Future Retrieval: Crystal-Walled Seas Catalog

Page 1

Future Retrieval CrystalWalled Seas


Through a Glass, Lightly By Garth Johnson

I.


Surely the very whispering of the breeze that has travelled so far over that vast moving surface of the fathomless deep, and which seems muttering of its mysteries, while laden with its sweet saline odour—”ce parfum acre de la mer” as Dumas has termed it—might lead us towards other and higher trains of thought. - Noel Humphreys, Ocean Gardens (1857)

He who is staring at the sea is already sailing a little. - Paul Carvel

A

long with countless pandemic

were popularized in the 1850s as an

puppies and Covid kittens

outgrowth of the Victorian craze for

that were adopted over the

“Ward’s cases”, early terrariums for

course of the COVID-19 lockdown, it is

ferns that provided self-contained,

estimated that the saltwater aquarium

miniature worlds to help residents

industry grew by almost 90%.1 This

block out the squalor and pollution of

should come as no surprise, since

urban London.

the context for the home aquarium in western culture has morphed and

The Arizona-based collaborative duo

changed with every decade to reflect

of Katie Parker and Guy Michael Davis,

society’s mores. Home aquariums

better known as Future Retrieval, are


no strangers to self-contained worlds. Their art practice is rooted in the cloistered

diversions from the blistering heat that

II.

range

indoor

malls

from and

study of institutional

theme

and cultural archives,

to the proliferation of

and

backyard pools that

then

reified

through shared labor

restaurants

dot the valley.

in the studio. Over the fifteen years of their

Unsurprisingly,

collaboration as Future

complex history of the

Retrieval, the duo has

home aquarium comes

probed such disparate

with its own body of

realms as mycological

literature. The earliest

cultivation,

tomes that emerged

hothouse

the

palace intrigue, Arcadian landscapes,

from Victorian London were written

Arts and Crafts-era interiors, and 17th

in the mold of Philip Henry Gosse’s

century Cabinets of Curiosity.

Aquarium: An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea (1854), which lays

Their budding obsession with the home

aquarium

parallels the seismic upheavals personal

in

out a contemporary body of research into the propagation

III.

of plant and marine

their

life and offers up

life—the

practical

tips

London,

like,

birth of twin babies,

“In

coupled with a move

water may be easily

from their longtime

obtained

base of Cincinnati to

a trifling fee to the

the desert environs of

master or steward of

Scottsdale,

by

seagiving

Arizona.

any of the steamers

With

temperatures

that ply beyond the

that

can

reach

mouth of the Thames,

120 degrees in the

charging him to dip it

summer, Arizona is

in the clear open sea,

home to a flourishing home

aquarium

beyond

the

reach

community—part

of rivers,” but also leaves plenty of

of a larger ecosystem of escapist

space for philosophy and travelogue-

2


style writing. Gosse writes impactfully

for Future Retrieval as any cultural

about his own experiences rambling

archive. Despite H. Noel Humphreys’s

along the British coast.

protestations

about

“vulgar

eyes,”

aquariums have always had a theatrical Crystal-Walled Seas takes its name

element, immersing their viewers in

from H. Noel Humphreys’s florid

a fantasy world. Humphreys himself

writings that pile both lyrical flights of

wrote that “…in fact, they are not, or the

fancy and proscriptive admonitions

visitor to the seaside, looking over that

about not creating a spectacle for

wide tremulous expanse of water that

“vulgar eyes.”3 Humphreys was not

covers so many mysteries, would feel,

alone in his hand-wringing about the

like the child taken for the first time

role of the home aquarium. Victorian

within the walls of a theatre, an intense

writers took

in

great

Britain pains

anxiety to raise the dark green curtain

IV.

to ensure that the

which

endeavor of building

the scene of fairy

an aquarium was

wonders

seen as a legitimate

greedily longing to

scientific

behold and enjoy.”5

pursuit.

Americans, the

other

conceals he

is

on hand,

Chief

among

immediately

the

positioned

the

Crystal-Walled

a

Seas that exploit

aquarium

as

hobby

venture

this

artifacts

of

connection

that could easily be turned into a

are Future Retrieval’s Swim Through

business. While the British aquarium

sculptures. These peculiar domestic

offered a platform for self-reflection

objects mirror the materiality and

and

Americans

display strategies of Chinese scholar

emphasized either recreation, didactic

scientific

inquiry,

rocks—transportive bits of weathered

education, or even the use of the

limestone meant to evoke the alien

aquarium as a tool for social reform.4

beauty

of

the

Southern

Chinese

landscape. The Swim Through series The abundance of slippage between

also marks a break with the elaborate

worlds and meanings makes the

industrial techniques the duo has used

aquarium as fertile of a site of inquiry

to construct their miniature worlds.

V.


Instead of 3D scanning and CNC

The Swim Through sculptures are

milling, its forms take shape from

accentuated by another series of

simple cut paper, and are laboriously

sculptures that exploit the tension

hand-modeled using the simplest of

between the natural world and the built

tools. The stoneware glazes used on

environment. Vegetation of the Marine

the pieces amplify Future Retrieval’s

Aquarium takes its self-explanatory

careful sense of craft with an array

title from a chapter in Humphreys’s

of

that

book. Various silhouettes of seaweeds

sometimes sit on the surface of the

and other aquatic plants are given

piece, but are often subjected to

a graphic emphasis through being

multiple firings until they are almost

water jet cut from aluminum, then

subsumed

powder coated in vibrant colors. In

colorful

surfaces.

hand-cut

into

decals

liquid,

miasmic

contrast to the Swim Through series,


which are organic shapes that flow

Their interpretations of illustrations by

from a geometric base, the Vegetation

H. Noel Humphreys, Elizabeth Twining,

series uses casually balled-up chunks

and James Sowerby literally become

of unglazed clay to offset the two-

wallpaper, but subvert the domestic

dimensional aluminum shapes.

space and the language of material culture through the application of

As is their custom, Future Retrieval

scientific imagery drawn from the

use cut paper to serve as a through

corpus of writing about the domestic

line for their thoughts and research.

aquarium.

