95 Kylie Lockwood


Born Detroit, 1983 / BFA, College for Creative Studies; MFA, Hunter College, New York / Lives in Detroit

Picture, if you will, an archaeologist. Is your imagined archaeologist mucking about in the dirt somewhere? Probably she’s got a trowel and a brush, and is dusting off a mysterious object disinterred from the depths of the earth. What, exactly, is the object she’s holding in her hand? More likely than not, it is a shard of ancient pottery.

Ceramics carry a whiff of the ancient. Much of what we know of our lost progenitors comes to us by way of their broken pots. The history of humanity is partly the history of people making things from dirt and clay.

The art of Kylie Lockwood (who teaches at the College for Creative Studies and helps run Cave Gallery) resonates with this ancient history. Many of the art objects she’s created over the years look like they might have been discovered during an archaeological dig or stolen from a museum of antiquities in some little-known Mediterranean town.

Take, for instance, Porcelain Thighs (2016). The thighs look, at first glance, like the only surviving fragments from a 2nd century CE sculpture.  They are cracked and dusty and look to have been recently released from a long residence beneath the earth.

And yet, before we bury Kylie Lockwood in the sands of eons past, we ought to bear in mind the words of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In his poem Keramos (the ancient Greek word for ceramics), Longfellow wrote:

Turn, turn, my wheel! All things must change / To something new, to something strange;

Something strange indeed. That’s to say, the work of Kylie Lockwood is not what it might at first seem. Take Canopic Jar with the Head of Duamutef (2015). Here, Lockwood has taken a plaster cast of a Diet Coke bottle and placed it next to her own clay version of a canopic jar. Canopic jars are the vessels in which ancient Egyptians would put the innards of those they were mummifying. With the juxtaposition, Lockwood makes the Diet Coke bottle look and feel like something discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb. In Lockwood’s hands, ceramic art has the power to imbue objects of contemporary life with the aura of deep, historical time.

Let’s go back to Porcelain Thighs. On second glance, the thighs don’t look like the thighs of an ancient sculpture at all. The knees are too awkward and, well, knee-like. The pose has nothing classical about it. There are scratch marks and cracks from what must have been an arduous process by which Lockwood covered her lower portions in silicone to make the cast.

Observing Porcelain Thighs more closely brings us to the question of process. Typically, Lockwood works by casting an object from the real world. But in so doing, she’s not interested in making a copy. She’s not even sure what the final product will be. The process of making ceramics has become, for Lockwood, a way to experiment with physical objects, to ask questions about their true identity and essence.   

Often, Lockwood’s art objects force us to look at things we think we know in different and surprising ways, sometimes by upsetting or transforming the normal relationship between inside and outside. In Concrete Poem I (2015), Lockwood took a pair of jeans and soaked them in concrete. The concrete-infused pants were then compressed into a shape that looks something like a pot or vase. The jeans, normally worn on the outside, have become the calcified insides of a vessel. And the vessel has been turned into something that is pure inside, since there is no empty space within the “pot”-only concrete and jeans.

Quite a few of Lockwood’s artworks have an organic quality, and here I mean organic in the sense of “internal organs.” For instance, Digestive Object 3 (2015) has, from a distance, the basic shape of a small pot. But it is actually a number of silicone “bags” wrapped around one another. The silicone was mixed with ground peanuts and non-dairy creamer, making it constantly sticky and drippy, perpetually wet. This is an “organic” sculpture that is always in the process of digesting. It is a tantalizing intensification of what happens in a typical pot. Pots hold digestible contents in their innards, which are then transferred to human innards in the process of eating. Lockwood’s Digestive Object contains that entire process within itself.

Lockwood makes artworks that, as Longfellow put it, are something new, something strange. What was old is made new and what seemed novel is shown to be the most primordial of all.

Morgan Meis, March 2018

Copyright Essay’d 2018