The material, physical world and the transcendent, metaphysical aspects of life have often been positioned at odds, but a selection of works by Youngeun Shin, Kirsty Kerr, and James D.W. Clarke demonstrate their inseparability and mutual dependence. Material Transcendence is an exhibition about experience, rooted in the physical but going beyond.
The exhibition commences with Youngeun’s Vessel Compositions, which focus on the physical materiality of clay, its transformations and the dialogue between substance and usage. The subtle gradations and forms in her work, continuing upstairs, speak of a dialogue between mind and matter. Human hands shape the clay’s body, then fire licks its marks over the surfaces, selecting and rejecting according to a different set of criteria than that in the ceramicist’s eye. This collaboration shows how raw earth takes on different identities and forms, even as the viewers play a part through judgements of use, meaning and value.
Correspondingly, Kirsty Kerr’s installation drawing on substances that heal demonstrates the transformation of something broken to fixed, and from no value to great worth. The gold threads running through her Seams wall hanging speak of her interest in ‘kintsugi’, an ancient Japanese technique of fusing together the shards of broken pots with gold, which increases the vessel’s original worth whilst recounting its trauma. The studies for Kirsty’s hanging Shards go deeper into the materialisation of an idea, describing the transformation of the conceptual to the physical.
James D.W. Clarke’s installation Get Down / Be Low, on the other hand, describes the opposite journey. The work is inspired by William Morris’ ideas about the virtues of the ‘lesser’ arts, such as wallpaper, and the writings of St Teresa of Avila about the pursuit of humility and how it can lead to ecstatic spiritual experience. In a selection of prints, text and video, James uses the motif of stinging nettles. While they cause pain if one rolls around in them, they can be beneficial if drunk as tea. He links this to the process of art making: though often a messy, visceral experience, it can take the artist and viewer into strange realms of thought.