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Delicate scallop patterns border the lip of one of Jennifer Rochlin’s large ceramic vessels at The Pit. If it isn’t immediately evident that the dashed arcs are bite marks, a chomped absence along the rim clarifies the method at play, delivering what amounts to a roguish punch line. (The small, excised piece appears casually grafted onto the pot’s neck below.) Rochlin has been using her teeth as tools since 2018, gnawing at raw clay with something like aggressive affection, and glazing around the gouges with dabs of violet and gold. As in the two recent, riveting, riotous examples here, works in her ongoing Bites and Bruises series (2018-present) invoke at once injury, blemish, and the beauty of scattered blossoms—the dissonant simultaneity of life as both experienced and recalled.
All of the pots in Rochlin’s humbly splendid show are handbuilt and unabashedly irregular, their walls dented and lumpy, alternately bulging and softly collapsing, their mouths gaping, aslant. All are diaristic, too: registering and preserving memory as either a visceral, immediate physical imprint, or a drawn keepsake—idealized, sentimental, yet earnest. Both modes Rochlin uses to capture what has happened are utterly absorbing. Both feel true.
The bitten sculptures chronicle the animal urgency of their own making. With its mirroring placenames—mouth, neck, shoulder, body, foot—the clay vessel is the perfect stage for performing gestures expressive of physical experience. Rochlin extends the clay/human analogy to the point of delicious confusion in these pieces, her own body making and unmaking the sculptural form, nipping at it teasingly, with inordinate intimacy. Other bodies, too, enter the mix. Multiple, anonymous jaws impressed themselves upon the lip and curves of Community Bites (Cal State Long Beach Ceramic Arts) (2020) in a process that conjures both feast and foreplay.
A panoply of other works on view engage the past through pictorial means, their chalky white surfaces etched and selectively glazed with recognizable, relatable images. Rochlin adorns one piece with portraits of her friends’ dogs and encircles another with sketchy profiles of horses plodding along a Griffith Park trail. She celebrates the ornamental through gorgeous delineations of a peacock’s display and the foliate and floral patterns of a tapestry. One vessel decorated with renderings of Joni Mitchell and Stevie Nicks strikes the adoring tone of a teenager’s scrapbook. Summer (2020) pays homage to cozy domesticity through collaged vignettes showing a couple reading together in bed and standing in a tight embrace, kissing. Nearly-bare tree branches twine between the scenes, their burnt orange leaves poised to drop. If this is summer, it is only so in retrospect. What passes, what stays, and how do we remember what matters? In her oscillation between raw mark and processed memory, Rochlin implies that there is always more than one way to narrate our own story, and that every mode, whether it privileges bodily traces or mental recall, is both crucial and incomplete. Materializing the frictions inherent to representation and bringing these honest and rich contradictions to the sculpted surface gives Rochlin’s work vital emotional presence.
Jennifer Rochlin runs from September 15–October 24, 2020 at The Pit (918 Ruberta Ave., Glendale, CA 91201).