Aquagenesis: Maryann Webster

By Millis, Jessica | Ceramics Art & Perception, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Aquagenesis: Maryann Webster


Millis, Jessica, Ceramics Art & Perception


[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

MARYANN WEBSTER CREATES IMAGES THAT are visually stunning yet haunting in their portrayal of an often conflicted and problematic human relationship with nature. She describes her work as a means of addressing a personal concern for the fragility of nature, both on the human scale, particularly in the struggle with mortality, and on a larger scale with an ecological system in turmoil. As she references the underlying theme in her 2007 exhibition entitled Aquagenesis, Webster alludes to water as the "source of all life as well as a metaphor for dreams and the subconscious self". The body of work in this exhibition unifies this theme, both creating a powerful spiritual and physical link between the human body and water, while posing thought-provoking questions about humanity's relationship with nature.

Webster's fascination with water, and the textures and surfaces of the natural environment led her to research Bernard Palissy's late renaissance ceramic nature forms. Palissy created basins reminiscent of tide pools, simulating the illusion of water using ceramic glazes and glass. Palissy's work embodied a rediscovery of nature, featuring plants and animals faithfully cast from ponds and estuaries, and vitrified in clay and glass. For Webster, this style seemed to be ripe for creating a contemporary reinterpretation about the current precarious condition of nature and the effects of the environment on all life. At a cursory glance, Webster's basins have the appearance and aesthetic appeal of original Palissy basins, but on closer observation, disturbing mutations of plant life and sea creatures emerge. Palissy's work was intended to portray nature in a pure, idealised form, while Webster's basins portray the effects of environmental damage due to human carelessness.

One of Webster's basins, entitled Monsanto Pond addresses serious pollution caused by the chemical company, Monsanto, in the town of Anniston, Alabama. A deformed fish from a pond in this small town was found to contain extremely high levels of PcBs, a combination of chemicals known to cause genetic mutations, birth defects and cancer. Further research concluded that the en tire town had been severely polluted.

Dying Reef reflects Webster's concerns for disappearing coral reefs and the endangered sea life they support. Shallow Edge of the Gene Pool and Mutant Tide Pool address the potential impact genetic modification can have on precarious ecosystems. Webster was influenced by research in which scientists were able to splice genes of a flounder on to those of tomato plants in order to make the tomatoes more resistant to cold. Another study found that the pollen of genetically modified corn was killing monarch butterfly larvae, as well as migrating and changing other native species of corn. Webster's images explore the bizarre possibilities of merging plant and animal species and the potentially irreversible damage genetic engineering could have on the natural world.

Webster's interest in doll figures was influenced by alchemist ideas related to what Webster calls "the creation of a simulated human homunculus using clay as flesh".

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