Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Building Community, Brick by Brick

During this past fall while working on my BFA thesis exhibition, I became interested in exploring methods of using wood-fired ceramics to visually explain the strength of community. I wanted to create an installation that would communicate ideas about the universal importance of co-operative spirit in our world today, while also specifically expressing my gratitude towards the people who have supported me as an artist. The solution that I finally arrived at was using bricks as a form to give structure to my ideas. ~ Josh Copus

Two of my son Josh’s Community Bricks were displayed at Notebooks, Floyd’s independent bookstore. The owners got the bricks at the “Building Community” slide show presentation Josh did when he was in town last Christmas. Although they weren’t for sale, a woman who was shopping in the bookstore was keen to have one, and so the bookstore owner sold her one, although she felt awkward because she didn’t know what to charge.

The brick was chosen as the vehicle for my concept because of its connection to ceramics, as well as for its connection to shelter and the historical significance of bricks in creating permanent civilizations. In this case, the brick acts as a metaphor for the human condition; individually each brick is relatively useless and displays very little of the power, strength, and stability associated with bricks once they are bonded together to build a structure. The solitary brick seems insignificant, like a solitary person, and only once it is joined in mass with others of its kind does it gain the capacity to garner attention. ~ Josh

Another Community Brick sits on the window sill at the entrance of Jacksonville Center for the Arts, where Josh gave the slide show (shown in the first photo) and where my Writer’s Circle meets twice a month.

The Building Community installation is compromised of 1600 handmade bricks, extruded from local clay excavated out of a nearby tobacco field, open-chequer stacked and wood-fired in the anagama at UNC. The kiln was purposefully fired unevenly to create a color spectrum ranging from the hot, dark purple bricks in front, to the cooler, light orange bricks in the back. I used the common practice of branding firebricks with a company’s name or other defining characteristics, as a method of literally communicating my idea about an individual’s role in their community. Half of the bricks were stamped with the word “individual” and installed in the gallery as a wall, while the other half were stamped with the word “community’ an arranged in a solid cube on a pallet. ~ Josh

At our April ceremony honoring elder women in our community, one of the women was addressing the crowd of about seventy about the importance of community. At one point, she looked directly at me and said, “I have one of Josh’s bricks. I use it as a doorstop!”

My intention was to make the wall large enough so that its physical size would command the attention of the viewer, and its presence in the space would successfully communicate the power of organized individuals to create a unified whole. The ‘community’ bricks were given away during the exhibition, both as a symbolic gesture of giving back to the community that supports me and also as an attempt to raise the level of consciousness in each person as they entered into a relationship with me, by taking a brick with them and participating in the experience.” ~ Josh Copus

Josh’s bricks are building community. They’re getting around. There’s one in Ireland, another in Japan, and a number of them have found their way to different parts of this country. My blogger friend Naomi received one recently. She was surprised to discover that it was delivered without packaging and with her name and address written directly on its surface. “My post woman asked me why I was receiving a brick in the mail...LOL...” Naomi later emailed me to say.

Post notes: The italicized text is excerpted from an article Josh wrote for “The Log Book,” an International Wood-fired Ceramics Publication. For more information on Josh and his work, go HERE. Check out Ronni Bennett’s Elder Story Telling HERE. The guest post features a recent Loose Leaf Post, “From First Holy Communion to Community Croning.”

~ Originally posted on looseleafnotes.com on June 1, 2007.

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