Itinerant Edens, an ongoing series of installations in moist clay by Walter McConnell, are impermanent, temporal constructions that address change, the mortal body and the inevitable decay of natural systems. Modeled on site and housed in plastic enclosures, McConnell’s earthen figures, invented landscape and elaborate floral conceits allude to a fictional paradise preserved in quiet stasis.
Three male figures are central to his recent installation Of Fable and Facsimile at the Katzen Art Center; their unfired earthen bodies, sustained by their encapsulation, remain soft and susceptible to atmospheric change. The nude figure references the beginnings of life itself. Indeed, each containerized “Adam” appears alone and alienated relegated to a separate hazy capsule. It’s unclear whether these enclosed spaces, glowing apparition-like in the gallery, are the dream of earthly paradise or the detritus of a once-fertile garden.
Clay appears in creation myths that cross time and culture. It’s suitability for plastic invention is undoubtedly the material source of much imaginative speculation on human origins. Significantly, McConnell’s figures originate from digitally scanned and prototyped live models, including the artist, his 83-year old father, and his nephew, three generations of male family members. This innovative methodology posits perhaps a new mythology: that of technology as an originating intelligence capable of greater and greater degrees of verisimilitude.
The three tons of raw clay that comprise the installation is not simply a convenient modeling material or an inert amalgam of earth, but the catalyst for a real-time system. The sculpted clay forms are bathed in light and subjected to heat; in turn, they perspire like slow fountains, releasing moisture to their containers. The figures and the spaces they inhabit, veiled in condensation for the duration of the exhibition convey a palpable vulnerability; this perceived fragility forecasting their impending demise.
The viewer is left to ponder whether the shifting, temporal world McConnell creates is purely fugitive----remove the protective veil of plastic sheeting and the whole sculpture, once luminous and lushly hydrated, will dry-out and expire.