Into the Field of Now
Faculty Daniel Duford on Ai Weiwei's Dropping the Urn at the Museum of Contemporary Craft.
With the integration of the Museum of Contemporary Craft with Pacific Northwest College of Art, there are numerous opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas. Untitled will be featuring a series of posts from PNCA faculty members who explore exhibitions at the Museum.
We asked PNCA faculty member Daniel Duford to take a look at the Museum of Contemporary Craft’s current show by Ai Weiwei, the reigning bad boy of China. While Daniel has a full quiver of artistic arrows—graphic novels, public art installations, theatre set design, sculpture and printmaking—for this piece we were interested in hearing from him as an artist who is deeply rooted in sculpture and clay. Since the exhibition features ceramic pieces ranging from 5000 BCE to the present, how do we think about the role of the material—in this case clay—in the social and political arena where Ai’s work resides.
Of his own work Duford said in a recent Untitled profile “it is an exploration on the difference between strength and power and the presence of myth in the mundane.” Along with being showcased in numerous publications, Duford has self published his graphic novels and posts an on-going anthology on Radio Relay Towers.
INTO THE FIELD OF NOW
What is the life of an object? Does it gain a mystic aura as it ages and use fades? Is a Neolithic pot, once created within the material matrix of a culture obligated to stand in and represent the body of that culture once it dissipates? Ai Weiwei’s very smart, prickly and poignant exhibition Dropping the Urn: Ceramic Works 5000 BCE–2010 CE at the Museum of Contemporary Craft asks many of these questions. Ai is a well-known and outspoken critic of the Chinese government via his blog and Twitter feeds. Ai is also controversial for his destruction and altering of intact Chinese Neolithic pots. The transformation of a pickled and preserved material culture into that of an active and contemporary one is the heart of the current show.
“While the firing of a ceramic object freezes it into a very durable object, its very nature is that of flux. Flux in terms of material from soft earth to hardened stone, but also flux in terms of cultural meaning.”
Dust to Dust from 2009 is a glass jar full of red clay dust created by grinding up a Neolithic pot. In the same room is Colored Vases—Neolithic pots dipped in candy colored pastel latex paint. The frosting of flat paint transforms the pots from mysterious remnants of a dim past into ironic contemporary art objects. These two moves create a complex dialogue. While the firing of a ceramic object freezes it into a very durable object, its very nature is that of flux. Flux in terms of material from soft earth to hardened stone, but also flux in terms of cultural meaning. A ceramic object carries with it the meaning of its use in time—its use for consuming or storing, its relationship to the body of the user. The other relationship to time is that as an artifact, a remnant. It is this “timelessness” that is frozen in museum collections. Ai’s moves literally break that cycle. Dropping the Urn reminds us that objects die when taken out of the field of time. It is isn’t a far jump to Ai’s more immaterial tweets and blogs to see that people trapped in history also die. Breaking the Urn is a symbolic release—a death that hopes to wake us up into the field of the now.