Claremont, California, and Los Angeles
Pitzer College Art Galleries and Night Gallery
One of the most interesting aspects of Julia Haft-Candell’s multifaceted work is how she conceptualizes its function in the world. Her ambitions are demonstrated in various and surprising ways in two interrelated exhibitions—“The Yet To Be” (on view at Pitzer College Art Galleries through December 8, 2023) and “The Yearning” (on view at the Night Gallery through December 22, 2023). Together, these shows give rich insight into the complexities of a worldview focused on notions that Haft-Candell has developed around the concept of “The Infinite,” a personal philosophy intended to create new systems informed by alternate origin stories and mythologies. Within this concept, she has constructed a rich vocabulary of forms and terms representing multiple visual possibilities, which takes the form of The Infinite Glossary. Her ceramic sculptures and other works form a compendium of these forms, including the infinity sign, knots, braids, arches, combs, and grids, as well as a variety of hand gestures, such as interlocking fingers, which come together to create a hieroglyphic set of semiotic symbols.
For Haft-Candell, the ultimate goal is to produce collaborative systems that not only sustain her, but also offer ways to reinforce supportive social structures and to rethink those that are failing. These exhibitions, which reach beyond sculptural objects, allow her the opportunity to present collaborative projects that require interaction and have a life outside the gallery. This is essential, since Haft-Candell considers her work as part of a community of thought, part of a cooperative, ongoing outreach. (Among her other endeavors, she started The Infinite School in 2019 as an alternative, experimental space for ceramic art and education.)
“The Yet To Be,” Pitzer’s mini-retrospective curated by Ciara Ennis, consists of two clearly defined parts—Hands/Feelers and The Infinite Library. Hands/Feelers develops through a range of mediums: ceramic sculpture, large semiotic drawings, and a video animation. The cumulative effect reveals an evolving thought process driven by a focused range of imagery. All of the information on the walls seems to coalesce in a tiered, deep-blue pedestal structure that bears a large ceramic sculpture on each of its five steps. These works represent hand gestures symbolizing acts of connection—all tied to an emotional state within The Infinite that Haft-Candell identifies as “the yearning.”
The Infinite Library consists of another deep-blue, multi-tiered structure around which are placed a number of freestanding objects, including sculptures and ceramic seating made by Haft-Candell, as well as handwoven rugs and soft sculptures made by Michelle Flores and Rose Greenberg. These furnishings invite visitors to explore a selection of books chosen by 68 ceramic artists that cover a range of subjects, from climate crisis and spirituality to theory, criticism, and speculative fiction. The collection represents the act of sharing ideas and connecting minds, underscoring Haft-Candell’s relationships with other artists and the influence of writers such as Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia Butler. The Infinite Library space provides a setting for reading groups, panels, lectures, and workshops on ceramic pedagogy, science fiction, craft, and origin myths. There is also an accompanying zine. Haft-Candell has said that her Library was influenced by Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, noting, “There’s world-building upon world-building in Butler’s novel, which informs how I create objects and installations, teach and create community within the framework of The Infinite.”
“The Yearning,” at Night Gallery, focuses on Haft-Candell’s ceramic sculptures. Presented under extremely bright light, one sculpture occupies each step of an extended staircase-like structure. A ceramic table and pair of chairs made by Haft-Candell for use during divination sessions sit at the bottom edge of this tiered pedestal. The chairs resemble the iconic palm chair designed by Pedro Friedeberg—participants sit on the palms of the “hands,” with the fingers acting as back rests. Haft-Candell will be present throughout the course of the exhibition to do readings from The Infinite Deck, a collection of cards bearing individual symbols derived from her Infinite Glossary. Similar in nature to ritual-based, predictive systems like the tarot and the I Ching, The Infinite Deck is intended as a means to engender new possibilities and paths of self-understanding by expanding belief systems.
The sculptures featured in “The Yearning” also draw on imagery from Haft-Candell’s Infinite Glossary, including clasped hands, the infinity symbol, and the hands/feelers motif. All of the forms are blunt, simplified, and dramatically emotional, making extensive use of pastel glazes and linear surface decoration applied with shiny gold luster. Infinity symbols, eyes, and chains are carved into the surfaces. Haft-Candell plays with the notion of imperfection by over-firing the work or applying glazes so thickly that they become a sculptural element. Pieces of bronze and her grandmother’s jewelry are embedded in the clay, adding additional detail. Simultaneously a celebration of the ceramic tradition and a warping of it, these figurative abstractions are intensely organic, visceral, and elemental. One can sense Haft-Candell’s yearning for a different mode of visualization, a way of making sculpture that can radiate the markers of thought and desire.