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SPREAD 5.0 WINNER: Janet Abrams

Posted on: October 27, 2014


With a current focus in ceramic sculpture and installation, artist Janet Abrams creates work that celebrates touch and explores the relationship between the organic and the technological in an age of disembodied experience. She has held residencies at the Banff Centre, Canada, A.I.R. Vallauris, and the European Ceramic Work Centre where she spent three months in summer 2013.

Since moving to Santa Fe in December 2013, Abrams has established a studio practice, having completed an MFA in ceramics from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2010. With a previous Ph.D. in Architectural Theory, History and Criticism from Princeton University, Abrams had worked for more than 20 years as an architecture and design critic and editor, organizing numerous conferences and salons, and writing for publications including friezeI.D. MagazineBlueprint, and The New York Times.


My abstract sculptures and installations address personal narratives and how they are inflected by the technological sub-conscious of early 21st Century culture. Lately working mostly in ceramics, my pieces emerge from observation of existing forms — organic or industrially mass-produced — or as intuitive hybrids of these external referents. My ongoing series “A Natural History of Technology” explores the formal evolution of man-made artifacts, spaces, and experiences as if they were specimens from nature.

In my ceramic sculpture, I t to make highly controlled, coil-built forms with unglazed, grated-smooth surfaces, poised in precarious balance. But I also enjoy submitting to chance, allowing the vagaries of physics to generate more gestural objects: hanging and tensioning hessian saturated with ‘liquid’ clay, to create billowing volumes; or incorporating organic matter that burns out, leaving surface patterns — cross weave, pine cone ‘teeth’ — that take glaze in unpredictable ways.

Working in other ‘wet to dry’, ‘liquid to solid’ substances — plaster, rubber, wax, spun sugar, egg — I delight in harnessing ‘the drip’ as materials coagulate under gravity and specific atmospheric conditions. Zeroing in on nuances of material behavior, I seek tangible metaphors for the delicate shifts in our psychological experience of the world.


With SPREAD funding, I want refine the language of abstraction articulated in my recent ceramics, and expand my sculptural practice from objects to environments, through larger works and new installations.

I’d rent my own studio space, buy a kiln, and set up a glaze lab, so I can create recipes for gnarly, luscious ceramic surfaces using different clay bodies and firing temperatures. I’d take welding classes and learn bronze casting, so I can fabricate several projects with metal structures that I’ve sketched but can’t yet make myself. A hand-builder, fond of the analog, I’m nevertheless keen to add 3D printing to my repertoire.

Studio space would mean more freedom to experiment spatially, test arrangements of multiples, and make sculptures in materials besides clay, such as wire, plaster, vine trils, leather, rawhide, and polyurethane. Sharpening my skills in placement and display, I want to develop groupings of objects at scales from room-size to landscape, and begin planning for new installations that deliberately “misuse” sensor-based responsive technologies — foot massagers, humidifiers, touch-free paper towel dispensers, hand-driers, airport baggage conveyors — deploying their “reactions” to human encounters (evidenced via changes in motion, humidity, air movement, or paper/luggage delivery) to choreograph the audience’s physiological/psychological experience.

Explore more of Janet Abrams’ work here.

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