Meet the Artists: Rowland Ricketts from Forces of Nature Renwick Invitational 2020

  • ROWLAND RICKETTS: My name is Rowland Ricketts, and I’m hear to talk with you about “Ai No Keshiki – Indigo Views,” my work that is included in “Forces of Nature: the Renwick Invitational 2020” at the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

    I work with indigo that I grow and process here in Wilmington, Indiana. I really came to this work in sort of an indirect, round-about way. When I was in college, I spent my junior year abroad in Japan and had studied Japanese. When I graduated, I wanted to really use the language that I had studied, so I went back to Japan. This got me started on a path working with natural dyes, and then that led to an interest in indigo. I moved to Tokushima Prefecture where I spent two years working as an apprentice, learning to farm and process indigo.

    My work in this exhibition is a large scale, immersive installation that was made in collaboration with 450 people from around the world. We sent them a length of dyed indigo cloth, a small piece that you’ll see in the installation, for them to live with. After seven months, we had everyone send the cloth back, and we put them together into the installation that you see in the gallery. It’s very much meant to be an immersive space, so there is a sound component as well that you’ll hear in the installation.

    NORBERT HERBER: The main sound of the installation is shaped through recordings of the process of growing, farming, processing the dye, dying the cloth itself, everything that comes from historical Japanese indigo production. I’ve recorded hundreds of sounds over the years that we’ve been collaborating, and those are used as a kind of filter for the main sound of the installation. I like the idea of having something that would unfold slowly but coming out of the speaker and be delicate and also require a certain amount of time for someone to understand or to be able to put together with a number of other sounds that would be there.

    RR: The lighting was developed specifically for the installation at the Renwick to somewhat mimic the cloth in the box and this sort of shifting and changing of light over time. There’s a delicacy to the work and a fragility. Other craft traditions, like ceramics for example, takes earth and turns it into essentially stone and makes things that will survive for a very long time. Working with cloth and textiles and dyes that is not the case from the get-go. There is an inherent futility, but I also think that’s part of the beauty of the process and the work itself.

    I hope that the installation creates a space for people to slow down. In the work, I think there’s a very strong sense of the power of the collective, and so I would hope that visitors leave with a sense of time and their connections to others and to the greater world around them.

    Forces of Nature: Renwick Invitational 2020 artist Rowland Rickets uses an artistic approach that inextricably links process and outcome to create contemporary textiles and immersive site-specific installations. Ricketts works in a holistic “farm-to-gallery” creative practice that begins on his farm, where he cultivates the indigo plants he uses to color his artwork, fully linking his material and process with the finished product. Ricketts often incorporates participatory engagement from non-artists, emphasizing the relationship between nature, culture, the passage of time, and everyday life. Learn more about Ricketts and his installation Ai No Keshiki – Indigo Views featured in Forces of Nature: Renwick Invitational 2020.

    Forces of Nature: Renwick Invitational 2020 on view at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum from October 16, 2020 to June 27, 2021. The exhibition features artists Lauren Fensterstock, Timothy Horn, Debora Moore, and Rowland Ricketts. Each of these invited artists looks to nature as a way to contemplate what it means to be human in a world increasingly chaotic and divorced from our physical landscape. Representing craft media from fiber to mosaic to glass and metals, these artists approach the long history of art’s engagement with the natural world through unconventional and highly personal perspectives.

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