I don’t think allowing people to walk behind this piece furthers my so-called “agenda,” if you will.  Light is a major component of the installation, and if I let people wander behind they’ll have an experience other than the one I’ve intended.  So, I need to figure out a non-obtrusive way to block off the open spaces on either side of the work.  Any ideas?

Jona also recommended I check out an Icelandic artist’s work – Ruri.  If you have time, you might want to take a look; some of it’s pretty interesting.  (My favs are “Moderation” and “Dedication.”)