This ceramic piece is soiled with living. A power strip and a power cord with a three-pronged plug. The ceramic is painted to resemble black plastic, black rubber, with a ridged red button and yellow prongs and screw. The colors are few. The wear is severe. The sense of electricity, of wear-and-tear, of overuse, of exhaustion, of tangled projects, failed dreams, bent personalities — it’s all conjured by this piece. The fact that it is presented on a scuffed cement floor, alongside some cigarette butts, and stains… perfect.
My question, looking at this, entering into the object, is: what is that secret joy that we take in skillful handling? The electrician, or gaffer, or tech support, or whoever it was who operated this power strip (in our imagination), the nicotine-addict who rained cigarettes at the floor — this guy or girl was doing something productively. You feel it. There were mistakes made, sure, but the kind anyone would make it — hey, we’re human. Get some coffee. Refocus. But overall, at the end of the day, at the end of the long night, when he or she crawled into an unmade bed, unwashed sheets, snapped off the light, the world was all snapped-together, made whole, by the daily, modest, unthinking application of skills. There is a joy, a lurking joy, not one that yelps or pumps a fist, or gets flowers delivered onto the stage, but a joy nevertheless, in this steady skillful handling.
I applaud the artist for drawing our attention to it — and skillfully handling this ceramic work in a meta-demonstration of the subject.
One last comment, though. Aren’t those five empty circles — blackened, semi-melted — where the prongs would plug into the power strip, aren’t they hideous? They frighten me in an existential way. I find myself having to look away, to the poorly coiled cord, to the cigarettes. To stay focused on those five circles is impossible. Tell me if you can do it.