Future Retrieval is the studio collaboration of Guy Michael Davis and Katie Parker. They utilize three-dimensional scanning and digital manufacturing of found forms that are made into molds and then created in porcelain. Process is very important within their work and research, with emphasis in the conceptualization, discovery, and acquisition of form. These processes and discoveries are evident within their time spent at the Smithsonian Museum and in their travels abroad to places such as Jingdezhen, China, and Stockholm, Sweden. Future Retrieval has an interdisciplinary approach to making, with a desire to make historic objects relevant today.
Anthony: Is there a way that you specifically assign hierarchy to material in any way? I know that you use paper, wood, fiber, porcelain, all of these craft-based materials, I’m not sure if that’s exactly the right word but that’s how I’m thinking about it.
Guy: Oh, assigning a hierarchy?
Katie: Yeah, initially I would say no. I think the materials come from circumstance, like where we are determines what we are making. Interests, what we’re interested in at the moment or what we have the facility to do, sometimes it’s the ease of installation or packing. I don’t know, I feel like we’re pretty flexible with how it happens. I’m thinking specifically about this summer, we were in Stockholm and we didn’t have access to ceramics, or we didn’t try to seek it. We were there for 3 months so we made work out of paper, wood, and yarn the entire time and that was perfect. I feel like I didn’t need ceramics or that guidance, and I feel like those works are just as strong as a vase we would make here or somewhere else. Right now we’re working with wood, because we have a studio assistant who’s really skilled in woodworking. I’m really interested in weaving right now and that could be a fluke, but that seems to be happening. (All chuckle)
G: Yeah, you’re right, it’s place that determines a lot, I think Katie nailed it all. Sometimes the clay thing is because we’re trained in clay. That happens to be working with a malleable, flexible material that you can add, take away from, and manipulate to be the right thing for the occasion.
K: I don’t know, we make tons of prints at school on really cheap paper just to have a big color print, and the other day I paid the real money to have it printed per inch with nice ink, and I was like ugh, it’s the same! I just wasted all this money and it’s the same! So yeah, I feel like materials isn’t something we initially worry about in the plan.
A: That’s really good to hear, especially when you don’t have access to all the facilities that ceramics usually needs, to be able to use other materials to do what you need.
K: Yeah! Sometimes it’s like, Great! I don’t have to deal with this clay.
G: How nice to not be dirty!
K: We’re all clean and don’t have to fit anything into a suitcase.
A: So, in terms of historical periods, I know that you have paper collages and cutouts of porcelain Sevres pots on your website, and I’m wondering how you pick your specific historical periods?
K: Mmm! Those pots were from the Smithsonian Fellowship in 2016. I was at Cooper-Hewitt and Guy was at the National Museum of Natural History. I’ve always loved Sevres pots, I believe they are the height of perfection, they are like an unobtainable thing. Cutting and pasting them out of paper is the closest I can get to recreating them. I am looking for things that can translate when I am picking imagery: pictures, or photographs that have that thing that I can see in paper. So those prints were old prints from the factory that showed the product line. The way they were printed were really flat, so it made sense for me to translate them out of paper. Sometimes I’ll take Guy’s photographs of taxidermied animals and I’ll cut those and I’ll make the photograph into a paint-by-numbers style cut out, but when I see something that already has that inherent image quality, then I think it’s easy to snap it up and add it into the mix.
G: You know, if we work with something Sevres, we’re not specifically trying to talk about Marie Antoinette, or Versailles, or something like that. I think there are a lot more formal considerations, process considerations like what Katie is talking about. Maybe sometimes we are aware of all the other layers of how these things came to be in regards to royalty and so forth, and we research and learn about all of that stuff, but a lot of it is quite formal I think.
K: Yeah, I want that pot but I know how much it will take to make it out of ceramics, and I’m not into that right now. And I like the scale shift, that’s always a part of our work, translation: how to take this tiny image from a book and make it large. How to take the white mark that’s the shine and translate that in paper and get that same kind of one to one.
