Attacks of Nostalgia
Alison Gradischer, MFA AC+D '11 on the banality and grandeur of bowls.
From March through September 2013, in honor of Object Focus: The Bowl at Museum of Contemporary Craft, UNTITLED Magazine will be collecting essays, stories, poems, recipes, and other texts by PNCA community members about the bowl. The words of chefs, anthropologists, and poets will appear alongside those of critics, makers, and curators to extol on the bowl in its myriad incarnations.
Attacks of Nostalgia
The Nes Artist Residency in Skagaströnd, Iceland is a place where artists flock to gain individual completeness through quiet contemplation and deep concentration regarding their work. It is also a place where artists leave things behind. I left things behind. One of the rooms at Nes was set aside for storing all the various supplies, clothing, and equipment left by previous residents. This supply room was a bit like the warehouse studio I called my sanctuary during my two years in grad school, in that it was an ever-evolving and ever-changing space that held the remains of process and individual discovery. It was in the supply room that I found my bowl.
I can’t recall exactly where in the supply room the bowl was located. My guess is that I probably found it between the sink and the fish tank. I’d like to say that I picked it because it was the prettiest, the roundest, or the nicest to touch, but to be honest, I chose this bowl because it had the least amount of residue left over from other artists. In appearance, it looked like any other generic plastic container. There was no labeling or branding anywhere. It was just white, cheap, soulless plastic. Essentially, it was the cleanest, crappiest, container I could get my hands on and it was a perfect fit for my messy process, which has no time for preciousness in tools, containers, or equipment.
In the beginning, I never thought to consider this container as a bowl. The term seemed too grand for this utterly banal object. But during my two-month residency at Nes, as I used that bowl every day, I gradually grew attached it. The deep blue marks left behind on the bowl’s inside wall by my cyanotype chemicals fascinated me. I soon began to actively look at the shapes, colors, and textures left from the previous day’s work on the interior sides and bottom.
When I think of bowls, I think of tomato-basil soup, traditional materials, and precious art objects. I think of cultural traditions, of hand washing, of tea ceremonies, of communal gatherings. A cheap plastic container has no – or should have no – place in that definition. And yet, as I stop and think back on my relationship with this container, I feel very deeply that it IS a bowl. Bowls are associated with sustenance, community, and function and this bowl sustained me, both creatively and spiritually, during those dark months in Iceland.
At the end of my stay, when I was trying to decide what was important enough to take back with me from Iceland, I found myself becoming nostalgic about this bowl. Something about these marks inside made me sentimental. I realized that this container, although objectively nothing special, had became a central “home base” in the creation of new, vibrant work. Though I generally avoid using equipment that is in any way precious, there’s no doubt that this studio bowl holds a certain spiritual preciousness for me and for the work that came out of my time in Iceland. It taught me a lesson in deep observation, which has given me the momentum I, as well as my work, required to be gracious, useful, and complete.
ALISON GRADISCHER is a designer, maker, and a conscientious objecteur based in Portland, Oregon. Her current work explores space, place, and psychogeography through alternative photographic techniques, object-making, and repair. She graduated in 2011 with an MFA in Applied Craft and Design from PNCA and OCAC. You can view Gradischer’s work on her website and on her blog.