Falling 2, by Claudia Alvarez
If the beautiful skies of Nebraska aren’t enticement enough for a rewarding road trip to Kearney this spring, a new exhibit at the Museum of Nebraska Art (2401 Central Ave. in Kearney, Neb.) by one of the region’s most provocative sculptors will be. Falling , a new figurative ceramic installation by Claudia Alvarez, gives a multitude of reasons to hit the road. This exhibit, which continues through July 3, is featured in MONA’s “Nebraska Now” series as it presents a variety of themes creating a contemplative beauty all of its own. Alvarez, who splits her time between New York City and Omaha, earned her BA in 1999 at the University of California while working as an ambulance driver at its Davis Medical Center. Inspired in part by her experience as an ambulance driver at UC Davis, Alvarez captures the pathos of human vulnerability. The close camaraderie she forged with fellow workers, in life and death situations, imbues her sculpture with a compassionate world view. In Falling, there is an empathic resonance of the various interpretations of the word itself. The exhibition features five childlike figures. Four appear to be moving in the same direction, heading toward a fifth “falling” figure. The momentum of the four, moving two-by-two, appears slow and considered. Their faces are concealed in shadow, obscuring their connection with one another. In order to see them one must move around them. This is facilitated by the angle of the light source. “They’re built to look up at the viewer,” Claudia said in her gallery talk. The fifth figure, Girl on Back, is suspended from the ceiling. She is positioned at the end of the gallery. Her toes barely touch the floor. With eyes closed, she appears psychically disconnected from the four others. She seems to be falling, held up by the monofilament suspended from the ceiling. This disrupts the illusion, creating another layer of tension in the tableaux. Claudia’s studio training began with drawing. Learning how to draw from the live model captivated her early. This traditional practice laid a foundation for her understanding of anatomy and the musculature of the human body. Combining the action of drawing with the physicality of ceramics has enabled her to develop an intuitive problem solving process all her own. Each figure begins as a coil pot and is modeled into its own personality. “There is a natural sense with the clay” she said, “It is the movement of fingerprints and sensation of touch which help me to work fast and intuitively. I am usually working on several at a time. I build them according to how they’re going to be seen.” This becomes evident in the installation. As each figure appears caught in its own dilemma, the subtleties and nuance depicted play an important role in how they’re perceived. “Falling 2 (Girl with Arms Out)” and “Falling 3 (Boy)” reach up, as though waiting to be picked up. “Falling 4 (Girl with Dark hair)” and “Falling 5 (Boy with Arms Up)” embody different gestures. The glazing and applied paint enhances the representation of the figures, while the unpainted areas emphasize the quality of the clay. “There’s a duality of gestural perception,” she said. This scene of accumulated gestures has the capacity to move one toward a larger sensation of being simultaneously witness and participant. Alvarez says in her artist statement she is interested in the physical, psychological and emotional aspects of the human condition. In individual cultural contexts, the intellectual implication of these systems gets played out through adult actions and interactions. Behavior and its larger social ramifications are a key concern for her. Falling provides many levels of possible interpretation on what it means to be fully human. These figures feel “channeled” through her, cinematic in effect. “I want to live my life where I’m always learning. It’s important to grow as an artist, thinker, and person,” she said in the gallery talk. If these figures in Falling could speak, they might say the same thing. Falling, a new installation by sculptor Claudia Alvarez, continues through July 3 at the Museum of Nebraska Art, 2401 Central Avenue in Kearney, Neb. For details and directions go to monet.unk.edu.