Universal Themes in Kindred Objects at AAWR

Kindred Objects, Installation view at Artists Archives of the Western Reserve. Photo by Christopher Richards.

Glass and ceramics have long held a position at the crossroads between craft, utilitarianism, and fine art. Kindred Objects: Ceramics & Glass from the Western Reserve, at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve on view through December 18, embraces each of those aspects in a breathtaking array of style and form. “I feel like glass and ceramics often get jammed into functionalism, and I think the curators did a great job stepping beyond that and showing that the mediums are a lot more expansive,” explains Megan Alves, marketing and program manager. The exhibition is curated by Davin K. Ebanks and Peter Christian Johnson, both faculty at Kent State University. It includes over twenty artists that reflect on the adaptive aspects of how to create and express oneself during the ongoing pandemic. They explore the challenges of creating glass or ceramic works with social distancing restrictions.

While the works were not chosen for any particular themes, several do invariably arise, partially due to the nature of our time. Several works reflect on the human body and its functions in the realm of Abject art, an uneasy reminder of how vulnerable we are, both physically and mentally, to outside forces. Whether forms that reflect viruses, sexuality, reproduction, or body image issues, works by Sommer Bonfigglio, Katie Burkett, Eva Kwong, Zachary Miller, Brian Sarama, Alicia Telzerow, and Brinsley Tyrrell each have a component that explores our biology and our psychology.

Jennifer Masley, Ty db 

Jennifer Masley’s sculpture, Ty db, is an amorphous shape that appears to be a blue lump of sutured together flesh made of porcelain. The inclusion of chewed and blown bubblegum suggests a trapped breath within and all the unseen dangers it could contain. Alves describes this as “physical mouth movements documented in a piece. Sometimes ceramics don’t feel as personal, and I feel like that makes it uncomfortably personal.” Also unpleasant to contemplate is Brinsley Tyrell’s Unlucky Attack, which shows two virus forms locked in a battle. One can imagine the variants fighting over which is the most contagious, or which is the most deadly.

Brinsley Tyrell, Unlucky Attack

Eva Kwong, whose work in ceramics explores microbial forms, turned to 3D printing for works in her Emergent Bacteria Series. Inspired by the real versus the imaginary, or the microscopic versus macroscopic, Kwong’s pieces remind us of the worlds we can’t see with the naked eye and make us wonder about both the positive and negative effects they have on our bodies and our health.

Alicia Telzerow, Connectivity Issues

Alicia Telzerow draws parallels between masks filtering air and how we filter information and disinformation. By placing ears where respirators would be in her piece, Connectivity Issues, Telzerow questions how we can become more effective at discerning the truth. We need both to survive, yet both can be dangerous to our livelihood and potentially fatal.

Other works in Kindred Objects ask us to ponder our environment, the relationships we have with it, and society-at-large. Stephanie Craig, Todd Leech, and Timothy Stover each present architectural forms reminiscent of abandoned ruins slowly decaying over time. Stover instills a sense of spirituality with the use of light illuminating the central column in Ruins. It is both an ancient and otherworldly form, simultaneously heavy and uplifting. Weight and airiness are also seen in Leech’s Down with Hate/Up with Love, as directional shapes draw the eye downward with the anchor-like forms while the light grey and blue central forms lift the eye back up in a commentary on the social struggles brought to the forefront in the past few years.

Kindred Objects, Installation view, with work of Brent Key Young in the foreground. Photo by Christopher Richards.

Brent Kee Young’s and Ben Lambert’s deal more directly with nature through completely different styles of representation. Kee Young’s intricate Matrix Series: Windfall…Boulder II is an airy abstraction of a fallen branch caught in the center of a boulder. The open construction made of clear glass rods enhances the concept of environmental fragility. Light and line construct the possibilities of perception, lending an ambiguous sense of space as if the glass presented the viewer with a pure thought.

On a more representational note, Benjamin Lambert’s Predatory Nature speaks to our treatment of the natural environment. It initially appears whimsical, but upon closer inspection is somewhat menacing– the otter is transformed into a surreal creature grasping a candy fish while its legs are tangled in wire with soft drink cans at its feet, forcing us to confront the devastation our habits have on ecosystems.

Also represented in the exhibition is a strong sense of design. Benjamin Johnson, Jennifer Leach, Andrea Leblond, Kari Russell-Pool and Mark Petrovic, and Michelle Summers. They each created vessel forms, though to differing degrees of function that demonstrate the versatility of ceramic and glass. Johnson and Leblond each executed beautiful vases. Johnson’s Snow Field and Winter Field both capture a magical essence of a winter morning’s frost, or the first undisturbed snowfall. Both artists’ works could be used, but this would ultimately disrupt the elegance of their design.

Kari Russell-Pool, Lemon Amphora

Russell-Pool’s Lemon Amphora is a dazzling feat of technique and skill. Removing function from a utilitarian form like that of a vase makes us consider the intangible relationships we have with objects. The piece is from her Trophy series in which she explains, “My objective is often to elevate the ordinary to the extraordinary.” The stems, flowers, and leaves create a delicate lace-like structure in the form of a vase. Using lemons as a metaphor for her personal struggles and triumphs remind the viewer that life is both bitter and so sweet.

Installation view featuring Kristen Cliffel’s Homemaker in the foreground. Photo by Christopher Richards.

Combining both ceramics and glass into one piece, Kristen Cliffel spent over two years on her work, Homemaker. The piece was inspired by a trip to the Netherlands in 2018, where she saw tall, narrow houses with iron hooks and large windows. She explains that the stairs are too narrow to move furniture up, so everything that comes in and out of the house goes through the windows. There is an “intentionality that what you bring into your home is important.” She continues, “Home is heart and family and life. The piece is a meditation on what I treasure and achieve and what I’ve worked on in my life and home.”

The idea of domestic space continues to evolve as we quarantine or work from home during the pandemic. As more and more jobs have gone online, our relationship with our homes have become more complex, as have the objects we fill them with. Cliffel’s piece makes icons out of the objects nestled in niches in gold and glass that symbolize the building of a life and home. It’s the perfect metaphor for the works in the exhibition; each piece becomes an icon in its own way. The skill, the manipulation of materials, the elemental connections between the materials, and their powerful messages make each piece worth our consideration and veneration.


Kindred Objects is on view at Artists ARchives of the Western Reserve November 4 – December 18, 2021


Artists Archives of the Western Reserve

1834 E. 123rd Street

Cleveland, OH 44106



The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.