TO SWALLOW A BALL
The LAB Gallery, Dublin. Ireland
Process. Clay. People. Movement
Ok, let’s try. And let’s try again. Let’s try to talk about material, to understand text as material and not necessarily something under a grammatical structure. About Vanessa Donoso and her work, about her approach to art and life, about how to deal with something that is in process and that will be in process. Random situations, waiting for some results without previous questions. Feelings, emotions, possibilities of building something that will grow, alone, itself. Possibilities with something that is alive.
1: Clay. There is something completely physical with clay. Its about the body, it’s about movement, it’s about contact. It’s a sort of pre-linguistic material that transform the way we have learn to understand the world.
I have sent some comments to Vanessa Donoso, just to start a sort of conversation that can lead to content, to these ideas behind her artistic practice. If “ideas” is the word, if we are not talking about needs. And she answers and talks about clay and how easy it is to find it, to buy it. But she also talks about the cultural records of the earth. We take clay as a starting point that can lead us to everything. It is simple, yes, but simplicity is somehow related with complexity. It is a material that can be everything, it is –again- a starting point and a long history behind.
She says that interaction with clay always involves physical activity. And it’s true. It is material, it is physicality per se. And then she says that clay requires a great engagement and communication with the body. And, hey, this is what we are talking about: engagement and communication with the body. To be there but to be there as a body, as a body in action, listening, being aware of what is going on. Engagement with a material that obliges you to a higher commitment than other material, says Vanessa Donoso. You can not just touch it and walk away. It is going to capture you. We are talking about a material deciding over your body, your brain, your ideas, your concepts. As something alive. It is alive, it decides a lot about its form, its future. And it decides about yourself. With the physical contact you can feel the material, its temperature, the amount of water, if it’s soft, if it’s waiting for your fingers. If it wants to be touch and modified. If it wants to end at the kiln, if luck will decide.
And then, suddenly, Vanessa Donoso starts talking about written language. From the physicality to the decision of writing down content to create History. Written language and history, pre-historical situations, excavations and economical systems. Vanessa Donoso talks about how clay balls were a system to transport written content and, also, they the content itself. A Ball that is a recipient and also an idea of a content. A ball that is a token. A system to communicate and a predecessor of the impressed signs on tablets, on clay tablets. A written form that started as an accounting technique. A written form that is also malleable, that can be modified, that accept randomness and is part of a process. The content and the context for the content, the container and the distribution of content. Clay. Movement. People. Clay. And then Vanessa Donoso talks about her work as –also- shared codes, about making her work with other people, building bridges, domesticating cultural spaces. As if was possible to domesticate. Clay. Movement. People. Clay.
2: Regarding movement. There is something soft and sensual about clay and, at the same time, it sounds kind of brutal, kind of basic, kind of primitive.
Vanessa Donoso says that I’m not the first man that talks about sensuality in terms of usage of clay. And some alarms start ringing. Sensuality is not necessarily linked to gender. Sensuality is a non-linguistic system of communication. Clay. There is a sort of dialogue, there is movement and bodies, there is contact, soft contact, there is the blurred definition of something together and previous to a cultural construction. No one owns sensuality as it is a dance, it is a common field with players defining the rules right here, right now. The act of dealing with clay leads to another type of sensuality where suddenly the object –the material- is the other dancer. A human body and another body, matter, object, material. And together something will happen. One leads the other, one takes the other, one breaks the silence, one reacts, one is saving the other. And so on and so forth. Till it’s time to stop, to burn, to end, to take all the liquids out of our surfaces and interiors. Yes, a dance, with a broken choreography. And with many options, emotional ones. I remember spending quite a lot of time with a friend that was working with clay. Her studio was impressively big for a space in the city centre of Barcelona: three rooms, one of them with a couple of kilns. There was love with the material and, at the same time, a need to take distance, to accept the possibility of destruction. And always this question about functionality. Is it clay a functional material? Yes, it is. Is it also a dysfunctional one? Yes, it is. I remember the exhibition that we did together –she as an artist and I as a curator- with the emptiness filled with clay. The emptiness between your fingers, the movement of your hand and how to feel it with white clay. The performativity of the object afterwards, the need to see if her hand and her spaces were the same ones as yours. Using the clay, touching it at the exhibition space, leaving the studio behind to put the contact situation within the exhibition realm. And it’s not easy, it’s not easy to touch, to feel, to take something with your hands when this “something” is exhibited material. It’s against the rules, it’s against the way we understand how to visit an exhibition. It was conceptual and it was physical. It was material, body, people and desire.
Vanessa Donoso jumps then to a more practical approach to clay. For her exhibition at the Lab, the majority of the pieces presented have been sourced by her in different locations in Ireland and Spain. It means that Vanessa Donoso has been doing a process that works like this: The procedure is pretty long and it consist in digging a relatively deep hole on the ground (a ground that can be rural or urban) and cleaning the acquired soil with water repeatedly until obtaining pure fireable clay. This will include leaving the soil/clay to settle over night a few times. This process takes around 78 hours. From the exhibition to suddenly holes on the ground to get the material, to produce it, to be part of it. The sensuality is gone but the primitive aspect gives to the situation a new historical background. This is how it works, this is how it has been working for many many years. This is human. People. Clay.
And then she takes the clay and it becomes the perfect excuse to gather people. People that will touch the material, people that will make those tokens again: and now are they spheres, discs, cones… And Vanessa Donoso will talk with people about the clay process and how the written word was invented. While touching it, while working with it. And each token becomes a word, each necklace is almost a conversation, a starting point of something that is defined here, now, forever. And it is Vanesa Donoso’s goal, to reach this communication, to talk and to do this talking, this physical talking that is happening.
3: Narrative. In some of your previous works it is possible to follow a sort of narrative of the object. An object that is moving itself, an object that evolves and anticipates the next movement. Or the previous one defining the next one. Is it all the same?
We take a break. Vanessa Donoso see her practice as an ongoing process. And the movement is there, the questions are there, the relationship with the objects is there. We talk about a continuous research completely open. Everything is possible, everything is linked. It can be mythology and reality, it can be this memory from childhood and the fact of living where she lives. Her works are responses of consequences, but there has been a previous one. Always. This movement that never stops, this layer after layer that stays with her. It is a process that understands history and what it means. An object appears but the other ones, the previous ones, stay. And it generates a conversation, an image, a feeling, an emotional factor. A new object, a new comer, old friends. Vanessa Donoso talks about a pure open-ended learning process. With everything, with the beginning of human kind, with the future, with reality and desire, with the narrative that helps us to construct a world that gives us more questions, more possibilities to discover, more surfaces to touch, more structures to define, more grammar to invent.