Ryder Richards (aside as intro): I met Ian while he was in graduate school and running an alternative art space. He was continually collaborating and pushing boundaries while I was hosting events and creating new venues for display. Finding we had a similarly ambitious drive fueled by a bizarrely protestant and alcohol-fueled work ethic we started the Culture Laboratory Collective. We have worked together on international exhibits, collaborative shows and art works, and have plotted and schemed around the ever-elusive vanishing point of success.
Trained as a ceramicist with exquisite craft, Ian is capable of producing beautiful objects, yet is also constantly exploring conceptual issues related to craft, technology, process, and performance.
While in Dallas a few years ago, Ian (and collaborator John Shumway) created Incidental Transformation, a “digital projection on ceramic” installation that confounded traditional exhibition strategies while providing a series of improbable “view points” from which to engage static ceramics and ever-shifting contemporary technologies.
RR: Ian, your practice can, at times, seem schizophrenic. Do you see a gap between your more traditional ceramic vases and your conceptually grounded pieces–such as Yesterday’s Tomorrow where a performer rubbed Pennsylvania coal onto a ceramic mound? How does object creation align with works such as Please Excuse the Mess?
IFT: There are of course many differences between the two but I have always viewed my practice as a physical extension of personal ideologies. In one instance I may be thinking of some social/political issue and in the next I might be fantasizing, but no matter how fractured the individual works may appear, they are rooted in my observations and interpretations of myself and the world around me. I try not to separate or influence my works based on some stylistic constraint. I look at the work in-and-of-itself, each piece being a separate thing that needs to function on its own, in a context, without concern for style or brand.
Coming from a craft heritage background and positioning myself in the Post-Craft movement, I can trace similarities between my vessels and works. Yesterday’s Tomorrow and Please Excuse the Mess are a direct commentary on labor, manipulation, the gallery itself and its ability to glorify almost anything that is placed inside it.
Yesterday’s Tomorrow utilized a day-laborer within the gallery context and allowed viewers to ogle a human doing a task. The worker himself had no idea why he was doing the task—his only concern was doing what he was told and being paid for it. The art work utilized this person, a laborer, thus rendering the work as spectacle, contextualized within the surrounding traditional artworks. Yesterday’s Tomorrow narcissistically called attention to itself.
This call for attention was also prevalent in Please Excuses the Mess. As part of a group show, this work, or non-work, shifted the viewer’s vantage point so that they didn’t know that they were looking at an art work. The gallery itself appeared under construction as if the workers had not finished in time for the opening. The laborer is still the object of focus. While the person is not physically present this time, it seemed as though the painters had just stepped out for lunch and hadn’t yet returned to finish the job at hand (in this case, painting the wall.) The work relies on the viewer’s own memory to help finish the piece, and the assumption that it is not an art work at all but is a momentary glimpse behind the curtain of the everyday.
Another recent work is a collaboration with jeweler/metalsmith, Sharon Massey, entitled State Change. The intended audience will be metal-smiths at their annual conference this year in Minneapolis. Sharon gave me a meticulously finished piece of studio jewelry, a large silver ring. I then filed the ring down to nothing.
While this work references Rauschenberg’s Erased De Kooning Drawing, it is also a physical representation or statement about technical work that is devoid of content. Through compulsion, persistence and patience the ring has been reworked offering a new ideological context, removed from its intended beginning and re-positioned as an art object, freed from its function and the body. The work consists of a projected video of the act of the filing of the ring, a large format photo of the original ring and the detritus of the ring itself in it new state, rendered formless but equally as conceptually useless as the original ring was in it finished state (ouch, haha!)
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS:
RYDER RICHARDS: is a Dallas-based artist and curator who recently co-curated Boom Town at the Dallas Museum of Art, directed The Cube in Roswell, New Mexico during a year long residency, and co-developed the RJP Nomadic Gallery. He has shown work across the United States, in Germany and China. He is a member of several collaborative art groups including The Art Foundation and Culture Laboratory, writes about art, and teaches at Eastfield College.
IAN F. THOMAS: is an installation artist living in Slippery Rock, PA and works at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA. He holds a BFA from Slippery Rock University and an MFA from Texas Tech University. Thomas received additional training at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, Slovakia, and The Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, China. His work has been featured in the contemporary ceramics magazines Ceramics: Art and Perception and Ceramics Now. Recent exhibitions include Filtered Permeability at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, and Push Play at Bellevue Arts Museum in Seattle. And Is co-founder of One Wall Gallery.