June 2016: Heather Kaplan

In Blog, Photography, Reviews By by Ken Aschliman On July 6, 2016

Heather Kaplan, Detail

Heather Kaplan’s playful ceramic works are a ticket for departure into a dreamlike fantasy world. Fantastic abstract forms interact tenuously with molds of tchotchkes, food, and figurative fragments on stage-like shelves that circle the walls of the gallery. On pedestals in the center of the gallery it appears as if Kaplan’s ceramic objects have swarmed together into the eccentric accumulations of her Katamari series. Like a dream, the inexplicable interactions between her work fracture any sense of linear narrative.


Heather Kaplan, Installation view

Kaplan places her sculptures in arrangements that hint at a story, but are ultimately ambiguous. She suggests in her artist statement that her sculptures “beg to be arranged, rearranged, and played with.” Kaplan creates fields of organic forms that appear to be borrowed from both microscopic and macroscopic worlds. Some of the forms allude to pollen or bacteria, while others seem like clouds or mountains. Molds of objects like broccoli, porcelain animal figurines, plastic teeth, and sand castles interact on a plane where size is ambiguous. When these objects are molded in clay they become more precious, like small monuments to their referents, the contents of the average Middle American home. Kaplan achieves an intriguing variety in color and texture of the pieces by layering glazes and re-firing the clay. The attractive and variable surfaces beg for the objects to be handled and played with. Our fascination does not stagnate because meaning does not settle onto specific objects but occurs through their interaction. Kaplan’s objects are parts of speech for a language of play in which the dullness of grammar has been thrown out the window. 


Heather Kaplan, Katamari series

Departing from the airy quality of her wall pieces, Kaplan’s Katamari series has a commanding heft and immediacy. Kaplan named the series after the 2004 video game Katamari Damacy in which the player must rebuild stars by rolling a magic ball called a katamari. The katamari accumulates whatever is smaller than it onto its surface until it has enough mass to become a star. As the katamari grows it collects objects ranging in size from thimbles to street signs to skyscrapers. Kaplan’s katamari sculptures appear to have rolled through the strange realm of her ceramic works and now contain the  immense gravitational force to draw in more objects from the wall shelves. 


Order can be found in the random ceramic arrangements by searching for pattern, repetition, and figuration. Even though there is no direct narrative to be had, these arrangements still evoke our curiosity. Why do we linger on these inexplicable interactions? Kaplan, who has years of experience in art education, offers that she seeks to, “question aesthetics of interaction and play,” as well as the “[relationship] that adults have with children and childhood.” With her work the expectation of art to say something is shed. Doing something without purpose often feels like a waste of time, and that is perhaps the greatest disconnect between adulthood and childhood. Kaplan bridges that gap; she liberates the viewers to play, to have fun, to do without purpose.


By Harlee Mollenkopf