Rachel Ballard creates ceramic sculptures and videos that investigate themes of trauma, femininity, and craft. Ballard earned a BFA from Appalachian State University and an MFA from Georgia State University in 2017. She has been an invited artist-in-residence at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts. Her work has been supported by grants and fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council, NCECA, and The Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts. She was most recently an emerging writer in BURNAWAY's Art Writers Mentorship Program and served as the Project Coordinator of the Chastain Arts Center. She currently lives in Atlanta, GA where she works as a Visiting Lecturer at Georgia State University.
I use clay, in its various stages, as a means of exploration and understanding of femininity, trauma, and craft.
The malleable and temporal qualities of wet clay lend themselves to my performative impulses. Free of tradition, technique, and fertile with potential, it allows me to work in the moment. Through performance I am able to exchange a tangible energy between the material, my body, and the audience. It is fluid, ephemeral, and something to be experienced as opposed to beheld.
My sculptural works reflect a more maternal mode of thinking that satisfies my desire for control. These are objects that have been tended to and doted upon throughout the sculpting process. The majority of the sculptures are smaller in scale which establishes a different kind of relationship between the material and the body; one that is more nurturing and protective. By glazing a piece and firing it in the kiln I allow myself to remove that initially satisfying control. Grayson Perry best described this process as, "controlled disappointment." I may have tested a particular glaze a hundred times, but I never know for certain exactly how it will turn out. I believe the clay is traumatized in a sense through the firing process. Once it has undergone this experience, it can never go back to what it once was.
Recently, these sculptures have evolved into obnoxiously cute creatures. The “schmoopies” are my way of rebelling against unmonumental trends in both contemporary art and craft. They are an exaggerated amalgamation of predictable, cute, kitsch objects. Sianne Ngai writes, "There can be no experience of any person or object as cute that does not somehow call up the subject’s sense of power over those who are less powerful." The "schmoopies" are no exception. These small doe-eyed creatures may appear innocent at first glance, but a quiet defiance and strength stirs beneath their sparkling glazed surfaces.
Video animates concepts and narratives that cannot be contained in a static object. The creation of the character, Amber Fine Sparkle gives me the opportunity to insert a direct sense of humor into the work. Named after an aventurine glaze by acclaimed ceramist, Lisa Orr, Amber Fine Sparkle highlights the tendency to fetishize technique within the craft community. With her white bobbed hair, porcelain cream dress, lumpy clay glasses, childlike enthusiasm, and obsessive expertise in ceramics, Amber allows me to embody and simultaneously tease that fetish through satire. Her character represents a duality and struggle within myself to embrace my southern craft-centric roots while also working to push beyond them into a broader art context.