Because of the ongoing temporary closure of UrbanGlass and its Window Gallery due to COVID-19, David King's exhibition "Reduced to Uncertainty" will have to wait until at least April 30th to be featured in this area of the nonprofit's Agnes Varis Art Center that presents exhibitions, performances and other community-engagement programs of work by emerging artists in its ground-level Rockwell Street windows. (Glass Quarterly is a program of UrbanGlass.) The exhibition is part of a 2019-20 series curated by Yael Ebon of Tiger Strikes Asteroid Gallery. While you may have to wait to see the work in person, the Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet is sharing an in-depth conversation with David King about the highly personal work in the exhibition.
With an ongoing interest in visual perception, and how it allows us to experience perspective and optical illusion in art objects, King frequently uses glass in his work for its ability to modify light and create "transient or disorienting" experiences. In his artist statement, King, who holds an MFA in glass from Tyler, writes: "I am compelled to represent ideas through material accumulation and manipulation. The objects, installations and drawings are intended to invite participation and cultivate understanding but at the same time connote distortion, dissidence and confusion."
Glass: Can you discuss the significance of distortion, dissidence, and confusion in your work?
David King: I think about distortion, dissidence, and confusion as being omnipresent in a chaotic world, and I don't believe the world to be anything other than chaotic. The way I am hoping it functions in my work is to be a useful way of thinking about alienation. That when someone is presented with an optical distortion, they have a physical touchstone to consider the mechanics of why they might feel angst or be alienated. They might then consider dissidence as either a solution to or the root problem of their alienation and then perhaps be more or less confused about what they are experiencing. It is not really up to me to say how it plays out for the individual, but the distortion part seems the most honest condition for me to reflect in my artwork, and glass happens to be an excellent vehicle for distortion.
Glass: Can you talk about the significance of disorienting or transient experience and how you approach conveying these topics in glass? King: Disorienting experiences are ones that upend your preconceived notions or understandings about what is around you, whether physical, philosophical, or ideological. Transient experiences are ones that are unstable, shifting, or are perceived one way upon approach, another at the moment, and yet another completely different way upon reflection. I also think glass has a unique ability to convey both disorienting and transient experiences. My goal is to add layers of information in terms of how I design and arrange the glass objects, so one might conclude that the optical instability of glass is not only the effect or the goal but also the driving influence - a kind of feedback loop. This consideration manifests in my work often by arranging colored objects into a spectrum or fade. I have also frequently played with anamorphism, a distorted projection or perspective, which only becomes visible when viewed in a particular manner.
Glass: What is it about these topics that fascinate you?
King: They support a worldview to which I can't help but return. Utilizing the principles of transience and disorientation both make me feel like I have something figured out and also that I will never figure anything out. A good push and pull, I suppose.
Glass: How does your interest in the Industrial Revolution and Digital Revolution impact your conception and creation of glass art?
King: I like thinking about how technology is omnipresent, and we think of it as being transformative in our lives as if we are dependent upon it or either ahead of or behind the curve relative to technology. Then I like thinking about how technology has always been perceived as a crutch and that we are naive to think we are anywhere except on an endless spectrum of change, especially if we look at the history of technologies' role in our lives. Technology does not improve or diminish anything about the human experience; it merely changes it. I don't remember the specific source of that idea. Still, it resonates with my experience, and I think about it when developing my work. Glass is deeply involved in both the Industrial and the Digital Revolutions. In this exhibition, I am referring to the Industrial Revolution (IR) by presenting a whole load of handmade sheet glass, this being a material and process slowly replaced by industrially produced sheet glass. In another area of the exhibition, I present mostly float glass, the material result of the IR, and automation. I am also displaying machine manufactured objects which are designed in a digital space and molded in plastic using techniques and technology initially developed to mold glass during the IR. So maybe that part of the installation represents a mashup of the IR and the Digitial Revolution (DR)? I am not all that certain. Here is partially where I embrace confusion and thus become inclined to reinforce the use of a word like uncertainty in the title of the exhibition. One concern that I am not confused about is that both the IR and the DR have created a condition where the made world is separated or mediated from the experience of the craftsperson. My efforts as an artist are a direct critique of this mediation (separation) and express a desire to reinforce intimacy with material and process for the sake of protecting myself and encouraging others to protect themselves from alienation, angst, and isolation. I think this re-connection can happen through either enacting a craft practice or considering the value of people making things with their hands and minds in today's age of convenience, sloth, and relative inattention.
Glass: You say that you "intend to exploit the poetic potential of phenomena created by visual perception such as perspective and optical illusion." Can you expand a little upon that, particularly regarding the poetics of your own works?
