Time for Tee: the magic of everyday objects

Jennifer Tee’s sculptures, urns and rugs aim to put the audience off balance

Jennifer Tee with one of her handwoven rugs

Jennifer Tee with one of her handwoven rugs


The notion of art as magic is nothing new. A musical, theatrical or visual art experience often propels us into an instantly altered state; poetry can work a slower spell, casting its net over the memory for hours or days. But when an exhibition is entitled Practical Magic, you might expect Hogwarts-style wizardry lessons or the opportunity to try out an invisibility cloak.

The new, specially-commissioned show by that name at Project Arts Centre, however, is a much less literal affair. And yet the title is apt. Practical Magic will see Project’s gallery space transformed into a wonderland in which the visitor can have a close encounter with the colourful sculptures, ceramics and handwoven rugs of the Amsterdam-born artist Jennifer Tee.

“The rugs,” says Project’s Tessa Giblin, who curated and commissioned the show, “are designed to destabilise your sense of space. See that one?” She indicates a spider’s web of finely stitched blue and purple hues. “The centre is not the centre – so already you have that shift of perspective that they perfected during the Renaissance. They’re really, really flat to the ground – imagine very thin knitting just laid on the ground – so the design element of this destabilisation is actually very powerful.”

Then there are Tee’s conical ceramic urns, each inscribed with a word – “selfhood”, say, or “meltdown” – which Giblin describes as “stumpy”.

Stumpy? She laughs. “They’re wobbly, like a badly made ice-cream cone. If you can imagine coiling ceramics, sometimes it gets the wobbles – and Jennifer wanted that. Ceramics are so permanent. She wanted these to have a slightly unstable appearance.”

Like the rugs, the urns are uncomplicated objects, accessible on the surface, yet endlessly allusive. “There’s an urn, and inside the urn is the hint that it might hold something – a dead body, or a spice chamber,” says Giblin.

Once again Tee’s aim is to destabilise the vessel so that it becomes pregnant with meaning and association rather than a purely formal art object. In a similar way, the milky-blue surface of her glazed demi-balls is open to many interpretations. Maybe they are drops of water; maybe they are crystal balls.

It is this playful combination of geometric and spontaneous, rational and irrational, highly conceptualised yet gorgeously tactile, which attracted Giblin to Tee’s work, and inspired her to commission this new exhibition. “It’s very risky, asking an artist to produce a new show like this,” she admits. “You can’t say, ‘Oh, I saw that great show you did at the Tate in London – could you just do that again for us?’ ”

But it’s also exciting. “I think people will really be drawn in by the gleam of the pieces - by their textural qualities,” says Giblin.

“But I hope that the oddness, the stumpiness of the urns, the destabilisation in the mats, will just make people pause, and inspire them to think. Are these more than really beautiful objects? Are all objects more than just pretty things? Why do objects accumulate meaning? Could this thing be more than an artwork? Could I make it more than that, just by perceiving it?”

Practical Magic is at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, from Thursday until October 26

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