Mysterious Portals & Tessellations in Clay

Mar 30, 2018

Matt Shallenberger. Photograph from a series of Hawaii landscapes, The Leaping Place, on view now at First Hawaiian Center on Bishop Street. Works by ceramic artist Christopher Edwards, textile artist C.B. Forsythe and sculptor Juvana Soliven are also on view through June 15th in this Honolulu Museum of Art exhibition.
Credit Matt Shallenberger

In the hands of a skilled practitioner, intriguing ideas are the seeds for resonant works of art.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports, some interesting   ideas inform a ceramist and a photographer whose works  are on view now at the First Hawaiian Center downtown.

Christopher Edwards. Diatom. Raku fired ceramic. Part of Edwards' "Self Assembly" exhibition on view at First Hawaiian Center, second floor, through June 15 2018.
Credit Noe Tanigawa
Ceramist Christopher Edwards with a series of "diatoms", exhibiting qualities of the "algorithmic aesthetic" that Edwards says many humans find pleasing.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

Three unique collections of work continue on view at the First Hawaiian Center on Bishop Street through June 15th   .  Textile artist C.B. Forsythe and sculptor Juvana Soliven are also on view through June 15, 2018, in this Honolulu Museum of Art exhibition. 

Ceramic artist Christopher Edwards says tripophobia, or fear of holes or patterns of holes, does come up with his work.  He meticulously carves fine patterns of bumps, holes and marks all over his ceramic forms.

Edwards:  There’s a type of phobia, which many people have, they’ve come out of the woodwork since I started doing this. Particular patterns of holes really set them off, it gives them a slightly nauseous feeling.

Edwards:  One of my pet theories is, that the same mechanism that is making people feel slightly nauseous is the thing that gives these visual forms power to me.  There’s some deep evolutionary connection to particular patterns, for whatever reason, that just resonate with us somewhere down in our deepest brain stem.

Christopher Edwards. #89, Untitled. Ceramic.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

Edwards:  I think that’s why I find these aspects of radial symmetry, of repetition with variations, of scalar changes with units, so you start with a unit over a small area and it changes on different levels of the organism.  Also tessellation which is a type of pattern that covers a surface seamlessly, often an irregular surface, or that’s the part that interests me most.

How do you do tessellation?

Edwards:  Well, usually I use a grid.  When I first started out in ceramics, I just wanted to make something that was beautiful.  I know that’s kind of heretical to just want something that’s beautiful and not something that’s conceptually deep, or strong or rigorous.  So I just looked around for things I found most beautiful, what I thought was a powerful beauty.  I found those originally in things called diatoms, which are microscopic single celled creatures, phytoplankton is the best known.  They make these skeletons out of silica that are just incredible and have these very unique structures and patterns.  So I just tried to figure out I thought those were so beautiful, and how they were so beautiful, how to work them into what I was making, and it just went from there.

Radial symmetry, repetition, pattern, and tessellation, by which forms are wrapped with pattern are all abundant in nature.

Christopher Edwards. #92, Shangri La. Raku fired ceramics.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

What you really wonder is why, why, Edwards decided to all this meticulous hand work in CLAY?  It turns out he was a graphic designer and was tired of being able to wrap forms in pattern with a touch on a keypad.   His neighbor was building and the noise drove him from his home, so Edwards took refuge in Windward Community College’s Play in Clay program.  That was five years ago.

Edwards:  There’s a type of aesthetic I call “algorithmic aesthetic” that has to do with how a pattern is constructed from certain components that go in some sort of a logical order.  What makes natural organisms so beautiful is they have this internal logical they’re trying to fulfill when they’re growing.  But the process of growing is filled with all kinds of complexities and interactions so I try and get things as close to perfect as I can, and that usually turns out to be just the right amount of imperfect.

Edwards makes his own tools—basically sharpened sticks, and adds a lot of patience and sustained concentration to create his work.

Most makers aren’t out there just going through the motions---the things they make reflect what they’re thinking about.  Photographer Matt Shallenberger, born in Kailua, living now in Los Angeles, is another example.

Matt Shallenberger. The Leaping Place series. Large format film photograph.
Credit Matt Shallenberger

Shallenberger:  My background and my education is all in literature, so I do a lot of reading while I’m taking pictures.

Shallenberger uses a single lens, large format film camera, one particularly suited to nuances of dark color, for all his photographs.  For his series, The Leaping Place, Shallenberger has been reading the Kumulipo.

Shallenberger:  I would take either one piece of the chant or even a couple lines and I would look for landscapes that felt like they, to me, illustrated just those couple of lines. 

Shallenberger says the Dog-Child chant about half way through the Kumulipo proved particularly fertile for him.

Shallenberger:  With these lines like, Fear falls upon me in the mountaintop…Fear of the pregnant night…Awe of the passing night...Awe of the night approaching…Dread of the place of offering in the narrow trail...

You know how many pictures of Kilauea Iki you’ve seen—Shallenberger’s conjure something different. 

Shallenberger:  It’s all of these lines of fear and awe and dread and this kind of ominous feeling that I think is present in a lot of the actual Hawaiian landscape.  I think people from Hawaii identify with this, where you’re hiking in Hawaii and you’ll turn a corner and see something that is actually kind of terrifying, the way the shadows close around you or the way the fog moves in.

Matt Shallenberger. The Leaping Place series. Large format film photograph.
Credit Matt Shallenberger

Shallenberger:  The mythology is so much about that mystery and the connection between the living world and the spirit world, and the Leaping Place idea of souls looking for places to begin their journey into the underworld.

Matt Shallenberger's photographs on the first floor, including large format film portraits of “portals” in the Hawaiian landscape, are part of a book project called, The Leaping Place.  Find out more on that project's kickstarter page.  In the extended interview Shallenberger reflects on his shooting practices and details his book project, The Leaping Place, which begins with his ancestors in the Azores prior to immigration to Hawaii.

This Honolulu Museum of Art exhibition also features textile artist C.B. Forsythe and sculptor Juvana Soliven  on view on the second floor of First Hawaiian Center through June 15, 2018. 

Matt Shallenberger. The Leaping Place series. Large format film photograph.
Credit Matt Shallenberger