Art, Clay Handbuilding & How the Future affects Creation

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I was standing in a ten by ten cube space holding a paint brush that was dripping black paint in one hand and my white phone up to my ear in the other, explaining to my friend that only hours ago destruction had rendered the room a disaster zone.

An entire city had been reduced to rubble.dryclay2

I observed that when you break a curved form you create instant jagged angles. Take a bone and break it- a compound fracture. Take a balloon and pop it- balloon shards everywhere. Take a sea shell and smash it-you get the picture: splinters, shivers, snippets, fragments, pieces of a whole-flowing-semblance.

A few months back Danika Druttman green lit my proposal for a show that involved building a city out of clay. Standing inside that ten by ten room painted black, neither one of us could conceive what that city was going to become nor how an entire city could be built in the smallest art gallery residence in New York City, The Window @125.

I would build an antithetical city to New York. A city that is composed strictly of wave curvature and not right angles.

The city was folding in upon itself and multiplying from every angle on every axis. It appeared to be procreating with itself- I could feel it making love. I knew that I was under it’s control. A terror arose in me that was insurmountable. All I could do was submit. I felt as if I had no will power and no identity left. Ages had gone by, I no longer had a body, and yet the witness, some form of perception remained. I woke up to the forgotten realization that there was nothing left.

At that moment I witnessed a city presenting itself as intersecting currents carried on a single breathe; at the same time I saw it as the thighs and breasts of a heavenly mother made of earth, her curved and pregnant stomach, twins growing inside her cast in molten flames. I felt the four entrances into the city and was reminded of monks who work on sand art meditations called, Mandalas.

Tibetan Mandala
Tibetan nuns working on mandala, 2005.

I was working with clay, a water based clay made of sand and particulate that had it’s own name like a starlet of a Noir mini drama, Malone Red. She came uniformly packaged in 50 pound parcels separated into two twenty five pound bags. There was something rewarding that I couldn’t quite put my finger on when I pulled a fresh bag out of the box and placed it on the marble slab where I worked her Terra-cotta body bringing her to the right consistency.

She demanded a guided touch, one that required dexterity and patience. My first date with her was a bust, we fought while getting to know each other, she cracked up but not under my humor. I had not properly anointed her, I was working too fast, stretching her out, asking too much.

I had to slow down.

She was temperamental and demanded patience and proper technique. I was reliving my past- everyday on display in the window. I would think of my former partners and how I would compare them to each other looking for the end game as I wrangled Malone red with a rib tool and some water.

I looked up at my first days work and saw the crudeness of it and took a vow that I would not cut corners; even though I knew that the work was ephemeral and that no one would know if I had. I kept reminding myself like a mantra that the moment when the city  would be completed it’s eminent destruction would transpire.

Could I bare it?

Three-hundred-and-fifty-pounds of Malone Red molded and manipulated into a revered formation over the course of two weeks. The people from beyond the window saw a city from another dimension that I had only caught glimpses of. Some said the city of skulls, others saw a Martian or dessert landscape, some were repulsed, while others shot smiles and thumbs pointed heaven ward into the window. One little girl beat the window with her umbrella during a snow storm screaming at her parents, “Just look! look!”

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 10.10.46 PM A dessert sand dune, a prehistoric serpentine land formation, an Ossuary made of human bones.

For the first week I was fasting: not eating meat, dairy, wheat, and sugars. I was drinking thick blended vegetable juices that I carried with me from home in a jar. It was all part of the entrance fee to Alladnam. I asked myself what I was willing to give up? My precious inconsequential suffering was first on the list.

My body began to ache by the third day. My back was twisting in unbearable spasms as I contorted myself into strange poses trying to work Malone Red. On the subway ride I grit my teeth. On the walk home I tried to hold it together- one step at a time. At home I would lay down on the floor until I felt it was safe to move again.

I went to see doctor Hal a practitioner of Eastern medicines. We talked for a bit about sacred temples of the mind then he felt the heart-beat of my pulses on both arms, put needles in a special formation on my body, massaged my back along the urinary bladder and Du meridians, and arranged my ribs and spine.

With each new day I felt… different. I was leaving something behind along with the flowing smooth curves and crevices of the clay city. I could spot pieces of this new world where I had not labored at all and by the last day- by the last minute -I was certain that I had not done anything.

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‘It’ was done.

When the monks finish their mandala after months of meditation they simply wipe away the sand. I did something similar; one by one I invited my guests that had come to the opening to enter the city behind the window and to break it with a hammer. In place of the breaks I asked that they leave their emotions, wishes, intentions, and ideas. As each person beat on the clay, dust shot into the air filling the tiny space making it a hazard to breathe, clothes were soiled with

Alladnam2Malone’s redness, clay particles mixed with the sweat on peoples brow returning them to some kind of primordial freedom.

It was okay to destroy the sacred. It was okay to break a belief structure. The artist himself insisted. I watched in a daze as person after person smashed the city to bits dropping pieces into the buckets that I prepared. I knew that the clay would be reconstituted with water, brought back into its original form one day. Hands from the future would form something new.

A day later I painted the space black. Back to black- a void from which the city had come from it was returned to. Danika stopped by and we looked at the space and both thought simultaneously, “as if nothing happened!”

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Stelios and Michelle from Studio E graciously accept the clay which will be reused by their students. Special thanks to Maksim Brenner for helping me build the shelves.

Post written by Aleks Degtyarev.

Some photos taken by Travon Surgeon, Stelios, and other sources.