The Mobile Anagama
An excerpt from my proposal for the 2014 NCECA Graduate Student Fellowship Grant that assisted in funding the Mobile Anagama:
"As a tool, it will be well crafted and work efficiently to produce the desired results. As an art object, it will question the aesthetics of process and challenge the criteria we consider in assigning value. As a stage, it will provide a platform for collaborative performances; presenting the art as the blurred line between object and individual. As an institution, it will explore challenges and interactions as educational opportunities, questioning pedagogical norms. As an economic machine, it will serve to generate artifacts of value that may be tested in experimental markets. As an embassy, it will serve as a diplomat to the art world, inspiring trust and interest in craft processes and contemporary practices. As a non-partisan activist demonstration, it will display a utopian restructuring, highlighting one's ability to transform the materials that make their world."
THE MOBILE ANAGAMA COMPANY
Built in 1892, the Terra Cotta Building was constructed as an innovative business model, to serve as both the office and the showroom of the Celadon Terra Cotta Company; the showroom being the exterior of the building itself. Its form was an advertisement for its service, and that idea was considered so brilliant that a second terra cotta building was built for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, IL and it received the top price in its category. After only 18 years of operation, the Celadon Terracotta Company factory burned down in 1908, leaving only the Terra Cotta Building, and it has since lived a peculiar life: as a pottery, a jewelry store, and a meeting house for a secret society among others. In the early 1970’s Alfred University acquired the building and the land on which it sat, and planned to demolish it. The Alfred Historical Society formed in the an effort to save the building from demolition, and in 1972 it was registered as a National Historic Place, moved on a truck, and placed on a new foundation one block south on Main Street from its original location. It was open on select Saturdays for many years as a museum commemorating the local terra cotta industry, but the Historical Society was having to pay for insurance to keep the building open, and when the Village of Alfred failed to pass a mileage to fund the building’s insurance in the early 1990’s it was closed, and had sat closed ever since…
Occupying the grounds and interior of Alfred's historic Terra Cotta Building, my MFA Exhibition, “The Mobile Anagama Company”, joined the list of strange small businesses that had inhabited the building, as a week long participatory art project from May 4th – 9th, 2015. The exhibition celebrated, provided access to and raised funds to support maintenance of the Terra Cotta Building while distributing information regarding The Mobile Anagama and exhibiting ceramic objects created with it. The exhibition accomplished this by engaging the public with a diverse program of events and opportunities, including: a 4 day public wood firing workshop with The Mobile Anagama, a fundraiser silent auction, a historical address regarding the building, and with re-installments of the “Terra Cotta: Through the Lens of the Camera Photo Contest” and the “Annual Alfred Terra Cotta Picnic”.
Working with the Laurie McFadden, the Alfred University Archivist and one of the last remaining members of the Alfred Historical Society, I gained access to the building, cleaned it thoroughly, and dug through the archives of its history. During the exhibition, the building was kept open for one week with regular business hours and inside of it, along with information about the Mobile Anagama, several small books and postcards were available regarding the building and its history. “The Mobile Anagama Tour Commemorative Platter Series” was on display touting the achievements of the Mobile Anagama, and a selection of functional vessels titled “The Mobile Anagama Company Limited Edition Alfred Terracotta Historic Tile Pressed Functional Wares” were produced using a collection of historic roof tiles as molds. They served as elaborate souvenirs to the project as well as testaments to the kiln’s abilities as a firing tool. Mobile Anagama T-shirts, “Mobile Wood-Kiln Enthusiast” hats and copies of The Mobile Anagama Tour photo book were available as well.
On the lawn outside the building on Main Street, right next to the only intersection with a stop light in the village, a free four-day public workshop with The Mobile Anagama was held that invited non-student regional residents ceramicists participate in filling and firing the kiln. Participants were asked to bring bisqued and glazed wares to be fired in the kiln, on the condition that they donate one of their finished pieces from the workshop to the fundraiser silent auction that was to be held during the exhibition reception. On the morning of the reception the kiln was unloaded, participants selected and donated their pieces, the open reception began, a large cake replicating a cake in an image in the archives with a gingerbread replica of the Terra Cotta Building on top of it was eaten, and the fundraiser silent auction raised over $600 to benefit the care of the terracotta building. On the day following the reception “The Terra Cotta Picnic” took place on the lawn in front of the building and the kiln, reviving an old tradition of annual terra cotta picnics that celebrated the town’s terracotta history with live music and food and that last took place in 1995. The live music was performed on “The Mobile Anagama Small Stage” which is also the lid to The Mobile Anagama when it is being transported as well as two skateboard ‘fun-boxes’. Following the live music, Laurie McFadden gave a historical address about The Terra Cotta Building and the Alfred Historical Society was presented with a big check for the funds raised with the silent auction and donation collected during the duration of The Mobile Anagama Company’s occupancy of the building.
The Terra Cotta: Through the Lens of a Camera Photo Contest brought to life a beautifully hand drawn and unfinished poster from the Alfred Historical Society archives which was advertising “The Terra Cotta: Through the Lens of a Camera Photo Contest.” The contest ran for the duration of the project offering a grand prize platter for the best submitted photograph of The Mobile Anagama Company. The contest assisted in documenting the project from additional perspectives and provided an opportunity for individuals to acquire a ceramic piece who might not be able to afford to purchase one.
The $600 raised to benefit the building was a small sum of money considering all the work that was needed to fully restore the building, but opening the building, cleaning it up, and putting on a series of events out of it, brought hundreds of Alfredians through the building, and reignited a public interest in it, and it has been occupied ever since.
THE MOBILE ANAGAMA AMERICANA PROPAGANDA SPRIG WARES
The Mobile Anagama Americana Propaganda Sprig Wares pare together the very democratic and romantic notions of North Carolina pottery with the extravagant and opulent history of sprigged wares, to advertise the functional potential of the mobile wood kiln format and to generate a sort of mythos about its success, while simultaneously displaying a self awareness about the absurdity of doing such a thing.
They are satirical pieces regarding the entanglement of social media and contemporary artistic practices; embodying the constant branding and shameless self-promotion by artists on social media as works that were also formed to specifically participate as images on those platforms, highlighting the seemly inevitable need to participate, and using that participation as an opportunity to question itself. By showcasing the potentially problematic relationship between the seemingly necessary narcissism of art making and my genuine aspirations for outcomes with more collective benefits as a result of my projects, I am feeling more confident and transparent about the convoluted nature of being an artist.