DETROIT — These days Detroit is a hotbed of craft-based forms revisited. We are exploring fiber, we are redefining letterpress, and we are having a ceramics revolution of shattering (not literally) proportions. Double Presence, a three-person exhibition at Holding House featuring works by Nathan Tonning (also the show’s organizer), Victoria Shaheen, and Emily Duke, presents three diverging approaches to reinventing ceramics.
Tonning appears to be going back to basics, as his multimedia sign “Starting Over” suggests. His Vessel-Based Ceramic Objects and the body of work he made in residency at Popps Packing in 2014 more than demonstrate his ability to flawlessly render large-scale and challenging ceramic forms; his regression to crude, hand-formed or asymmetrical shapes represents a deeply conscious — and probably taxing — effort to let go of the kind of muscle memory and reflexive habits that potters develop as part of their most foundational training. To supplement this primitive practice, Tonning taught himself a new craft, hide tanning, using for his experimental subjects a few unfortunate members of Hamtramck’s squirrel population. The resulting hides are deployed in the series Squirrel Skin Bongos — a nod to the ancient practices of drum-making and the creation of scared or totemic objects — as well as indirectly, forming the negative of the relief motif decorating his “Tanning Jar.”