Kate MacDowell

Artist Statement:

My pieces are in part responses to environmental stressors such as climate change, pesticide use, and clear-cutting.  They also borrow from myth, art history, figures of speech and other cultural touchstones. In each piece aspects of the human figure stand-in for ourselves and act out sometimes harrowing, sometimes humorous transformations which illustrate our current relationship with the natural world. In each case the union between man and nature is shown to be one of friction and discomfort with the disturbing implication that we too are vulnerable to being victimized by our destructive practices.

Whether as proxy, trophy, raw material, or mythic symbol, animals currently occupy a space in our subconscious which layers history, allegory, and an awareness of species fragility.   The use of fur, feathers, and hide in fashion is in part an extension of prehistoric attempts to clothe and adorn ourselves in order to take on aspects of admired animals.  However, a romantic identification with the natural world is undermined by the casualties of our transformation of the environment. The founding of one of the earliest conservation organizations, the Audubon society, was part of a movement which responded to the contemporary fashion for plumes (and occasionally entire dead birds) on hats.  This fad heavily impacted bird species including the Carolina parakeet that went extinct in 1918 in part due to the demand for their plumage.  Another far reaching effect of early intervention in ecosystems can be seen in the widespread effort to eradicate invasive species which were brought by settlers into the wrong environment, as is the case with red foxes and wild rabbits in Australia, and feral cats in the Florida everglades.

The conflict between empathy and exploitation is most apparent when looking at laboratory animals such as mice that might offer hopes for regrown organs or fears of genetic manipulation, or monkeys and apes, our closest cousins.   In ‘Nursemaids’ I was considering the intersection of the ethical treatment of animals and issues of public health and disease and their impact on child mortality.  I pictured the rhesus monkey as a caretaker of human children—those who might benefit from certain medical breakthroughs due to animal testing, but at what price?  I was also responding to the infamous experiments involving the social isolation of infant rhesus monkeys performed by Harry Harlow, which had repercussions in both the emerging animal rights movement as they were considered extremely cruel and inhumane, and in possibly furthering the understanding of early mother and child bonding and psychological development.  I wanted to consider what it meant to be a caretaker of others’ children, from the point of view of an animal making the involuntary sacrifice of their own body and well-being, of their own infant in their arms. 

I hand sculpt each piece out of porcelain, often building a solid form and then hollowing it out. Smaller forms are built petal by petal, branch by branch and allow me the chance to get immersed in close study of the structure of a blossom or a bee. I chose porcelain for its luminous and ghostly qualities as well as its strength and ability to show fine texture. It highlights both the impermanence and fragility of natural forms in a dying ecosystem, while paradoxically, being a material that can last for thousands of years and is historically associated with high status and value.    I see each piece as a captured and preserved specimen, a painstaking record of endangered natural forms and a commentary on our own culpability.

About the Artist:

Kate MacDowell’s hand-built porcelain sculptures respond to environmental threats and their consequences, revealing the rifts and frictions between man and nature.  Based out of Portland, Oregon, her work has been shown throughout the US and Europe at Scope Miami and New York, Seattle Art Fair, ArtAmsterdam, Art London, London Art Fair, Showoff Paris, Art Paris, Solo Project Basel,  NEXT and Art Chicago fairs.   She was an artist in residence at the Kohler Arts and Industry Program and has had work in group exhibits in the Museum of Arts and Design (NY), Banksy’s Dismaland Bemusement Park, MOCA North Miami and Virginia, Urban Nation Museum Berlin, and the Muskegon, Akron, Crocker, Biggs,  Everson and Asheville Art Museums.

Her work has been published in books and periodicals including The New York Times Sunday Magazine,  Hi-Fructose, American Craft, Ceramics Monthly, Beautiful Bizarre,  O.K. Periodicals (NL), Creative Review and Rooms (UK),  and Hey! (Paris) among others.   Her work was featured on the CD and single cover art for Erasure’s album, “Tomorrow’s World” and she can be seen sculpting in stop motion in the official audio video for a song on Miike Snow’s ‘III’ album.  Most recently she created individual ‘daemons’ for an HBO campaign associated with His Dark Materials.  

Feather trade: Carolina parakeets, 2016

hand build porcelain and glaze

roughly 6.5′ x 4′

Memento Mori 22015

slip cast and hand built porcelain and glaze

4 ½” x 5 ½”

Feral2019

hand build porcelain and glaze

19″x11″x8″

Invasive: rabbit, 2016

hand built porcelain, glaze

22″x11″x5″

Quiet as a mouse, 2011 

hand built porcelain, cone 6 glaze

individual mice 3 ½”-6″x2 ½”-4″x3″

Nursemaid 3, 2015

hand built porcelain, glaze

8″x20″x14″

Nursemaid 2, 2015

hand built porcelain, glaze

18″x 13 ½”x10″

Nursemaid 1, 2015

hand built porcelain, glaze

11″x8 ½”x11″

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