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ACRIA will host its annual “Unframed” benefit on June 3 at Bortolami Gallery in New York. Chaired by Chris Stone, David Fox, and artist Jordan Wolfson, the evening will include a benefit auction (Paddle8) for the Artists Ending AIDS Fund. In anticipation of tomorrow’s event, Whitewall spoke with artist Nick Lenker about his involvement in the organization, and the work he donated for the auction.
WHITEWALL: Your work seems to deal a lot with recorded history, archetypal myths, and ideas of the ritual. Why are those points of fascination for you?
NICK LENKER: I was raised Jehovah’s Witness, which rejects many of the cultural rituals like holidays and birthdays. Of course, when you are denied something it usually makes you more interested in it. I started reading a lot about myths and rituals and got really into the variety but also the commonalities within them. I read James Frazier and Joseph Campbell when I was first starting out with this work.
There is so much purpose in ritual. When you study ceramics you end up talking about function and design a great deal; I was attracted to the idea of making something that had a purpose other than sitting on a shelf. I try to make work that will have a history by giving it a very specific function and then using it for that purpose. In a ritualistic narrative of my design the objects become irreplaceable and unreproducible because they have this history.
I find so much inspiration in historical objects. For Long Hidden Friend, my last large project, I started with an interest in early American Redware pottery and upon research into the time period and culture surrounding these objects it really opened up with possibilities and I found connections within my own life which I could bring into the work.
WW: What appeals to you about working in ceramic?
NL: I recently wrote a lot about clay and why I love it as material, the answer to your question is both and more. Generally, I believe that as a material it has the most potential to speak about history, design, change and intimacy, all things I am very interested in. (I’ve included the writing below.)
History. Clay, as a material, has the potential to speak about history in a way other material cannot. We all have been to museums where the only thing left to reconstruct a civilization is the pieces of pottery. This material speaks about loss, but also what is left. Material has innate and visceral associations that I try to utilize.
Design. Clay, as a material, has the potential to speak about function and purpose in a way other material cannot. Every time we wash our hands, or walk through a subway corridor we feel the material and its utilitarian base. The objects I make are functional but have unusual purposes and only function appropriately within the specific narratives I construct around the objects. The narratives dictate the object I require. In my work form follows function.
Change. Clay, as a material, has the potential to speak about change and transformation in a way other material cannot. There is a reason most cultures use clay or a clay-like substance in the myths of the creation of mankind. Clay is potential, starting as a lump of dirt it has the potential to become a pot, a prototype, a record of human manipulation and ingenuity.
Intimacy. Clay is potential, design, and history, but it is also intimacy. Our touch affects change in the material. We take sustenance and expel waste into the material. The material mimics our lives in the lip of a pot (when we kiss another), the transformation of time and fire (when we grow old, suffer tragedy and hardship, strengthening us), a history recorded in the touch of a material, fixed in time long after our bodies are gone (in the impact of our words and actions on the persons surrounding us).
WW: Can you tell us about the work you’ve donated for the ACRIA benefit?
NL: In the initial stages of a project I will create photographic renderings to help visualize potential objects, environments, and actions that will be explored. Since these works are not physical I will create a few pots that utilize custom digital ceramic decals of the renderings. The pots allude to historical narrative ceramic vessels, this one attempting to appear as though pieced back together.
The work for ACRIA is one of these which uses parts of the preliminary renderings for Recreation, a project I am currently trying to find a space to exhibit. The project’s narrative base involves a being inhabiting the interior of a void who steals objects from other worlds and persons through the use of a device to visit alternate realities, the device is based on a past sculpture entitled Hearth. The project is intended to touch on ideas involving social media, voyeurism, security, virtual reality, and personal identity.
WW: Have you interacted with ACRIA prior to the “Unframed” benefit?
NL: I haven’t. I’ve known David Fox and Chris Stone for a few years now and when they asked me to be involved I was happy to include work for such a good cause amongst so many talented artists.
WW: Is there anything in the sale you’d be interested in bidding on yourself?
NL: I have been admiring Jonas Wood’s paintings for a while now, his paintings of potted plants are incredible. I loved playing basketball when I was a teen, so if I had the cash I would totally go for that wallpaper.