Rachel Ballard creates ceramic sculptures and video performance works that investigate themes of domesticity, femininity, and craft. Ballard earned her BFA from Appalachian State University in 2011 and was an official presenter and exhibitor during the 2012, 2015, and 2016 NCECA Conferences. She has been an invited artist-in-residence at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts and continues to exhibit her work nationwide.
I create sculptures, drawings and videos that investigate themes of trauma, domesticity, and femininity. Clay satisfies my desire for control. The tactile and receptive qualities of clay enable me to arrive at more a resolved understanding of troubling circumstances. Drawing provides a window and an opportunity for escapism. Through a fog of charcoal lines, layers of mark making reveal unconscious worlds and characters. Video allows the distance to insert a sense of humor into the work by reimagining past events. By taking on the role of a character through performance, I place a mask over the truth of my experience that is inevitability distorted and biased. All three of these processes are essential in feeding the multiple facets of my practice.
Interviewed by Genevieve Miliken
Q: You recently expanded into video. Not long ago, you were encased in lots of clay for the video Excalibur (2016). What was going through your mind towards the end of this performance?
A: The feeling of suffocation that I was experiencing toward the end of the performance was a powerful metaphor for the end of being in an abusive relationship. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and that I couldn’t see what was directly in front of me. I finally told myself, “I can’t take it anymore. I am going to die if I try to endure this any longer.” That’s why I believe it is really important that you see me re-emerge from this pile of clay–muddied, disgusting, exhausted, but alive.
Q: In another video entitled Use Me (2016), you take on the persona of Amber Fine Sparkle. Is her personality tied to people you find laboriously obsessed with clay or perhaps the idea of perfection that is often present in the ceramics art world?
A: There is definitely a tendency to fetishize technique within the craft community. Amber Fine Sparkle embodies and simultaneously teases that fetish through satire. Her character represents a duality and struggle within myself to embrace my southern craft-centric roots while also working to push beyond them into a broader art context.
Q: If this is the case, how does Excalibur (2016) create a dialog with Use Me (2016) as it concerns the position of ceramics within the art world and your shifting role within that construction?
A: I equate my first experience with clay to finding my “Excalibur.” With clay in my hands, I believed I could do anything. I believe both Excalibur and Use Me address varying forms of consumption surrounding the prevalent insularity of the ceramics community. One represents an intellectual consumption, while the other is more psychological.
Q: Your work clearly grapples with gender, femininity, trauma, and domesticity. The bathroom speaks to these themes. Can you talk a little about the spatial and intellectual role of the bathroom in your recent works?
A: The bathroom is a cleansing space essential to our well-being and it just so happens to include a lot of ceramic products. We wash ourselves, release ourselves, and are given temporary moments of peace and self-reflection when we rest upon our porcelain throne. Oddly enough, as a child I spent most of my time drawing and studying on the floor of the bathroom because it was the quietest space in our home. I longed for the tranquility and privacy that only the bathroom space seemed to provide.
Q: In speaking of performance, how does it feel to see a moving image of yourself in video?
A: It feels exciting and familiar. Growing up I made a ton of home movies with my two younger sisters, which were heavily influenced by the campy song and dance routines on the Lawrence Welk show, so it is certainly not the first time I’ve been in front of the camera.
Q: The works being presented at Aqua are a marked shift from your early work, especially since your body, whether through a persona or not, is the crucible of meaning. Has this whole process been cathartic?
A: I have never been more confident and proud of the work I have made.
Genevieve Milliken grew up in New Orleans and got her undergraduate degree in Studio Art from Georgia State University. She is a 2nd-year graduate MA Art History candidate at GSU with a concentration in Northern European Art of the 15th- and 16th-centuries.