The phrase “made in-house” has a special—and very literal—meaning to Bean Finneran, who prefers not to construct work for her shows in advance. A few weeks ago, Finneran showed up to the Radius Gallery with 115 boxes and five days to put together her new exhibit, “Bit by Bit.”
“It’s part of the process, and part of the fun,” she says.
To most people, staring down a deadline like that is more like a helping of crippling anxiety on a stick than “fun.” But Finneran says her process is heavily influenced by her background in theater, and she is used to walking into an empty space and working backward.
Besides, she considers the five days she had to prepare and construct in the gallery space downright luxurious—sometimes she only gets one or two. Fueled by flavored sparkling water and pain relievers, Finneran and her four assistants worked to place more than 55,000 ceramic curves in large circles to make three-dimensional sea-creature-like structures across the gallery floor for the sea-anemones-gone-wild “Bit By Bit.”
“They are all hand-rolled, so in all of this there cannot be two that are exactly the same. Besides being conceptually important, it’s just better to do that way.” — Bean Finneran
“I knew I wanted to make rings over there,” she says, gesturing in no particular direction whatsoever. “I am hoping this whole thing feels reef-like.”
She flits about the gallery placing individual curves into rings; her blue coat trails around her knees as she hops from box to box looking for the right curves. Each curve is hand-rolled then glazed and fired. The curves are individually placed in a circle structure, held together only by other surrounding curves, the shape takes on a form of its own. It takes anywhere from 8,000 to 13,000 to make a medium-sized ring.
“You could never do this in anything but clay,” Finneran assures me, noting that she would love to dabble in porcelain work, but it is just much too rigid for her means. “They are all hand-rolled, so in all of this there cannot be two that are exactly the same. Besides being conceptually important, it’s just better to do that way.”
Finneran also mounted plate-shaped discs of various sizes on the wall, resembling bubbles in accordance with the marine-life concept. The discs are new additions for her, and like her curves, each disc is unique in featuring a different glaze pattern.
The exhibit is part of the countywide “Spoken/Unspoken” series organized by the Cabrillo Gallery, with funding provided by the Roy and Frances Rydell Visual Arts Fund at Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County. The series includes 11 countywide shows from winter through spring, at galleries like Radius, R. Blitzer, UCSC’s Mary Porter Sesnon, and Museo Eduardo.
The “Spoken/Unspoken” theme factors into this exhibit in a more abstract way. While UCSC and the R. Blitzer Galleries are focusing on more activism aspects and unspoken narratives, the intent behind the Radius Gallery’s show with Finneran is the process behind the exhibit. Since Finneran doesn’t actually know what the exhibit will look like until it is completed, the journey is one of unspoken, unseen collaboration, says Radius Gallery director and owner Ann Hazels.
“It’s a bit more poetic, I think, than the [approach] other venues are taking,” Hazels says. “There is such a musicality in her work, and its a visual vocabulary not a word-based vocabulary. A lot of it is about the color, response and communication and the dialogue and experience you have when you walk through the space.”
Finneran fittingly focused on circular rings because of the name Radius Gallery. Whether it’s a ring, sphere or plate, everything is circular and coherent.
“It’s a difficult thing to articulate, what the relationship to Spoken/Unspoken is,” says Finneran. “To me it seems obvious that there is this language that happens when you install work, and you are responding. All the hand placement of each piece, it has such an impact. It’s definitely a process.”
The Radius Gallery hosts an artist’s talk with Bean Finneran at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 18. Radius Gallery, 1050 River St. #127, Santa Cruz. “Bit By Bit” is on display through Sunday, April 8. For more information about the show, visit radius.gallery.