G: I think that scale shift is a big thing particularly as we are trained in ceramics and have this urgency to go out of it. This shifting in scale just keeps happening over and over again, such as with the digital work and being able to shift that scale. Because of the limitations of porcelain, you can only make those vases so big, if you’re not in this big factory that invented a process to do that, so [different materials and scale shift] enables us to have what we want at the size that we want, and sometimes we have to move toward to another material. I think that this talks about Stockholm and the decision of why we made those pots that are collected from museums, and the shapes that were carved out of wood came from. Also, we were at the Smithsonian so we were absorbed in this expedition idea and we were into this big project about exploration and expedition and then going to Stockholm and realizing that they had all of these collections based off of these expeditions to Cyprus, so I was wrapped up in this romantic idea of discovery, and within that I could pick and choose formally the most interesting shapes.
A: Yeah I think it’s really interesting looking at process images on your blog of how you acquire these images at the Smithsonian. There are so many accessible images online (in the Smithsonian) as well, and when I saw these images I kept thinking of Fred Wilson and “Mining the Museum” and I was curious if there is any other way that you go towards this approach of curating meaning through your installations by going through these archives? You just mentioned that you were interested in approaching this through a lens of discovery, is there any other way that you approach this?
K: I’m thinking about for instance, in 2011 we had a big show at the Taft Museum of Art here in Cincinnati and the idea was to be inspired by the Taft Museum of Art. So we went in and ended up 3D scanning, which was a big deal in 2011, a bust of Alphonso Taft, the father of William Howard Taft, and then taking that bust, casting it in porcelain, making an edition of 10, and then hand-painting it with patterns found throughout the museum. So it was this way to get this little museum that’s in Cincinnati that everyone who grew up here went to as a kid and never went back to again, and we’re plucking these small highlights that we find in patterns and imagery that we can translate and then obliterating the Taft bust with these patterns, and the museum ended up using this as a way to get people to come back to the museum and re-look through the collection to find where these patterns and images came from. That wasn’t our intention, but for them that was a way to engage viewers back into the museum scenario.
G: It became kind of didactic.
K: And I think like that’s always what we’re going to love to do: going to museums, going to antique malls, looking through old books, find and pluck these special things and try to bring them back and get them into our studio or take the part of them we love and figure out how to make it ours.
G: Another interesting thing about the Taft as far as the presentation of that project is that the Taft is a non-collecting museum. It has a special collection that has been collected by Hannah Taft and so that’s the only thing that’s ever on display there, except for this one room where we had the opportunity to do a contemporary show. We approached it in such a manner that it appeared that the work in the show was part of the original collection. So people would even walk past it, and the idea of bringing this back, you know we went to this historical museum, deeply rooted in Cincinnati and American history with the current political connections, and hit it with this weird process, and then brought it back in and presented it on furniture that was from the original house. We were homogenizing our process and integrating that within the museum’s collection and their display process and methods.
K: Yeah, and we did a show at the contemporary art center here, the CAC, which is this Zaha Hadid building that’s really cold, and the show we were curated in was called the “Living Room”, so we worked with wood and built this fireplace lighting and a bear skin rug, and essentially created this living room for the museum that visitors could sit on the rug, sit on the couch, sit at the dining room table, there were performances, so again how do you warm up a cold space in a museum? And then we did a grand-theft project where we used our phones and through photogrammetry stole pieces we really liked from museum collections all over museums in the country and used that for a photo biennial. So I think that there are a lot of ways to interact with museums and collections, from literally taking something to taking the idea of a collection and riffing on that.
A: That’s awesome, are there any other specific institutions that you would like to work with? Is there something that you haven’t currently had access to that you want to have access to?
G: Yeah, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. We’re also looking here in Cincinnati at the Lloyd Library, it’s a medical library.
K: Like, from the Civil War.
