on the work of Em Kettner and Jessie Mott
There is a material relationship between Em Kettner and Jessie Mott’s work, each combining seemingly disparate practices of drawing and ceramics, steeped in their own lineages and associations. In this exhibition, Mott’s work here exemplifies drawing proper, capital D drawing, and Kettner’s work interprets drawing through her use of line in object: the inflexible ceramic and the flexible thread traced around its form. Kettner and Mott’s drawing-based works, while certainly connected to the Western art traditions in which they were both trained, also pull from cult traditions of drawing, of drawing as a mystical practice. These could be direct descendants of cave paintings, of the women who traced their hands at Cueva de las Manos, of the horses of Lascaux and Chauvet. Conversely, these works could be seen as the progeny of jewelers, of embroiders, ceramicists and weavers, of artisans in craft-based and historically gendered spheres.
Their sculptures occupy a space on a threshold, though one divides fine art, the cult as well as the domestic. There is slippage here. Unlike drawing, a practice in which both artists are heavily involved and that is immediately placeable in the world of art, the objects in this exhibition appear at first familiar: a souvenir in an aunt’s display case seen out of the corner of your eye; a mug made in a high school art class; a religious icon from a faith whose exact traditions have been lost, ravaged by missionaries. And then, upon closer inspection, you notice an errant smiley face, or the vibrant colours of modern pigments, or what appears to be a cartoon dog. Again, the work slips. It dips and swerves, moving throughout time and geography.
The word talisman implies an object of religious or spiritual significance, a charm, good luck. It implies specialness. And certainly, these works evoke those notions. However, they also equally occupy the space of the quotidian, of the objects that construct our lives. They remind us simultaneously of the ancient ceramics in the Art Institute and of a dollar store ceramic clown mask cherished by a child only to grow dusty over time and get boxed up and relegated to the basement, awaiting a future rediscovery that may never come.