A Conversation with Benjamin Cirgin

CG: We’re fascinated by this series of work. The references to rock faces, tectonic plates, and graffiti are evident. Could you speak to the origins of this body of work and your thoughts behind it?

BC:The Uncertain Image series began as a limestone sculpture and has since moved in and out of my mixed media ceramic work and functional pottery forms. In 2010 I installed Fount Solace; 26 pieces of limestone hung horizontally on a gallery wall using the linear core marks to compose the form. During a conversation my father at the opening reception, he told me how his father used to work at the same mill where I collected the stone. Having never been too close to my family due traumatic events, this news connected my labor in the trades to my grandfather’s labor which I knew little of. A simple idea: my grandfather and I could have labored in the same quarry, which felt immediately reverent in a way that was strange yet curious. That evening my father spoke of growing up around the many mills telling stories about late night fishing trips to the quarries deep water. Using these fragmented histories, I developed several bodies of sculpture and functional ceramic work using a reductive cleaving method to create stone like textures from black clay. Bright bands of color circled around each functional form add layers of information taken from contemporary graffiti found on the stone walls of the quarry.

BC: In this most recent series, Uncertain Image, a portion of the story has changed creating a new layer of confusion. I decided to call my father to re-live these experiences seven years later, hoping to find new information about my family history. Instead, my father now tells a different story; one that does not involve the same kind of work that my grandfather did in the quarry, with a completely different location where they would go fishing at night. I immediately felt disgrace, like I had made work about a fictitious event claiming it was real. Did I tell myself these stories as a way to deal with or explain previous trauma? Could my father have told me these stories, beginning to now suffer from the same Alzheimer’s that killed his father? Tim Obrien writes about a set of stories told by soldiers, explaining the same events from the Vietnam war. As the stories unfold they are told with vastly different accounts for the same event. I know that my history does not compare to the traumatic events of the Vietnam war. Yet I am unsure how I interpret information, such as personal stories, news, and other forms of “reliable sources”. This recent turn in the story has changed the forms of imagery that I place on the cleaved, functional ceramic forms. Each imaged section starts as an unclear, thin line, dividing sections in the wet clay. After bisque firing, I apply glaze to the sections of the form inside the thin lines. Post firing each glazed image shows up in unexpected ways, mimicking my uncertain view of the convoluted stories that I hear, read, tell, and remember.

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