Michelle Laxalt

At its core, my artwork is motivated by my experiences caregiving for infants and elders and intimately experiencing the vulnerability of the body at both ends of the life spectrum. These experiences prompted me to question: how does one make sense of occupying an ephemeral vessel that will ultimately fail us? How can we maintain empathy toward the physical body, however anxiety-inducing its form and limitations may be? How does our perception of other bodies—animal and organic—affect the perception of our own? Using clay, fibers, and cast-off bodily materials like hair, wool, feathers and soap, I reflect on these existential questions through sculpture.

My use of realism exists on a spectrum: some pieces are highly rendered and referential while others are more abstract and vague, evocatively recalling the idea of “body” without illustrating it literally. My ceramic sculptures evolve through a process that is intuitive, exploratory and supple. I fold, press, open, caress and soften thin sheets of porcelain and stoneware until I “find” forms that allude to human, animal, and organic references. The forms evoke abject torsos, lopped limbs, elusive skulls, and ambiguous organs. Felting together silk, wool, and hair, I create large-scale translucent husks that recall flayed skin and animal hides, which I exhibit alongside my ceramics. And through utilizing cast soap and spun hair in my mixed-media work, I reimagine the stories and superstitious rituals that my mother’s family would employ to deal with the failing body. 

My sculptures tend to be visually severe in the way that they are modelled and fragmented. I balance this severity with emotional warmth by maintaining tenderness in my material handling and displaying the work in a reverential manner. In doing so, my work courts abjection but ultimately favors empathy toward the human, animal, and imagined body.