Artist lecture: Friday 17/5/19 at 10:00
Curator: Shlomit Bauman
Opening: Friday 17/5/19 at 12:00
Closing: Saturday 6/7/19 at 14:00
Project made possible with the generous support of AIDA – Association of Israel Decorative Arts
The encompassing installation of Walter McConnell invites the viewer wandering through the space of the exhibition to touch and withdraw at the same time. On the one hand the intriguing installation draws one in and yet the partially transparent partitions prevent proximity to the landscape within. The raw, damp clay is sculpted to form distant and infinite landscapes manifested as unattainable behind a plastic screen that preserves, sweats and condenses moisture from the clay making it curious and attractive yet keeps the viewer at a distance from the encapsulated scene.
The wrapped landscape is a kind of fantasy of nature including two figures, replicas of the artist placed in glowing isolation. The self-portrait was 3D scanned creating a file that can be printed in several scales. In a way this move is simple and exact, using raw clay wrapped in plastic preserving the moisture. At a glance, this is a brilliant take on clay that is delivered as raw material in plastic bags by the supplier. The use of raw clay as the starting point and transforming it into sculpted landscape in large plastic sleeves, dripping in sweat, transparent and sealed, has great strength and power. This gesture raises an internal reflective dialog on the essence of ceramic sculpture in general, as well as the specific discussion on the alienation between man and nature.
Raw, wet clay, shiny, strong and beautiful feels fresh and vibrant. Many ceramic artists attempt to imitate this state of the clay in their finished work but by convention surrender to the inherent properties of the clay and accept it as it dries, shrinks and changes color in the firing. The damp clay is the work itself for McConnell, not a stage in the creative process. Through this action the artist rivets our attention to concepts such as temporality, softness, movement, body and sweat.
McConnell looks at nature from a distance, from a hill-top maybe or from space. The concept “nature” which recurs in his various installations is alienated. It is nature that we yearn for, a distant, fantastic, panoramic view seen from a high point on a hazy day. Looking at a landscape through haze is binary: we can be part of it, caught in it, or gaze at it from the outside, at a distance, as a model of a landscape. McConnell’s landscape or “nature” is a total apocalyptic vision wrapped in plastic; it is not a romantic view searching for the beauty in nature or the relationship between man and the forces of nature as in the 19th century paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. McConnell examines nature as a remnant of a world that is slowly disappearing, a model of a temporary reality that to his amazement, is undermined and declining. His installation examines time, the rhythm or heartbeat of existence. He wanted to use local clay simulating dunes or various surfaces that might be real or fantasy but in actual fact he is using clay imported from Germany bearing the name Negev. In the past clay was part of the “flora and fauna” of a place indicating locality. Today clay is imported and branded as if local, another element of deception in the installation.
From this imaginary landscape emerges a figure, a figure of McConnell himself, isolated and imprisoned. In addition to the relationship between man and nature, the installation appears to examine the relationship between the artist himself and the world, between the artist and the viewer, between him and society, between him and himself. This relationship oscillates between amazement and wonder, alienation and loneliness.
Eventually, the work made from damp clay, is destined to a total end and returns to a lump of mud. Raw material. A piece of nature. Body and earth.
In the month of May Walter McConnell will be a guest artist at the Benyamini Center as part of a unique program of International Installation Artist Residencies, made possible through the generous support of AIDA. The purpose of the program (Walter McConnell is our first participant) is to invite leading ceramic artists from around the world to reside in the gallery space of the Benyamini Center and to create site-specific installations that will be an exhibition open to the public.
Walter McConnell was born in Philadelphia, USA (b.1956), an active and renowned ceramic artist in America as well as abroad. He is a professor, teaching and working at Alfred University, New York, a leading university for higher academic studies. McConnell has won many prizes and awards; his sculptures and installations have been shown in exhibitions at leading museums in the USA and around the world. He has work in many collections and important international institutions. His exhibition Regarding the Curved Earth will show at the same time as his work in a satellite exhibition of the Venice Biennale that opens in May 2019.