In spite of the variety of formats, materials, and subject matter, much of Charlotte Potter’s work can be linked to the language of surfaces, display and presentation — and to the sometimes not-so-obvious structures that lie beneath. Elements of display almost by definition involve concealment. After all, isn’t display intended to showcase the “best” features of something? In doing so, does it not distract attention from less desirable ones?
Called “mimicry” in some manifestations, it is a common adaptive strategy. The “eye” markings on certain moths’ and butterflies’ wings project the illusion of a largish predator, obscuring the fact that the butterfly is a fragile insect, easy for true predators to gobble up. Plants and animals also often have display characteristics, like the antlers of the moose, which facilitate reproduction by attracting the right kind of attention. Large antlers record to the successful survival of a male. The same antlers, the larger the better, harvested by the moose’s predators — human hunters — symbolically celebrate their ability to survive in the woodland habitat (or, at least, their presence in the woods) and their ability to provide food for young.
A Winter 2008 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, Charlotte Potter did her undergraduate work at Alfred University. It related to what she calls “veils” and suggests the concealment or filtering of the true self. At this time, she had long, never-cut hair. Hair is one element that constructs human identity: a potentially artful frame for features and expressions. On the other hand, it can be a permeable barrier. Potter’s large suspended installation Filters of Thought is composed of individual glass elements, some attached to long strands of Potter’s own hair. Its open structure suggests both connection, indirection, and introspection.
Potter is more engaged by human feelings and ideas than by the representation of physical things; however, she often uses found objects in conjunction with glass. Recently she made a series of symbolic portraits connected with one of her jobs in Jackson Hole where she currently resides, makes glass, and skis. The portrait subjects are all members of her fellow waitstaff at a brew pub; all college grads who have found that degrees in “remote fields of study, mostly humanities” do not lead directly to jobs. The interests and skills of the portrait subjects are represented through objects embedded in wax.
Another recent display box series evokes landscape and narrative through elegantly assembled objects. These conjunctions of presentation and seemingly natural things led Potter’s inquiry into “the architecture of display.” It is reflected in her observation that “People are personified by the objects they collect.”
These interests align neatly with Potter’s interest in cabinets of curiosity as public and private display, an idea buzzing around the art world recently, and, by extension, with sideshow attractions advertising oddities and rare treasures of natural history as well as fabulous hoaxes, such as a supposed unicorn horn. Such attractions are amplified by explanatory signage, which Potter enjoys confabulating for her own cabinets. They typically offer a superficially plausible explanation for the curiosities on view. Potter “explained” a square relief of bottles intentionally melted into one another as the relic of an accidental fire.
Which brings us back to moose antlers. When Potter came to WheatonArts she planned to focus on portraits like the one she made of her uncle Gordon Sparks, a brilliant mathematician and, also, autistic. It included a fragmentary representation of the Fibonacci code. As a small auxiliary project to the conceptual portraits, she planned to make “a couple pairs of moose antlers” relating to the tourist interest in this trophy, but this goal took over and her studio walls were soon covered with slightly asymmetrical antler pairs.
Halfway through her residency, Potter was increasingly engaged by distortion in the representation of the natural objects “to make you think.” Earlier veils and filters had been translated into “strange screens” of layered, kiln-melted and sandblasted glass onto which she planned to project videos of people recounting their earliest memories.
Performance is a traditional form of display and a widely acknowledged aspect of glass blowing. Potter and her two fellow Fellows Rika Hawes andKim Harty staged a variety show “Cirque de Verre” at WheatonArts in April 2008 and went on to repeat it at Urban Glass in New York and other venues.
The artists enlisted the cooperation of other WheatonArts staff members in developing acts for the circus. “All I knew was that it had to be spectacular,” Potter says. One of her over-arching goals is to make performance art more accessible, more entertaining and fun for viewers.
In co-planning the show, she drew on her background in dance and music. The acts included “” (choreographed by Rika Hawes), a technically amazing “,” in which artists gathered and blew glass in unison. An impressive Two-Headed Glassblower (Rika Hawes and Josh Kerner) and “” in which Potter and Kim Harty played dueling political emblems covered with red or blue balloons. The weapon: hot arrowheads of glass on the end of a pontil.