My ceramic/photography project is a play on the contemporary practice of traveling with an object, say a garden gnome, “Flat Stanley” or plushy toy or animal and documenting its travels with a photograph.
The traveling gnome was originally a prank, in which someone “borrowed” someone’s garden gnome and sent back to its owner, photographs of said gnome posing or inserting itself in the foregrounds of famous tourist locations around the world.
“Flat Stanley” was a literary figure that is literally drawn and cut out of paper and mailed with a journal to a friend or relative who was traveling, in the hope that the person would document where Flat Stanley had been. Stanley and the journal would eventually be mailed back with reports of his travels. Many included photographs and the practice eventually moved to email and the internet.
And plushy toys? I met an elegantly dressed young Japanese woman once at a tea garden in Kanazawa who discretely pulled a tiny long eared stuffed rabbit out of her purse and photographed it next to her cup of tea and cake. I asked what she was doing and looking slightly surprised and embarrassed, she showed me all the photos of the many meals she had graced with her bunny.
In most cases, the objects brought on these trips are easy to transport and usually goes to places of envy. In fact, just last month, a headline for an ABC news report read, “Stuffed Animal makes Epic Journey to the Edge of Space in Amazing Video.” They all seem to beckon, “Don’t you wish you could be here?”
Which brings me to my project. I took this familiar concept but subverted it a bit. Quite a bit. Instead of something easy to transport, I decided to take 120 handmade fragile tea bowls, ceramic tea bowls, packed inside two enormous boxes as my “traveling” objects. Moreover, I took them to places that were not famous or glamorous, but places most people had never heard of nor would probably ever go.
But the goal was the same. Just as with Flat Stanley or the Kanazawa Bunny I wanted the viewer to get to know my tea bowls and by extension to become curious to know where they went and why. Perhaps by exposing these places of “fear” we can finally exorcise the shame and guilt, and move forward rather than blame the victim or shame the oppressors. In other words, I hope we will always remember and try to forgive.
I hope my project can throw light on a discomfiting part of American history -- not to condemn or blame, but to remind us where we’ve been and help gauge just how far we’ve come toward peace and acceptance in our ever more rapidly interconnecting world.