Oozing red, white and blue: recession, incursion, infraction

Nicole Awai, Oozing red, white and blue: recession, incursion, infraction  1

Nicole Awai, Oozing red, white and blue: recession, incursion, infraction  2

Nicole Awai, Oozing red, white and blue: recession, incursion, infraction  3

Perspective and Periphery: contemplation of the ooze

I have always been interested in perspective (point of view) and periphery (view beyond a point, elusive view), visually and conceptually. My work is an investigation and sometimes an observation of the passage between the two, periphery and perspective.
I am attracted to and often use objects such as dolls, ornaments, medical procedure mannequins, wig stands, historical and religious artifacts and toys in my work because they are imbued with cultural significance and/or meaning. In 2000, an object that I have been fascinated with since childhood, the Angostura ornamental rum bottle, made an appearance in a triptych that I painted entitled, They gave me a glass of rum, and one said to me, what did I think about all this? The quote is from Colin MacInnes’ Absolute Beginners.
The climax of the book becomes an experience of the passage between perspective and periphery. An eighteen-year-old street photographer helps a black acquaintance escape the wrath of the angry white crowd during the onset of the Notting Hill race riots in late 1950’s London. They take refuge in a basement where they find “a sort of West Indian war cabinet in progress.” The white boy overhears a conversation that one of the cabinet has with family members in Jamaica, “I wondered how my own people, out there in Kingston, surrounded by thousands of black faces, would be feeling when the news of it got around?... how all the whites in all those places would be treated, too? Because one big mistake a lot of locals make is to think that all Spades work on London Transport… whereas stacks are business and professional men, who know all the answers.”
In the triptych, the bottle image is painted so that it is in the extreme foreground, as if it is emerging from the surface. The bottle seemed to want to escape the painting and take on physical form — so it did. In Washed and Unwashed, I made two replicas of the bottle in clay from press moulds. One is painted to look like the bottle (the black version) the other is “white washed” in a much lighter tone.
This was followed by the multimedia bed installation Oozing Red White and Blue. On top of a rectangular mat made of banana leaves on a red satin-covered full sized bed are twenty bottle figures arranged in four rows (five deep). The figures are painted in a range of flesh tones that allude to chocolate, caramel, toffee and nut covered candies. The luscious sentinels are each discharging a different coloured, creamy, viscous ooze of red, white or blue. Some of the figures appear to be cracking, disintegrating from the force of the discharge. Some seem to be completely overwhelmed and enveloped by the ooze. I think that the ooze is elusive, it moves imperceptibly. I think that it is happening all the time and we cannot see it because it is constantly occurring in the glimpse space, in the shift, in the periphery. Metaphorically and mythically, the ooze captures a liminal event, a moment of flux. The ooze in nature can misplace, replace and relocate as well as create balance. In the body, the ooze breaks surface tension, enables cohesion and integration, creating an ideal environment. When a corrupting element or event occurs, when infected and thrown out of balance, the ooze suffocates, overwhelms and can even obliterate a thing out of existence or it can give something new life.
In Albisola, I was thinking about the ooze as a corrupting event — enter the Disney Tarzan action figure. The action figure probably originated from a Mac Donald’s Happy Meal or a Burger King Kid’s Meal (I found it on the street in Brooklyn). I have always wanted to realize the oozing bottle figures as something much larger. In Albisola I had the opportunity to do that as well as to extend and evolve their meaning. I made a series of drawings in which I introduced Tarzan into the ooze of the bottle figure. Both the rum bottle and the Tarzan action figure are symbolic of commerce and culture. The Tarzan figure appears to be moving through the bottle form, emerging and receding, engaging the ooze, implying and relating the dynamics of power — creating an incursion, a recession and finally an infraction.
Clay, as a medium always seemed right for this project. When master ceramist Danilo Trogu informed me that the only way to make these objects was to hand-build them, I was so excited. It seemed a way to physically engage meaning, to experience the ooze. There is unpredictability in the ooze as there is in working with clay. I always arrive at a point where the means (the materials) and the meaning come together and the artwork takes on life and it tells me what it wants to be. I give over to the process and become less attached to a specific outcome. At the end of the process, I had a hard time pulling myself away from the ceramic studio because the three sculptures of Oozing Red, White and Blue: Incursion, Recession, Infraction had much more to tell me.

Nicole Awai

Oozing red, white and blue: recession, incursion, infraction by Nicole Awai was made in Albisola in 2003 during the 2nd Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art.