JUSTIN COOPER & CONNIE ANTHES
The very concept of a metamorphic entity is an enticing one. Take the humble insect, for instance, and its transition from pupa to imaginal stages, eventually emerging as something totally incompatible against its original form. Our imaginations are captured in the intermediate stages of this process– how did ‘that’ become ‘this’, we may ask ourselves. In art, arguably, there is little difference. We at times imagine a work built from an idea and in turn question the evolution of its objecthood. Justin Cooper and Connie Anthes have done exactly this, utilising the anamorphic process to scrutinise conventional ceramic production. What we are left with is not only the question of form, but of procedure and outcome. Such is the final objects distortion that we are asked to view it in very particular ways, and in doing so, reveal to ourselves the objects true nature. It is no surprise, then, that Anthes and Cooper’s work Anamorphism stratifies the conceptual and tangible. It is this conflation that forces us as viewers to see the work as a new, modified entity, distinct from its multiple components.
Much like the works titular phenomenon, these art works simultaneously draw from disparity and uniformity. On the one hand, the ceramic prints represent a homogenised aggregation of materials; on the other, the works various mediums are demonstrative of heterogeneous structures. Together, these elements draw semblance between the formal and informal, the perceptible and the ‘hidden’. It is this composite of ideas – digital macro, ceramics, plinths – that appear dichotomous. Nonetheless, the clever handling of the naturally occurring and manmade works to highlight the interhuman transaction between the ‘useful’ (the potential utility of the ceramic components) and ‘beautiful’ (the paroxysm of colour and strangeness of textures). Despite this, the artists make no attempt to deliberately obfuscate what distinguishes these separate characteristics. Such is the anamorphic portent: the artists have attempted a fully integrated system of mediums that recuperates aspects of accepted ceramic formula whilst in turn destabilising it. The intention here is to demonstrate the reformation of both found and natural composites, and conversely their reclamation as something bold, instead supplanting them with errant consequence.
Rather than rely on controlling variables, the duo seek to create an unpredictable aesthetic experiment; a unique textural amalgamation as the result of merging foreign materials discordantly. The main body of the work takes this further, presenting these experiments as photography yet ceramics, as complete yet anamorphic. Therein lies the value of process, like the transitional cocoon, as something individuated created from a combination of ancillary substances. Nevertheless, it calls into question the importance of result: ‘how is this made and how is this shown?’
By investigating the traditional methods of ceramics, the artists successfully bring a craft, which some have viewed as submitting to virtual hibernation, to the contemporary fold. At the works heart lies, crucially, the concept of hybridity. As experimental discourse, Anamorphism constructs a theoretical language to describe its place in the current artistic landscape. Ideas of authenticity and ubiquity, for example, are highlighted here temporally due to the original nature of the work. In another way, with centuries of ceramics underlying art history, it is exactly this kind of piece brought into the contemporaneous fray that challenges two very different infrastructures: contemporary art and conventional craft. More and more the two have become synonymous with one another rather than estranged. Despite these two in and out ‘cousins’ bearing many differences, the coalescence of both has meant terms such as ‘lowbrow’ and ‘high art’, luckily, needn’t appear in the present ethos. Essentially, by coupling (so called) kitsch in Anamorphism’s subversive state with the less specific idea of contemporaneity, the works attempt a complexity of subject position that argue the ‘melting’ (or ceramic chemistry) is both new and old. The paradox is successful for two reasons: it is comprehensible, and it holds uniqueness.
The generic art object offers bifurcation in spades, often appearing as de rigueur in an environment dominated by a ‘layering’ of themes. Cooper and Anthes take this idea and actually do something with it, not merely content with your humdrum and clichéd postmodernist trappings. By examining found, natural and technologic materials, and in turn implementing them within an ostensibly contradictory format, the work manages to impose a functioning concept of duality that borders on new aesthetic idioms. If anything, the innovation of the art works operate in the same way anamorphism does – we are presented with something evolved; a ‘one off’ derived from the right combination yet uncontrolled formation of new objects.
-by Shane Hodges