the appeal of blue

I've become a little obsessed lately with blue and white ceramics.

This might seem like a pretty specific obsession to have- I don't actually like the color blue very much, I don't wear it much, it's not typically my first choice for decor. Living in Fairbanks, however, makes it difficult to ignore. The whole city seems to be saturated with it- no thanks in large part, I'm sure, to UAF's school colors, royal blue and yellow. UAF's color scheme, because of it's prominence in the Fairbanks community, transfers into the logos, color schemes and decor themes of many local businesses and community sports organizations (including the roller derby league that I skate with).

I digress. I changed my minor this year to Ceramics, from Native Arts. Not because I'm not interested or invested in Native Arts, but because I never knew how much I'd like Ceramics, since I never had the time to take a class in undergrad. It felt so nice in the Intermediate course I took this past Fall to just make things, immediate and tactile things, that I signed up for a second semester of it. Of course, leveling up means that I'm no longer allowed to get away with just making stuff, and have to find a focus for the work I want to do. Womp womp.

At some point last term, Celadon glazing piqued my interest. I grew up around a lot of Asian and Asian-inspired ceramics, celadon works chief among them. I presented a short research project on the history of the glaze and it's use in ancient Chinese ceramic ware, and that grew into an interest in the theory and history of glazing and ceramic decoration in general. It's not actually that strange that I've settled on blue and white wares for the moment- they're iconic, they can be found in most early Asian and eventually European clay traditions, and the history of the patterns and techniques is complicated and fascinating.

One of several pages in my cell phone camera albums dedicated to blue & white wares. This page in particular is work that I've made this term, mostly pigment and decor experiments.

One of several pages in my cell phone camera albums dedicated to blue & white wares. This page in particular is work that I've made this term, mostly pigment and decor experiments.

I wouldn't consider myself a ceramicist quite yet. A lot of the work I'm doing this semester is experimental- I'm not great on the wheel yet and I'm still developing a lot of the technical skill necessary to make the work that I'd eventually like to make. But for now I'm experimenting mostly- with surface decor, with pigmentation, with glaze and underglaze and slip and oxides.  I made a darker clay body this term in order to play with the reading of the work- does blue and white read the same as blue and tan? Why or why not? How does a darker clay body change the perceived value of a work? Why? Many of these questions are still in the works, and many of the works are still in the works. It's certainly been a learning experience- maybe you can see all the fingerprints I left behind from working with under-watered cobalt oxide? But it's been pretty fun so far. It's nice to work in a medium that's still kind of a mystery to me, something that I can't necessarily predict the outcome of yet.

an evolution of creative spaces

For someone as messy as I am, the organization and appearance of my personal spaces are surprisingly important. My bedroom, my bathroom, my car- all spaces that I spend so much of my time in, that are astonishingly messy, but in a way that I find sort of comforting. I, as a person, pride myself on not being messy. My spaces might be messy, but I am not a mess. Not usually, anyway. I'm a nester, which on good days means mostly that I like to make spaces immediately mine, no matter how long I'm actually staying in them, and on bad days, means that everything I own ends up in various strategic piles around me. 

My studio space is maybe the one general exception to the rule. Because it is a personal space, but one that I'm often inviting other people to spend time in, I make a much bigger effort to keep it habitable than I do for say, my bedroom.

The first studio ever granted to me was a three-walled, 12'x12' space that I shared with my friend Rona in the Gallery building at the Burren College of Art. It was my third year of undergrad, and I was working almost exclusively in 2d digital photography. I'd never been given so much space to work in before, and I was pretty overwhelmed by it. I kept a worktable, chair and pile of books there. Halfway through the semester I used some of the wall space to consider several large maps of the area that I'd purchased. I never used it for anything else, hence why I have a photo of Rona's space, but not mine:

Rona's half of our first shared studio at the  Burren College of Art  in Ireland.

Rona's half of our first shared studio at the Burren College of Art in Ireland.

In the spring of that year, Rona and I chose to move into a smaller-but-brighter studio affectionally referred to as "the Fishbowl". Our space in the Bowl featured high ceilings, a 12' shared wall, a sink, and a long set of low shelves. Rona had the back half of the space, granting her another 6-8' of wall space, while I took the half of our shared wall and the courtyard-facing wall made of glass panels. I was still working overwhelmingly in 2d, although I'd added a painting course to my schedule that term. The Fishbowl was a interesting experience in the public-private duality of artists' spaces- tourists who came to view the castle on the grounds of the school often had to walk past our space on their way to or from the Gallery building, and would stop to view us through the aquarium-like walls. Children would point at something that was going on in the space, asking their parents about whatever bizarre-looking thing we we working on that week. I don't know what sort of answers those parents gave their young ones- none of them ever came inside to consult us.

The view from my studio table in the second space that Rona & I shared, looking into the courtyard. It was often obscured by my work prints and wide edits, due to lack of wall space.

The view from my studio table in the second space that Rona & I shared, looking into the courtyard. It was often obscured by my work prints and wide edits, due to lack of wall space.

Looking from the castle through the courtyard. Rona and I shared the left 1/3 of the set of windows on the right.

Looking from the castle through the courtyard. Rona and I shared the left 1/3 of the set of windows on the right.

The campus cat and I, sitting behind my studio table. This cat really did love me. Rona's half of our shared wall begins behind me.

