Magazine article Ceramics Art & Perception

Steven Montgomery: Subsequent Archaeologies

Magazine article Ceramics Art & Perception

Steven Montgomery: Subsequent Archaeologies

Article excerpt

HUMAN BEINGS ARE TOOL MAKERS, AND HAVE BEEN from the invention of the axe, the knife, the spear. Charting human evolution--from hunting and gathering to agriculture to the machine age of reproduction--tools represent human ingenuity and our power over nature.

The daily struggle to hunt, gather, or grow what sustains life has been the subject of art at least since ancient Egypt, when artists portrayed the fundamentals of human existence: the fruits, vegetables, fish and fowl that sustain us; the jugs, glasses, plates and bowls with which we eat. What began as emblems of prosperity, in time became symbols of brevity. By the 17th century, many still-life painters warn us of the fleeting nature of our bounty: Food rots or spoils, flowers drop their petals, jugs and bowls eventually break and return to earth.

The iconic, trompe l'oeil artefacts fashioned by Steven Montgomery are like props for a stage set, or a still-life tableau. Like a still life, Montgomery's stage is empty of humans, as if the play were over. What remain are the tools that define our differences from other creatures. Rather than celebrating the ingenuity of human invention, however, through his decrepit artefacts, Montgomery questions the value of our Industrial Age.

Coming upon Montgomery's Re-Entrance #2, I could not help but recall the 'traveller from an antique land' in Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem, "Ozymandias", who relates his encounter in the desert with 'Two vast and trunkless legs of stone". Like Montgomery's tongue-in-cheek homage to an imposing steel vault,

Shelley reveals the hollowness of the ancient king's boast:

   My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
   Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair. … 
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