You might not think there's a connection between the creation of the universe and the creation of ceramic, but Ron Fondaw, one of two artists in the exhibition Shifting Ground at the Gallery at the Regional Arts Commission (RAC), has been thinking along these lines for quite some time. "The ceramic processes are the same elements and actions that have formed our universe: heating, melting, crystallizing, and cooling," he says.
Ceramic plays an important part in Fondaw's installation piece "Distortions of Perception," a 9' x 9' x 12' black box containing a decorative architectural piece from Bixby Hall at Washington University. Around this piece runs a path comprised of ceramic shards which crunch under viewers' feet as they walk around the box and peer into it. The crunching sound is evidence of the viewers' interaction with the art.
In addition to science, Fondaw also incorporates psychology into his work. He is currently exploring repetition compulsion behavior, in which people repeat traumatic experiences by re-enacting the events or dreaming about them. The repetition of objects, such as rows of hanging aluminum bobs, in Fondaw's art symbolizes trauma which the Earth endures.
"All of my pieces point to the 'Observer Effect,' which states that the person observing an entity affects the entity's behavior, such as the observation of lions in the wild," Fondaw says. By his definition, the mere act of looking at an object changes it. This dovetails with his belief that the world changes constantly and the best way to understand it is to make art. "I'm searching for truth in the moment that is forever fleeting and fragile."
Like Fondaw, Michele Ryker-Owens sees the world (and art) as impermanent. She draws on Buddhist-inspired practices and philosophies to create pieces that call attention to our relationship with nature. "I encourage viewers to examine their own relationship with Earth, and to ask if humans have superiority over nature or if we're just another species among many."
"I'm also concerned for the vulnerability of Earth and all living things," she continues. One of her pieces in the show is a large reflecting pool with floating driftwood. The beauty and peace of the pool is countered by video projections of images onto the water which reveal our abuse of the resource.
Ryker-Owens is especially interested in water because for most of her life, she has lived within the Mississippi Watershed (drainage basin), the fourth largest in the world, which encompasses more than 1 million square miles and 32 states. She has seen urban sprawl consume land and water. "We must examine our connections to nature and question our tenuous relationship with the natural world."
Fondaw, Ryker-Owens, and exhibition curator Joan Hall believe that we live on a shifting ground (hence the title of the show) with regard to rising sea levels, melting polar ice caps, and unsustainable practices such as overfishing and hydro-fracking.
"For more than ten years, Ron and Michele have been in dialogue about the changing environment in which we live," says Hall. "This exhibition is the result of those conversations. The installation of their work in close proximity will create a new dialogue committed to asking the question, " 'Where are we going?' "
Shifting Ground opens at RAC on Friday, March 22 from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Curator and artists will give a gallery talk on Thursday, April 4 from 5:30 - 7 p.m.
The talk will also include representatives from Missouri River Relief, a nonprofit organization which connects people to the Missouri River through education and hands-on events. The exhibition continues through April 20.