Ceramics professor exhibits art in New Harmony

Ariana Beedie

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One of USI’s assistant professors of ceramics prepares to fill the biggest exhibition space she’s ever had with functional pottery, all while participating in many other ceramics events and teaching.

Alisa “Al” Holen will present her work at the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art, Nov. 23. The exhibit will include a large installation piece accompanied by smaller pieces with an innovative theme.

“My work tends to be functional and kind of in that functional scale,” Holen said. “It pushes the boundaries between sculptural and functional.”

Some pieces are more than three or four feet tall and represent a culmination of the little things in life and life goals.

“As I look at the course of life and how everything has gotten me to where I am right now, it’s these little things that lead me to this pinnacle that’s where I’m at,” Holen said. “Thematically, it’s still functional work within a sculptural realm.”

Holen received a grant  from USI Summer Research Fellowship that allowed her free time to work on the exhibition pieces instead of teaching summer courses. New faculty recipients were awarded $7,000 to fund projects and were given time in the summer to work on those projects.

“I still taught Summer I, but then I had Summer II and III in the studio by myself with all the kilns, all the access and didn’t have to worry financially for those two and a half months,” Holen said. “It was really nice.”

USI is supportive in those ways, she said.

“It’s hard in academia to focus on your work. It’s what you get hired for and it’s the reason that they notice you,” Holen said. “So having that freedom in the summer was beautiful.”

Holen chose New Harmony, a town with more galleries per capita than any other city in the U.S., because of the thriving art community, innovation and support she received there.

“Right now, Gary Holstein is the director and he’s terrific,” Holen said. “When I said I was thinking of installation, he immediately came through with, ‘We can do it this way or we could do it that way.’”

There are roadblocks sometimes when it comes to innovation, but not here, she said.

An inspiration for the featured exhibition pieces came from the idea of how people pay attention to and handle everyday life.

“Very often the bottoms of my cups are rounded so you can’t just put it on the table. It has to go back into its cradle,” Holen said. “I like a person to have to think about (how) they use it.”

It functions, but it functions awkwardly, she said.

The pieces work but viewers have to take their time and care for them, making them functional.

“We take a lot of things for granted when they just work easily. And then once they require a little bit of finesse, then you have to develop a relationship with that piece,” Holen said. “Those relationships are important to me.”

This idea began when Holen, one year out of graduate school from the University of Iowa, interned for renowned functional potter Clary Illian. Illian challenged the very busy intern with something that changed Holen’s pottery for the better.

“She said, ‘Maybe you should make pots that make you sit still,’ and it got me working on that kind of awkwardness of function,” Holen said. “As much as it’s not necessarily a realistic necessity, it makes you stop and think about it.”

Garry Holstein, New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art director, said the pieces play on formal elements with great installation pieces.

“These pieces are big and will be sticking out from the wall,” Holstein said. “They are not meant to be functional objects.”

The New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art, connected with the Outreach and Engagement Office, will be providing transportation for USI students to New Harmony for the opening night. The exhibition begins Nov. 23 and lasts until Dec. 27. It is also free to the public.

“We are making buses available for students right now,” Holstein said. “Along with the exhibition, there’s also a gallery stroll.”

Shops and other galleries will be open late, allowing students to look around, he said.

Two buses will leave campus going to New Harmony, one at 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. To reserve seats or for more information, contact Garry Holstein at gholstein@usi.edu.



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