G: There’s this interesting thing of eclectic medicine, and I’m trying to think of when that ended, but essentially the last school of eclectic medicine was here in Cincinnati. There’s some alchemy involved and there are some cult followings and stuff like that but it’s about a method of practicing medicine where you can pick and choose from any particular source. So they were using Native American methods of treating people and some alchemic things, and some more traditional pharmaceuticals and doing a lot of weird experiments and things like that. All of those documents are there, as well as a tremendous amount of illustration and they travel the world and see eclectic plants. So it’s like the largest collection and medical library I think in the country. We’re on the edge of wanting to do something in there. Can you think of anything else?
K: Yeah, the Isabella Stewart Gardner is like number one. Anyone knows anyone who works there.
G: I think this is on the eclecticism too that we’re starting to get a little more interest in.
K: Yeah, to have access to those letters, there is so much writing that she was doing to heads of states, presidents, artists, musicians, aristocrats, that you can’t walk into the museum and then read that.
A: So I have a final question about collaboration: I really enjoyed the piece you had at Spring Break with the photographer Jordan Tate, the blend of his photography, the 2D facade of the bush, with the figure and the pots, and I’m wondering how that process of collaboration was with him?
G: Way different! The main thing we keep talking about when we are asked this question is that he is a primarily appropriating things from the internet. The theme of the Spring Break show was literally “cut and paste”, and all his photography work at that point was from low-resolution images that he was able to photoshop and make into his own. He has a body of work where he photoshops his work into every major museum in the world, and claims that he has had shows in these museums, and you can’t tell. Even the work he put into this show isn’t his work, it’s crazy!
K: It’s like not that nothing truly matters, but it’s like nothing really needs to truly exist for him. Existence isn’t a problem, it doesn’t hold it back. For us, we need a thing, the materials, the objects needs to exist. So when working with Jordan the idea was to take a faux-European garden, hedge-maze, Versaille-esque world and take everything that Jordan does to make things fake and make it real, and take everything that we make that’s real and eventually fake it, to state it broadly. So we took an image of a hedge from the internet, repeated it, then printed it onto fabric. This made a portable, collapsible hedge maze, and with the fountain we took an image of a fountain, which we made into a cardboard cut-out and then made again into a functional water fountain. And then Guy threw the pot to match the pot that the woman was holding. It was funny because things don’t need to exist for Jordan.
G: Everything is instantaneous, and he knows all of these controls. So he wanted to destroy the work just to see what would happen. And we were like “Jordan, there is no undo for the sculpture, there is no ctrl+z here! We spent 3 weeks making this statue and if we smash it then that’s not what we’re looking for." But what was good, is that we were still able to meet in the middle. We were still able to put things together in a way where he was content, we had come to new realizations that we have different outlooks and ways of looking at things. Within this collaboration we learned that there are opportunities to let go in decision making, and that would then lead to things that we would never be able to make in another situation. We also think the weirder it gets and the more we don’t understand, the better it is.
K: That’s what talked to Jordan a lot about. Looking through the photos that we had taken, let’s print the ones that make us uncomfortable, and he did not want to print them because they made him uncomfortable, and that’s why I told him that’s why I think that’s the one. It was interested to land on something that none of us were sure if it was the “thing”.
G: But that’s the thing about collaboration, you’re each splitting up your own thing. It becomes this other thing that is owned by more than one tperson and you can separate from it and be able to self-critique.
A: That’s really great to hear, it’s one of my favorite things I’ve seen on your website. One of the photography professors here at Arkansas went to school with Jordan Tate, and I have admired his work a lot. That’s all the time I have for questions, but I want to thank you for taking the time in talking to me and doing this interview. I heard you’re from Fayetteville, if you’re ever in the area stop by and say hi!
K: Yeah, totally! Thanks for calling us!
Anthony Kascak is a first year MFA student at the University of Arkansas- Fayetteville. He received his BFA in Studio Art and a BA in Psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.