Future Retrieval’s “Close Parallel” Exhibition Launches This Month at Cincinnati Art Museum
Katie Parker and Guy Michael Davis – aka art duo (and married couple) Future Retrieval – spent most of 2020 creating art for their solo exhibition Close Parallel for the Cincinnati Art Museum, which opens Feb. 26. It’s the biggest show of their lives, they say — one that has been years in the making.
After years in Cincinnati, the pair moved to Arizona in late June of 2020. In many ways, Close Parallel represents the nexus of their time in the Queen City. The exhibition contextualizes ceramics selected from the museum’s permanent collection with the duo’s contemporary works.
And like much of Future Retrieval’s body of work, natural forms are explored: A vulture lurches atop a troop of mushrooms, cast in porcelain; a pair of rhesus monkeys gaze at one another in wool shag; various flora and fauna stretch, swirl and slink on hand-cut paper, vases and tile.
Their collaborative studio practice first formed in 2008. At the time, they were working with two other artists in Columbus, Ohio under the moniker Nonfiction Design Collective. That group split when Parker and Davis accepted positions at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design Architecture, Art and Planning, but Parker and Davis continued working together.
“I was really interested in pattern, and he was really interested in clean, simple forms,” Parker says. “I’d start decorating his forms and then he would start making forms for me to decorate. Slowly it came to where we were developing concepts and making everything from start to finish, maybe not hand in hand, but the ideas and the concepts from then forward.”
By 2011, the pair had a show at the Taft Museum of Art downtown. The collaboration stuck – and so did the name Future Retrieval, coined after a term Parker and Davis found on their student loan forms.
Future Retrieval has since shown at a number of solo and group exhibitions locally and beyond. They’ve also completed several residencies, including at Rookwood Pottery, a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, a stay at laspis – a studio in Stockholm, Sweden – and, most recently, at Lloyd Library and Museum in 2019.
And now the duo is ready for their Close Parallel exhibition for the Cincinnati Art Museum. Amy Dehan, CAM curator of decorative arts and design, says in a release that she loves how museums and archives are integral to Future Retrieval’s work, which takes on an interdisciplinary approach.
“They find inspiration from the past, and in referencing it and paying reverence, they create something completely new, propelling it into the contemporary,” says Dehan, who toured Parker and Davis through the museum’s storage vaults for the show. They chose pieces ranging from the 18th to early 20th century that shared a likeness with their own art, which date between 2014 and 2020. From the museum’s archives, works chosen include Art Deco furniture from Paul Frankel, a Meissen tureen, a table based on the designs of French sculptor Bernard Turreau and pieces from Elkington & Co., an English silver manufacturer.
“Amy was just pulling trays. We were looking at what’s there, at furniture, and just quickly and intuitively responding to different pieces,” Parker says of the process. “We took photos, went back to our studio and started to talk about ‘How can we use these pieces? How could they work with ideas we have?’”
Davis says that they have always admired Meissen, the first European hard-paste porcelain. When they found the Meissen candler tureen, it had a mysterious air about it. Supposedly, it was a gift from Saxony to the Queen of Naples that eventually landed in the basement of CAM.
“It may not be what it is. It may be a fake. It may not even have that entire story at all, we don’t really know,” Davis says, with Parker noting that the piece had a crack in its bottom. They ran the tureen through photogrammetry software with the hopes of giving it new life. But every 3-D model created produced a crack in the same spot. The imperfection could not be corrected, despite centuries between the piece and the duo. The process was quite literally, parallel with history.
“One of the Elkington pieces we had picked turned out [to be] a copy of a copy. And so, it’s this idea of reproducibility,” Parker says, “and how, 250 years later working with some of these objects, we still can’t fix the problems they couldn’t fix, even with technology.”
They returned to CAM several times, including right before their move to Arizona, where Parker took a position as assistant director and associate professor at Arizona State University. Much of the coordination, however, was taken online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
And in October, another aspect of their lives shifted: Parker and Davis had twins.
“I don’t know if it is visible to people when they see the show. But a few pieces were made prior to whenever we went underground (due to the pandemic),” Davis says. “But several of the pieces that were made afterward were probably unconsciously doomsday looking. Things got darker!”
Though not planned, Davis said there’s a room about the sun and another about the moon.
“It wasn’t until the experience happened and we look back on it,” Davis said. “We were like, ‘Whoa, there’s really a night and day here.”
Parker adds that the glazes and forms evolved.
“There’s vultures; there’s mushrooms. It’s like this decay or abandonment,” she says. “The last piece we made was a screen. I was thinking maybe we made this screen because we moved to this tiny house; we can’t get away from each other. There’s no place to have our meetings and work.”
They made what they were experiencing, Davis says, and screens are about dividing people. But, as Parker notes, the pandemic also gave them time and space to “hole up and make a show” uninterrupted.
The resources they were able to tap for materials also changed. Once in Arizona, their scenario shifted again.
“We work at home. We built a little building out back,” Davis says. “We don’t have access to the things that we’re comfortable with. And we don’t have the time that we had and the work is changing, based on what we can get. I kind of love that.”
The duo’s body of work has a feeling unique to Cincinnati, having watered their roots here for over a decade. To have the biggest show of their lives to date on the heels of their move and amid a global pandemic is certainly bittersweet. Though Parker and Davis won’t be able to attend the show’s opening at CAM, they hope to visit in May.
One consolation? Had they remained at their home in Northside, they’d still be meeting mostly over Zoom to hash the rest of the show out. Along with countless meetings, Parker says CAM mailed them “giant paint books” and showed them mock-ups to figure out how to paint the gallery. The installation team sent pictures from the warehouses as they built things and as they arranged the pieces in the galleries.
As Parker points out: “It all works again.” It’s just a new way of working compared to a “normal” year.
“The support (from the museum and community) was amazing. Just to be able to have that opportunity to put ourselves in some type of a lineage,”
Davis says. “We call the show Close Parallel. And that’s because we’re running so closely to things that are kind of constant. And we’re aligning ourselves with these [historical pieces]. And so it’s really an honor, in a way, to be able to pair ourselves with some of these things that we love so much.”
It may very well be the final chapter of their Cincinnati years. Now living in an entirely new biome, Parker says their work will evolve. The duo describes their new surroundings as dry, rough, gritty, dusty and sharp. Arizona’s museum collections are also less Euro-centric.
In the end, Parker says it felt amazing to reach out to all the local resources – framers, fabricators, Neonworks of Cincinnati, powder coaters and others – they’ve worked with to finalize the work for Close Parallel.
“It’s something we’re so crazy proud of,” Parker says. “And just everyone coming up with every solution possible to make it work.”
Housed in the Vance Waddell and Mayerson Galleries at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Close Parallel will be on view Feb. 26-Aug. 29. Admission is free.