Experiments in Form and Fiction


During my artistic career I have consistently worked on two parallel bodies of work. In one series I construct elaborate scale models of urban spaces using ephemeral materials and record their disintegration through photography and video. In the other series I take the sets, props and experiments that I used to create the sculptures, and I photograph them on a simple white background. The images in my Sets and Tests series capture my experimentation with the crystal-forming chemicals monoammonium phosphate (MAP) and alum. I may be testing the chemical growth on various materials, whether to submerge an object in the liquid, or how various added colors might travel and disperse. The crystals grow in somewhat unpredictable ways, allowing for wonderful accidents and surprising effects.

Shifting the scale and isolating the object allows the viewer to closely observe the objects’ formal beauty, while giving a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the artistic process. At times the rather mundane objects from my creative process suggest grand and poetic comparisons.

Liz Hickok is a San Francisco-based artist working in photography, video, sculpture, and installation. She received her Masters of Fine Arts from Mills College in Oakland, California. Hickok grew up in Delaware before moving to Boston, Massachusetts to attend the Museum School and Tufts University for her undergraduate degrees.

Hickok’s artwork has been exhibited across the country and is included in art collections such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Blue Shield of California, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and Mills College Art Museum. Her photographs and video have been shown in many Bay Area venues, including Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Jose Museum of Art, the Exploratorium, Southern Exposure, the Headlands Center for the Arts, the di Rosa, and the Napa Valley Art Museum. She has also exhibited nationally at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery (NY), MASS MoCA Kidspace Gallery (MA), The Center for Fine Art Photography (CO), Pittsburg State University (KS), , Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts (DE), and the Susquehanna Art Museum (PA). Hickok has completed public art projects with UCSF, Mission Bay (CA), Scottsdale Public Art (AZ), and Walnut Creek Downtown (CA), and is currently showing a large-scale photo mural in Denver, Colorado.

Hickok’s Fugitive Topography: Cityscapes in Jell-O has become a popular subject of media coverage. Her work has been covered by The New York Times, Harper’s, San Francisco magazine, Gastronomica, and 7X7 magazine, and has appeared on the cover of Artweek. She has been featured on national and local news and radio programs that include the CBS Early Show, Offbeat America (HGTV), Spark* (KQED, Bay Area), All Things Considered (NPR) and Talk of the Nation (NPR). Hickok also appeared on the Food Network Awards Show, where she won an award for “Best Use of Food as Art Medium.”

I draw my inspirations from nature, which has created an inexhaustible wealth of wondrous forms, particularly at the microscopic level. Viewing through the lens fascinates me. It is an unusual experience to observe the diversity of the spectacular hidden world. These microorganisms are too small to be seen by the naked eye, but they have their distinctive existence and beauty.

I am attempting to reinterpret the scientific facts into art forms. Primarily, working with porcelain, I hand build structures with slabs and coils from inside out. I am trying to build vastness with a minimal structure to create the intricacy of the form. The chaotic lines create the harmonious volume within a single form generating the unified whole. Experimenting with various glazes, I apply layer after layer, to form and freeze the growing motion.

The reversed drawings of my ceramic sculptures become another avenue with which to explore the tiny world. They reveal the focused and obscure, the visible and invisible. The more closely we look at the world around us, the more we can understand our own place in the complex web of life, and the more we appreciate the whole nature and life.

Shiyuan Xu was born in Hangzhou, P.R China. Shiyuan received her BA in Ceramics from China Academy of Art in 2012, and an MFA from Arizona State University in 2016. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including American Museum of Ceramic Art, CA; The Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, MO; The Clay Studio, PA; Archie Bray Foundation, MT; Grounds For Sculpture, NJ; Shemer Art Center and Museum, AZ; Mesa Art Center, AZ; Pottery Northwest, WA; The China Millennium Monument Gallery, Beijing; Qinying Gallery, Hangzhou, etc. Shiyuan has completed a summer residency at the Archie Bray Foundation in 2016, in Helena, Montana, and currently she is the yearlong resident at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, TX.

Artist Talk with Shiyuan Xu and Houston Center for Contemporary Craft Kathryn Hall Tuesday, March 28th, 6-8pm
Reception Friday, February 17th, 6-8pm

Exhibition February 17th – April 1st, 2017

Experiments in Form and Fiction celebrates the beauty of the visible and invisible. Photographer Liz Hickok and Ceramicist Shiyuan Xu incorporate chance into their artistic practice through carefully built structures that they then flood with materials to drip, grow and transform the underlying object. The two and three dimensional pieces in the exhibition invite viewers to imagine the infinite possibilities and outcomes these works could have taken and asks us to carefully consider the seemingly random patterns and forms present in the world around us, seen and unseen.

In Hickok’s photographic series Sets and Tests, she experiments with the chemical crystal solutions monoammonium phosphate (MAP) and alum and captures the formations as they grow haphazardly and morph in unusual ways. The photograph serves as a recorded moment in the continual growth of these works. Xu hand builds structures with slabs and coils from the inside out, creating intricate networks. She experiments with various glazes, which she then allows to drip and pool throughout. Firing the form freezes the growing motion.