Gemma Brand-Wolf’s senior show, ‘Clay Bodies,’ explores ‘beauty, diversity, strength’ of women


Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

Gemma Brand-Wolf ’18 prepares for her live performance. Students, teachers, faculty and parents watched as Brand-Wolf emerged from a clay coil pot.

Gemma Brand-Wolf ’18 emerged into the courtyard from a clay coil, as students, teachers and faculty watched, huddled around her.

On Wednesday, May 9, Brand-Wolf’s senior show, entitled “Clay Bodies,” opened in the upstairs gallery during lunch. The show featured her ceramics, as well as live performance art which took place in the adjacent courtyard. 

According to Brand-Wolf’s artist statement, “Clay Bodies” is an exploration of the female body in its diversity, strength and beauty.

“Since the earliest art in history, the female body has stood as a testament to humans’ longevity, posterity, adaptability, sensuality and spirituality,” Brand-Wolf wrote.

Additionally, in her artist statement, Brand-Wolf described her inspiration behind the display and her personal connection to the project.

“I am fascinated with the anatomies, structures and symbolism of the body and intrigued by what it has come to represent in our society,” Brand-Wolf said. “In combining thrown vessels and hand-built, functional ware with various images of the female body, I capture the many contradictions, both positive and negative, that characterize female experience, identity and sexuality.”

Photo by Molly Goldberg
Two of Brand-Wolf’s pieces, which portray the female body on various types of ceramic ware. The piece on the left is called “Big Spoon//Little Spoon,” while the piece on the right is entitled “Femme//Fatale.”

Brand-Wolf portrayed the female body on an array of ceramic pieces, including bowls, cups, plates, sculptures and spoons.

“Each piece, whether entirely sculptural or based in the simplicity of line and color, communicates, critiques or comments on the beauty and versatility of the female body, the ways that society has used and manipulated it and the power inherent in the shapes and structures of its infinite nuance,” Brand-Wolf wrote.  “Portrayed through different forms of functional ware, my work challenges the viewer to consider society conception of the female body as a tool, as something to metaphorically eat off of or regard as an object.”

Brand-Wolf also included a performance component to her display.

The performance piece of her project was predominantly inspired by Brazilian artist Celeida Tostes and her project “Passagem,” and it was intended to confront the relationship between the human body and the clay medium. 

“In November, I saw the Radical Women show at the Hammer, and there was this video of Celeida Tostes, emerging from this clay sphere. When I saw that, I immediately thought ‘I’m gonna do that one day,'” Brand-Wolf said. “Then, I thought about how I can do this without making it derivative, my own, and interactive. So then I thought of this.”

Photo by Molly Goldberg
The main piece in Brand-Wolf’s show, called “Frannie.” She made this piece in 2017.

For the performance piece, Brand-Wolf and participants attending the show made a large coil pot. Girls helped mold the clay, decorate it, and wrap it around Brand-Wolf. After Brand-Wolf was fully swaddled in the clay, she emerged out of it and broke the coil pot around her.

“In many ways, clay is the foundational material of humanity and is often cited for the very creation of mankind,” Brand-Wolf said.

According to Brand-Wolf, this project has allowed her to learn and grow as an artist by being more connected with her chosen medium on a personal level.

“This performance represents the culmination of my work at Archer,” Brand-Wolf said. “It illustrates the connections I have built and felt between myself, my peers, teachers and my art.”

The show was on display from May 7 to May 11.