SITE131’s CLAY + Things presents Texas ceramists Eric & Morgan Grasham’s curious taxidermy and clay figures, Julia Jalowiec’s jolly figurative groupings, Jessica Kreutter’s mysterious global composites, Shelby David Meier’s re-imagined porcelain objects, Brian Molanphy’s wall-hung invented shapes, Angel Oloshove’s brilliantly colored vessels, and New York artist Jenny Hata Blumenfield’s wall-mounted relief tile “paintings.” Each artist has a particular way of interpreting the world in clay, a medium that harkens back thousands of years and stays current today. [Scroll down for Gallery.] Essay Imagine all of the earth to have disappeared, everything except the humans. All that’s left is a large mass of people. Imagine there’s a force strong enough to hold us all together but light enough so we can worm and squeeze our way around, with some effort. Somewhere in the middle of the mass of people, imagine you’re in there. You’re a young person, maybe you’re having some conversations, maybe kissing someone. Imagine that you stay in one spot, pushed up against, and in the vicinity of, about 8 or 9 people. Maybe a few of them like it where they are. Maybe a few are too afraid to leave. Maybe one or two left at some point. But you stay there, and several years go by. Now, Imagine that you start to wonder if there’s a place where people aren’t so crammed together, or if there’s some sort of end or border where people stop being there. Imagine yourself imagining an in nite mass of bodies, not knowing where within them you even are, or if there actually is an end. Imagine yourself wondering what that would look like, an end. You talk to your mates and none of them want to go with you.

Imagine leaving them to start working your way in a single direction. Years pass as you attempt to move in a straight line, having no point of reference to know if you are or not. You meet many others along the way, but always continue on. You pass people of every age, babies against mothers, against the elderly, against a teenager. You find yourself in front of a beautiful, loving face. You look at your hands and notice how the skin is changing. Slacking. Scaling. Loosening. You want to keep moving but you’re tired of searching. You’re not even sure what you were looking for anymore, or why you cared to find it. So you stay there for a bit. You get to know the people pressed against you, and the people pressed against them.

Days turn into weeks, and months, and years. One day, imagine, the guy who’s pressed against your back dies. You turn directly towards him and examine his long grey beard and blue opal-like eyes. For unknown reasons, his body starts to move away from you, slowly pushing its way through the others, moving to somewhere. You quickly decide to follow it, the body. You say goodbye to your new friends, and the beautiful face. It’s difficult to leave, but this desire within you comes flooding back, it feels like an unstoppable force.

For years you follow your dead friend, the passage is slow, but easy, as he plows the way through. You ask several others to come with you as you go, some follow for a bit, but then try to go back, or just give up. Sometimes people aren’t very nice to you. Sometimes you feel like you’ve always known them. Your hair is long now, to your waist almost, and it’s going grey.

Imagine feeling the coarseness of your hair as a roaring sound begins to build in front of you, and your dead friend suddenly dislodges from the group and starts floating into darkness. You’re disoriented at first. You watch him float off, into the dark, until he becomes a small point in the distance. You lift your head and look down across the surface to see a moving ground made up of people stretching into the expanse. And then you see more dead bodies littering the horizon, slowly removing themselves from the surface and floating out into the sky. Hundreds. Thousands. The noise becomes apparent, the unmuffled, unchecked sounds of thousands of conversations, arguments, laughter, pressing on your ears.
HUDDLE You look out and notice the stars. And the dark spaces between them, the emptiness. Clouds form and a light appears on the horizon, rising from the sea of bodies. The sun, it’s warm, beautiful, and comforting at first, but as it comes overhead, it blinds you. You start to sweat and burn. It hurts, but you stay because you’ve made it to where you wanted to go. If you leave you may never find it again. You talk to others on the surface; almost all of them grew up here. Others are like you, but too old to leave, too tired.

Imagine wondering if the surface is any different or better in another area, or if at some point, maybe the surface ends too. Imagine removing yourself from the mass, breaching the surface to crawl across the People Planet. You stand up for the first time. Imagine learning to walk, to run. You’re running across a planet made entirely of people. You notice for the first time how tan everyone is. How tan you are now too. You run and walk, and run, for years, looking. You see other people in the distance walking as well. You try to follow them, but they always crawl back in before you get to them, or they’re pulled under. You’ve nearly been pulled under too.

Then, imagine that you can’t run anymore. You can hardly walk. Your back is sore, and your legs are too weak to hold you up. You sit down on a surface made from someone’s back, another’s legs, and an arm. They say hello and so do you. You miss your past, your friends, your loves. You miss what life was like when you felt closer to people. Imagine that you want to go back in.

You know you’ll probably never find them, but you feel you have nothing to lose in trying. You try to bury yourself, but you don’t have the strength. You exhaust yourself trying. You lay down, giving up, looking at the night sky. A voice beneath you says, “Ben?” You reply, “No. Sorry.” They respond, “I love you, Ben.” You thank them.

Imagine wondering what the purpose of it all was, the journey. The search. You did get to see the sun, the stars, the moon, felt a little rain a few times. You loved some people, and they loved you. You might have traveled even farther than anyone in the People Planet has ever gone.

The sun comes over you again. You ip over, face down. You’re so hot. Helpless. You start to ask the people under you to pull you under, begging them, but no one helps. You crawl a little ways, all the strength you can muster, hoping someone will pull you under, asking for help. Help. Finally a hand reaches up through the bodies, an arm that you give yourself to. The arm pulls you down, down, deep into the mass. They pull you in and embrace you. Your eyes are used to light now, so you can’t see anything at all. You feel small, being pressed tightly in all directions by other bodies, other people. Someone speaks to you, someone new, saying, “It’s okay. We’re all alone together.” You relax, and breath, and fall asleep, as you forget the words they just said to you.
— Jeff Gibbons, 2018, artist