Patterned Matters: An Interview with Stephanie Kantor
— Written by Black Cube
Mock Pavilion is described as an "interior of a bourgeois home, museum period rooms, and cultural pavilions as place of visual and experienced pleasure." Can you describe this installation for us?
There are many inspirations and super specific citations in ‘Mock Pavilion.’ Thinking about the installation as a pavilion was inspired by a recent trip to Turkey where I visited the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Topkapi palace has it all –manicured gardens, beautiful architecture, insane tile work, and precious objects from many cultures. I was most fascinated with some of the smaller pavilions that were created as place for relaxation and visual pleasure where the sultan could go to experience beauty through decoration and ornamentation.
The exhibition also reinterprets museum period rooms. I am intrigued by the concept of the period room yet find they are impersonal and distant – access is often limited, spaces roped off and objects are contained in bonnets. In my exhibition, each room has a specific theme and explores certain cultural traditions, but you are able to walk through, look at the objects closely and experience different rooms in relation to one another. The site of Sala Diaz is charged because it is a home converted into gallery. In homes, people display their personal collections and trophies, I’m referencing a certain group of people who have the ability to travel and potentially bring home a souvenir.
It’s easiest to think about the installation in terms of the four rooms. The first room is the exterior, the ‘garden room’ that includes hand-embroidered tapestries, hand painted wallpaper, tiles, and vessels inspired by fountains, stupa, and bushes. The second room, ‘the black and white’ room represents the interior of the pavilion. This room includes digitally printed wallpaper, hand painted carpet, tiles, and tulipieres. This room explores the idea of wealth through using the tulip as motif and symbol of cultural interaction and value. The third room is a hallway that includes digitally printed wallpaper and modest sized objects. This hallway focuses on the ogival pattern, which was one of the first ‘international’ patterns that was adopted and adapted by every culture it reached. Finally, the bathroom is an installation of an abundance of coins. This rooms confronts that consumer aspect of travel and the difficulty of truly experiencing a culture, it questions the authentic experience.
What initially drew you to ceramics?
Honestly, it goes back to when I first discovered art and was frustrated that I couldn’t draw realistically. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what clay should be; therefore I had complete freedom to make anything. But gradually after working with it, I became obsessed with the physicality of the material and clay’s long history. When I look at historic pots, I am overwhelmed with the life and aura of the object. Personally I believe that pots capture a specific time, place, and spirit more so than other mediums. Clay is universal; every culture has used it and intimately shaped it by hand to maintain a critical place in everyday life.
It seems the vase, in particular, has been your muse. Can you explain some of the forms we can expect to see in Mock Pavilion?
The vase is definitely my muse and the form I have been exploring my entire career. My pots are no longer functional; they are contemplative objects that are meant to be looked at. I have been recently removing their possible function by leaving out the bottom or making the interior inaccessible. For me a vessel, doesn’t have to contain water or food but can contain ideas and metaphors.
In Mock Pavilion, you will see tulipieres, fountain/stupa hybrids, floral/bush pots, and traditional pottery shapes. Tulipieres are a Dutch form that were made to display wealth and status through displaying one’s tulip collection. They range in size and decoration but include multiple spouts to display these precious flowers. The fountain/stupa hybrids are inspired by the sensory effect of the sound of water and stupas as a place for pilgrimage and meditation. In the ogival hallway, there will be a bunch of traditional pottery shapes that come from each culture that reinterpreted the ogival pattern. They will be decorated with idiosyncratic technique I saw at the Topkapi Palace. The Turkish had an affinity for Chinese ceramics and they collected them in mass. They basically bedazzled some of the pieces with gems and gold to combine their two aesthetics, it was super strange and captivating to see these objects.
Can you describe your process for us?
I see my process as a duality of loose and tight, quick and slow, planned and intuitive. When creating forms, I begin by making drawings, sketches, and tests, a potential plan. But once I actually start working with clay my intuition kicks in and I move into a more meditative state of making. If my planned forms begin to change direction, I let it and the evolution happens on its own.
I work with clay and glaze, quickly and intuitively; I consider this the loose aspect of my process. I juxtapose this against other mediums that require a different approach, more time intensive and tedious tasks like making coins, painting tiles, and hand embroidering tapestries. These are repetitive motions that take months to make. I am interested in how we are able to digest different works of art through time and labor.
You've acknowledged wide-ranging cultural influences — from Spanish prints, to Middle Eastern temples, and European palaces. Can you explain how you bring them together conceptually?
I like to think of my work as being more diverse than I am. This cultural mixing is happening due to the Internet, travel, globalization, and multi-faceted identities. I am depicting some accurate historic events where patterns and art objects have been traded and reinterpreted. I am also interested in fiction and how I have the freedom to create my own story and connections between cultures.
The work for me is a response to my experience exploring foreign cultures, being overwhelmed with beauty, and expanding my perspective. I recognize my place as a middle class white woman who has the privilege of traveling yet I accept the inherent problems of truly experiencing culture. I approach these experiences from a place of appreciation.
You have a particular painterly style of glazing your pots, its gestural, soft, and colorful. Can you explain your pallet and style of glazing to us?
My glazing style and palette is centered on beauty and sensuality. I want my glazes to produce a physical sensation and to captivate my audience with the thick, juicy, and luscious quality of the material. I love both extremely bold and subtle finishes and color combinations. I try to encapsulate a wide range of surfaces like glossy, satin, and matte. I do both tight patterning and loose gestural painting. I love when my glazes move and melt in unexpected ways; this is a way to create visual movement and energy on the surface of my pieces.
My primary glaze is called majolica; it is a historic Italian glaze that was meant to hide the red clay and to trick people into thinking it was refined porcelain. This is a material of mimicry and I am often borrowing outside cultural patterns, symbols, and aesthetics.
What has the Black Cube fellowship experience been like so far?
It has been great! The show is about a month away so I am currently in production mode painting tiles, wallpaper, and making coins. Black Cube has given me the opportunity to explore processes and materials that I haven’t been able to in the past. I finally have the opportunity to design and get wallpaper digitally printed; it’s these new ways of working that will push my work towards more immersive environments.
Through the fellowship program, I have been able to get killer images of my work, refine my website, and round up my practice as a whole. We are also developing a future plan by applying to short term national and international residencies and securing local Denver shows.