Shannon Goff

Shannon hails from the Motor City, having received her BFA from the University of Michigan and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. She has been the recipient of a Japanese Monbusho grant and twice awarded residencies to the John Michael Kohler Arts/Industry program. Her work has recently been included in exhibitions at the Knockdown Center in Queens, NY; Susanne Hilberry Gallery in Ferndale, MI; Printed Matter in NYC; the San Jose Museum of Art; UC-Northridge; and in Beijing, Berlin, Chicago, London and Australia. Recent reviews of her work have been featured in Hyperallergic, DesignBoom, Colossal, FastCoDesign, and Cfile. She is an associate professor of Sculpture and Ceramics at Penn State University. Shannon and her artist inventor husband, Tom Lauerman live in Central PA with their two tiny artists-in-residence.

The privilege of movement preoccupies my practice. Interchange and transit continue to be my artistic landscape. Notions of the American dream and the open road linger like highway white noise. Witnessing infants gain mobility and elders lose movement drives the work through a metroplex of temporal beauty and raw irony. The only way to move is forward, and this often means in, around and through. As someone trained in ceramics that employs craft based media to make sculpture, I feel most fortunate to straddle, disrupt and expand these areas. I identify well with Sarah Archer who writes, “ There’s a difference between those who understand skill and craftsmanship as an absolute value and those who see it as a moving target, a motif to be deployed in context, like any skilled postmodernist.” 1

I make objects from cardboard and clay. My work, however, is heavily rooted in the practice of drawing. Drawing is a linear tool—a tangible way to investigate, think and visually translate an idea into space. It is a generative process that propels my explorations from description to interpretation and abstraction where new questions and possibilities arise. A line can manifest itself in a myriad of ways from the simple to the abstruse. Clay is liberating as a drawing material. The material is the structure, the line itself. With cardboard, the line is often created by an intense infrastructure that demarcates where two planes almost meet. As a maker, I oscillate between translating line through negative space and drawing out loud in three dimensions. These two distinct approaches yield sculptural work in cardboard and clay that is seemingly disparate yet exploit the buoyancy of line and a commitment to hand building. They operate like dialects of a language. They speak to each other, and most often run parallel, but I always await their collision.

I’m drawn toward making something that has a kind of history I can connect with. Cardboard and clay are both imbued with questionable histories that intrigue me and open up potential for seeing things in new ways. Cardboard has a do-it-yourself Detroit-like legacy of being on the lowbrow, while clay has a highbrow tradition of being the original body that carried images of histories and communities—it came before paper and writing.

My clay work begins with ‘shards’ or broken kiln shelves. Cardboard floats as it falls to the ground. Both are material properties not usually seen to be part of the function. I re-purpose perceived limits into possibility. I tilt at received histories and traditions as well as institutional histories and conventional ceramic practices in tandem. Each one has its own confrontation with gravity. I work on the edge of chaos and the beneficial space of failure. Chaos can’t be fully controlled, so it’s limited because accidents can’t be replicated, but it’s limitless because of where it might take me.

I didn’t initially set out to be an artist who works with cardboard. Cardboard possesses immeasurable qualities and the more I worked with it the less I thought of it as an intermediate material. Cardboard, like clay, is massively abundant, recyclable and particularly workable. Cardboard can be cut, torn, folded, compressed, laminated, peeled, or woven, and like clay it can be smushed into place, directly with the hand. Also like wood, it has a particular “grain” orientation, owing to the directionality of the corrugation, which can be exploited for structural or textural effect. This planar material is similar to a sheet of plywood or a slab of clay.

The larger scale cardboard work is born from a drawn out process that develops over a long duration. I come to understand why an object came to be, concurrent to making it. There’s no formula for this hands on way of translating. To translate is to accept slippage—it’s interpretive rather than merely descriptive. I curate what I feel necessary and invent how to inflate the drawing into space, component by component. The time investment is great, progress slow and steady. The hand labor involved adds to the content.

In my recent Miles to Empty project, Sarah Rich captures my language of translating as“reimagining.

”Her car is not so much the simulacrum of a commodity, but rather an intimate
reimagining. As one person making a single car, Goff has been both designer and
laborer. While she might have escaped the alienation of assembly line work through
which cars and cardboard are typically produced, she has developed an extraordinarily
intense relationship to her material and the object she made of it. Her massive hulk of
a car consists of obsessive, meticulous gestures made in love and admiration, as well
as boredom and frustration. 2

The cardboard and the clay work often happen simultaneously and in reaction to each other. They both approach assembly-line work differently. Most of the recent clay work operates on a more intimate scale. Drawing out loud in clay allows me to test the conceptual and structural limitations of the material. Accumulation and repetition taunt gravity. I like to tease it, introduce chaos into the perceived order. Vince Carducci comments on the dialectical relationship cardboard and clay in my recent solo show at Susanne Hilberry gallery. He suggests that, whereas “the Mark V renders the universal stamping process of mechanical reproduction particular, the ceramic sculptures extend their particulars to a universal, in this case a narrative of assembly made palpable by the accretion of elements used in their manufacture.” 3

Themes of containment and collapse, power and opulence, landscape and structure, sustainability and escape, obsolescence and timelessness punctuate my practice. Much of my work is influenced by place, history, design and how advancements in technology shape and shift behavior. My work honors and parodies. It is peppered with a bit of nostalgia for a seemingly simpler time. I strive to elevate humble materials into objects of abstraction, utility and iconic luxury while processing the complexities of my personal history. Notions of assembly are integral to my work, in projects of laborious intensity or forms that reveal a steady rhythm. My abstract clay structures share the gestural line of my cardboard sculptures, embracing the nuances and limitations of what a handmade object reveals. Like the privilege of movement affords the young and denies the old, all of this drawing generates work vacillating between memory, loss, humor and hope.

As an artist, I lean heavily on atypical art materials, like cardboard, for which there are no comprehensive guidelines for use. Yet with more traditional material, like clay, I tend to employ forming methods that are improvisational and risky. My free-range practice tools along , navigating through imaginary mobility, ghosts of the past and torrid relationships
with structure. Gravity remains a constant tutor, a back seat driver as I toil with material in an attempt to craft a buoyancy of gestural line. I work without a map or a manual , but with
a penchant for DIY learning and the ultimate goal of achieving velocity.

1 Sarah Archer (2014). The Meaning of Clay at the Whitney Biennial, April 24. Retrieved from
2 Rich, S. (in press). Shannon Goff and the Luxury of Carton Ondulé. In Shannon Goff: Miles to
3 Carducci, V. (in press). Shannon Goff: The Work of Art After the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,
In Shannon Goff: Miles to Empty.