The Future and the Past in the Art of Sims-Burchard

August 15, 2019 by

The human hand is everywhere in Ginny Sims-Burchard’s sculpture. In her stylized figures and rough-finished ceramic vessels there is no attempt to conceal that a malleable, tactile medium has been worked and pressed and gouged and made to adhere, one part to another, with a clear vision in mind. Expressive and sophisticated, these forms with all their rugged materiality feel inevitable and necessary. They were, of course, there in the clay all along. There is an effortlessness on display here that is only possible through long and consistent hours honing a craft by an artist who knows her medium intimately, and a feeling of simplicity in structure that is anything but easy to achieve. Certainly there is nothing easy or simple about making work that feels this human.

Another thread of her work is small abstract paintings of interiors made up of confident, painterly marks that get the job done quickly and effectively. Super-saturated, simple, and solid colorfields give us scenes where all surfaces are revealed in an exaggerated two-dimensional perspective that contrasts nicely with the fluid three-dimensionality of her sculpture. Often hung within installations that are themselves stylized studies of domestic scenes, these pictures of kitchens, dining rooms, and living areas emphasize the importance of these spaces in which we spend so much of our time.

As we move inevitably into a future saturated with mediated, virtual experience how do we contend with such rapid and jarring change? Using state-of-the-art technology, New Media artists are embracing, subverting, and critiquing these very same tools that distance us from our innate materiality.  On the other hand, there has been a resurgence of materials-based, craft-oriented practices such as ceramics that embody the direct connection of human to object. Perhaps these are two sides of the same coin. In Ginny’s work the artist’s hand is felt so strongly it draws one’s attention to what is so obviously not present: the precise replication of mass production.

On her research and fascination with Staffordshire, England, the birthplace of industrial pottery, Ginny writes, “I became interested in the moment when craft becomes industry, when the logic of the factory takes over the logic of the artisan.” This shift to a wage-based economy that took place during the Industrial Revolution is a central theme of Sims-Burchard’s art. Her work directly references and evokes a feeling of nostalgia for a past when there were few options for acquiring the utilitarian and decorative objects necessary to outfit the domestic space, before we had access to so many things that are so easily replaceable. The blurry, abstract landscapes on her mugs and commemorative plates, for instance, distort a common decorative element in English pottery, suggesting a sense of loss or the absence of something that perhaps never really existed.

While this connection to the past is important, Sims-Burchard’s work reads as forward looking. Perhaps that’s because, like during the Industrial Revolution, we are experiencing a disruption of the familiar as we move into an uncharted economic and social reality with the computer and internet playing a central role. Our homes become anchors in times of upheaval, but also reflections. Where and what are we headed for? These existential questions aren’t unique to our historic moment, but in times of displacement the answer is critical. In recent shows Ginny’s objects have inhabited set-like installations of domestic spaces, brightly colored living environments made with clean hand-drawn line and simple painted plywood boxes playing the role of tables, cabinets, and appliances. Perhaps there is a hopeful sort of answer inherent in these settings. Maybe the future, in some respects, looks a lot like the past, before the coal-powered assembly lines of the Potteries in Staffordshire began to kick out a seemingly endless supply of everything we need. Maybe it’s time to start relearning some of the things we have forgotten.

Ryan Fontaine is an artist, musician, and curator. His early adulthood was spent criss-crossing North America in a series of experimental music projects, making art, and building living, performance, and gathering spaces in abandoned and desolate locations. Eventually settling in Minneapolis he helped found a series of underground, outlaw performance/music venues that were guided by the idea that the underlying culture inherent in the spaces we display our work is as important as the work being shown. This idea has remained central in his shift to visual art production and exhibition, and has resulted in the creation of a series of galleries where he displays his own art as well as other artists making committed, vital work. He currently co-directs HAIRandNAILS Contemporary Art with his partner Kristin Van Loon.