There’s beauty in failure, even when it’s intentional. Walking through Heather Couch’s exhibit at the phICA shipping containers, one’s steps have to be deliberate. Her clay sculptures lean precariously against the walls, teeter on structurally thin supports, and dangle delicately from ceiling to floor. Shifting your weight carefully from one foot to the next, an acute sensitivity to the surrounding fragility develops.
Wonderfully large, bulbous pinched pots lie on either side of the shipping container, sitting in stark contrast to the adjacent architectural, cell-like forms. Both are constructed with thin walls of what seems to be overworked clay. Framing several of the pieces hang thin cylinders strung on top of one another, spanning the height of the space. Memories of human touch line the surface of these pieces, particularly visible on the meticulously shaped protruding handles. Clumps of wool in the upper ceiling corners contribute a softness to the work below, creating the illusion of safety from a distance.
Kiln bricks are incorporated into the installation, possibly alluding to the importance of the process in Couch’s work. Her pieces are often survivors of brutal firings and quick changes in temperature. A process that usually leads to permanence instead causes destruction, revealing the faults inherent in this way of working. What enters the kiln often emerges a fractured version of its former self.
Upon leaving one is left to wonder what will happen to these pieces – many living on the verge of potential collapse. Will they endure their time in this space or eventually succumb to the pressure?