Kahlil Irving: Archaeology of the Present will be on display at Walker Art Center from February 23, 2023, to January 21, 2024.
Kahlil Robert Irving (US, b. 1992) is a St. Louis-based artist who makes assemblages out of layered pictures and sculptures out of reproductions of everyday objects. Irving, who mostly works in ceramics, critically engages with the medium’s past and challenges Western ideas of identity and culture.
His ceramic sculptures, which have long been the focus of his work, include artist-made reproductions and pictures that are generally overlooked but might symbolize a historical moment, a way of life, or even specific connections to persons. Irving integrates debris into his sculptures by an onerous procedure of warming items in the kiln to generate complicated layers. Newer works have investigated digital media, memory, race, and Black existence as subjects imbedded in ceramic materials and apparent in prints and wallpapers. Irving’s technique is more than just an archival report; it resembles archaeology, revealing layer upon layer of evidence of our own modern artifacts.
This exhibition includes new sculptures, video, and discovered artifacts by Irving that explore our relationship to the city street as a place and an idea. The street can be viewed as a venue for both collective gathering and transportation between points of safety and protection. Irving’s art, like digging through archaeological strata, illustrates how our present instant is made up of physical fragments that begin to convey a fractured story.
For his Walker performance, Irving has arranged sculptures and other objects on a big plywood platform that resembles a stage. Visitors can roam throughout the structure, encountering both artworks and manufactured goods. Some, like a painted industrial ceramic pipe, will be elevated through the platform, towering over the majority of observers like a giant pillar or column. A brick wall also emerges from the floor, while ceramic tiles designed to replicate textures seen on city streets are submerged into the platform or visible via railing-protected gaps. These floor holes or cutouts allow each work to be revealed, giving attention to what Irving refers to as “the unsaid, liminal gaps between life and poetry.”
Viewers can move around the landscape and interact with the things at various eye levels. Two video pieces are also included within the building, depicting both the city street and the sky, inverting assumptions of the sky as a place of potential and the ground as one of obligation. They represent the statement that change and progress can be discovered communally and now, rather than in an idealistic future. Viewers can also move around the platform as an item to experience different perspectives and interact with the exhibit as a whole.