the split of our being in whitespec at Whitespace, Atlanta

By September 13, 2022
Installation view of Michelle Laxalt, the split of our being at whitespec in Whitespace, Atlanta. Photograph by Jackson Markovic. Image courtesy the artist and Whitespace.

Michelle Laxalt’s exhibition, the split of our being at whitespec, examines the corporeal form – human, animal, and botanical – in an attempt to grasp our intertwined worlds while reckoning with our own mortality. The exhibition consists of various hand-built ceramic sculptures on walls and pedestals, with a few collage works on paper framed in between. The purposefully ambiguous and highly textured ceramic sculptures simultaneously teem with life and wither away, while the vibrant, layered collage works provide further insight into her creative process.

The entrance to whitespec contains two pieces: vessel with shield and soft spine, a ceramic vase, and petaltail, a collage work on paper. The ceramic sculpture stands out in particular, with sides suggestive of a decaying animal skull or “shield” separated from its spine by the vase-like opening. The sides fuse using an additional slab of porcelain glazed in browns and yellows that mimic the look of mud, dried leaves, and other detritus you would often find on the ground. The earthen glaze shimmers in the soft light, begging the question: is this alive? Is it dead? Is it simply existing? Intelligently placed at the beginning of Laxalt’s exhibition, vessel with shield and soft spine and petaltail mirror one another providing an excellent preview of what’s to come. 

Michelle Laxalt, nodja II (elder), 2021; glazed porcelain, 11 x 9 x 3.5 inches. Photograph by Jackson Markovic. Image courtesy the artist and Whitespace.

Upon entering the central area, a cream-colored winged creature with a pale blue glaze immediately catches the eye. Alluding to a moth at night, nodja II (elder) seems content and undisturbed in the low-lit corner of the gallery. The piece exudes movement as if the porcelain wings could start flapping at any moment. Imbuing this piece with certain glazes and pigments feels deliberate as portions of the wings lose color and sheen, suggestive of the undeniable aging process—a potential reference to “elder” in the title. As previous artworks from Laxalt have felt more human than other forms of nature and largely stationary, blending insect and botanical forms along with the allusion to movement feel new and unique.

Kirsten Stolle's Only You Can Prevent A Forest on view at Halsey Institute through Dec 10, 2022

With a glaze and color similar to the vessel with shield… from the first room, trapa (devil pod) crops up alongside three other distinctly shaped ceramics on the most prominent pedestal in the gallery space. Looking as if they freshly emerged from a murky swamp, the chocolate-colored “devil pods” or water caltrops feel less like food and more like a carnivorous plant waiting to trap its prey. On the other side of the pedestal, suede skin takes on the characteristics of its namesake. The spiked vessel with an outer matte glaze and soft brown color feels oddly similar to that of the bark of a sandbox tree or the shell of a horseshoe crab, while the lustrous black interior looks as though it’s actively decomposing. Through clever glazing techniques as well as making use of forms that are both recognizable and unfamiliar, each piece has a captivating yet unsettling presence. 

While Laxalt’s work has always teetered between moments of life and death, the artworks in the split of our being feel like new, uncharted territory for the artist through thoughtful, decisive glazes as well as intuitive collaging of both paper works and porcelain ceramics. Laxalt captures brief moments when wings flutter, petals bloom, and bones rot. Instilling her fantastical amalgamations with human-like qualities creates an alluring, familiar atmosphere tinged with an underlying sense of danger. Through recognizing our shared existence, Laxalt’s pieces tread a fine line between growth and decay, ultimately displaying that Mother Nature will move on with or without us.

Michelle Laxalt: the split of our being is on view in whitespec at Whitespace in Atlanta through September 24, 2022.

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