Black Cube: Being that your practice is based out of Colorado and the exhibition is in Texas, can you describe the process and the obstacles that you encountered when preparing for a traveling large-scale installation?
Stephanie Kantor: Packing and shipping the work was one of the most ambitious parts of the project, and one that I didn’t realize would take so much physical exertion and time. Obviously everything must arrive in San Antonio in one piece and we aren’t talking about shipping a few small pots. We had to bubble and shrink-wrap more than 40 vessels, 1600 tiles, pedestals, carpets, and tapestries. All of the work then had to be transported to the shipping container to be packed into larger boxes and secured within the container. This process took a full week, we had to be super mindful because no corners could be cut. In my mind, this part of the exhibition was the demanding and overwhelming, definitely the largest obstacle we faced. But I am proud to say that everything arrived in one piece, and now I have the experience of shipping an entire exhibition under my belt.
BC: How has living/working in Colorado affected your art practice?
SK: It’s hard to say exactly how Colorado has directly affected my practice but I think of it as a very special place, one that embraces change and fluidity. I moved to Colorado for graduate school at CU Boulder and as soon as I arrived my practice immediately began to shift, change, and evolve. This continued to happen throughout grad school and now with Black Cube, we’ve pushed my practice to creating large-scale immersive, transformative environments. Now I’m thinking about my next project and how it will be completely different than the last. I think of Colorado as a place where my work has evolved and will continue to change with each project.
BC: You have previously discussed the ideas of repetition and it is evident in the dimensions of your forms as well as patterned motifs. Can you explain the role of repetition has in your practice?
SK: Yes, repetition is important both within my making process and the product of my work. Multiples exist within the coins, the tapestries, and the hand painted tiles. I believe these components speak to the aspect of labor and time in my work. Labor and time highlights the intentional hand made-ness of all the work, its tedious and time consuming. This speaks to the psychological effect of the work through its commitment, dedication, and monotony. There are also repeated motifs throughout the entire exhibit. You will find some coins, both physical and painted, in the garden room and then later come upon the abundance and plethora of coins within the bathroom. Locating these similar motifs in each room demonstrates the fluidity and hybridity of these patterns and motifs. Nothing exists in isolation and these patterns begin to merge and morph together.
BC: Can you explain the different types of vessels in the ‘Mock Pavilion’ exhibition?
SK: In the garden room, there are fountain/stupa hybrids and bush pots. The fountain/stupa pieces are inspired by concrete fountains, wishing wells, sinks, and are mixed with stupas from Southeast Asia as place of meditation and relaxation. The bush pots come from my personal history where Rhododendron and Peony bushes were an important part of my family landscape growing up on the East coast.
In the palace room there a nine tulipieres, a 14th century form created to display one’s tulip collection. At this time, people collected and traded incredibly rare and exotic tulips, which were extremely valuable. I am interested in how this ceramic vessel became a symbol of wealth, status, and class.
In the hallway, there are a series of pots on top of a dense, red floral wallpaper that exhibits the ogival pattern. This pattern is considered one of the first international patterns where every culture it reached interpreted it differently. I appropriated vessels shapes from the countries this pattern traveled through which includes China, Byzantine, Turkey, Italy, France and England. The glazing style comes from a specific series of Chinese pots I saw at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. The Turkish basically bedazzled these Chinese pots by adding gems and by painting gold leaf on the pieces. I find to be a beautiful and interesting example of hybridization and cultural exchange.
BC: Many of the vessels are large-scale? What's the average size and how do you produce ceramics this large?
SK: Yes, there are a variety of vessels in the exhibit that range from 12 inches to 7 feet. I like working large-scale because I have more room to experiment with shape and form as well as a larger space to paint on within the glazing process. I also love how the larger pieces confront the body and are more physical in making them. They are made with coils, I add a large piece of clay to the base and pinch it up to add more height. The building process takes time and patience to make sure the clay is setting up before moving too high. I make vessels in series where I am usually producing about 6 pieces at a time. I start by mimicking historic vessels and then locate a part that intrigues me and I will emphasize it in the following series, the vessels always diverge from the original historic piece.
BC: What type of clay do you use and why?
SK: I use terra-cotta clay because of its aesthetic properties and the history of majolica glaze. I love the physical qualities of the clay, especially its deep reddish orange color. Majolica was developed in Italy as a way to mask the color of the terra cotta clay to mimic the prestigious and beautiful porcelain pieces from China. Porcelain is highly refined material that was only available in Asia and some parts of Europe. Terra cotta was considered lowbrow, less special, and almost primitive. The glaze majolica became a material of mimicry where it was trying to trick people to believe it was porcelain. I use terra cotta because of this historical significance, it’s lowbrow status, and using low fire ceramics allows for brighter and bolder colors in glazing.
BC: You have a very painterly approach to glazing ceramics. Can you explain your process and the amount of time it takes?
SK: I use a variety of glazes that have different surface qualities like matte, satin, glossy, opaque, and translucent. I found these glazes after the long and tedious process of glaze testing where you mix up small batches to see the varying results. After I’ve established these my palette and how these glazes interact, I begin the glazing process. Glazing large pots is quite tricky, I have to place each large pot in a big bin and then I begin to pour and rotate each piece until it is covered in its base glaze, it’s a very messy process. Then I begin to layer the varying colors on top of the base glaze and do more detailed painting. This process of testing and experimenting takes a few months but when it comes to glazing individual pieces, I can usually get through about 6 in one week.
BC: You often mention that your work is a combination of tight and loose, can you elaborate on this?
SK: I see this dichotomy as a way of working and how I approach different materials. When I am making and glazing, I think of my process as loose. I am not painstakingly smoothing the surface or continuously checking my piece to see that I have the right shape and form. I try to let the work almost lead the way or speak for itself, if something wants to evolve, I let it. The tight part of my process are the things that take a little bit more time or focus. Even though the tapestries look very loose and layered, it was a very tedious process where I had to be very careful I was using the right color and creating the right pattern of stitching. For the digital printed wallpaper, I originally hand painted a large swatch about 2’ x 3’ but then I realized the motifs didn’t align once they were repeated. I had to spend a lot of time tweaking the wallpaper design so it would align over such a large wall.
BC: After creating so many tulipieres, stupas, and other vessels, how do you see these forms changing and evolving as you move forward?
SK: I already have a plan to start making a new series of work that will have more ornamentation built into the forms. I want to start working with a completely new form and cultural inspiration, the Tree of Life from the Central Highlands in Mexico. These pieces are super ornate in form, they almost look like candelabras or contained altars. These forms are aesthetically very interesting and exploring this form will push my ceramic pieces to be more sculptural instead of vessel based.
BC: How has your work developed within the past year?
SK: Watching my work evolve continues to surprise and impress me. I’ve expanded my vessel-based practice to include the floor and the walls which push the space to become an immersive and transformative environment. Mock Pavilion really allowed me to move beyond creating small tableaus and really address the entire space. After seeing the exhibition come together, I am still in awe of how the digitally printed and hand painted wallpaper can have such an impact on both the space and how we experience the vessels.
BC: How would you summarize your experience with Black Cube and what can we expect to see from your practice next?
SK: My experience with Black Cube has been incredible, it has really taught me to dream big and be ambitious. After seeing this exhibition come together, I am blown away with how my practice can continue to transform and evolve. It’s always great to see my work in a new context and to push it beyond where I thought it could go. Moving forward, I want to start a new body of work that will be more sculptural than vessel based and I want to start experimenting with some alternative firing processes. I also am looking forward to my Black Cube alumni project where we will continue to push the work from Mock Pavilion into new and unexpected environments.