Interview with Nate Cassie
Nate Cassie has always had an exploratory approach to materials, working in a variety of mediums including drawing, painting, sculpture, video and digital media. Cassie states that the drive behind his thematic practice centers around what he terms the “space in between.” Cassie seeks to explore the gaps in structure, form, and systems both formally and conceptually. In this new series, Cassie has returned to ceramics, making functional pieces intended for communal use. Throughout the run of his dual show with Constance Lowe Minding the Gaps, Cassie intends to host dinners using ceramics and furniture that he has crafted. I wanted to know more about this interactive element, and how the functionality of his new work fits into the “space in between” and his traditionally conceptually focused work. During the installation of the show, I sat with Nate Cassie and asked him about this new body of work and how it continues his previous explorations. Minding the Gaps opens at Ruiz-Healy on June 5th, and will be on view until July 27th.
You talk about the “space in between” frequently when asked about your work. I was wondering if you could talk more about what this “in between” is for you and how you explore this space both formally and conceptually.
So for me, the space in between can be lots of things. It can simply be negative space within a piece, but more conceptually it has to do with the idea of connectivity. For example, if you and I have a connection, there’s nothing physical connecting us necessarily. However, there can be some conceptual, emotional, or spiritual connection that exists in the space between us. This happens in a lot of the ceramic pieces because they are about food or drinking and those are communal activities. So that brings people together and that idea of community has been an important element in my work for many years.
How does this approach change between your 2D and 3D works? Is there much of a difference?
With this new work, the ceramic work, there is a difference since it is actually functional work. It is meant to be both visual but also functional, you are able to use it. With the 2D work, I find imagery that is referencing the idea of connectivity and place like the tree drawings or prints those are very specific trees to a specific place, time, or people I was involved with. Like the Bryant Park tree came from a January day sitting by a park with my wife Ethel and our friend Katy Siegel and just kind of enjoying this moment and then looking up and seeing these beautiful London plane trees that are of course totally bare because it’s winter time. An intaglio, by the same name, was executed later from this experience. The pattern of their branches interested me, so that visual of the tree marks that particular place, but also that particular moment in time.
That is really interesting to think about: the in-between relationally with people but also formally. This leads into what I was going to ask next. The communal element in this work, have you made interactive art like this before? Or is this new to you?
I have. I have done projects where I have involved artists making art with me. I did this whole birdhouse/beehive series where I was asking artists for drawings and I was trading art with them for that. I’ve done art where I have involved the general public. I did a couple of pieces for Luminaria that were sort of similar in their communal nature. I built a sculptural replica of Chuck Ramirez’s dinner table to then invite people to gather at. It’s not always what I am doing, but it is something that I keep coming back around to in my work.
So for this specific body of work, what made you add this communal element? Was this concept there from the beginning? Or is this something you thought of incorporating after making the work?
I got interested in ceramics because I had this idea of making 400 cups for the 2018 Artpace gala that Ethel (artist Ethel Shipton) and I hosted to have a toast to Linda Pace. So, I started with that and then it kind of went from there. I also like to cook so I was interested in how dishes are used for specific foods, particularly within certain Japanese cooking styles there are very specific notions about how food, plates, and dishes go together. So that is kind of where it came out of. However, I don’t want to just make copies of Japanese ceramics. I’m not a potter, I am a conceptual artist who is currently making ceramic pieces that are functional. There are people who spend their whole lives doing that one thing, and I don’t want to compare myself to them because they are doing a very different thing from what I am doing.
There is a particular Japanese artist that I was pretty inspired by. This guy Rosanjin who was an early 20th-century food guy, but also was trained as a calligrapher and painter. He started this gourmet supper club in Japan and he was collecting old Japanese pieces to serve food on. However, in 1923, there was an earthquake that basically leveled Tokyo and he lost all of his ceramics. So, because he wanted to keep doing this, he had to figure out how to redo it and he decided he didn’t like any of the things he could buy so he just started to make it. Initially, he started to work with other potters, but then he started his own production facility and made hundreds of things but to me, he is a really interesting character so he was kind of an inspiration for some of this stuff too.
How does the idea of the functional change the nature of these pieces for you when you are making them? Does that element impact that concept for you?
It impacts the form more than anything, right. I think that is one of the interesting things about ceramics is that if they are going to be functional, it can’t cut your lip. It has to feel right in your hand. The formal or physical aspect of art has always interested me. Whether it is a painting needing a certain physicality or a print. Even the prints are very physical because you are cutting into this metal plate. I have always been very drawn to work that has a certain physicality to it.
What I find really interesting about this work specifically is it is heavily conceptual but it’s also very functional. I feel like those are two things that you wouldn’t naturally think of going together.
Right. I think that is true, but there are also artists who work in that vein. One artist in specific comes to mind, Roy McMakin, who makes furniture and more recently architecture, but it is still art on some level. So yes that is an interesting vein to me and it is partly due to that connectivity. Again, back to the viewer or the user not just in the way of commerce or visual appreciation but also physicality.
And usage and interaction.
I have one last question. How does the concept of domesticity function within these pieces?
That’s a great question because Connie Lowe and I were talking about that when we first started talking about specific pieces because both of our work has a certain domestic quality to it. From my side of things, furniture and ceramics both used to speak to a really specific place. In other words, if you were making a table in South Texas in the 19th century it looked really different probably from a table someone is making in Philadelphia at the same time. That’s less true now because you can go to IKEA anywhere and buy a table and it looks the same in Sweden as it does in Live Oak. It’s the same with ceramics. If you were making ceramics in the 19th century in South Texas you were probably digging up clay from the river, and that was the one particular type of clay you were going to use because it was on your farm or property. That’s less true now, but furniture and ceramics still can speak to a particular time and place. Just knowing these cups that somebody, me, physically with my hands made all those little pieces brings this sense of physical presence. They bear the mark of making and I’ve tried to leave that mark, both in the furniture pieces and the ceramic pieces. You see how they are physically made. As a friend of ours used to say, they are not overproduced. They are sanded but unfinished and there isn’t a seal so they feel kind of alive in that way.
I was actually wondering how these series fit into the “space in between” but that question kind of answered that for me: the table and the ceramics have this handmade quality it does hit that time and place. As you were saying this specificity was done historically, but now you are doing it through your ceramics which fits into your previous work.
I’m glad it made sense!
Recorded: May 30, 2019
Interviewed and Written by: Kristina Reinis
Minding the Gaps will be on view June 5 – July 27, 2019