If one ordinary morning, the renowned artist Analuisa Corrigan woke up as if in a Kafkaesque dream, transformed into one of her clay creations, she would radiate into the world like an exultant floor lamp. It wouldn’t come as a surprise at all. Ana has illuminated the international design scene with her brilliance in recent years. The interview you're about to read is blinding in its insight. Read it in full—the artist formulating her discoveries in her own words is pure magic.
It would be foolish not to use her words for the introduction (I warn you, once you're acquainted with her pieces, one's home might seem like a dark desert; Ana is addictive). Tired of Adobe InDesign during her studies, she discovered, in a most inspiring cathartic act, clay, "a material that I could work with more intuitively, something that wasn’t two-dimensional and only existed on my laptop." Amen to that; I believe we should all seek this material in our lives. And with clay, she embarked on a creative process that has led her to reinterpret the world of design with lamps, mirrors, chairs, etc., seemingly lifted from a biopic by Sofia Coppola of Louise Bourgeois. Yes, we're in that lane!
But the most beautiful part is how she describes the material: "With clay, you have to detach yourself from your desired outcome, release your expectations, and instead, try to prize and admire the practice and the passage. It’s intimate, gratifying, impersonal, and traumatic all at once." We can only trust artists to provide true explanations of the world around us. Also, we spoke with Ana, not just because she's fantastic, but because she recently unveiled a collection of vanity mirrors in collaboration with fashion designer Sandy Liang. Regarding this work, Corrigan says, "They were designed as a nod to the rise of the opulent and supremely elegant vanity tables from the late 17th century. I named it The Vanity Collection because I wanted to celebrate and indulge in self-adoration instead of criticising it.” Is Ana peeking into our thoughts? It seems patriarchy has been playing mind games, convincing us (from Abraham to Immanuel Kant) that self-adoration is diabolical. But fear not, we're also having a whimsical chat about it with our unique design goddess.
Hi Ana, It's a pleasure to interview you for METAL, I´m very excited! First of all I’d like you to do a nice little introduction of yourself by telling us who Ana Corrigan is, why she is such an amazing artist and if you could wake up one morning transformed into one of your pieces, what would it be and why!
Hi Jesús! I’m so excited too! Thanks for such a complimentary introduction, we need to chat more often. If I could transform into one of my pieces it would be into a floor lamp. Something with a flowy shade, made of an exciting fabric and a reactive glaze. I like that floor lamps stand alone, take up space and they have the ability to influence that space’s mood through light.
I guess this question leads me to ask you, why did you choose ceramics as a medium of expression? How did your fascination with it begin?
I chose to explore ceramics towards the end of my senior year at Parsons where I had been studying Communication Design and was basically married to Adobe Indesign. I took design history electives that focused heavily on mid-century modernist furniture and sculpture, which really made me crave a material that was tactile, a material that I could work with more intuitively, something that wasn’t two-dimensional and only existed on my laptop. I started hand-building and learning the wheel in my free time and was immediately hooked.
Is there any inner characteristic of the material that specially makes you love it?
Clay is the most complicated, stubborn, rewarding and exciting material I’ve ever worked with. I remember when I first started working with clay, I really had to reckon with these ideas of detachment and limitations in my practice. I would spend 15-plus hours on a piece, just to have it collapse, crack or explode in the kiln. The first time I built a ceramic chair, which took about a week and a half, I left it to dry and didn’t wrap it well enough. The legs started drying before the seat and the backing, so they began to contract, crack and almost completely break off from the rest of the chair. This in itself was devastating, but I then had to take a mallet and quite literally smash the chair into bits so I could recycle the nearly 100 lbs of clay. To spend that much physical and emotional energy on something, to then actively destroy it, is a very unique and unsettling feeling. With clay, you have to detach yourself from your desired outcome, release your expectations, and instead, try to prize and admire the practice and the passage. I know I’m probably making working with clay sound awful, but truthfully it’s the self-willed qualities that make me love it so much. It’s intimate, gratifying, impersonal, and traumatic all at once.
And now, before we delve into all your projects, I would like us to reflect together on the history of art and its more restrictive side. Throughout the 19th century, the fathers of great art history created a hierarchy that responded, of course, to a patriarchal system that consistently excluded the undervalued disciplines known as minor arts. These disciplines were associated with the feminine universe. I am talking about fashion, tapestry, ceramics and the decorative arts. One of the great revolutions of the 20th century was to overturn all these theories that supported a system of power obviously dominated by men, the quote unquote geniuses, what were considered the Fine Arts. How do you feel about this? Where are we in this narrative?
