Making New Stories about Multispecies Kinship through Vital Material Encounters with Clay
As a contemporary artist sculpting with clay to create story vessels and ensembles of hybrid creatures, I work with the material in what I propose as a creative partnership. The clay is my ‘multispecies partner’—an active participant rather than passive subject in my creative process. This approach collapses the boundaries between myself and the material, we become united in a material network that blurs the delineation or duality between subject and object and the human and nonhuman (Latour 1993). In this manner, I question the human-centric hierarchy inherent in purely acting upon materials. Instead, I pursue an embodiment of a type of human-nature interaction, a connection between myself and the material as a form of multispecies kinship. Non-human elements work with and against my creative choices, obscuring the instincts of subjective decisions. In the context of the ‘material turn’ in art-making and philosophical enquiry, I explore the creation of my ceramic sculpture as it evolves. Clay is a storytelling mode in and of itself, and part of the story-subject that feeds my work, alongside a multitude of other references and ideas. Citing examples of matter transforming, such as clay in creation myths, examples of material animism in folk and fairy tales, as well as my artistic approach to interacting with the material, I suggest how we might re-think matter differently from purely passive or inert. I look to art history for tropes and concepts of art-making that facilitate the expression of unconscious and collective archetypal visual language, and to literary sources that demonstrate some of the best thinking through the vehicle of storytelling. Finally, I explore critical anthropomorphism in relation to representations of the nonhuman, especially in narrative artworks, and discuss how the act of re-storying can adjust our relationship with how we currently perceive the distinctions between subject and object, human and nonhuman.
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