Bethany Pelle's MFA thesis work investigates connections between material culture, interpersonal relationships, and larger social realities of structural inequity. She incorporates everyday materials into minimalist sculpture, videos, installations, and ceramics. By using an economy of materials in each piece––a few key elements for viewers to connect to and pull together––Pelle is able to engage nuances of human experience and desire. To a sensitive audience, the work is suggestively narrative and allegorical.
Because language structures the very possibilities of what can be thought, the cultural significance of what is namable carries incredible importance for individuals and communities. The title of her MFA Thesis exhibition, Give the Cat a Name, addresses the process of naming as an investigation into representation. In relation to the title of the exhibition, the scuplture, Minou––the named cat–– enforces this command to name and this call to political representation. An assemblage of materials that resemble a cat pelt, enlosed in a clear plastic bag––Minou makes questions of containment, concealment, and violence visible. In doing so, Pelle's hope is that these questions––questions that constitute the foundations of both feminist liberation and the struggle against neoliberalism––trouble an attentive audience.
Minou is part of a larger domestic tableau. The sculptures Buy Some Furniture and Untitled (Pit) utilize everyday domestic objects. These sculptures reference the home setting as a site of materialized identity construction, social negotiation, and consumption. Buy Some Furniture features one-hundred-twenty square feet of beige carpeting, an ashtray and a small handful of bobby-pins scattered next to unupholstered sofa cushions. The scene arouses melancholy, suggests a sense of longing. The title Buy Some Furniture, evokes a cultural imperative of consumption and the struggles of either rising to––or resisting–– this command. Across the gallery, (Pit) consists of a thin, steel frame supporting an elevated section of hardwood flooring. A densely-knotted, Turkish carpet, illuminated by a floor lamp, sinks through a hole in the floor. The ill-concealed hole, revealed by the contorted carpet, evokes the trap of structural inequality. Placing these objects in relation to one another sets the stage for considering subjective and collective desires.
Give the Cat a Name serves as a starting point to Pelle's long-term artistic objectives: to engage sensible and intellectual ways of knowing, to promote the formation of collective and counter social imaginaries, and to mobilize the potential of desire to improve our futures.
As an analytic deconstruction of the sites and production of desire, Give the Cat a Name engages a different way of desiring––one liberated from the ideological constraints of production and consumption.
In the Yixing ceramic tradition, scholars use tea to stimulate their work and intellectual discourse among their cohort. Yixing teapot designs are filled with symbolic content which express aesthetic attitudes and intellectual interests. Before a gathering, a host will carefully select a teapot for its particular symbolism in order to influence a stimulating dialogue.
As an undergraduate at the University of Miami, I spent a few hours each afternoon alongside Bonnie Seeman as she worked in her studio. We drank oolong poured from small Yixing teapots. Shelves lining her studio were densely packed with her collection of Yixing pots and mugs by contemporary potters. While sipping tea, we discussed art, craft, politics, and our personal narratives. Through Bonnie’s mentorship and in this environment––rich with contemporary and traditional ceramics––I developed my love for ceramics and decided to become an artist. Tea became an essential stimulus to my working process, and later Bonnie’s Yixing teapots became a source of inspiration.
I created the following series of sculptural teapots in an Yixing-inspired style in recognition of the central role tea, Yixing ceramics, and Bonnie's mentorship played in my artistic development. I also introduced an investigation into material culture, desire, and consumption as central themes to my work with this series.
Each tea ware was hand-built to one-eighth scale of its original and to varying degrees of functional practicality. The specific tools and appliances in the series were chosen as subjects because they were items I personally wanted to own--for my studio and for my home. I wanted them because of they were useful. Owning them would provide a great deal of convenience to my home studio. I also wanted them because of their aesthetic designs and brand reputations. I anticipated that owning them would give me some abstract sense of validation--of potential to make my environments more beautiful, cohesive, more adaptable, or of higher quality. I've always been sensitive to perceptions and I wanted my surroundings to communicate who I was, how I saw myself and my work--or at least how I wanted to see myself and to be evaluated. To my surprise, as I reproduced each tool and appliance, the original held less psychological power for me. I no longer felt the need for validation from owning the tools. I knew them intimately. I'd mastered their curves and proportions as if I'd authored them.
Study for an Area Rug, 2011
Bone Ash, 2010
Untitled (Villa de Leyva), installation detail, 2011
Untitled (Villa de Leyva), installation detail, 2011