Sam Gold – Wet from a moonlight swim

3 February to 5 March 2022

Having feet is correlated with walking, but I can walk on my hands if I want to…[1]

Sam Gold’s fingertips trace the cliffs of Hallett Cove. Step by step, mark by mark, layer upon stratified layer, they traverse its form, an undulating terrain beneath the artist’s hands. From the accretions and accruals of earth moulded over time the face of a headland emerges.

Wet from a moonlight swim looks back upon these landscapes from the unbound geography of the ocean. The body floats. Gold is both contained and uncontained, solid yet fluid; they are the materiality of the ocean itself – a threshold between all that is known and every day, and that which melts into the primal airy chaos (apeiron) of beyond.[2]

One of the more esoteric ancient Greek theories of everything, apeiron – the infinite Boundless, as Anaximander described it – was considered responsible for the elements. It was the origin of heat and cold, fission and fusion, that cosmological spark of life as the elements jostled against one another. From apeiron forms emerged, great wheels of life – the sun, the moon, the planets. But equally, it was to apeironthat matter returned. In a metaphysical cycle of creation and destruction, it was only plausible an unbound geography could continuously make and unmake forms.

It is unsurprising for a ceramicist to find metaphor in the elements. For Gold, an artist with more than a decade of experience working in transpersonal art therapy, the alchemy of clay – where earth and water are transformed by fire – is a powerful tool of transmutation. Clay is deeply physical (nothing feels weightier than handfuls of earth) and yet highly symbolic. The slump of a vessel, its flanges and compressions, even hairline fissures that testify to its trial by fire, all materialise Gold’s psyche; the clay body and the artist’s body are simpatico. They echo one another, mirroring and transforming in an endless feedback loop between subject and object; “…my hands are my only tools.”

Despite a perennial tension with objecthood (ceramics has always been celebrated for and burdened by its worship of the object), Gold’s approach to ceramics champions both production and process. The acts of working with clay are occasion for Gold to fall deeper into the crevasses, the folds and dark recesses of the artist’s inner life – to excavate an unbound geography. But, artefacts matter too. Every form unearthed is a document; every object contributes to the artist’s somatic archive.

For Gold’s first solo exhibition at Hugo Michell Gallery, the works of Wet from a moonlight swim reflect said archive. Older techniques jostle up against newer ones in a temporal frisson between the past and present. Bone house (2022), for example, captures the thin vertical coiling of Gold’s earliest works, when the artist sought metaphors for compression and unravelling. Whereas In seams of ripple (2021), Gold’s most recent technical revelations can be observed. Here, clay is pinched outwards, horizontally, in a material attempt to thwart and unlearn an already well-trained muscle memory. Shifts in scale and architecture capture the accretions and accruals of Gold’s practice over time. These objects are not so much evidence of a neat progression but testament to the ebb and flow of the artist’s porousness with the world and themselves. We shape the object, the object shapes us.

To walk with ones hands certainly suits the studio habits of a ceramicist like Gold. But, it is not just about poetic inversion. Rather, for a queer, non-binary artist, it draws out a kind of bodily autonomy. It is a reclamation of the expressive power and utility that resides within the body that might otherwise, if underexplored, remain dormant. As Gold’s hands walk, they trace and navigate the artist’s unbound subjectivity, a shifting inner landscape – an infinite apeiron where the artist can continuously make, unmake and remake themselves.

[1] Robin Dembroff, “Why be nonbinary?, aeon, 30 October, 2018, https://aeon.co/essays/nonbinary-identity-is-a-radical-stance-against-gender-segregation

[2] Ian McLean, White Aborigines: Identity Politics in Australia Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 1.

Belinda Howden, 2022