January 30, 2021 — May 8, 2021
Main Gallery of Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
Anna Mayer’s social and sculptural practice explores the impact of humanity throughout geologic time, with a focus on the temporal relationship between humans and the land beyond an individual’s life span. Her work in the exhibition reflects deeply upon the realities of death and decay. Drawing upon a language of mourning and burial practices, she uses materials like raw clay and porcelain dinnerware to communicate a narrative of what remains when people die and what is left for others to inherit. By grinding pieces of dinnerware she inherited and mixing the bits with raw clay to give it a new texture and purpose, she creates sculptures that appear to seep and bubble-up from the ground. These ceramic works are juxtaposed with a pair of bronze hands and feet that are cast from a composite of Mayer’s own body, along with the fingers and toes of others from communities in Los Angeles and Houston, where the artist has lived. By combining attributes from different people to form a new body, Mayer identifies a need for a society that relies on the collective strength of individuals.
Mayer’s work also bears witness to extreme weather and humans’ effects on the planet. In her practice, she incorporates raw wild clay, collected from areas of drought, urban construction, and geothermal activity, from Texas to California, and uses analogue firing techniques, which do not require electricity or gas. The artist is fascinated by the transformative power of fire to both incinerate and create, giving new life to repurposed materials. In 2008, as part of her project, Fireful of Fear, Mayer placed 12 clay tablets in the canyons in and around Malibu, California, to be fired by eventual wildfires. Since then, six of those tablets have been fired by wildfires. She describes the surface of those wildfired pieces as, “a smoky swirl of ash and earth, through which the carved words of the sculpture speak, as if through a fog.” In the last decade, the pieces have become markers for global warming, as wildfires around the world have increased in number and intensity. Through this ongoing project, Mayer welcomes the unknown and recognizes the complex relationship humans have with the environment and disaster. The exhibition showcases various aspects of Fireful of Fear, including some of the wildfired tablets, as well as photographs taken at the sites where they were buried and annual letters written by the artist to mark the project’s anniversary.
HCCC Curator Kathryn Hall comments, “In a culture that privileges autonomy and self-reliance, Mayer’s sculpture offers a new way of being that strikes a balance between communal action and individual agency. Her work provides us with an understanding of the shared responsibility that we have to care for the world around us and those that inhabit it.”