“Trading Post: Exchange and Sojourn” is a collaborative exhibition project initiated by Chotsani Elaine Dean, with Monica Bock, Undine Brod, Jill Foote-Hutton, and Dawn Holder, all of whom inspire each other through parallel art practices that engage ceramic media with narrative content. In preparation for the project’s debut at Northern Clay Center (NCC) in Minneapolis during March/April 2019, the artists shared histories and studio work through nine months of correspondence using thematic stationery handmade by Dean. The resulting exhibition embodied their focus on preserving experience, responding to material, and valuing process. Contributing work from international residencies and home studios across the U.S., these five artists sojourned together away from their outposts to create an exhibition shaped by the traveler’s impulse to pick-up and bring-back in fair and equal exchange.
Sheet lead, galvanized nails. 76” x 85” x ¼”
The title piece of three comprising Exodus Trilogy (exodus, faygele, /’faɡət/), an installation created on-site in the 10’x8’x10′ project room at UConn’s Benton Museum of Art. Searching for meaning and motivation in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election, I thought of the pile of toxic lead scraps left over in my studio. I associated its smoldering power with the burning bush from Exodus, as a fury that fuels without consuming. Organized by size, and nailed to the wall, the lead lashes made an inverted triangle, appearing as a defiant symbol of discarded and persecuted communities.
Cast iron, sheet lead, painted wood. 4½” x 23” x 3½”
The second piece comprising Exodus Trilogy. Three unfinished iron casting of my daughter’s right hand hold small piles of half-oval lead sheet cutouts, salvaged from the same process that created the leftovers used for the title piece in the trilogy. Faygele is Yiddish for little bird, used as a term of endearment for a little girl, and as a derogatory epithet for a gay man, perhaps as a softer alliteration of /’faɡət/.
Sheet lead, cut nail. 11” x 4” x 1”
The third piece comprising Exodus Trilogy. Spelled phonetically to encourage viewers to Google it, the title points to the etymology of the word faggot, used to describe a bundle of sticks gathered for fuel, an impoverished old widow, and, along with faygele, a gay man.
Without Irreverence (divas and acrobats), 2013-14
Glazed porcelain. Fouty-one figures @ 4”- 5” high.
In Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, the author’s alter ego, artist Lily Briscoe, says of her painting’s subject, “A mother and child may be reduced to a shadow without irreverence.” Woolf’s novel of familial loss and reconciliation inspired this installation of hand-altered porcelain slip-castings based on a mother and daughter pair of antique style cloth-body china dolls. Forty individually mounted figures strike poses based on feminist painter Nancy Spero’s iconic temple acrobats, sky goddesses, and divas. They spread out and come together across the gallery wall, at once bound by and set free from the consequences of their intimacy.
On the Wing, 2013
Glazed porcelain. 5 ¼” x 9” x 1 ¼”
Deflated castings of birds that died in flight suggest both the unexpected displacements, and the wanderlust that intrude on security and contentment. The fragility of a bird’s life embodies the ebb and flow of shelter and exposure, of devotion and distance, of intimacy and autonomy, articulating the conflicts inherent in domesticating desire, in the tensions between wild and tame, chaos and cultivation.
Glazed porcelain. Installation dimensions. 7” x 54” x 3”
Inspired by the figures of two children dancing among a tide of beleaguered grownups in Lorado Taft’s 1920 “Fountain of Time” on the edge of Washington Park on the South Side of Chicago. Thirteen figures cast from a cloth-bodied child doll, prance across a wall at floor level. Two mimic the poses of Taft’s dancing children; others echo poses found in photos of displaced children dancing in unlikely circumstance around the world. Apparently oblivious to human struggle, dismissed and yet underfoot, they tug toward the future.
Home Sick, 2011
Sterling silver, bronze, porcelain, cast iron, sheet lead
48 dental castings each approx. 1 ¼ ” x 2 ½” x 2″
Iron chair 32.5″x16.5″x17.5″; iron bags @ approx. 11″x5″x3″; lead plaques 3″x5″
Home Sick, a retrospective installation, presented a complete collection of forty-eight pair of metal dental casts, each resting on an individual porcelain niche-shelf. The casts chronicle the falling out and growing in of a pair of siblings’ teeth over a seven-year period. The sister’s collection of teeth, cast in silver, is called Tooth for a Tooth; the brother’s, cast in bronze, is called Cheek by Jowl. The teeth are souvenir relics serving as a memoir and memorial of childhood from a mother’s perspective. The maternal self-portrait, Dear as Salt, a cast iron chair standing askew with one leg lifted on two cast iron lunch bags, accompanied the collection of teeth. The installation closed with two piles of sheet lead plaques that record the siblings’ days spent home sick in the course of a year.
Cheek by Jowl, 2008 Sterling silver, bronze, unglazed porcelain 12 archival inkjet prints 12″ x 18″ / 24 dental castings each approx. 1 ¼ ” x 2 ½” x 2″ / porcelain shelves 4½” x 2¾” x 2″ / installation dimensions variable