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Under Pressure: An interview with artists Michelle Mendlowitz and Robin Tieu

Michelle Mendlowitz and Robin Tieu
1 year ago

By Josephine Slaughter, Marketing Intern

Michelle Mendlowitz and Robin Tieu are Toronto-based ceramic educators and makers. Their collaborative Gardiner Shop exhibition, Causality, is an exploration of impact. Using individual hollow clay spheres, this site-specific installation demonstrates the cumulative effect of how force alters forms—while simultaneously creating new forms. The outcome of throwing these objects against each other varies, with some bloating and some exploding. The final result is a narrative of their lived experiences where identity is shaped by interaction.

Ceramic sculptures by Michelle Mendlowitz and Robin Tieu

Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind the exhibition?

We wanted to create a piece that spoke to the physical characteristics of clay as a medium while also alluding to different narratives open to the viewer’s interpretation. Considering the state of the world along with both personal and universal experiences, this piece aims to represent pressure and how circumstances can shape existence.

Ceramic sculptures by Michelle Mendlowitz and Robin Tieu

What was the process behind creating the layered sculptures?

We chose to use one form, the sphere, to simplify the narrative. The sphere is familiar to everyone and contains the volume necessary to illicit our intended reactions. Parts were first thrown on the wheel then amalgamated with force through controlled slamming. It was very important to us that the strain and stress of the making process remains highly visible. In order to achieve that, the clay was stained and left raw rather than covering the surface with glaze.

Causality is your fourth collaborative work—has your dynamic changed since your first collaboration?

No, however, we are more comfortable in the collaborative process and where our voices sit. We are better communicators now which makes for a smoother studio experience. We are less attached to individual ideas and are able to shift perspectives to better the final piece.


[Right] Vase by Michelle Mendlowitz at the Gardiner Shop [Left] More is More Series: Candlelabra (Robin Tieu)

Can you speak to your practice as individuals and how it influences or differs from your collaborative work?

Although we are both ceramic based artists, our work and processes differ greatly. Michelle’s work is generally wheel thrown and handbuilt with a large emphasis on glaze surfaces. Robin’s work of late has primarily focused on the mouldmaking and slip casting process, emphasizing form with minimal surface treatment. Because we have different skill sets, we are able to add different elements to the piece. The collaborations are naturally different as we are no longer interpreting ideas individually. The process is much more about discussions and compromise.

How did you decide which sculptures to use in the installation?

The final composition was based on the overall configuration/rhythm within the space. As a result, a few objects were left out during set up. Due to the nature of the process and the limits of physics and the material, some of the pieces edited themselves out of the equation #ceramicscasualties.

At what point did you feel the series was complete?

To be honest, the piece was not finished until it was set up in the vitrine. Causality was conceived as a site specific work and we knew we needed to fill the space while considering the surrounding in order to create the feelings we wanted.

Michelle Mendlowitz and Robin Tieu: Causality is currently on view in the Gardiner Shop vitrine until the end of September.

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