The most functional items in our lives go unnoticed. The more functional, the more indistinguishable they are from our daily routine. When the doorknob breaks, we are frozen in frustration and fury at our immobility. When the doorknob works, we pass through each frame of our day forgetting the one before. The artists of UnFunction greet us in the doorway of function and futility.
Curated by Maria Seda-Reeder, Weston Art Gallery is host to twelve artists examining the complexities of functional ideologies. Set within artistic, cultural, and political contexts, they examine function on many levels, asking questions such as:
What is function?
What is art?
What is the function of art?
What is ______________?
Some artists dive deep into the commercial realm, using its very weakness as their prowess. Others consider material in their work, prodding fervently at their (non) functional implications. And then there are some who revel in the resiliency of art as means for (and dare I say) enjoyment.
The craft of ceramics is a contradiction in and of itself. Utilitarian yet ornamental, clay works embody both the functionality of form and the decadence of décor all in one. But what happens when the embellishments and embossments become less pleasurable and more political? Artist Terence Hammonds takes us there in his series: You’ll Never Have the Comfort of Our Silence Again: A Collection of Protest Ceramics.
Happily marrying two mediums, Hammonds presents us with a twenty-one piece collection of screen printed ceramic cups. The forms are finely crafted and beautifully executed, drawing the viewer into an aesthetic experience. As the viewers’ eyes move from one cup to the next, they are faced with portrait after portrait, some repeating, others unique. Before they know it, they are participating in a metaphorical line-up, looking history right in the eyes.
As a maker, Hammonds leverages the power of reproduction and mass dissemination. With each iteration of imagery, we are reminded to remember the persisting and important issues among the milieu of media mayhem. He employs the un-function of a cup in the context of a gallery space to create a functional platform for political change. As an entrepreneur (and a witty one at that) Hammonds commercializes his “mug shots” making his work functional in all senses of the word. He offers his work back up to the tides of mainstream commodity, propagating his messaging across mantels and cupboards alike.
History tells us that art-making in its purest form is a primitive act. With advances in technologies and capabilities, a sense of its origins has been lost, along with institutionalized standards for what is art and what makes art. While art supply stores market art appropriate materials for art making, there is a plethora of material waiting to be had. Sourced for non-art purposes, these items tell us more about our world than Prismacolor ever will.
Capitalizing on the frivolity of material, Tracy Featherstone reclaims the unclaimed in her piece Mutate-Regenerate. Lying just erect off the gallery floor, this assemblage of found and forgotten objects explores culture through material waste. It is primal by nature as the use of material gives way to cues of the current climate and environment from which they were drawn. The construction itself is juxtaposed between fine art object and habitat, swaying playfully between the two. The value of the work is placed in the pocket of the viewer, now being asked to consider the caliber of conservation versus the profitability of market value.
Using “art” as a tool for communication and observation, she memorializes a time and place in the world, as art has a way of doing. She utilizes once functional material to create functionless objects to point us back to their assumed functionality and our relationship with them.
On the functional spectrum, there is something to be said for art that functions on its own. Simple and unhurried, you know it when you see it. What exactly you “like” about the piece is often hard to put to words, but to the viewer, does not need much explanation. Reposing in this refined sensibility is the work of artist Allison Wade.
Posited softly on the gallery wall, Estatic Ersatz hangs independently but seemingly in conjunction with her sculptural work Whatever It Takes. Congruent in form and color, these two works investigate the relational components of just that, form and color (and then some).
The back and forth between dimensionality and plane allow the viewer to consider the formal components of the work on both levels. The perceived imagery found in the flatness of her 2-d work is subjected to the object-ness of the sculpture. The interplay of line with layer and fixed form with shifting shape invites the viewer into the investigative approach of the artist.
Her work is beautiful, helping the viewer to see it as just that and not much more. There’s an agreeability to her efforts that makes her work functional within itself – as something to be understood for what it is. It could hint at some deeper meaning but wouldn’t have to, and that’s just fine. Wade’s pieces, while functionless, accomplish functionality in execution and artistry.
To see these works, and many more, visit the Weston Art Gallery now through November 29, 2017.