An Artificial Natural History

Alexis Rago

Artist’s Statement

Extending the boundaries of the handmade to express abstract ideas, I confront the collision between art and science, directing energies into exploiting the properties of a primal material at the extremes of its capabilities. Abstracting biological concepts of form and function is a negotiation between the engineered and the organic from which aesthetic objects emerge as organizational devices or motifs for the disruption and reconciliation of sacred and secular notions.

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Focusing on an intense process of making that is additive, never broken down or weakened by entropy, each structural increment represents an increase in the internal energy of the work to the point where order begins to radiate outward. The sculptures may seem at first glance self-contained, yet they are anything but; they are explicitly designed to be conduits to an unimaginably beautiful apocalypse referencing living forms in a dead material of organic origin.

The primary approach is an atomic accretion of simple units to build complex partially self-organized structures. As maker, my role is to set initial parameters that are subsequently altered during the working process. I think of clay as a fluid stone, which is transformed after firing into a fossil of its plastic self. Symmetry plays an important part as an underlying organizing principle. I work with the tension between durability and fragility working at the extremes of what is possible and practical while using video, sound, and light to extend the spectrum of engagement with the forms. My intention in introducing such a high degree of surface texture, structure, and intricacy is to draw in the observer to engage in imaginative examination.

The sculptures already have their history as objects of wonder, fascination, and contemplation suggesting, among other things, fantastic artificial fossils, ivory carvings, and ritualistic objects. They are an explicit invitation to speculate on intent and purpose beyond the sculptures themselves.

An Artificial Natural History, fired clay, heights 15 - 97 cm
"An Artificial Natural History" was inspired by nature's burgeoning experimentation with symmetry and body plans during the Cambrian Explosion. However the Burgess Shale or the Chengjiang and Sirius Passet deposits might be interpreted, such fossil records are a rich source for the imaginative speculation of what might have been.
Great Progenitor, fired clay, height 87 cm
The making of objects and images to help grasp the big questions is something that has defined human activity for tens of thousands of years. "Great Progenitor" is a response to evolutionary biology in the idiom of sacred iconography; it is not a true likeness of anything in existence, but a symbolic reification.
Urluberlu, fired clay, height 105 cm
I see the sculptures as antennae connecting with other worlds; a process made possible by the human brain's capacity to render concepts fluid and permeate thoughts across different states of consciousness.
Protoforms, fired clay, glass and book, Linnean Society of London
The Linnean Society of London library houses historical treasures of how life forms and their processes have been visualized over the centuries. Clay is my medium for drawing three dimensional analogies of biological concepts, and it is seemed only fitting that some of these should have been shown in the context of a living monument to natural history.
I Tremble at the Sound of Your Footsteps, fired clay, height 40 cm
Life is both fragile and durable as is this sculpture made of clay. It could remain unchanged for eons or disappear in one catastrophic event. Built with mathematical formality yet full of tenderness, aspects of science and religion are brought together in these votive offerings obstinately marked and measured with devotion.
Glossolalia—Speaking in Tongues, fired clay, height 55 cm
"Glossolalia—Speaking in Tongues" references the difficulty in attempting to articulate the ineffable. It is often accompanied by "Contingent Ceremony," a piece of sound art recorded on location at a remote medieval church. Solely using material found on location, haunting compositions improvised on a pedal organ are framed and overlaid with low frequencies, ambient sounds, and non-verbal vocal utterances, evoking fantastic creation myths.

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