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Oasis

May 25-June 30 2017

Opening Reception: May 25, 7:30PM

Lin Xu’s Oasis is an exploration of memory, dreams, and the processes that shape the human brain through a delicate balance between choice and chance. Xu constructs her intimate sculptural objects through multiple stages of addition and subtraction, bringing together elements shaped by her hand with studio discards and found materials: decorative porcelain flowers and doll faces, or swirls of clay left from trimming thrown shapes on the potter’s wheel. Xu’s clay objects evoke cycles of re-birth, metamorphosis, and a constant state of transformation. Stemming from her research into neuroscience, Xu draws parallels between the physical characteristics and malleability of these clay objects, with the human mind’s capacity for memory; clay holds information and responds to shaping in ways that are both predictable and unexpected, and maintains a body that is at once fragile and resilient. 


Lin Xu - Oasis
Text by Seema Goel

a tiny cup moving through a surf

a hidden head crowded by thoughts

a hand reaching through a knot aching to untwist it

a rippling wave on a pillow

Like a gathering of butterflies against the riverbank of sleep, Lin Xu’s work emerges from dreamscape, bright and whimsical, blurred and focused, a contradiction of gallows humour and faerie tale. She brings us into her work through explosive movement and quirky imagery, asking us to participate by connecting our own subconscious to hers, to rest our heads against the pillows and share in the reverie.

Xu describes her practice as a path to learning about herself. Leaps of self-discovery arrive through the work; she finds her own preoccupations, habits, and personality revealed in the process. The character of the material and the maker connect and feed each other. Though originally a painting student, she found a kindred nature in soft slab porcelain and changed media. This material, at once generous and stubborn, is a fickle collaborator. It demands of a responsive hand, a steady and ever-evolving conversation with the artist, and an ability to incorporate contradiction, all of which serve Xu’s delight in variety of process, unpredictability, and alchemical transformation. She works quickly and loosely, finding the voice of the clay and letting it speak. The activity of making is brought to the front: the ooze of wet clay through the extruder; the tearing and pinching of a slab; the slump, warp and twist formed through combined material memory and the heat of the kiln. She asks the clay to propel itself as far as it can go, and then stops it mid-flight so she can open the door and let it pass through.

Curiosity and whimsy connect with an awareness of happenstance and material process to drive her practice. Each firing is a relinquishing of control where she works with the kiln as a partner in creation. A third of the time, she opens the kiln and finds the pieces “dead.” Without grief or regret, she reduces these pieces to shards in the smashing ground in her garden. The most interesting fragments return to her studio where they are later re-incorporated, along with cast-offs and found pieces from others, into her fluid compositions. She describes this process of returning the fragments to the cycle of making as “bringing them back to life.” The physicality of destruction connects the cycle and continuously provides a source of wonder, accident and new material. The swing of the hammer is as productive as the spin of the wheel.

In these small ceramic collage pieces, opposites push and pull, each heightening the intensity of the other just as yellow against purple vibrates the cones of the eye making each colour more vivid. Each gesture, image, texture, and process, is brought into sharp focus against the skin of its contrasting counterpart: a fluid cursive ribbon is cut short with the knife’s precision; a fabric texture unfurls in the thinnest slab to end in a torn mineral edge; a tiny flexing doll’s arm and a white rose crest; the jumbling wave of blue abstract fragments. This haphazard cacophony of dodging swirls and lines springs from the safety of the pillow’s surface, the pillow itself visually soft and physically hard, the pooling glaze both liquid and brittle, and in all of it, the direct confrontation between movement and stillness, bursting unpredictable energy and refined arrangement.

Xu’s humour emerges in the many juxtaposed elements of her work, and most frequently in her use of the ceramic trompe l’oeil pillow, a reappearing motif over the past several years. Simultaneously pliant and rigid, this metaphor is deeply explored through conflating the North American squishy rectangle with the historical ceramic head-support of ancient China. Recognized as gateways between unconscious and conscious experience, those highly decorated, gently curved stoneware blocks, were cradling aristocratic heads a thousand years ago as they traversed between realities. Xu produces her own version of the pillow, winking at us while adorning them with chartreuse stripes and mermaid scales. In her structure, we do not have to sleep to share the fantastical visions, the liminal mental flotsam coats the surfaces. As if these are fascinators or flowers to pin to the head rather than places to rest it, they reveal sudden exuberant displays of darting ideas and obsessions, tiny windows into what is hidden.

The pillow as a threshold to the subconscious, is intimate and personal, the confidant of private whispers and hopes, but these innermost wanderings are also held out as offerings, exposing them as the ubiquitous experience of billions of dreamers. Their small scale and large number have the repetition of our days/nights within them, but also the audacity of each mind full of imaginings, individual ambitions, and hauntings. She elevates these simply through her material choice. Porcelain, once reserved for precious objects, is historically rooted in care and privilege. By translating these forms into this material she plucks them from the ethereal and transient, and shifts them to archeological stability. They are entombed, still living. They are celebrated, proffered up like Cinderella’s slipper, the magic of our subconscious for us to cherish and marvel at.

The “alive-ness” of Xu’s work comes from her trusting the process to lead her and allowing the subconscious to surface. She accepts the resulting pieces, tiny as talismans to clutch in the darkness, delicate as fragments of dreams, butterflies emerging from the chrysalis. When the kiln door opens, she watches them flutter.

a rose decal tattoos a tiny arm

a hundred spaghetti strands cradle a disembodied face

a spiral vortex of wormy tentacles swarm out of a pillow

a cracked plate reveals sutures healing its injury

 

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