The campus cat and I, sitting behind my studio table. This cat really did love me. Rona's half of our shared wall begins behind me.

When I returned to my home institution after a year of studio indulgence at the Burren, I didn't quite know what to expect. I knew that the space generally granted to Photography thesis students was limited, but I thought for sure that they couldn't expect all twelve of us to share a space only twice the size of the spaces that I'd shared with Rona in Ireland. I was wrong. 

The Corcoran gave each Fine Art Photography thesis student a 5' long table and the wall immediately in front of it. Some of us rearrange our spaces in such a way as to take better advantage of what we had versus how we needed to work- I replaced my large table with a much smaller pedestal in order to better access the wall space, many of my peers installed shelves for books and supplies, and one of us removed their table and replaced it with a cushy armchair, abandoning the pretense of working in the space completely. I like to think that our shared clown car-esque experience really brought us all closer- that mightn't have been true, but it sure felt like it.

Ta da! The entirety of my studio space as a fourth-year BFA student. For reference, my space begins at the door frame, that hanging print is 55" wide (4.5 ft), and the roll of paper in the bottom-right is leaning up against my roommate's studio table.

Ta da! The entirety of my studio space as a fourth-year BFA student. For reference, my space begins at the door frame, that hanging print is 55" wide (4.5 ft), and the roll of paper in the bottom-right is leaning up against my roommate's studio table.

The MFA studios at UAF, where I've been for the past year and a half, are housed in a gutted graduate student triplex. The building was condemned as a housing unit at some point, after which it was given to the Chemistry department, after which it transferred into the ink-and-paint-stained clutches of the Art department. It's not ideal, but it has a lot of potential. We can't make many structural changes to it, which is disappointing, but it's a space, which is a good thing.

The first space that I occupied in the MFA studios. My space began about halfway through the last windowpane on the right and included the wall on the left and the wall at the back of the photo. It was about six square feet that housed a work table and a low set of shelves, with 5' of wall on the left and 6-7'ft of space on the back wall.

The first space that I occupied in the MFA studios. My space began about halfway through the last windowpane on the right and included the wall on the left and the wall at the back of the photo. It was about six square feet that housed a work table and a low set of shelves, with 5' of wall on the left and 6-7'ft of space on the back wall.

I don't have any photos of my first studio setup because I wasn't very comfortable in it. I didn't have much space to spread out and I didn't feel at all like the space belonged to me. Working in borrowed space is fine for a certain amount of time, but after awhile it can grow tiring. This January, I was able to move into a vacated space on the other side of the basement. The long, continuous wall is ideal for organizing wide edits and really getting to sit with the work I'm making. Even after moving to a largely digital workflow, making work prints and sequencing physical images is the only way to visualize what shape the final work will take. I plan to begin making final prints at the end of this semester, and this wall will allow me to hang several of them together at a time, rather than just one or two (like my previous space would've allowed).

My current space in the MFA studios.

My current space in the MFA studios.

The perfect, unobstructed 15-foot wall that runs along the left side of my space. 

The perfect, unobstructed 15-foot wall that runs along the left side of my space. 

All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.

nailing it

The MFAs got to hang a small works-in-progress show in the University gallery this past week.  



Ceramic work in the foreground by Dustin Auerbach.

You should appreciate this timelapse a lot, because the first time I ever had to hang any of my own photographs (which was only actually five years ago), I ended the day sitting on the floor, crying, surrounded by bent nails and three different types of hammers.

Exhibitions was not my forte. I've gotten a lot better, obviously, and also sworn to never hang salon-style again, no matter how much the work would benefit.

I hung three 11x17 pigment prints in plain white frames (my go-to when someone, like my advisor, makes me use them at all) and called it a day. I knew my work would contrast pretty harshly with what my peers would be showing, and I didn't want to call any more attention to that than I had to. I did, however, make some very specific choices about titles, which I don't usually do and have been exploring more lately.

Because the show title was very generic, and our statements were hung separately from the work, I wanted to be very purposeful about naming the photos. I'm not a big fan of overly verbose or descriptive titles, and haven't used them at all in the past. 

image.jpg

From left to right: When We Thought It Was Cancer (I Wish It Was Cancer), May 2013; I Don't Live In This House Any More/ Does Anyone Live In This House Any More?, une 2015; After Physical Therapyctober 2015.

My art history professor/committee member said they made her cry so I guess they're good titles.  

"can you be on a plane to barrow tomorrow at 6 am?"

I got asked this question last November, and I answered "sure, why not?". 

I got to meet some incredible people, ate fantastic Inupiaq dishes, and hang out with Edna MacLean for 24 hours.

Edna is something of an Alaskan treasure. She's a professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, hanging previously taught in the Alaska Native Languages program. This past September, UAF Press published Edna's North Slope Inupiaq-English dictionary- a lexicon that took Edna and dozens of Inupiaq elders nearly 40 years to complete.

Aurora Magazine, UAF's alumni & friends publication, was strapped for photographer options when they called me up asking if I wanted to spend a day in Barrow, so I don't know how much of it was faith and how much of it was desperation, but I jumped at the chance. Barrow is the northernmost incorporated community in North America, with around 4,500 people occupying a narrow strip of Alaska's Arctic Slope coast at the confluence of the Bering and Chukchi Seas.

Read the rest of the feature on Edna, and see the rest of my photos (including the cover!) in the Spring 2015 issue of Aurora.

ednacover