The Palace of Green Porcelain
19 July - 17 August 2013
Review by Marie d’Elbée
Sound waves of the past would have been inadvertently recorded onto the surface of clay and could be recovered and played like a record in the future. Objects could be used like time travel vessels, bringing back to life the frozen sounds of the past through the grooves of the clay.
Breese Little gallery presents a highly sensual group of objects, images and sounds. The Palace of Green Porcelain, developed by sound and ceramic artists Dan Scott and Katie Schwab, investigates the memory of clay, interrogating the secret histories and lives of objects. This exhibition, in keeping with the gallery’s Art Criticism Prize and new programme of lectures at the LSE, makes a meaningful contribution to exploring the discourse surrounding the possibilities of cross-disciplined collaborations. Rebecca Lewin, curator of the show, explains the difficulty of making sound art exist and interact with visual arts in a traditional gallery space. The culture in which we live is predominantly visual and people tend to naturally hierarchise media in an arts environment. Bearing this in mind, images and sounds have been carefully interwoven so that they co-exist inseparably, one being as necessary as the other to the understanding of the exhibition.
The idea explored in Scott’s research project, that sound waves could be embedded into painted surfaces and clay objects, stems from a theory developed by Richard G. Woodbridge. First published in 1969, it gave birth to multiple developments, one of which was Dana Scully’s encounter with a clay bowl that had reputedly recorded the words of Jesus Christ while he raised Lazarus from the dead. This remains X-files classified information.
In the gallery, some clay pots are gathered on a table, detached from their life context; others hang and one sits on a plinth. A wall holds red monochromatic silk screen prints of ancient pots underlined by archaic captions. They are understood to ‘Breath’, ‘Whirr’, ‘Rhythm’ and ‘Creak’ (according to their titles), like living dead exhumed from the grave. The objects appear like vestiges of a disappeared civilisation, or eruditely organised remains of an archaeological excavation. A film shows hands hovering over the orifices of pots as they ooze sound waves which bounce and entangle themselves around the grooves of their rounded interiors. As the hands play with the openings, the noises evoke at times a foreign string instrument or a primitive call, like the lowing or wailing of some warm-blooded animal. At other times, the sounds become more organised like primary rhythms. Archaic blue patterns, cut into the clay’s flesh like tribal scarification, develop their own kind of rhythm, this time chanted by crosses and lines. They replay themselves endlessly along the circumference of the objects like ritualised repetitions. This calls to a no man’s land, beyond human language but very close to what it means to be alive.
Objects create memories and connect us with others in their own way; they are also receptacles for our projections. Schwab makes works with the idea that human experience may be inscribed in them somehow. She plays around with our tendency to anthropomorphise objects, titling her pots with human names.
‘The time traveller must rely on past experiences and a haptic interpretation of the forms he discovers so as to understand the use and significance of the objects that have survived’ writes Lewin. When facing a mysterious object, one instinctively touches it to try to understand it or to gain back memories. A child applies his hand on his own mouth and observes how the emitted sound is modified, experiences a volume by touching, obstructing the apertures, pressing his ears against holes and noticing how the sound evolves in relation to his actions.
The understanding of this show is intuitive as it appeals to and brings us back to our primary experimentations of the world. The object’s unlocked voice reveals a microcosm hidden at the core of its fissures, like a concealed dimension hitherto unforeseen. It seems a natural development that clay objects, originating from the telluric movement of a wheel, behold a world in themselves.