The landscape of West Virginia, where I was born and raised, is the source of my fascination with geology and landscape interpretation. The hills and hollows shrouded in mist and the mysterious karst landscape pocked with caverns, sinkholes, and manmade mineshafts still resonates in my memory. It's an environment of mountain vistas and hidden spaces: the zenith and the void, the sublime and its shadow. I’m particularly drawn to the earth, with its associations with body and womb, the feminine and hidden, the source of life and its ultimate destination. It’s the opposite of Platonic striving, a journey in the wrong direction, inward and down. Yet we have a long history of seeking to discover those dark places, to plunder them for energy and wealth. There are few places where this is felt more viscerally than West Virginia, where the connection is held fast through coal mining and its subsequent effects, both social and ecological.
I am deeply interested in the presence and meaning within material itself, what Robert Smithson referred to as the infraphysical. Through material experimentation and inciting chemical reactions within the environment of the kiln, I discover information about the properties of matter and metamorphosis. My process begins with a given structure: an object collected or excavated from my surroundings. The found object is a core sample that I extrapolate in order to project a broader view of the landscape.
In the series of sculptures Incidents of Naturalis Historia, Reconstructed, I drew on Pliny the Elder’s ancient encyclopedic work Naturalis Historia in which the idea of natural history contained and connected biology, geology, and mineralogy with the history of painting and sculpture. Art was an extension of the natural world because its materials were extracted from plants, animals, and, particularly, mined and quarried pigments, stone, and metals. In my Incidents, I combined wasps’ nests, honey, architectural fragments, and other found objects with elements of glass that resemble lichen, crystallization, and geological specimens. These works simulate artifacts of an alternative history; one in which the divergent histories of art, craft, biology, and geology are again united.
In my latest body of work, Problematica, I collected manmade materials and cast them in glass and other materials to create speculative future fossils of our Plastic Age. Problematica is the term given to geological specimens that defy categorization; they may be true fossils of organic origin or specimens that merely resemble once-living things. They are objects of unknown origin.
By translating “disposable” materials such as plastic bags, packaging, foil, and foam through casting processes akin to fossilization, I envision a new era of the geological record: an amalgamation of manmade objects and the natural forces transforming them. Utilizing sculptural methods that mirror accretion, crystallization, and lithification, I enact and witness the metamorphosis of matter by the geological forces of heat, gravity, and time. In this way, I seek to investigate on an intimate and personal scale the incomprehensibly vast span of geologic time.
My sculptures meld natural specimens with human artifacts and, arranged in the gallery, these isolated objects become models in a system of geological and philosophical inquiry. Relationships both real and implied are conveyed through spatial composition and by manipulating the familiar museological frameworks of the art gallery and natural history museum. By fusing natural specimens and art objects, I seek to blur the boundaries that separate cultural practices from the environment, complicate our notions of nature, and facilitate a dialogue about our place within the more-than-human world.