Former OAC resident artist closes exhibition in Belle

By Colin Willard, Staff Writer
Posted 1/25/23

BELLE — On Jan. 7, the Osage Arts Community (OAC) hosted a closing reception for an exhibition by a recent resident artist.

Artist Maggie Adams is from Kirksville. She attended Truman State …

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Former OAC resident artist closes exhibition in Belle

Artist Maggie Adams poses with a plaster sculpt of her head at the Osage Arts Community Art Center. Adams finished an OAC residency last fall.
Artist Maggie Adams poses with a plaster sculpt of her head at the Osage Arts Community Art Center. Adams finished an OAC residency last fall.

BELLE — On Jan. 7, the Osage Arts Community (OAC) hosted a closing reception for an exhibition by a recent resident artist.

Artist Maggie Adams is from Kirksville. She attended Truman State University and graduated in 2021 with a degree in Ceramics and Fiber Art. Adams was in Belle for a residency with OAC from early August to mid-November of 2022.

“One of my professors at Truman connected me with the OAC people, so that’s how I got my foot in the door here,” she said.

Adams said her biggest takeaway from the residency with OAC was the value that creative spaces such as OAC provide to artists.

“You can kind of put your real life on hold,” she said. “It’s a privilege to be in a place where you can do that; run away for a while and just make stuff and really be able to be yourself or be in a community with other creative people and bounce ideas back and forth.”

The exhibition came together in September as a combination of art she made for her degree and art she made while in residency. The pieces explore the convoluted relationship Adams, who uses feminine and gender-neutral personal pronouns, has with her female body.

The centerpiece of the exhibition was an interactive piece titled “Self Control” that Adams made while pursuing her degree. The piece is a table and chair set adorned with a lace tablecloth. On top of the tablecloth, ceramic cups, bowls and plates, along with found silverware and a clay vase, form a dinner scene. The ceramic pieces take atypical shapes because Adams made them from a full cast of her torso.

On the sides of the dishes facing upward, observers can see how the material formed around Adams’ body. The opposite sides offer a glimpse of the anatomy inside the human torso, such as the piece titled “Vascular Platter,” which represents a platter sculpted from Adams’ torso. Flipping the piece over reveals a hand-painted snapshot of the veins and arteries that carry blood vessels throughout the body.

“My intent is for the viewer to sit alone and interact with the place setting prepared for them at this dinner table,” Adams wrote in her explanation of the piece. “However, it is up to the viewer whether or not the choice to sit down is made. A choice to sit at this table and interact with their place setting invites the opportunity for an intimate examination of my body. Therefore, simply by choosing to enter this environment, the viewer has become a part of the installation and their projections of discomfort--or lack thereof--allow them to perform in the space how they see fit.”

The cups and the vase, which holds a single flower, open at their tops to casts of Adams’ lips.

“We don’t allow very many objects in the world to touch our mouths,” she said. “It’s a very intimate part of the body, and the fact that clay objects are on that small list I find fascinating. There is a communal aspect to it as well. Usually, when you make a coffee, you don’t just make one cup. You make five cups, and they look similar, and they can have a meal and all interact with this object in a shared experience. I very much relate to that.”

The collective piece’s title, “Self Control,” comes from the control Adams feels the piece gives her over her body and its perception by others. “Through the aid of life casting, I am able to reflect my body in clay and mimic the way we each see our own bodies; we experience our bodies in fragments, pieced together in the mind,” she wrote. “By creating and interacting with this installation I am able to assert control I feel I lack over my physical body, while the viewer is provided with a space to examine the way choice also grants them control in this unfamiliar environment.”

The walls to the left and right of “Self Control” each displayed pieces made from 90 plaster casts of Adams’ breasts. A title card labeled one collection of 90 casts “Breasts,” and another card labeled the other 90 casts with a slang word for breasts.

“The reason the titles are different is because I was thinking a lot about language, the way we use language to describe the body and how that language can change your perception of that part of the body,” she said. “I wanted it to feel very big, and kind of oppressive whenever you sit down. All these things are like eyes watching you. I wanted people to feel challenged or uncomfortable. Just question what’s happening here. That’s why there’s such a large quantity: to make it be in your face.”

