As organizing principles for this exposition of Gary Cherneff’s work in ceramic and mixed-media arts, these concepts are worth reflecting upon within the context of his work.
First, Sense. Sense is a basic human starting point. With the sensations of our bodies we see and touch, smell and hear and taste. We sense-out a world to inhabit, and feel our way towards ideas, observations and habits. As children, our thoughts about the world emerge only after years of sensing it, and then, later on in life, after we find that we have thought too much about the world, we “return to our senses” in an attempt to rediscover something fundamental about what we think.
In the midst of these discoveries, Scale is an experience of the capacity of these sensations—it is our experience of how much we can sense given the constraints of our bodies. “Human scale” is a concept that architects use to design built environments that fit the dimensions and capacities of human senses: seating that rises 20” off the ground where our knees bend, knobs that fit in the palm of our hand, and interiors that are conditioned to remain at a comfortable 21°C, with a relative humidity between 25-60%.
Cherneff’s imagined world runs parallel to our human-scaled, “architectural” world, sharing references to familiar forms, functions, places and techniques, and yet the artistry of his work is revealed by the differences in his imagined world—especially in the reversed approach that the work takes to Sense and Scale. Rather than using the measured constraints of human sense-experience to design a world that fits human bodies, the artifacts of the exhibition appear to be the result of a world in which specific material and compositional sensations are prioritized over useful functions and inhabitable environments.
How can Sense and Scale result from a world? Consider the model-like artifacts—the little buildings: Tart-Tower (2012), Chapel (2010) and Bombed Armoury (1997). They obviously cannot be inhabited because of their size, but neither can they be scaled up and “built from”, as might be done from an architectural model. Bombed Armoury has no “entrance”, only a series of punched apertures and gouges that appear to be the result of an explosive, toxic inferno. And then, as a raku-fired ceramic structure, that is exactly the world that it came from. As a “building” it is a small-scaled storage facility for the world of its conception.
Similarly, the Viewing Platform (2004), Slicing Implement (2007), and Machine for Living (2011) each purport to be objects of use, and play upon our human enticement toward technology, and yet each operates according to a scale and materiality that was only useful in the world that created it. In our inclinations to “inhabit” or “use” the artifacts, our imagination of their origins is activated, and our attention to their unique material properties is heightened as we seek to get a grasp on their relation to our world.
Sense + Scale: Ideas for a world Imagined, is not a guild review to determine mastery of a specific media, nor a catalogue of rigorously tested variations on a specific theme, but a diverse and imaginative convocation of artifacts that have gathered as ambassadors of other worlds. Curated by architect Steve DiPasquale, the Crafts Council of BC Gallery has been fractured into as many wall-planes and platforms as there are artifacts, in order to bring these worlds together close enough to create a cohesive space, but not so close as to suggest a single point of origin. These artifacts are similar enough to our human world that they share the same references, but different enough in scale, sensibility and materiality to cause us to reflect upon what is lost when our own world prioritizes function and legibility over tactility and mystery.
David Guenter, M.Arch, I.A.AIBC