The word landscape refers to the visible features of an area of land: physical elements of terrain and land formations; groundcover and vegetation; human-made buildings and structures; and the transitory elements of light and weather. The idea of landscape encompasses the integration of both natural and cultural elements, for the existence of landscape is predicated on either humankind’s appreciation or manipulation of the natural world. My work employs the trope of landscape as a metaphorical, terrestrial, emotional, and psychological space. I am specifically interested in using sculpture and installation to reflect and react to the ways local populations alter, cultivate, and mythologize the landscape around them.
Aesthetically, my work aims to counter not only the traditional reverence for form as the primary and essential element of sculpture but also the resulting viewpoint that decoration is merely an accessory—subordinate, feminine, and supplementary—rather than meaningful in its own right. The forms I create are often flat and utilitarian, while their decorative adornments bring the work to life, adding layers of dimensionality, content, and imagery. Massing together as whole, the repeated forms work together to create larger shapes and patterns, creating a viewing experience on both macro and micro levels. Time, labor, repetition, and endurance are critical to my creative process, as both physical and metaphorical components. The toil involved in the manufacture and arrangement of these repeated sculptural components mirrors the repetitious labor of “women’s work,” as well as the physical tedium required to shape and cultivate the landscape.
My Suburban Lawn Iteration and Grass Variation series are comprised of obsessive installations that investigate the lawn in its dual function as both "natural" space and cultural signifier. The repetitive labor involved in fabricating the tens of thousands of porcelain grass blades mirrors the suburban obsession with cultivating the perfect lawn. These works speak to the American dream—that through education and hard work one can achieve upward mobility—epitomized by home ownership, perfect landscaping, and participation in consumer culture. The nostalgic childhood connotations of soft and lush grass that may arise from this work are set in opposition to the time, resources, and ecological cost of maintaining a landscape that often functions more as a status symbol than a place of enjoyment. These expanses of porcelain grass also find tension in their fragility and inaccessibility: a once inviting lawn now cannot be touched without risking destruction, while the negative space that implies driveways, houses, and sidewalks may not be entered.
More recent sculpture and installation work combines disparate ideas and materials to explore the physical and psychological space of the Necropastoral and the anti-garden, a landscape both enchanting and contaminated. In A Flower’s Shade, broken slabs of concrete, a calling card of the Anthropocene, are arranged into geometric patterns reminiscent of French formal gardens, spaces that embody and enforce order and hierarchy. The sculptural porcelain forms growing from the concrete garden celebrate and preserve the fleeting and the unwanted: weeds, branches and leaves trimmed from hedges, uprooted shrubs and trees, and wilting flowers. All of these plants have been collected and carefully dipped in liquid porcelain, and fired to create delicate fossils. The successive layers of slip and glaze serve to abstract and de-familiarize the once recognizable vegetation. Collectively, the forms evoke a dark garden as they colonize and reclaim the fractured concrete terrain.
-- Dawn Holder
Dawn Holder is a sculptor and installation artist who investigates elements of landscape and their socio-cultural significance through porcelain and mixed media. As Associate Professor of Art at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, she currently teaches ceramics, sculpture, and art history. Notable awards include: the Grand Prize for the 59th Annual Delta Exhibition in 2017 at the Arkansas Arts Center Museum; the Arkansas Arts Council 2015 Individual Artist Fellowship Grant for Sculpture and Installation Art; and First Place in the 66th River Valley Invitational at the Ft. Smith Regional Art Museum.
She has shown her work in galleries and museums throughout the country, including the National Museum for Women in the Arts (Washington, DC); Disjecta Contemporary Art Center (Portland, OR); the Zuckerman Museum of Art (Kennesaw, GA); the Zanesville Museum of Art (Zanesville, OH); and the Historic Arkansas Museum (Little Rock, AR). Holder also serves as the Coordinator of Projects Space, a performative and installation-based exhibition of experimental ceramics at the annual National Council on Education for the Ceramics Arts (NCECA) conference. She received an MFA in Ceramics from the Rhode Island School of Design and a BFA in Ceramics from the University of Georgia.