Spheres of Influence makes a statement

Lex Treinen/Sun Star Reporter
April 9, 2013

Ian Wilkinson, with photography from Todd Paris, designed the wall of photos to be free from race or class and instead focus on the problem driving the project - hunger. April 5, 2013. Adam Taylor/Sun Star

Ian Wilkinson, with photography from Todd Paris, designed the wall of photos to be free from race or class and instead focus on the problem driving the project – hunger. April 5, 2013. Adam Taylor/Sun Star

For many graduating Bachelors of Fine Arts, a senior thesis project might include a few pretty pictures or a well formed bronze sculpture, but for Senior Ceramics Student Ian Wilkinson it was much more than just that.

In “Spheres of Influence” Wilkinson wanted to show not just the power of ceramics as aesthetic structures, but also to make statements about poverty, hunger, economics and even engineering. The 1,200 bowls will be donated and sold to the Fairbanks Community Food Bank on April 13 for $15 each.

By the time of the official reception on Friday evening, hundreds of visitors had come by into the UAF Art Gallery to admire the multicolored platform of rice bowls enclosed by plexiglass, but the full experience of the show was not available until Friday, when guests were allowed to walk on top of the bowls under the creaking plexiglass. Though the opening reception was scheduled for 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, visitors stuck around much later to look at the pieces, walk on the bowls or just observe the room. Five larger pieces rest on the plexiglass in the middle of the platform on top of a second layer of the smaller bowls. The bowls are filled with various amounts of rice, with the lowest level containing only a few kernels, and the larger vessels overflowing, roughly representative of the wealth distribution of the world economy.

While many visitors on Friday seemed scared to put their full weight on the seemingly fragile bowls, none of them broke. Wilkinson said he gave some of the flawed bowls to civil engineering students for pressure testing. They found that even the imperfect bowls could bear up to 400 pounds of pressure before collapsing. Wilkinson said that engineers have only recently begun to see the practical uses of ceramics in things such as bearings and brake pads, and he wanted to incorporate this utilitarianism into his project. While there was no real danger of damage to the bowls, the plexiglass creaked as it was forced on the bowls, making some people feel uneasy.

Wilkinson conceived the project a year ago and it became a consuming passion especially in the last few weeks before the opening. During the summer Wilkinson worked on perfecting a design for a rice bowl and starting to fire them, working about 4 hours per day while fitting in ski training sessions to secure his spot on the UAF Ski team.  After a few hundred bowls, Wilkinson was able to make bowls in as fast as two and a half minutes. Training and racing, not to mention a full course load, took much of his time in the winter months, several weeks of which were spent on the road. Nonetheless, Wilkinson said the fall endurance training helped him stay on his feet for the long days during the last week.

When he returned from a ski trip in February, the days got longer. Each bowl required two firings, most required calculation of special earth-tone glazes and then had to be sorted and set up.

“He’s been a maniac at the studio lately,” said roommate Biology student Yuzhun Evanoff, “but it really paid off.”

During the last week when he was firing his last pots, most of the university lost power for about an hour. The outage required a few extra hours to reheat the kiln at a time when time was already tight. Wilkinson ended up getting home at 2 a.m.

“I was definitely cutting it close,” Wilkinson said. Wilkinson  thinks he put in somewhere between 700 and 1,000 work hours on the project.

 Last Friday evening was a culmination of all the hours of work, and with hundreds of visitors stopping in, the work seemed to pay off. Evanoff said that he had visited the exhibit before the opening when walking on the bowls was prohibited, but that the Friday evening experience was something else.

“Being able to be held up by the symbolic bowls and to feel that connection was amazing,” Evanoff said “I felt like I was really connecting to what he was trying to say.” Still, the art wasn’t the only thing people were admiring, “The baby was my favorite part, crawling around on top of the bowls,” Evanoff said.

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