In her 2012 exhibit, Specimens of Geological Confectionary, Joanna Pike created ceramic sculptures that look ridiculously edible. These pieces aren't exact replicas of desserts or candies, but their textures and shapes hint at the idea: Chunks of chocolate-brown clay have been fired and glazed with what appears to be a thin layer of frosting. With other pieces you can imagine slices of nutty bread and panna cotta dusted with cocoa. The ceramic pieces also, as the title implies, hint at geological textures: At second glance, the edge of a chocolate brownie looks distinctly like the steep face of a rocky cliff.
Pike experiments with ceramic textures in a highly unusual way. The artist, who grew up in South Portland, Maine, uses discarded material from her own and other ceramic artists's work, including sweepings from studio floors and the clay-covered gunk that collects in sink traps. The buckets of debris she gathers provide sometimes unpredictable effects.
"It's material that is very smelly and not desirable, but it creates a really fascinating surface that doesn't look like anything else in ceramics," she says.
In one piece, from another body of work, she's taken the lumpy scraps from her failed confectionary sculptures and covered them in casting slips to make a soap dish. In the firing process, the lumpy ceramic waste causes the smooth slips to crack, resulting in a strangeeven elegantmarbled appearance.
Pike graduated in 2010 with a bachelor's degree from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University in Halifax, and she has been traveling from one ceramic residency to another ever since. After a year at the Madalta clay studio in Medicine Hat, Alberta, she spent a year at the Chicago Lillstreet Art Center. In early 2013, she made the drive from Chicago to the Archie Bray in Helena for a summer residency. (She'll soon be headed to Philadelphia for yet another stay.) On her drive out to Helena, she says, she took note of the landscape. The suburban houses, farms and abandoned buildings became the inspiration for her work at Archie Bray. Her new exhibit, which opens for First Friday at FrontierSpace, is titled Constructed Sludge, and showcases a collection of small houses and other buildings made with ceramic waste, which makes for offbeat textures.
"I have taken recycled material and press-molded it into plastic recyclables that I find," Pike says. "This particular show is all architectural forms and it's actually designed somewhat abstractly based off of train sets ... so the proportions are a little bit off. It's all pinched, so it's a little bit wonky in a distorted way and that creates this idea of a tiny town."
There's also a functional aspect to Pike's houses. You can use them like boxes: the roofs come off revealing a space for anything you might imagine. Pike has given a few of them specific functions by titling them things like "Ash Can" or "Control Building Soap Dish."
Initially, Pike had a specific concept for the storage houses. She was thinking of memorializing the fallen Hostess company by making containers for Twinkies and other cherished foods.
"I was thinking, 'What special storage containers could you make that really exemplify the type of people that are buying these sort of foods?'" she says. "So there is a particular set that is based off of suburban track houses. They look pretty much the samebut have a different personality in the glazingbased off of the Monopoly house."
Pike's exhibit will be split into two rooms. The building containers will be showcased in one. In another, Pike will display her mistakesobjects that fell apart in the firing process, but that she ended up liking anyway. One example is a house that's supposed to function as a cookie jar but deflated in the kiln. "So now it looks like a mountain range with a chimney sitting on top of it," Pike says.
Pike's decision to use waste came from working at Madalta cleaning out the studio sinks. She began gathering the unwanted clay partly because it saved her money on material. But the idea of reusing waste began to morph into a larger concept and a love for the unpredictability of the process.
"I was trying to talk about waste from our culture, but I didn't want to do it in a negative way," she says. "I wanted people to know there's something we can do about this. It doesn't need to be overwhelming."
Constructed Sludge opens at FrontierSpace, one block west of Higgins in the alley between Spruce and Pine, Fri., Oct. 4, with a reception from 6 to 9 PM. Free.