Michelle Laxalt

My artwork is motivated by my curiosity for the body, its vulnerability, and its eventual exhaustion. In my recent work, I address the body through reimagining my memories involving caregiving, death, and superstitious family rituals derived from folk medicine. Using clay, fibers, and bodily materials like hair and soap, I make sense of these stories through abstract ceramic forms, textiles, and sculptural compositions that reference the body without illustrating it literally.

I narrate personal family traditions in my sculptural compositions using found and altered materials. For example, my grandmother slept with soap in her bed to relieve leg spasms. I reference this ritual in my piece The Quivs. In casting soap in the form of feet, I make the afflicted body part synonymous with the medicinal material. When arranging these works compositionally, I draw on the medieval concept of the memory palace, a theoretical framework in which memories are broken down into their material and symbolic components and staged in a way that invites narrative interpretation.

In my series of felted textiles, I use hair as an abject and ambiguous material that allows the body to be absent and present simultaneously. In these works, I explore remnants of the actual, physical body while referencing the bed space. In my mind, the bed marks a complex space for the body. It is space in which we are confronted with our physicality, our sexuality, and our mortality; it cradles many versions of our selves. Similar in scale to a hide or blanket, these textiles invite conflicting interpretations that range from comfort to revulsion.

I use clay to reflect on my encounters with vulnerable bodies, transposing my memories of caregiving through touch and abstraction. I create forms that loosely imply the body’s structure and textures and use waxy and milky glazes to suggest flesh and bodily fluids. With these works, I aim to evoke visceral sensations similar to those I experienced while caregiving, which ranged from curiosity to anxiety to empathy. My ceramic sculptures tend to be visually severe in the way that they are modelled and fragmented. However, as in all my work, I aim to maintain a tenderness in my material handling to balance this severity with emotional warmth.