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Kahlil Robert Irving: Archaeology of the Present

May 10 @ 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
|Recurring Event (See all)

St. Louis-based artist Kahlil Robert Irving creates assemblages made of layered images and sculptures composed of replicas of everyday objects. Mainly working in ceramics, Irving critically engages with the history of the medium and challenges constructs around identity and culture in the Western world.

His sculptures incorporate objects and images that are often considered detritus but can be representative of a historical moment, a way of life or even specific individuals. Irving creates trompe l’oeil ceramic copies of objects, from scraps of cardboard to takeout containers, and folds them into his sculptures through an arduous practice of refiring pieces in a kiln to achieve intricate layers.

Recent works have examined digital media, memory, race and Black life as subjects embedded in his ceramic elements and made visible in prints and wallpapers. More than just an archival account, Irving’s approach approximates archaeology, uncovering layer upon layer of evidence of our own contemporary artifacts that begin to tell a fragmented story.

This exhibition features Irving’s new sculptures, videos and found objects that together consider our relationship to the city street as a place and a concept. At the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Irving situates his sculptures and other items within a large plywood platform. Some works, such as a painted industrial ceramic pipe, rise from the platform, standing above viewers like a large pillar or column. A brick wall similarly emerges from the floor, while ceramic tiles made to resemble textures from the street are sunken into the platform and visible through openings protected by a railing.

These street sculptures, as Irving calls them, are made from hand-pressed stoneware tiles, speckled with white ceramic, whose mottled surfaces are meant to resemble asphalt. Initially inspired by the mosaic floors of Hellenistic Antioch, Irving’s tile sculptures present a wholly contemporary topography integrated with enameled reproductions of urban refuse: air fresheners, newspapers, cardboard and the like.

Also set into the structure are two video works that depict both the city street and the sky, inverting expectations of the sky as a place of possibility and the ground as one of necessity.

Viewers can explore the platform as an object itself, stepping onto and moving around it to experience changing perspectives and engage with the installation as a whole.

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