Adam Shiverdecker’s body of work presents a unique opportunity to consider the role of the artist. Any work of art, taken as a singular object, is like contemplating one measure without the context of the entire melody. And, usually that is the slice we are given as the audience of visual art. Perhaps it is the pursuit OF context that keeps us, the audience, excited, researching a maker, pursuing their evolution and watching the symphony unfold over time. But what is the other side of that quest? Is a maker pleased to have baited us enough to follow him to the next refrain or is he fighting the compulsion to share the entire overture? Is that even possible? How ready are the audience and/or the maker, at any given moment to engage in an active dialogue? Of course there are levels, and depending on the perspective/mood of the maker/audience, we may be engaging very different conversations at any given moment.
The first Shiverdecker object I encountered was an amphora at the Bray in 2011. The form immediately took me to that quiet, nostalgic place in my head where I covet relics and decay. The grid of wire defined the infrastructure of the amphora. Clay remnants clung to the grid—just fractured memories. On that day, the conversation I engaged with the amphora was ephemeral and poetic.
It was during this residency at the Bray that Shiverdecker posed an academic question for himself and spun the wheel of random selection to focus on a particular form. He landed on the amphora, seeing it as the diner mug of antiquity. The amphora’s ubiquitousness extends beyond its origin point, retaining the ability to draw an audience in to many conversations.
If one wishes to approach from a purely formal vantage point, one may. The amphora has provided a backdrop rooted in the foundational history of western culture where Shiverdecker has toyed with several visual devices. The grid, most often realized as a wire support structure has, in other renderings, morphed into fat, segmented coils that dominate the form while other times the grid fades to faintly map the surface of the amphora, a plotting grid thrown over recognizable topography meant to systematically control the viewer’s gaze.
From here, if one wishes to open the door to ethical conversations one may because the grid, as a mapping device, quickly connects to another form Shiverdecker utilizes: the drone. Thrusting his audience forward through history and technological advances, we consider another gaze entirely, the gaze that watches all of us. He pushes the comparison between the two cultures further along with drawings of Grecian warriors alongside modern military vessels upon the vessel. Until at last time is inconceivably compressed when he takes these objects off the surface of the amphora and realizes them in space. A fleet of submarines, drones, fighter planes, and Grecian urns loom in the phantom space Shiverdecker has created for us, a term he applies to his installations suggesting he wants us to feel the pain of the memory of loss his leviathans carry with them.
At any point, the viewer is free to retreat (or never advance) and relish the methodical process the maker has developed, enabling him to realize improbable feats of scale and texture in his objects. At any point, the viewer is welcomed to languish in the beautiful sleekness of the forms. Shiverdecker certainly did in his last exhibition at Greenwich House Pottery with a shelf of deliciously polished porcelain urns, meticulously meditated over with tone-on-tone markings.
For symmetry, let’s get back to thinking about the role of the artist. Because Shiverdecker would like to help us imagine, “…what would happen if the entire military arsenal were simply pushed into the ocean.” His renderings are one consequence for us to ponder, but they open the door to consider others.
Throughout the making process an artist has several conversations going in his own mind at any given time. The participants in the discussion rotate through the personas and perspectives within the maker’s imagination. Beginning as a cacophony, the conversation is slowly edited into identifiable refrains. The process requires examination and labor. More labor and re-examination. Eventually there will be room for an audience to engage in the conversation too, but then the initiating conversant, the maker, must release control of the lead.
At this point it’s useful to turn to our old friend Henry Sayre, who defined four roles of the artist in the text “World of Art”.
- Produce a record
- Express emotions in a tangible or visible manner
- Reveal universal and hidden truths
- Show the world from a new vantage point
More often than not, these roles overlap in a beautiful and eloquent tangle. Shiverdecker is producing a record of American Exceptionalism as he re-imagines over investment in myriad military vessels. His work casts a backward glancing spotlight on the universal truth that is human competition for dominance. The process he uses renders this truth with tangible melancholy as he imagines a future world where these vessels are nothing more than relics. He does all of this while drawing our attentions to gridded structures and surface planes divided by color and texture. He leaves the door open for us to pick up the conversation where we are so inclined.
Keep an eye out for new work this fall at the Clay Art Center, details can be found at www.adamshiverdecker.com. Most recently, Adam was part of the panel discussion, “Clay Crosses Over” at the recent College Art Association Conference in New York. Currently Adam is the Studio and Fabrications Manager at Greenwich House Pottery.