Art Meets Mad Science- A Surreal Biology Lesson From Sculptor Kate MacDowell
Fawn Review caught up with ceramicist of the moment Kate MacDowell to discuss her work, her inspiration and her ability to fuse science and nature like no other…
The surreal sculptures of Kate MacDowell offer a bizarre and beautiful version of biology. Each piece teeters on the line between beautiful and disturbed- all with overlying Frankenstein tones of dissection, petrification and mad science.
Practicality and reality, it soon becomes apparent, have no place in MacDowell’s wildly original visions. This is ceramics as we’ve never seen it before; it couldn’t be further than the tame material that lines kitchen cupboards.
Its no surprise that Kate MacDowell is one of modern art’s most celebrated ceramicists, with her work being exhibited in Paris, New York and Switzerland in this alone. Kate very kindly agreed to discuss her work with Fawn Review…
What’s your inspiration for these pieces?
These pieces are in part responses to environmental stressors including climate change, toxic pollution, and gm crops. They also borrow from myth, art history, figures of speech and other cultural touchstones. A lot of my work starts from environmental case studies based on reading about threatened species and environmental impacts such as climate change. Visually, it can start with an idea spurred by people’s snapshots of road-kill up on the web or scientific illustrations.
Given how clichéd many natural images, such as birds, have become- how do you manage to steer your work away from looking kitsch or twee?
[They show] a romantic ideal of union with the natural world… Man and nature is shown to be one of friction and discomfort with the disturbing implication that we too are vulnerable to being victimized by our destructive practices.
What is the process behind putting something together like this incredible piece depicting lungs as a bird house?
I hand sculpt each piece out of porcelain, often building a solid form and then hollowing it out. Smaller forms are built petal by petal, branch by branch. It takes me usually between a week to a month to complete sculpting a piece (and then another week for firing, etc.). This piece took a little more.
Of all the materials out there, why do you choose to work with ceramics?
I chose porcelain for its luminous and ghostly qualities as well as its strength and ability to show fine texture. It highlights both the impermanence and fragility of natural forms in a dying ecosystem, while paradoxically, being a material that can last for thousands of years and is historically associated with high status and value.