CASEY McDONOUGH STUDIO
In my studio practice I make a strong effort to avoid material hierarchy, but ultimately I always find my way back to clay. I find what I am looking for in the way it tears apart, in the sharp edges it holds when I slice it, and in the tiny sticky bits that stay attached when I punch holes in it and slash at it. I find value in the morphological characteristics of clay too, in the juxtaposition between the softness of the unfired state and the stoney nature of the finished product. Between the matte, pallid surface of greenware and the luscious, glinting luster of a fine glaze. I appreciate the inherent marriage of alchemy and science with artistic expression and the allusions created by that relationship. Most of all I appreciate the absurd preciousness we ascribe to ‘ceramic’, as if fragility equals value and therefore meaning. What other form of art object carries meaning in its fragmentary state? Does the rubble of a broken roman statue resemble much of anything other than a pile of rocks? Is a snippet of a painting anything other than a shred of fabric?
In these small sculptures I explore the same qualities by emphasizing each one through a different lens, juxtaposing the softness and impermeability of an organic material like wood with the slick unendingness of vinyl and glittery paint. Each tiny ceramic object is beautiful in its own right, but I intend to upend that assumption by placing them on carefully constructed tresses and pedestals, forming unexpected relationships of color, surface, structure and form that surprise in their absurdity. I go even further by naming them, implying meaning far beyond what a nearly weightless fragment can possibly carry, no matter how elegant or elevated it may be. Within each title is a contradiction that mirrors the very contradictions inherent in the material itself. The works serve as expanded meditations on what has drawn me to clay since the day we first met; I poke and prod but ultimately I find more questions than answers, and that’s fine with me.
My objects and installations are an investigation of interconnectivity and the building of complex systems of information out of simple, autonomous elements. Without directly referencing one type of system, I allow viewers to make those connections for themselves. I have come to recognize several key conceptual references within my work:
Social networking maps, such as those one might find outlining an individual’s Facebook network, where peer relationships are described and one can make personal connections with others through degrees of separation.
Food webs describing the flow of energy in an environment, and also predator-prey relationships and an inherent hierarchy.
Flow charts where processes and direction are outlined and there are choices to be made, each with its own series of consequences.
Molecular structures that indicate strength and weakness in material structure at the most basic level, and also begin to reference contemporary advances in technology as we design new materials.
These works are by nature temporal; they have a finite lifetime because of the materials used, leading back to the concept of complex systems, which themselves have a tendency to break down when only one element is out of place.
I spent my youth and my undergraduate years studying science. Having become an artist (or having always been one?), I have spent time comparing these two fields of study. Science and art-making are both problem-solving ventures and they both have a fatal flaw: the problems are never really solved, they simply branch out into newer problems with greater implications. We get smarter as a species and everything becomes, amazingly, even more mysterious. Because our perception of reality is changing so rapidly, I am left wondering if the truth really isn’t out there, or if it is so unbelievable that it becomes incomprehensible using standard systems of understanding. Maybe instead it is up to us, the people who populate this place and are keen enough to understand it (you, me, everyone else), to create our own methods of comprehension.