When alumna A.C. Rogers read the final verse of her father’s poem to her late mother, she found the inspiration she needed to finish the centerpiece for her latest exhibition.
Rogers’ “Soft Ground” sculpture exhibition is on display until Oct. 5 at the Materials Resource Center, an on-campus laboratory with over 28,000 circulating material samples that range from mushroom blocks to metal foam. The exhibit consists of three distinct pieces made up of organic and inorganic elements which combine to bring out the building potential and inherent meaning of materials.
“I’m very interested in trying to make inanimate objects become animated,” Rogers said.
The final verse of her father’s poem reads “Autumn vegetables suit her, I think, and none more than rutabagas, so reluctant to have left the ground.” With that line in mind, Rogers created one of the sculptures in her series, a mobile with inflated steel on one end and a potato on the other called “Love Poem.”
“Regardless of whether it grows roots or if it just rots, the potato is going to inevitably transform, [affecting] the balance of the mobile,” Rogers said. “It’s this idea of finding an anecdote of love in something that seems as innocuous as a root vegetable.”
The title of the exhibit, much like the theme, was also designed to be an interpretive message. After burying her mother’s body, Rogers said she began thinking about the concept of “soft ground.”
“I liked the idea of ‘soft ground’ being something going into the ground or an emergence, like vegetables,” Rogers said.
While foraging for mushrooms on the side of a hill in Michigan, Rogers stumbled across a tar-coated mop that would become the centerpiece of “Part of the Tree,” another sculpture in the series. Recognizing its artistic potential, she took the mop home and added hardware to give it structure after discovering the tar’s weight and temperature morphed the material.
“This object is really interesting to me because it has this slow motion that seems implied, but if you spend time with it, you will start to notice that it really does begin to form itself to whatever it’s resting on,” Rogers said.
John Stoney, an art and art history associate professor and a member of Rogers’ critique committee, said Rogers initially struggled to figure out what made objects different from sculptures, but that after attending the Oxbow artist’s residency in Michigan, her work began to exist for itself.
“[Rogers] rekindled a love of nature that she hadn’t been pursuing in a while,” Stoney said. “When she came back, her art was transformed incredibly.”
While Rogers was a student at UT, she would often spend time in the Materials Lab, using it both as a resource and influence for her practice. In 2015, she was selected for a $250 grant from the lab to pursue a hay and latex structure which later became an element in her “Soft Ground” series. This structure, titled “Waiting for Ducks,” was formed by carefully weaving latex-coated straw over a Styrofoam dome until it could support the volume.
Materials Lab director and curator Jen Wong said she was intrigued by Roger’s proposed project in 2015 and recalled her innovative style when choosing an artist to open the Lab’s 2016 fall series of exhibitions.
“It’s the combinations of materials that she chooses that’s really interesting,” Wong said. “There is a kind of juxtaposition of lightness and heaviness in the work that I really enjoy.”