Elaine Riordan: Profile of an Irish Ceramic Artist
Campbell, Kira, Ceramics Art & Perception
IF YOU EVER GO ANYWHERE WITH ELAINE RIORDAN, BE prepared to stop every two metres or so while she snaps a photograph of some interesting fragment of architecture that you had missed. Riordan has a sixth sense for the intersection of wires and brick, chimney caps and sharp steel corners, mirrored glass and sky. She engages this close scrutiny of space at both the macro and micro levels. When she enters a room, she positions herself so as to see the sweep of the space; she scrunches down in her seat so that the ceiling can be part of her consideration. It is as if she is trying to situate her body at the nexus of all the lines of a particular building or space. These actions are not deliberate; they are simply a part of her intuitive working process.
The snapshots of architectural features that cover the walls of Riordan's studio come from Dublin, Barcelona, London, Beijing, New York--she has an adventurous spirit that has taken her from Mumbai to San Francisco and places in between. But Riordan calls the Irish countryside home, and her studio sits in the midst of those storied soft green hills. This dichotomy of space informs her work, complicating its contours and surfaces with multiple interpretations of what it means to look at and be involved with architectural spaces. Her constructions are intimate and expansive, deliberate and spontaneous. Riordan's sinuous forms accumulate the communal collective memory of contemporary architecture and render those vast expanses of glass and metal vulnerable and precious.
Riordan's work translates her experience of space into an intimate conversation between object and viewer. Over the last several years, that intimacy has blossomed. In Architectural Study 1, influenced by the New York City skyline, the space that Riordan has rendered is closed off, contained. The softly ridged unglazed surfaces impart a level of intimacy, but only partially, as if viewed through a curtain. The intriguing spaces between the buildings speak of personal experience but are too narrow for the viewer to share in their secrets. Architecture plays a representational role in this work, demonstrating what it is but not what it is about.
In 2007, Riordan made a dramatic shift, opening her work up and rendering it vulnerable. In Brooklyn Series 1, the planes of the work have broken up, shifted. It is less a building than a sensation of a space. The sinuous walls draw the viewer into the interior, where he is pushed to the outside again by the grid-work pattern of gray and black lines. Riordan visited New York again in February of 2007, and came back to Ireland full of the Brooklyn Bridge. She had been captivated by the 'uncontainable open spaces' of the cables and steelwork, spending hours photographing the Bridge in the bitter cold. The series of work she made in response has the visceral quality inherent to direct and profound experience. It embodies both the open grid-work structure of intersecting cables distilled from Riordan's time with the Brooklyn Bridge and the swooping lines of Frank Gehry's Guggenheim in Bilbao. Each piece is a rhythmic juxtaposition of gentle arcs and sharp corners, curving walls and geometric structures.
In the midst of celebrating sweeping architectural spaces, this body of work manages to be intimate. It is small in scale and there is an intensity of surface and line that allows Riordan to share her ideas and impressions of a particular space. Each work is encountered individually. This intimacy creates a kind of deception--while exploring the curves and textures of the buildings we are drawn into the interior spaces, and for an instant they seem to magically swell up around us. Then our eyes catch the top edge of a wall and we are thrown back out of the work. When installed as a group that outward bounce pushes us to the next piece, where we are once again pulled to an intimate interior space, this one with a subtly different blend of line, colour and form. …