Adams said about 75 percent of the people that encounter the installation have been intrigued and uncomfortable.

“For the most part, it’s been received quite a bit like the way I’ve intended,” she said.

Like the audience, Adams sometimes feels uncomfortable with her work.

“I weirdly kind of like feeling uncomfortable because it’s like I have control of that uncomfortable in that scenario,” she said. “Even if I’m making myself uncomfortable while making it, I know I’m doing this actively to myself.”

Art can be emotionally uncomfortable, but Adams was also physically uncomfortable while making “Self Control.”

“I had to lay on a table naked for five hours,” she said. “That whole process was a weird experience. You don’t realize how painful it can be to just lie still for a really long time. For the first couple hours, it was fine. By hour four, you’re kind of losing control of your body a little bit and uncontrollably shaking your leg.”

“I’ve always been the ‘creative kid’ for sure,” Adams said. “I think it all started when I got these little stick figure drawing books as a very, very young child. I just drew, and my parents were very encouraging. They’ve been supportive of that passion and interest of mine through my whole life, so it has snowballed into me being an artist.”

Adams said that even though she did not always know that she wanted to be an artist, she had a need to create.

“In making work, it helps me process a lot of difficult emotions that I usually can’t totally articulate,” she said. “That creative process helps me get it out of my brain, and then to this thing that exists. Somehow, that makes it easier to process.”

In the early development of a piece, Adams said she likes to be alone with an idea before she can talk to anyone about it.

“All of this is me kind of trying to think by making,” she said. “I don’t do a lot of sketching. I just make it and see what happens. I like not being beholden to plans. When I make things, I kind of do everything intuitively. I like to thought-vomit ideas. If it’s not anything that makes a lot of sense yet, after I’ve made it, I can put it all together.”

Adams’ recent work combines more lace fabric with plaster casts of her body parts.

“I hadn’t really combined it (lace) with my sculpture in this way until getting here,” she said. “For me, lace is such a femininely-coded object and material. In combining it with the body, I feel like it draws certain things into question. A female body part and lace seem like ‘oh, those kind of go together.’”

Adams said the lace work was newer, so she had not quite figured out what the work meant to her.

“Something about the parts look almost like scaly, diseased skin to me,” she said while examining how the plaster and fabric combined to form a piece. “Corruption of the body is what I’m primarily interested in trying to break out. That’s the direction I want to take this body of work.”

The fabrics used in the pieces came from local shops.

“I like the history of lace, particularly the objects,” Adams said. “Who was it that made this? I think that crocheting and that act of labor is also a very feminine thing. It doesn’t have to be, but in our society it’s often viewed as though that’s women’s work. That idea of woman’s work is also pretty fascinating, and I like to explore it.”

Looking ahead, Adams said this period of her career, marked by an exploration of the relationship between her body and control through the use of plaster, will pause.

“My life is in a weird transitory place,” she said. “I don’t have a great location to be working with plaster right now. Right now I have a space where I do clay, and clay and plaster don’t like each other if they get mixed. I’ve been working more on ceramic pieces in the recent past.”

Even though Adams is moving on from plaster, the body still intrigues her.

“I’ve been very interested in teeth, which is a weird thing to say,” she said. “I haven’t figured out quite what those mean yet. I made some work in the past where I’ve taken bites out of the clay. Themes of eating and the body next to each other are kind of weird, uncomfortable things to me. A lot of the work I’ve done in the past hasn’t been very functional, but these ideas I’ve been having lately lend themselves well to pretty functional forms. That’s part of why I like ceramics: the tactility of it, being able to not just look at an object and appreciate it, but pick it up and touch it and feel it.”

Adams recently took a job as the ceramics studio manager at a nonprofit in Columbia called Access Arts.

“It’s a lot of on-the-ground footwork,” she said. “Just making sure everything gets fired, pushed through the kiln, everything’s clean, mixing glazes, all the behind-the-scenes stuff that needs to happen.”

In the long run, she plans to get a master’s degree in ceramics or fibers to eventually teach at a university.

“That’s a hard world to break into quickly,” Adams said. “It’s playing the long game. Whatever I do in between there is whatever I do. I don’t know what it will be, but I’m looking forward to it.”


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