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CULTURE

Clay Ketter: Gulf Coast Slabs

by Leonora Oppenheim
on 21 March 2008
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A show of new work by the American artist Clay Ketter opened in London this week at Bartha Contemporary. Ketter, who has lived in Sweden for over 20 years, is renowned for creating art works through the investigation of construction techniques. His work on the surface has a beautifully minimalist aesthetic, but the real interest lies beneath the layers in a "truth to materials" approach and the perfection of the process. Previous works of furniture installation and framed plaster work recall fêted American Abstract Expressionists such as Donald Judd and Mark Rothko.

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Gulf Coast Slabs embraces the medium of large scale photography to continue the construction theme. After Hurricane Katrina Ketter decided to return to his native land to see the damage done for himself. He was accompanied by photographer Nils Bergendal and together they found whole neighborhoods where only the foundations of buildings remained. Like ghosts of the recent past, the slabs revealed the outlines of what were once happy homes.

Using a crane to elevate themselves directly above the site Ketter and Bergendal recorded what look like illustrated architectural floor plans, colored in with the texture and colors of vinyl floors and bathroom tiles. The odd bits of strewn beams and pieces of plaster board fallen at an awkward angles break the grid-like pattern. If studied closely random domestic objects such as plates, toilet bowls and cracked glass table tops can be seen. All around the edges of these strangely clean swept slabs vines and grasses are growing wild, showing nature returning to reclaim these man-made remains.

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Ketter, who worked as a builder and carpenter for many years, was deeply moved by the destruction of these homes. He described the experience of making this work as "emotionally grueling" and in the catalog produced by Bartha Contemporary he writes, "This book, and the body of work represented here, is dedicated to the people of the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, in particular of Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian and Waveland. We are forever grateful to these people, some of whom we have had the pleasure of meeting. Their former homes are the subject matter of this project... We were as cautious as possible in our project, imagining, without truly knowing, the weight of this catastrophe and the scars it must have left behind...To receive such warmth and hospitality from these people, who had been dealt such a cruel hand, was both moving and inspirational."

Gulf Coast Slabs
Through 18 May 2008
Bartha Contemporary
136b Lancaster Road, First Floor
London W11 1QU map
tel. +44 207985 0015

Volta NY
27-30 March 2008
Booth F5
7 West 34th Street
New York, NY 10001 map
tel. +1 646 641 8732

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