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Each of my sculptures is composed of a stack of found, commonplace ceramic objects that have been assembled into a vase-like form. These layers of castoff objects form a stratigraphy analogous to that of rock, soil and earth. But, unlike geological materials, these household objects once had a human function: family meals were served on them; they were collected as mementos; or perhaps they served as reminders of important events. Eventually, for whatever reason, the objects lost their value, and what was once cherished became obsolete and insignificant. It is the very forlornness of these abandoned objects that I’m attracted to—even as castoffs they reflect a life, a culture, a moment.
The same kind of artifact provides the raw material for the mosaic of shards that covers the exterior of my vessels. In a sort of reverse archaeology, I smash the whole object and use its fragments to create a Cubist-like skin for the vessel, thereby creating a new form that amalgamates the shattered traces of individuals and families who once possessed these objects. Collaged onto the fragmented surfaces are autobiographical images such as maps from my family travels and experiences. The result is a composite of culture, artifact, and personal history.
I began making these shattered vase forms at home during the COVID quarantine as two-dimensional collages on wood panels. When I was finally able to return to the studio I began to transpose them into three-dimensional bricolage sculptures. During this process I encountered the “Shattered Vase Theory,” a psychological concept introduced by Stephen Joseph in his book, What Doesn’t Kill Us – The New Psychology of Post-traumatic Growth. The theory grew out of a 1990s psychological study of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In Joseph’s concept, the shattered vase is a metaphor for someone who has experienced severe loss, trauma and PTSD. The essence of the analogy is that we begin as a beautiful vase, intact and lovely. Then tragedy strikes and the once perfect vase is shattered. There is a yearning to pick up the pieces, to glue and reassemble the vase as it once was, but this isn’t achievable. Instead, with some time and reevaluation one can begin to imagine that these shards could be transformed and reassembled into something entirely new and perhaps also wonderful.
This fresh perspective is what psychologists refer to as Post-Stress Growth (PSG), that is, the ability to transform a traumatic experience into a renewed possibility through an acceptance of change. Surprisingly, PSG happens to a fairly large percentage of people who have encountered severe trauma. Evidently, I belong to this group, in that my shattered vase sculptures bloomed from my family’s trauma.