Rachel K. Garceau’s work often begins with an intimate, near-obsessive exploration of a single object that has taken root in her imagination—it could be a stone or a branch or something ineffable about a place. By re-creating this “formerly mundane” object of fascination in porcelain, it “becomes precious, tender, ghostly.” Works of spectral beauty, her objects and installations are inspired by, but are not about, objects in the natural world.
“methods of embrace,” Garceau’s recent exhibition, featured two large-scale porcelain installations. The first, a parenthetical structure of segmented porcelain branches, was inspired by the elaborate nests built by male bowerbirds to attract mates. Garceau’s sculpture offered visitors a portal, “a brief moment of holding” on their way through the garden to the second installation, which transformed a century-old root cellar/garden shed into a quiet temple of light and meditation.
Here, Garceau lined the interior with a tessellation of 200 porcelain forms (created from eight different molds and finished with either a matte or gloss glaze) that together evoked the seed shapes of a pinecone, probably from the ancient bristlecone pine, which she found on a visit to California. Entering the small space, visitors descended several steps to a white wooden floor lined with small porcelain “stones” that, when stepped on (with bare feet), added an element of touch and sound to the visual treat of form and reflected light provided by the interlocking shapes covering the walls and ceiling. In fact, natural light played a key role in the piece, dancing over the porcelain surfaces and changing the forms as it moved across them—much like sunlight on the ocean, which can touch the tip of an individual wave as it glances across the entire body of water. In profile, Garceau’s forms, which captured the pure essence of pinecone, also possessed the grace of Brancusi’s Bird in Space. Their reflections in the shed windows evoked origami swans. Patience with the work was rewarded; the more you lingered, quieted, the more you saw.
Garceau is interested in the symbiosis between how porcelain influences her and how she influences and transforms porcelain. Quoting the psychologist Rollo May, she writes: “Like a chemical mixture, if one of us is changed, both of us will be.” Her works invite the viewer to experience the same intimacy, to be changed by the material and even by change itself. “methods of embrace” posited a series of paradoxes focused around fragility and strength—Garceau’s own delicate touch and firm command, motion and stillness, presence and absence. Both works existed as an embrace of grace and beauty. Porcelain absorbs and reflects light, “at once opaque and luminescent,” as Garceau says. “Can we,” she asks, “learn to reflect light, to be luminescent, to be aware of our own vulnerabilities?” She believes the answer is yes, though the pleasure to be found in her questions seems more important than any answer.