RVW | Object Focus: The Bowl, Engage + Use
A stunningly interactive exhibition considers how the bowl is linguistic proxy for communal relationships.
Object Focus: The Bowl, Engage + Use
By Teresa Fredericks, MA CT+CR ’14
Object Focus: The Bowl, Engage + Use, at Museum of Contemporary Craft (MoCC), is a stunningly interactive embodiment of community as characterized by the utilitarian nature of the vessel. Foundational to this show is the assertion that “we reclaim the bowl in the name of craft”—the “we” being indicative of the show’s inclusive scope. Ranging from international performances to homegrown table-setting initiatives in Portland, the touchstone here is that craft—the bowl and all that it represents—is an “inherently social” catalyst in the shifting and shaping of communal relationships.
Not only is it refreshing to see a show calling attention to the artistry and historicity of such a ubiquitous object, it is also fascinating to see the ways in which MoCC showcases the artistry of social arrangements as living artifacts. Consider how the bowl is linguistic proxy for communion: as such, these experiences are inherent to the understanding of the bowl a platform capable of nourishing, sustaining, and regenerating both the personal and collective body. It turns the inward outward and vice versa, channeling an ever-reflexive relationship of giving and taking to create the bonds of communality.
To this effect, the theories of anthropologist Tim Ingold are used at length throughout the exhibition and characterize the strong tone of spiritualism in the works. Ingold delineates the world as that which is broken and unified by the concepts of earth and sky, analogous to the bowl “as an empty swath of atmosphere that waits to be filled, emptied, and filled again.” The collaborative work, A Setting For Leo, Lynx, Casseopiea,and Camelopardalis, 2013, by Sonja Dahl, Jovencio de la Paz, and Stacy Jo Scott of Craft Mystery Cult, poetically exemplifies this social transference. Consisting of two large clay singing bowls inscribed by the glazed lines of corresponding constellations, the pieces are halves of the post-Apollo 17 globe. Shadowed by an indigo batik cloth, the work evidences the methodical use of the human hand in the process of ceremony and sacrament, in the legacy of making and remembrance.
Bringing the cosmological back to the level of familiar provinciality, Ayumi Hori imbues the bowl, once again, with tangible and participatory intimacy in the exhibition’s second major collaborative project. Intent on “collapsing the experience of home with the museum,” Hori brings together eighteen local ceramicists to the Circulate project. Much like a library catalog system, Museum visitors borrow the bowl of their choice with the additional responsibility to document their use of the object. As a result, the bowl is the hub of an entire community effort focused on heirloom recipes and casual conversation.
The circularity of the bowl mirrors the rituals of this social process, from producer to consumer: the audience member borrows the bowl, extends his or her reach to family and friends in its use, and generates cultural capital by, in turn, giving back to the museum in the form of photographs, family recipes, or testimonials of the act of dining. Though the Museum’s all-too-familiar sign warns visitors that “touching harms the art,” it is the act of touch which itself imbues the bowl as an object of timelessness.
Object Focus: The Bowl, Engage + Use, curated by Namita Gupta Wiggers, is on view at Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, OR, through September 21, 2013.