Nick Lenker is one of the most conceptually thoughtful and exceptionally skilled ceramic artist at work today. His selection as an emerging artist at the National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference in 2019 was certainly a well-deserved recognition. His presentation at the conference was highly regarded for the provocative rigor it brought to the understanding of what it means to be an artist working at the juncture of the tangible stuff of ceramic practice and the ubiquitous cyber-space that mitigates our lives. Nick's question continuously loops through our minds: Is it real?
Inviting Nick Lenker to exhibit his work at the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum was inspired by his presentation at NCECA and by what I saw of the actual work at that time. As the Covid-19 pandemic progressed and it became more than abundantly clear that we were all immersed globally in an unforeseen experience with cyber-space as the only lifeline to each other, I realized more clearly the actual profound implications of Nick Lenker's art and his question: Is it real?
In March this year, 2020, I began to imagine the possibility of a virtual reality exhibition for the Museum. As my thinking began to connect with my imagination, I had an aha moment. I emailed Nick Lenker and proposed an exhibition to him with the idea that his work would be the perfect complement to improve on an encounter with a virtual reality exhibition, which by then I had started to conceptualize with a mutual friend and museum guest curator Kelcy Chase Folsom. Fortunately, Nick agreed to work with me on an exhibition of his work. As time progressed, I became more and more impressed with Nick Lenker's art and his poetic, deeply thoughtful approach to the nature of his vision. The word Inventory in Lenker's exhibition title refers to the fact that in the virtual reality of video games the inventory is a device designed to organize, display and utilize a character's possessions.
Inventory: The Ceramic Art of Nick Lenker is the first in a planned series of Showcase Exhibitions featuring special issues important to art and ceramic art. The series is made possible by a generous donation from friends of the museum D. Philip Baker and David R. Bender. The Alfred Ceramic Art Museum is very grateful to Nick Lenker for his willingness to share his brilliant work with our community.
The Wayne Higby Director
and Chief Curator
Alfred Ceramic Art Museum
at Alfred University
Nick Lenker writes:
I explore the hyper reality of our current lives. Content is layered and intersected by ideas based on virtual identity within online geographies, religion and mythology, psychology and gender identity. I am interested in the prevalence of isolation and disconnection in an increasingly connected world and the impact of loss of intimacy within that space. We live in a world which is becoming increasingly intertwined with a virtual/digital space. Truth can be wildly different based on the layer of an online/virtual reality which affects how we see the events happening around us. I'm interested in the mechanisms behind this distortion. What is "real" in this "post truth world"?
As a child, I played video games, a projection of self into another world. I was alone there. As a preteen, I was a Jehovah's Witness, an outsider within my community. I was alone there. As an adolescent, I was queer with no role models. I was alone there. As an adult, I am isolated. Surrounded by windows I cannot open, screens to everyone and anyone's life. I am alone here. You are also alone. We cannot touch one another. I long to be able to connect with people.
It is all very surface, these glimpses into others' lives that are not exactly real, not exactly false. What is between their screen and mine? I saw a void between space. Something is there. It enters our personal space, takes from us. It has no identity, it is skinless, faceless, it steals from us to create.
The ceramic objects are attempting to be "real" within a physical as well as a virtual space. We are the object.
I create the object. It is blank. I give it identity with a skin made of photographs that don't belong to it. Can it be "real"? This can be complicated. A 3-dimensional form is confusing when flattened. I add a nice filter to make it seem more natural. Is it more "real" now? A play transpiring between form and surface. What is more important the skin or the body? The skin defines what the object is ... or what it wants to be. Does that make it "real"? Its identity is defined through online images. What does the skin tell us of its past? How do things translate from a virtual space? It is shallow. What about when it has depth? What is "real"? When does it become fake? When does a copy become original? How does your perspective change the way it's viewed? Through whose eyes are we viewing it? Are they "real"? When does the 3rd person become the 1st person?
The objects are shallow and surface focused, the forms simplified. They are copies, but are tied to an intimate moment with one other person: my mother, a lover, a close friend. The longing for a more intimate experience is contained within these recreated mementos. How do you connect with one person when sharing with all?