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Kohler, Family Portraits, and Centerpieces for Matriarchs

Bobbi Meier, 2020

A John Michael Kohler Arts Center Arts/Industry residency in the Fall of 2019 offered the opportunity to translate my soft sculptures into an unexpected new body of work. I worked in The Pottery, a pristine 100 year-old factory building next to a slip-casting production line for luxury plumbing fixtures. The factory is hot. The work is labor intensive. The scale is intimidating. Overhead cranes move plaster molds. Liquid slip lines run everywhere to push endless porcelain material into the molds and the cast pieces are carefully set on car-sized racks to move continuously through a kiln the length of a football field. As an artist, it was an experience like no other; to apprentice with skilled laborers and technicians who were as curious about my process, as I was theirs.


Knowing that a material transformation would change the perception of my work, I expected translation from textile to ceramic to lend permanence to my sculptures, but the resiliency present in my fiber objects was removed and unexpectedly replaced by fragility. Textiles have an inherent connection to humans and our daily lives that is very personal. There is history related to comfort within the softness of the materials. Porcelain comes from a tradition of formality; fine dining, elegance, family heirlooms. My preferred fiber-based material, spandex, has sensuality embedded in its history. A sexy, spandex, soft-sculpture, playfully grotesque, translated into porcelain becomes precious and gains an air of elegance in spite of its awkward composition. 


I completed two parallel threads of work at Kohler, which directly relate to a series I have been exploring for several years entitled, Sunday Dinners. In both, abstracted forms are stand-ins for family dynamics; what lies beneath the surface, keeping emotions bottled up, searching for perfection. 


Family Portraits is a series of objects embedded and spilling out of picture frames cast in porcelain. The concept of a portrait gallery in a museum or in the family living room came to mind as I melded these forms together. The frame becomes a device to bring tidiness to a messy situation. It simultaneously attempts to entrap and protect an object, which cannot be contained: underlying emotional chaos. 


Centerpieces for Matriarchs (Margaret, Edna and Billie), are sculptural forms created from Kohler Vessel Sinks. The sinks are literally holding detritus of daily living and abstract forms from unknown origins. They are containers that are falling apart. The surface is brilliant and inviting, but these centerpieces are precariously situated, a reference to our human condition.


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