Crystal-Walled Seas contains an array of hand-cut wallpapers that draws

Although latch hook and shagged rugs

from their experience as research

often evoke hazy memories of 1970s

fellows in Cincinnati’s Lloyd Library.

bong room décor, they have their roots

VI.


in 1850s Victorian Britain, as does

the duo with the ability to wear their

the home aquarium. In the low-tech,

rigorous

high touch spirit of Ocean Gardens,

its muse, the home aquarium, there

process

Future Retrieval have created a five-foot

lightly.

Befitting

are more points

VII.

of entry for the

hand

casual

viewer,

knotted wool rug

more avenues for

that

its

reinforces

constituent

the intertwined

parts

garden

a

and

to

take

potent

place

u n d e r s e a

within

imagery

domestic spheres

the

that

wallpaper

the

of new owners.

draws on. The effect

of

The

Future

Retrieval

Garden Tapestry

telegraphed their

is similar to their

new momentum

miasmic

and direction in

glaze

effects, softening the hard edges of

the title of the exhibition, which is drawn

the exhibition’s cut paper aesthetic,

from Victorian writings that emphasize

further inviting reverie and reflection

the interiority of the aquarium owner,

on the part of the viewer.

with the aquarium serving as a vehicle for self-reflection and self-betterment.

Crystal-Walled Seas marks a new

Future Retrieval have spent the past

chapter in the work of Future Retrieval.

decade and a half exploring our

Where earlier exhibitions and projects

material culture, but increasingly, they

served as densely-woven tapestries

are learning to harness their skill set to

of research, labor, and industrial

explore fantasy, phenomenology, and

innovation, this exhibition provides

the worlds within.

1 Whiteside B. Dive in: Saltwater aquariums are hobby, as well as colorful home decor. TCA Regional News. Nov 23, 2021. 2 Gosse, Philip Henry. The Aquarium: An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea. by Philip Henry Gosse, F.R.S. “the Sea Is His, and He Made It.” Ps. XCV. 5. Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged. John Van Voorst, Paternoster Row, 1856.


3 Humphreys, Henry Noel. Ocean Gardens: The History of the Marine Aquarium, and the Best Methods Now Adopted for Its Establishment and Preservation. Second Edition, Enlarged and Corrected by the Author ; River Gardens: Being an Account of the Best Methods of Cultivating Fresh-Water Plants in Aquaria, in Such a Manner as to Afford Suitable Abodes to Ornamental Fish, and Many Interesting Kinds of Aquatic Animals. Sampson Low, Son, and Co., 1857. 4 Hamera, Judith. Parlor Ponds the Cultural Work of the American Home Aquarium, 18501970. University of Michigan Press, 2012. 5 Humphreys, Henry Noel. Ocean Gardens. Sampson Low, Son, and Co., 1857.

VIII.


Garth Johnson is the Paul Phillips and Sharon Sullivan Curator of Ceramics at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. Johnson is a self-described craft activist who explores craft’s influence and relevance in the 21st century. His research interests range from 1960s and 70s artist-led movements in the field of ceramics to the intersection of clay, video, and performance. His recent exhibitions at the Everson include The Floating Bridge: Postmodern and Contemporary Japanese Ceramics, Renegades & Reformers: American Art Pottery, and Earth Piece: Conceptual and Performative Works in Clay. His writing has been published nationally and internationally, with recent contribution to the books Repositioning Paolo Soleri: The City is Nature and Victor Cicansky: The Gardener’s Universe.

Future Retrieval

Crystal-Walled Seas APRIL 22 - JUNE 4, 2022 DENNY DIMIN GALLERY, NEW YORK


IX.


IMAGES Cover: Future Retrieval The Garden, Panel IV (detail), 2022 Hand cut paper 55 x 33 in/140 x 84w cm I. Future Retrieval Swim Through, Floral Puff, 2022 Stoneware 19 x 17 x 12.5 in/48 x 43 x 32 cm II. Future Retrieval Swim Through, Drop, 2022 Stoneware 22 x 14 x 13 in/56 x 36 x 33 cm III. Future Retrieval Adaptation, Spectacle, 2022 Stoneware and tamise leaf 16.5 x 10.5 x 8.5 in/42 x 27 x 22 cm IV. Future Retrieval Swim Through, Moss, 2022 Stoneware 19 x 17 x 12.5 in/48 x 43 x 32 cm

V. Future Retrieval Vegetation of the Marine Aquarium VIII, 2022 Powder coated aluminum, stoneware 12.75 x 5 x 4 in/32 x 13 x 10 cm VI. Future Retrieval The Garden, 2022 Hand cut paper Each panel 55 x 33 in/140 x 84 cm VII. Future Retrieval Adaptation, Bubbler, 2021 Stoneware and porcelain 16 x 14 x 7 in/41 x 36 x 18 cm VIII. Future Retrieval The Garden Tapestry, 2021 Wool 60 x 34 x 1 in/152 x 86 x 3 cm IX. Future Retrieval Adaptation, Slouch, 2022 Stoneware and overglaze decals 21.5 x 9.5 x 8 in/55 x 24 x 20 cm

All artwork © Future Retrieval and Courtesy Denny Dimin Gallery. Text © Garth Johnson.

DENNY DIMIN G A L L E R Y