On a technical level, my current interests include fabric-formed mould making and non-orthogonal digital photography of my works. Both involve stitching, either manually or electronically. The stitching and stretching of fabric to form models for plaster moulds harkens back to my childhood days of making meticulous and award-winning sewing samples.
I am grateful to Ronnie Araya, former research assistant at C.A.S.T. (Centre for Architectural Structures and Technology) in the Department of Architecture at the University of Manitoba for introducing me to their cutting edge research in using fabric formwork to create architectural structures. They are pouring concrete into the flexible fabric membranes they construct, but I’m transferring their techniques into slip casting porcelain in plaster moulds I make from fabric models I produce using drapery cloth. There is a sympathetic relationship between soft, stretchy fabric and wet, malleable clay and Fabricated Tree Form No.1 represents my first exploration of translating flowing fabric forms into durable porcelain forms. I am also thankful for the insights and diligence of Michael Zajac who introduced me to the idea of non-orthogonal imagery and the conceptual connection this process has to the horticultural practice of espalier, a long-time interest of mine.
I grew up in southern Manitoba and moved to the city of Winnipeg when I turned eighteen. My family home was situated near Plum Coulee, the flatest part of Manitoba, where trees were rare and those that did exist were planted in a purely calculated and practical manner. I have never taken trees for granted. Now, my porcelain trees inhabit a metaphorical space situated between urban and rural existence, the fabricated and the naturally occurring. Trees are a welcome relief in our ever-sprawling and invasive urban landscape. They provide natural beauty and protection, and we go to great lengths to preserve them. We also cut them down – once stripped of their bark, planed and standardized into uniform building modules, they serve to create shelter.
But trees are indifferent; they tower above us ominously, prone to disease, parasites, and old age, frequently felled and destroyed by design or natural disasters. Yet we bestow a symbolic significance on trees – they play a commemorative role, often planted to acknowledge a momentous occasion, be it historic, celebratory or mournful. Through this act, they gain special status. In the studio, I reflect on this culture versus nature dialectic, creating a series of sculptural tree forms that either permanently or temporarily inhabit an environment and mark a spot.
I would like to thank the Manitoba Craft Council for organizing the Distributary exhibition and for Chris Pancoe and his mentor Sigrid Dahle for curating it. Thanks also to Ace Art for its support.
Digital imaging and photography by Michael Zajac.