King: I think the way I understand poetics, in this case, is the ability to express an idea open to interpretation through sparse means, through suggestion, with minimal context or explanation. I suppose perception and optical illusion are the mechanics by which I hope to create this space, take something direct and sensible, and make it abstract, fleeting, uncertain, unhinged. Reflective of the reality I am experiencing.
Glass: Can you talk about the significance of connections between color and memory?
King: I think all the senses have a close association with memory. Someone with more of a science background than me could tell exactly why. An objective deduction is not my charge; however, I know color is involved in synesthesia, which is the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body. I do not have this in any significant way, but I like the idea that we all might have it in at least a subtle way. For this project, the color ideas have specifically to do with the desire to make a glass object to hold my Mother's ashes and wanting the color of that vessel to match as closely as possible her favorite color. This is, of course, an impossible task, made even more impossible by the fact that she is no longer here to in any way identify what her favorite color was. I could be way off, maybe she really liked seafoam green? But that search and the impossibility of it is precisely the point. That it is an endless search, but one that provides comfort despite the futility of it all. In this specific case, color is my access point to continue to remember my Mother. To at least be inclined to try to remember, to create another set of memories which serve as a way for me to honor my Mother and express her again as a diverse, complicated, and fully dimensional human being.
Glass: Is exploration through glassmaking a cathartic process?
Glass: Do you think that glass is a poignant material to work with through themes of loss and absence?
King: I think the challenge of working with glass has parallels with the problem of working through grief. When blowing glass, I try my best to remain detached from the finished object, focusing instead on the process. This way of "staying in the moment" through detachment can mitigate the aggravation when a process does not turn out exactly as planned or fails. I think this can be applied to how we feel about our time through life with others. If we hold too dearly to the expectation that we will always be able to have someone or something in our lives or access someone we love at a moment's notice, we are ultimately setting ourselves up for disappointment. So, yes, glass for me becomes a poignant material in this way, but that is from the perspective of someone intimately working with glass nearly every day. As for an observer of glasswork, either casual or committed, I do not know if glass is particularly suited to convey these themes. My instinct is yes, but I will claim here that I am too close to this particular project to speculate in general terms accurately. My sense is any material can have this potential if handled well and with that intention by the artist and also connects with an informed and empathetic audience. The best example I can think of here is the Felix Gonzolez-Torres work, Untitled (Placebo). A child approaching this work would be overjoyed at the luck of finding a work of art in a gallery or museum that they could not only touch but eat, AND it is candy...The more poignant reading, which each visitor will have once they realize this work is referring to the physical loss of body weight of the artist's partner as they succumb to the AIDS virus. Including that child once they are informed of the artist's intention and especially if they have experienced loss in their life. A perfect example of a powerful way to use a given material in an unexpected way to convey loss, speak to the transience of experience, and directly engage people. I think glass can do this also but can also easily default to being a spectacle of wonder and awe. Not mutually exclusive from conveying loss or absence but maybe harder in some ways from being read exclusively and appropriately so in a celebratory, memorial context.
Glass: What would you like people to take away from the "Reduced to Uncertainty" exhibition?
King: A sense of uncertainty about what they saw. Nothing too specific. On the cathartic note, I am willing to admit that I mostly make artwork for my own sake. I am still making artwork in a professional setting (if not professionally) because others have "seen" something or "gotten" something out of my work in the past. As to what that is, I cannot be sure and have always been somewhat surprised by interpretations of my artwork. These works are so new that I would need more time to reflect on what they mean to me. I expect or even plan for others to have a transient experience. So, I hope they might take something away that is different from what they expected and later get something different upon reflecting on their memory of the experience. I wouldn't expect anyone ever necessarily to think about it again, but if they did, they are bound to misremember, and I suppose that would be a good goal - for people to misremember what was experienced when, if they ever did, think of it again. That sometimes happens with my work, and when it does, it pleases me greatly.
Glass: Is there anything else about your history, process, philosophy, or current and future projects that you would like to share with us?
King: The choices I make in the studio are based on influences from other artists, the experience of being immersed in a process all the time, and a curiosity about the way human nature works. All previous projects support all current and future plans. I often look back to see how past projects are connected and draw useful information from this process for developing future projects. I am committed to continuing to make objects I am calling Echo, a "series" of plastic objects encased in sheet glass. These objects are satisfying to make, are getting a good response from others, and are compatible with my thoughts on perspective, perceived value, and utility, which I have been developing in my work for many years. Other future goals are uncertain, but there are visions of artworks that I will work towards while expecting these visions to morph and change. The ideas that drive them usually do, some eventually get expressed somehow, and the joy for me is the unexpected, uncertain ways in which my compulsion to make stuff manifests in the present moment. SO, I hope I remain confused, remain a dissident, and continue to see the world through a distorted, disorienting lens.