Obviously, it’s no news to anyone that women have always been used physically as inspiration, admiration and idolisation within fine art and specifically by male artists. We’ve all made the observations that the female body adorns most canvases and sculptures in classic art museums, so it’s definitely interesting and frustrating to consider how many of the artists shown are not females, but are we surprised? Many people who are much smarter than me have analysed these ideological foundations in art history, but just for the sake of optimism, I’ll say that I am excited by the current and very necessary representation of female artists and I can only hope that number continues to increase. This question actually reminds me of the Judy Chicago exhibit I recently saw at The New Museum, The City Of Ladies, which completely blew me away. It was a solo exhibition that was curated as an “introspective” rather than a retrospective and it displayed Chicago’s work alongside artworks and archival materials by almost 90 women and genderqueer artists. It is really inspiring and historically informative to see the works of these women, some of whom have never been acknowledged as artists, and to see a glimpse into women’s history through these works, many of which would be considered “minor arts.” I think about this idea of “minor arts” often and how these undervalued disciplines are presented and perceived. I always come back to considering the space things exist in, the intent behind the work, and how powerful and important it is to place these pieces in a space where they can be thoughtfully received as fine art.
Wow. I know, that was a bit intense so let’s lighten a bit the conversation and talk about your upcoming collaboration with the great fashion designer Sandy Liang. How cute! And what's more, it reinforces my idea of these two disciplines coming together to create nothing less than vanity mirrors! I couldn’t love it more, please tell us more about it.
Thanks! I honestly had so much fun making them. They were designed as a nod to the rise of the opulent and supremely elegant vanity tables from the late 17th century. Each piece is bespoke and made of ceramic and melted glass. I’m obsessed with Italian commesso pendants and tried to incorporate similar elements to imitate gems. I really explored a childlike corner of my practice with these pieces because I wanted them to feel playful. I named it The Vanity Collection because I wanted to celebrate and indulge in self-adoration instead of criticising it. I’m so sick of this idea that self-loving should be deemed as a negative, egotistical quality. As women we get picked apart enough as is, so why not honor moments when we gaze at ourselves adoringly in an overly decorative pink mirror with bows?
Who are your design heroes?
Louise Bourgeois and Alvin Ailey are definitely top two.
What makes a design piece a good one? Does it have to do with its functionality, with the pleasure we experience when we buy it? Does it have to do with its history, its material or its context? Why do we sometimes feel so attached to objects?
I think it completely depends on the intent behind the design. For me personally, within lighting design, function plays a massive role in most of my work, so I typically focus on functionality before bringing myself to it conceptually. Different pieces evoke different emotions for different reasons - I’m not sure I believe there’s a specific quality that makes a piece good or bad.
Of all the periods in the history of design, which one do you look to the most for inspiration?
There isn’t a specific period in design history that I look to for inspiration. I tend to find the most inspiration through mediums that have nothing to do with ceramic art: fabric, flowers, films, and even mundane objects. A world that I always come back to for inspiration is theatre. I come from a long line of theatre stagehands and spent most of my adolescence backstage with carpenters, costume and lighting designers, dancers, choreographers, etc. That is, without a doubt, the most inspiring and creatively rich space I’ve ever been in.
Sadly we have to wrap things up, but please tell us how amazing it was to work with Lily Clark to create House and Garden for Stroll Garden in L.A. Can the intimacy of a house be as fragile as a lump of clay? What were you thinking when you started to create it?
Lily’s work is stunning. It’s wildly different from my own, so it’s very impressive and inspiring to see how she executes these designs and marries materials of clay, water, stone, etc. For House and Garden, I was inspired by my great aunt’s living room in Mexico; everything was welcoming and beautiful but also covered in clear plastic. I always felt that space to be an interesting juxtaposition of feeling and material, which I wanted to explore myself through ceramics. The space I designed was meant to feel welcoming and domestic, while simultaneously feeling cold, ornate and fragile.
And to say bye bye, where will all your fans be able to see you in the future?
In their own home! I recently launched the Scoop Lamp with Wooj. They're a petite 3D-printed version of a ceramic fixture I designed for Stroll Garden and it makes me happy to create something accessible that more people can take home with them.