Using the basic elements, ceramic and imagination, Millicent Young relates her work to life. 

Paradigm Magic

Millicent Young calls her collection of five sculptures currently on display at 1708 Gallery, "Possibilities of Transforming the Paradigm." Any time the word paradigm is invoked, it references basic archetypes and how they function as models for further systems. In her use of Platonic shapes and classical ideals, Young's art explores the powerful, transmutable possibilities of the paradigm at its most elemental level — the materials of the universe, the four elements.

Earth: The first striking work that one encounters is "Your Place in the Family of Things." A thin 15-foot wire is mounted on steel arms and hung with nine ceramic rectangular pieces, resembling pages of a book suspended like laundry on a line. The pages contain snippets of text that when pieced together, make up the evocative poem, "Wild Geese," by the Pulitzer prize-winning poet Mary Oliver. Behind the pages is a long, aged horizontal mirror. The poem, title and mirror serve to include the viewer, stating, "the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — over and over announcing your place in the family of things."

Fire: "Unbricking" is a waist-high corner of a brick wall flanked by a large sphere and a ceramic book. The brick wall, ball and book have a singed quality as if they were the archaic remains of a fire. The pages of the book are crisp, blackened and curled; the slightest touch would crumble them into ashes. Brick, that particularly inexpensive block of dried or fired clay employed by many ancient cultures as a substitute for stone or wood, can be layered like building blocks to create a wall, but just as easily "unbricked" through the ravages of fire, rain, wind and the passage of time.

Water: "Plain Chant II" is a narrow clay shelf mounted low on the wall with a sphere at one end and a sphere-shaped indent at the other. In the indent, there is a hole, a type of drain where the missing sphere has perhaps dissolved or liquefied and escaped. Below, the ubiquitous ceramic book lies open, singed, or perhaps this time, water-logged.

Air: The beautiful "Plain Chant III" consists of a delicate steel bar suspended from a large nail. The nail provides a fulcrum upon which the bar balances, holding at each end a ceramic pan suspended from wire. This is an equal-arm balance, the simplest of weighing mechanisms, used by placing an object of unknown weight in one pan and objects of known weight in the other until the bar holding the pans is level, indicating equal weight. Young's scale contains a sphere in the lower pan and nothing — air — in the higher one. It is an exquisite and fragile piece that offers a visual expression of the delicate balance between form and formless, presence and absence, thing and nothing.

Life: In relating Young's sculptures to the elements of the earth, I have written myself into a metaphorical conundrum. Young has five works on display, not four like the elements, but the fifth sculpture is clearly different from the rest. It is the only piece that specifically references human life. Two large clay shards face each other with a gap in between in which a pair of hollowed human feet is placed, a harmonious integration of human life amidst the elements. Some cultures and mystical beliefs, and even certain Hollywood movies, support the idea of a fifth element, whether it is ether or love or life itself. Young entitles this final work, "Synapse," a poetic and particularly life-laden term that describes the junction across which nerve impulses pass.

It is significant that Young's sculptures are mostly ceramic — the ultimate culmination of the four elements by human endeavor: Earth and water are mixed and formed and then altered and hardened through the process of fire and oxygen within the kiln. The process of pottery-making involves the transformation of matter, the passage of time, and the careful balance of one material played against the other, controlled and guided by the human hand. Pottery, then, is a perfect paradigm and in Young's ceramic assemblages, performs a type of alchemy where the object has the power to transmute, to undergo new form, to change in nature and yet maintain the fragile balance between earth, fire, air, water, and the most precarious element of all, life.


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