The Architecture—as a room full of objects—is easy to describe. It is Sierra Nevada College BFA student Meiasha Gray’s thesis. It is a 20’ x 30’ space filled with clay-covered newspapers, clay laundry baskets, clay pots, clay laundry-basket-pot-hybrids, and a bunch of clay bricks with faces baked into them.
As an exhibition, The Architecture is a little harder to explain because it’s more spirit than space. It’s a feeling of uneasy discovery disguised as … an abandoned ceramics studio? An archeological dig with clues to our once-thriving civilization? A fucked-up escape room that won’t release you, even after you’ve figured it out?
Whatever The Architecture is supposed to be, here is what sticks with me days later.
The brick faces.
These are easily the most numerous objects in the gallery. Gray uses her bricks as a material to stack, hang, group, and pile meaning onto. A cube of bricks becomes a metaphor for the anonymous faces of humming productivity. A pile of bricks on a lawn chair reads as discarded lives. Bricks that hang on the wall give the viewer both eye- and knee-level perspectives of the objects as individual people—with the implied choice of either staring into their eyes or kneeing them in the face. Another stack of bricks wrapped in a Mylar space blanket sits in a suitcase hung high on the wall.
The clay laundry baskets.
Throughout the room, Gray plays with our associations of everyday ritual by placing these objects in different arrangements. One basket that is filled with clay-covered rags hints at our very human custom of wearing and washing clothes. Two baskets have partially morphed into pots, losing their functionality but retaining the impressions of a developed culture. In a corner basket, sand spills out of the holes like a broken hourglass. We have run out of time. Maybe that’s what the suitcase is packed for.
Newspapers are commonly found in ceramics studios as a staging surface for finished work, but here, the subtext hiding in the material brings everything else into focus. Articles about migrant caravans, tense U.S.-China relations, and missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi are strewn about, with words like “force” “violence” and “false claims” highlighted in glaze. Without these newspapers, the room is just an art studio belonging to an eccentric artist. With them, the installation becomes the only sane response to the constant stream of chaos and corruption that has become our daily reality.
Instead of making pots for the end of the world, Gray is staging a final scene in clay. Just some last words about what happened, what instruments we have to fight with, and perhaps where we’re headed. It’s an effective message partly because it’s composed of such an ephemeral medium. Like the body movements Gray used in her performance on opening night, something about responding to unchecked power with temporal expression and transient materials lands so much harder than commanding metal sculptures, realistic oil paintings of turbulent waters, or mocking images of Trump and Putin caught in a lovers’ embrace.
In this room, Gray challenges physical space with headspace and facts with feelings, subverting the authority of architecture for a true sense of dislocation and leaving the viewer to wonder what is real and what is next.
Meiasha Gray’s exhibition The Architecture is on display through Dec. 14 at the Tahoe Gallery in the Prim Library at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village. See www.sierranevada.edu for gallery hours.