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Question perception Julie York.

PERCEPTION IS A POLITICAL ACT. THE WORLD IS AN infinite cascade of sensations. Perception is the ordering of these sensations into social contexts. Consider seeing a tree. It is a brown vertical tube topped with a cluster of smaller flat green forms. This conglomeration of shapes is perceived to be a tree. Essentially, these matrixes and measures are an agreed set of rules. This dynamic renders perception political. Society creates the frames and lenses of perception which define what is seen. In Julie York: Reflectionnoitcelfter, Pentimenti Gallery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US, the Canadian York renders the biases with which we view the world opaque.


Six menageries of small ceramic objects set on layered curved shelves in front of a curved mirror comprise the exhibition. The objects are simply altered geometric forms; half-spheres, compressed orbs, cylinders, bowls, cones, funnels and shavings. All of these elements are non-objective because they do not have a subject. This absence flummoxes the viewer. The mind abhors a vacuum. York uses this frustration to bring out the innate power of perception. The viewer is uncomfortable because perception is an act of power. By showing only non-objective forms, York refuses the viewer authority over these objects. This denial is a crucial element of how York illuminates the power structures people impose on the world.

Naming an object is an innate impulse. Another way to define external sensations is to order them. When two objects are placed next to each other, the viewer builds a relationship between them. Walking through the exhibition, the viewer continuously tries to build relationships among the cluster of objects. Almost simultaneously, the viewer realizes the absurdity of this process. The objects are inanimate. Clearly, the structures imposed on these forms are projected not innate. York uses this artificiality to provoke the viewer to consider that any projected structure is equally artificial.

The most elementary way to order objects is through scale. Learning to differentiate the size of an object that is larger or smaller than another is perhaps the first intellectual distinction the human mind makes. Distinctions in size connote importance. Bigger objects appear more important than smaller objects. This dynamic plays out in Reflectionnoitcelfter #F. It includes two nearly identical objects; a pink sphere dripping with white glaze. The left sphere is three times the size of the right sphere. This difference creates a hierarchy between the two objects. The larger is dominant. The two objects are set on either end of shelf. The asymmetrical scale of the two pieces alters the visual centre. The viewer reads the shelf that these two objects are on as a balance bar--imagining the fulcrum of the two objects. This spot, much closer to the larger form, becomes the visual centre of the work. Reflectionnoitcelfter #F includes a second pair of like forms. Two hemisphere capped cylinders are set on its periphery. These forms are equal in scale. This creates a second visual centre for the work which is much closer to its physical centre. The form on the right sits on the shelf. The form on the left hangs from the shelf. Above this form and offset a few inches, York places a second object. The viewer reads these forms as negating each other. Actually, the pull, whether hanging or sitting, is the same. The weight should be combined, not negated. All of these imagined forces jostle in the viewer's mind. York demonstrates that even evaluations as benign as the visual weight of an object are equal parts of observation and interpretation.



All six Reflectionnoitcelfters have similar geometry. They share a distinct structure. A cube has six sides. These sides correspond with three dictums that are commonly used to describe space in terms of top/bottom, right/left and front/back. York peels away the front, right side and top of her work, creating a voyeuristic space. Looking at her Reflectionnoitcelfters is like peering into a doll house. This aura is accented by several unique aspects of York's Reflectionnoitcelfter #D. First, the dominant forms included in the piece are tapered at about three quarters of their height. They read as heavily abstracted figures. York lays down layers of felt and lace in Reflectionnoitcelfter #D. The borders of the mirror set up an interior and exterior space within the piece with the objects within the mirror in a private space. The objects outside of the mirror are set in a public space.

The most common organisational structure that people apply is that of reading. Consider that reading is an agreed way of seeing. We are taught that certain lines make letters, certain clusters of letters comprise words, conglomerations of words make sentences, paragraphs and books. York taps the mechanics of reading through several compositional elements of her Reflectionnoitcelfters. First, the stacking of shelves creates several dominant horizontal lines. This is further accentuated by the use of the mirror. The left side of the mirror is curved toward the viewer creating a strong visual anchor. Mimicking the process of reading, the viewer begins with the left side and moves her eyes to the dominant horizontal frame on the right. York creates a strong sense of reading music in her work. The shelves can be viewed as music bars, the objects' variations in size and placing are like the variations of musical notes. York offsets the objects, not placing one object in the same vertical plane as another. This reference to the physics of music is further acted out by the shadows that the Reflectionnoitcelfters cast. These appear to be like fanciful half notes. Still, the absurdity of perception lurks. These compositional comparisons could be real. Perhaps York was traumatized by a sadistic piano instructor in her youth. There is an equal sense that it is just my way of making sense of the works: to put a structure where there is none.



Ultimately, York's work deals with the subjectivity of perception. The use of mirrors in all of her assemblages reinforces this theme in two ways. First, when looked through, it becomes the fulcrum through which the objects included in the piece are viewed. The distance and angle through which the objects are viewed changes what is viewed. So the viewer's physical details are linked to how the work is perceived. Second, since the mirror is curved, it is difficult to look into one element of the mirror without another section of the mirror reflecting the viewer. In this way, the viewer becomes what they are viewing.

In Reflectionnoitcelfter: Julie York, York leaves the viewer to consider what is real. Her work leaves the viewer with the impossible task of deciding what is imagined and what is innate. More importantly, what applies to her clay bobbles, applies to all perceptions. York leaves the viewers guessing where the world ends and their perceptions begin.

A Review by Anthony Merino

Anthony Merino has been published internationally. He has given lectures on contemporary criticism and ceramics at conferences in New Orleans, Helsinki, Fort Worth, Perth, Charlotte and Dallas.
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Author:Merino, Anthony
Publication:Ceramics Art & Perception
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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