Earlier this year, the Lloyd Library and Museum in downtown Cincinnati, OH, launched their Artist-in-Residence program with an aim to enrich and bolster support for the arts. Recipients of the residency are tasked with interpreting and integrating the Lloyd Library’s collections, including botany; natural history; early travel and exploration; and histories of science, medicine, and pharmacy, through artistic endeavors. The residency includes a monthly stipend, and opportunities to exhibit output associated with residency research, as well as lecture and presentation engagements based on work created and the research process.
Future Retrieval, the studio-duo comprised of local artist/educators Katie Parker and Guy Michael Davis, are the Lloyd’s inaugural Artists-in-Residence. Through January and February of 2019, Parker and Davis traded off weekdays in the Lloyd Library stacks, pulling tomes and digitizing illustrations. On Fridays, the pair would work together in a reading room on-site, comparing notes and scouring the library’s catalogue to determine where certain types of images might be held within the collections. Their focus was aimed at the collections of illustrations covering botany, exploration, and alchemy, beginning with a broad survey of these areas through research before honing in on specific inspirations during their time in studio production. The resulting exhibition, Leaves of Plates, opened at the Lloyd Library on September 6, 2019.
A statement provided by Parker and Davis concerning the exhibition reads in part,
Our process is in the conceptualization, discovery, and acquisition of form – most importantly objects of art historical significance. Using the idea of eclecticism that runs throughout both our work and the Lloyd Library collection, we have chosen artifacts and imagery as formal influences for making connections between plants and animals, territories and researchers, explorers and scientists. Using the apothecary jar as a launching point we are highlighting the gems of the collection, moving them from the page into a three-dimensional viewing platform. Taking the themes stated above combined with our expertise in ceramics, our goal is to visually represent the eclecticism found within the Lloyd through objects, imagery, and exhibition design…After two months of surveying and documenting rare books we are building a new environment by taking things out of context, changing the materials, and making these images our own.
Future Retrieval consider the entire exhibition as a singular, immersive installation, comprised of several features. The walls of the exhibition space are lined with framed cut paper botanical images, each measuring 32.5” x 24.5” x 2”. Standouts from this series include two images of mushrooms and one of a poppy flower, each realized with such attention to detail that the suppleness of organic flesh and delicacy of petals are conveyed with pulpy immediacy. In the center of the room stands a custom-made table holding ceramic labware inspired by the duo’s research into alchemy. Approximations of beakers, crucibles, stoves, and flames are arranged in a tableau of aestheticized experimentation, conjuring thoughts of ancient rites and efforts to transform common elements into rarified objects. There is a poignancy in this arrangement, as Parker and Davis have performed their own kind of alchemy by taking historical, printed illustrations and transforming them into contemporary ceramic sculpture, infusing new life into bygone forms.
Standing tall in the front of the exhibition space is a pre-Civil War library cabinet, once owned by Curtis Gates Lloyd, one of three Lloyd brothers responsible for the founding of the Lloyd Library and Museum. The cabinet is filled with cut metal silhouettes of diverse flora and several apothecary jars featuring botanical designs. The metal silhouettes are simultaneously delicate and sturdy, faithfully reproducing the fragility of plant life with intricate cutouts while alluding to the lasting power of the historical documents they are drawn from. The powder coated surfaces of these water-jet cut aluminum figures lend an ethereal yet grounding force to the incredibly rendered and enticing apothecary jars, as though each vessel might contain some otherworldly elixir concentrated from the sculptural flora. The jars’ shapes are born out of utilitarian necessity, featuring cinched centers that allow the ability to pull a jar from the shelf, while still taking full advantage of the economy of space. The forms beg to be held between hands, luring the viewer in to investigate the expertly executed design motifs rendered in underglaze decals.
The cabinet is flanked on both sides by oversized prints mounted to corrugated plastic cutouts. Here, Future Retrieval have again taken the flat forms of illustrations and brought them into the third dimension, upsetting expectation and giving viewers a sense of what their research and production processes must have entailed as the artists spent months immersed in botanical imagery. The cutouts add to the sense of play and wonder that runs throughout the entirety of Leaves of Plates, characteristics that are hallmarks of Future Retrieval’s process and practice.
Leaves of Plates is a natural extension of Future Retrieval’s overarching output. Parker and Davis are experts at infiltrating archives and pulling disparate historical designs and forms into cohesive new works. Even a cursory review of their previous projects reveals the level of critical research and production the duo traffic in. Locally, the pair has worked with the collections of the Taft Museum of Art and Rookwood Pottery to produce incredible works honoring the past while simultaneously addressing the present and speculating on the yet-to-arrive. They will be working with the Cincinnati Art Museum, with access to the museum’s Decorative Arts collection, for a forthcoming exhibition in 2021. Outside the region, Parker and Davis have been granted access to examine the historical collections from the Smithsonian archives at the National Museum of Natural History (Washington, D.C.) and the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum (New York, NY). This kind of access is generally only granted to practitioners of exemplary output, and the reverence and dedication Future Retrieval display regarding the subjects and material they work with places them in that elite echelon.
The team of scholars and artists responsible for appointing Future Retrieval as the inaugural Artists-in-Residence at the Lloyd Library and Museum have done a great service in advancing the Lloyd’s aim of interpreting and integrating the institution’s collections through artistic endeavors, while concurrently bolstering support for the arts within the city of Cincinnati. Parker and Davis are incredible ambassadors for research-based work that culminates in stunning output, output which is steeped in history, yet overflowing with innovation. Leaves of Plates sets an outstanding precedent for the Lloyd Library’s fledgling residency program. If this exhibition serves as any indication of the future of the program, that future will be very bright indeed.
Future Retrieval is represented by Denny Dimin Gallery (New York, NY).
Leaves of Plates remains on view through November 21, 2019 at the Lloyd Library and Museum.
917 Plum St., Cincinnati, OH 45202. Viewing hours: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm M-F and third Saturday of every month.