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Material Histories: Cultures of Resistance

Majestic Galleries | Nelsonville, Ohio | 2017


Curator's Statement | Alex Hibbitt


The artists in this exhibition use clay as a material thread to connect us to experiences that are visceral and immediate as well as intimate and ephemeral. The shifting states of clay on show in the gallery, from powder and raw through object to image spotlight the complex, ambiguous and sometimes conflicted relationships that we have with each other and the world in which we live.

Addressing critical issues such as human rights, economic inequity, natural resources, personal histories and identity, the works may be more or less politically overt. By encouraging dialogue and questions, the poetic and the metaphoric are better at building understanding and connections than rhetoric. Art is a form of communication at the opposite end of the spectrum from a tweet.

Sulcus Primigenius | Linda Swanson

In ancient Roman times, the most important ceremony in founding a city was the ploughing of an initial furrow in the earth called the sulcus primigenius, which delineated the territory of the new town as sacred. Priests steered a pair of oxen, one female and one male, pulling a bronze plough angled so that the earth would fall inward toward the female ox to ensure the fertility of the city. In this boundary rite, ploughing reverently enacted the holy marriage of earth and sky, as the condition for human life in potential harmony with the cosmos.


In the context of the Material Histories exhibition, Sulcus Primigenius is an installation of a field of powdered bentonite inscribed with a single furrow that is watered. In ancient cultures, tilling the earth possessed a ritual dimension, increasing and realizing its inherent fertility. As the clay absorbs the liquid, it swells and erupts into a blossoming of earth whose potential is now distilled and concentrated through industrial processes. Yet the furrow is also an open wound, the violation of an otherwise inaccessible primeval order.

Furrowing thus marks the necessary ambivalence of our relationship to nature, and the inability within our technological worldview of acknowledging this ambivalence with a reverence that does not absolve or redeem us.

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