Ordination is a site-specific performance at the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts. The studio there is located on the site of an old brick factory, a history that became an important context for this work. For several hours, I inhabited the old brick kiln and asked colleagues to pour water into dry, unfired cups as I continually balanced them on my head. I dug and reconstituted the clay I used to make these cups from the red brick clay hill located on site. Because the floor of the kiln is also made of this clay, I used the location to reference a returning to earth, exploring concepts of decay. As I explore disintegration, I sit in an abandoned space made for turning soft clay into nonporous material. The resulting paradox offers space to explore concepts related to disintegration of the past, decay of self, embodiment, sacramental experience, and the ephemeral present moment. For me, these themes specifically relate to my experience and identity in religious leadership.
The circular form of the kiln creates a meditative atmosphere. By placing cups in a circle around the well at the center of the kiln, I reference prayer circles, meditation chambers, or holy spaces. The musty, earthy smell of the kiln was strong at the time of the performance. The sounds were also poignant: the crushing of gravel beneath the feet of participants, the gurgling sound the pitcher makes when dipped into a bucket to be refilled, the sound of water pouring into each cup and then over my head, the small talk happening in the studio next door. These sensations were particularly important to the experience of the work, but also impossible to replicate beyond the time and place of the performance. This ephemeral quality of the work is part of what made the experience of it feel strangely sacred.
The importance of individuals’ participation in this work is significant. As I engage in meditative practice for several hours, sitting on an unfired clay meditation stool on a makeshift prayer mat, I ask others to do the work that colors my clothes with red earth. My body becomes a canvas for seeing this decay, a channel for viewing the spectacle that is dissolving clay in water. The more clean water is poured over me, the dirtier I become. Participants are able to experience this visual paradox while I remain removed from the scene, eyes closed. While my body is at the center of the work, others enact it. I fall away as I slowly become unrecognizable, the color of my surroundings.