BY LINDA SWANSON & PAUL HOLMQUIST
Grotta is a site-responsive ceramic sculpture that takes into account our perception of material and space to accentuate a public experience of ceramics at the Gardiner. The sculpture also seeks to enhance the entry plaza by creating a complex of spaces among the garden, the public areas, and the sidewalk, and by giving new definition to the northern edge.
Set forward from the garden, the sculpture extends into the plaza at an angle to present two concave masses. One face, the ‘sky’ grotto, obliquely addresses the street, the public, and the city overall with a deep field of aqua blue, visible when approaching the plaza along Queens Park from Bloor Street. The other face, the ‘earth’ grotto, opens to the garden with a dark roiling bas-relief, creating an intimate space. The two sides are joined by an elliptical window that allows the viewer to gaze from the ‘sky’ to the ‘earth’ —from the city to the garden—and vice versa. Orienting oneself perpendicular to the museum building, a second axis appears through which the window anamorphically aspires to a circular perfection.
The two faces are finished in strikingly different ways that accentuate the contrasts and complexity of ceramics. The ‘sky’ face is smooth and glossy, and the intensity of colour varies to evoke the ethereality of light itself, which is further pronounced by subtle linear incising. At times, sunlight will pass through the void and play across the interior surface to illuminate the otherwise shaded recess. On the opposite side, the elemental qualities of ‘earth’ are evoked by a dark, iridescent metallic glaze. The bas-relief is composed of digitally scanned and transformed scarab beetles, at once seemingly crystalline and living form. Through the elliptical void, the visceral tactility of the ‘earth’ reciprocates the conceptual visuality of the sky.
Scarab beetle amulets were some of the earliest and most significant ceramic artefacts in ancient Egypt, valued for their protective powers as symbols of immortality. In rolling dung into spheres—akin to Ra conducting the sun through the heavens to create a new day—the scarab embodied the sacralisation of the profane at stake in all craft and making. The digital translation and transformation of earthly forms poses this question anew in relation to the perception and philosophical understanding of ceramics today. The enigma of the digital can reopen the mystery of the natural, with both, in turn, implicating our awareness of the city through the experience of the sculpture.
In the history of ceramics and of architecture, the grotto has been a privileged locus of mediation between the sacred and profane, the celestial and terrestrial, form and material, and nature and artifice. Grotta, a two-sided anamorphic ‘grotto’, aspires to re-open the tension among these many realms however they may be felt and understood, as a distinct public experience of ceramics at the Gardiner.