Hand-sculpted glass drops, low voltage lighting, and reclaimed metal parts – these are the materials chosen to create the perfect form of Liquid Light. We sat with Tanya Clarke and ogled at her latest works in “Eureka,” the current exhibition at AFA NYC. The show is part of an ongoing series of "Liquid Light," which fuses art, functionality, and environmental consciousness. Quietly dazzling, Clarke’s works remind spectators of the need to preserve this precious commodity via an ethereal yet grounded representation of water.
Things Get Personal
Although not immediately obvious, Clarke’s work is deeply personal. As the daughter of a leading political and environmental activist, the artist brings much of her childhood and father, Tony Clarke, into her work. Clarke tells me that in her household, the sound of wasted water running from the faucet was comparable to nails on a chalkboard. The need to protect water was the topic of many conversations over the family dinner table. It is fitting that Clarke’s work focuses on this precious natural resource: these sculptures stem from a desire to honor her father and act as her contribution to the Zero Footprint Movement. In fact, a portion of the proceeds will go to the Polaris Institute, an organization focused on global water issues—visual and practical!
Clarke opens up further by saying there is also an expression of herself in the materiality of the works: the glass reflects her “delicate, breakable side” while the metal reflects her “durable side.” The industrial feel of the metal was also derived from her need to bring some of New York City with her – she lived in the city for fourteen years before moving to Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California (talk about drastic changes in scenery).
Things get even more personal than that. Some of her works are manifestations of pieces of her life. “Siren,” for example, was inspired by her “desire to conceive a child.” The work hangs from the ceiling, extending nearly 8.5 feet, and acts as a sort of “yank from the heavens.” Clarke relayed, “It is only upon reflection that I can map out the inspiration behind them.” Meaning here is found after the work is created.
To Contextualize Or Not To Contextualize?
Although it is always enlightening to speak to an artist about his or her practice, I wondered how this often affects the perception of an artwork. Without the back-story, would it have been possible to derive such an interpretation of “Siren” merely by looking at the work? There is no indication of a desire for a child, nor does it allude immediately to the heavens. Is the back-story necessary to maintain an appreciation for the work?
I decidedly concluded that the answer is “no.” The work alone is impressive already. The whole exhibition is engaging because of a tension between liquid and solid; something solid is sculpted to represent something liquid. The very idea of “Liquid Light” draws us in because it brings the intangible into reach. Not only that, but water is beautifully represented, and pushes us to protect the environment by way of tapping into our need to protect what we deem beautiful. A professor once told me, “Artists are not the best interpreters of their work.” And while Clarke’s interpretations are fascinating in themselves, perhaps the artist is as much a spectator as we are.
- AFA NYC – “Eureka” by Tanya Clarke – June 20th to September 8th, 2013 – Mon-Sat: 10am-7pm, Sun: 11am-6pm [Price range of sculptures: $550 to $15,000]
Article by Maggie Wong