The Intuitive Body—The Sculpture of Alison Petty Ragguette

The sculpture of Alison Petty Ragguette is an ontological exploration that examines the physiological developments and philosophical processes of life. Created by juxtaposing materials that both counter and embrace one another, the artist merges porcelain clay, silicone rubber, pigment, silk, and glass. Her objects are playfully seductive, producing compositions that flex, spill, dilate, bulge, and bubble, exploring the wondrous anatomical transformations that occur beneath our skin. Her concentration at the cellular levels, viscera systems, and interests with fundamental biomechanical relationships create narratives that communicate how our physical forms manifest in the emotional, mental, and energetic layers of our being.

Ragguette’s sculptures allow the viewer opportunities to fully engage with the nature of ourselves. Our bodies are wondrous miracles of movement, and the artist celebrates the process, morphology, and rawness of its truth, investigating the relationships that co-exist between their structures and purposes. Intimate and mysterious, her works symbolize isolated aspects of us. She exposes evidence of vitality (or the lack thereof) due to the cyclical bond and influences that occur between our internal and external environments. Nevertheless, the qualities of each object demonstrate resiliency. Her amorphous bodies are unbiased, and neither express positive or negative qualities but rather express neutrality and remain scientific in nature. They are sculpted as if the forces of matter and energy have responded to a natural occurrence. Cause and effect are at play, and emotional responses are the projection of viewers’ experiences when interacting with her work.

Ragguette celebrates the endless possibilities that exist within the untamable coordination of nature. She fleshes-out her visions with curiosity and experimentation, while her fascination with symbiotic structures and the co-existence of opposing energies continue to drive her concepts and push boundaries. Her use of soft, malleable, and rigid materials mirrors physics and balances the forces of nurturing and dominant behavior. Ragguette’s combinations are thoughtfully constructed and demonstrate the mutually beneficial association of two or more elements that live and grow together. Honoring the contrasts, she presents alluring foreign and familiar hybrids that push, pull, and

metamorphosize. Coating them with shiny, candy-like colors stimulate a visual appeal that entices with playful approachability.

Porcelain, the purest and most delicate of clay, remains principal to Ragguette’s work. Symbolic of our bones and containing some of the most abundant elements in the Earth’s crust, porcelain’s soft sediment and creamy plasticity is responsive to touch, possessing almost mystical qualities. Working in relationship with the artist’s hand, it plays into the evolution of her concepts of molecular rearrangement and synthesis. Retaining a memory, porcelain is an intuitive material, and its tender strength transforms itself as hard as glass after its firing. Coupling this historically resilient material with rubber offers the ephemeral contrast Ragguette desires. Rubber’s limited lifespan plays a crucial role to furthering her concepts—symbolically paralleling the functions that organisms adopt in order to facilitate growth, maturation, and birth. The rubber, although considered a low-grade material, continues to remain significant acting as a flexible barrier, a placenta, in harmony with the other materials.

The clues to observing and empathizing with her compositions are in the details and embellishments of her materials. Each series Ragguette produces explores subtle and meaningful developments that depict growth and mechanisms for survival. The porcelain and glass of her Aminoforms or Congealed Series are encapsulated in rubber, acting as protective membranes that guard against the threats of the external environment. The surrounding cords and tubes incorporated in her Connectors Series and Visceralab symbolize the vital communicators that transmit power and connection. With her dramatic Somatic Spill Series, the oozing puddles act as visual evidence when similar forces collide, glitch, or unite euphorically. The careful details of her silk add colorful and fibrous textures that float beneath the silicone skin of her Cross Section Series, a luscious, intestine-like work that references the sensitive nerves destined to signal and unify all vital organs. Ragguette’s physical representations of transformational processes connect to our experiences and stories of personal origin, such as the births of our loved ones, formulating ideas, or our observations of others during transition. The symbolic object she has created communicates the transference of energy, bringing potential and promise—concepts that promote universal alignment that we are all organically connected.

Ragguette’s newest series, Manipulatives, moves away from the deeply physical subjects of her previous work and into a psychological layer, bringing the external world inward using toy-like sculptures. Offering a platform for playtime, Ragguette revisits those childhood moments when time was expansive, imagination was limitless, and the chance to explore and play was luxurious. Influenced by the fidget objects used in child therapy, her Manipulatives incorporate familiar, non-threatening objects that beckon our attention. Partially nostalgic, her work (reminiscent of her early series Touch Objects) combines classic shapes such as water faucet knobs, valve handles, vintage fan blades, plumbing pipes and fittings, rubber bulb horns, and oversized shapes fashioned after the celebrated children’s floor game Jacks. Similar to fidgets, these sculptures are friendly, prompt calm concentration, and invoke learning through tactile awareness. Ragguette positions the child as our expert to remind adults about the importance of free play. Play is process oriented, instead of goal directed, and cultivates creative skills, imagination, communication, and cooperation.

Upon further observation of her Manipulatives, gooey leakage appears, Ragguette’s signature evidence that something is awry. Recognition might occur to the viewer that the valves are disconnected and the bubbling pastel liquids that pool and spill down the surfaces cause messy satisfaction. Ragguette reminds us that ideas of play are experimental and can be precarious without knowing the consequences. While the downside of play can bring certain hazards—such as how touching brings risks for spreading germs seen in her Pathogen Playground installation—the artist again presents dualistic outcomes. Being open to play is to embrace the unknown, to be in the moment, and allow room for failure. The opposite spectrum breeds fear, thus limiting our experience and potential. Staying in our safety zones can crush our dreams and deactivate attainment of our true potential. While balance is key, we will find that experimentation can be worth the risk. Ragguette clearly has chosen a life seriously dedicated to play by making art. She revels in the clues exposed by a sticky mess and proposes that although play can be dangerous, it allows for us to move toward new ideas and revelations. Her Manipulatives challenge us to invite play back into our adult lives, to allow disorder and embrace duality. She trusts that our bodies have intuitive intelligence that guide us towards new developments that make us stronger.

The artwork of Alison Petty Ragguette is palpable. Her imaginative and complex sculptures push aesthetic, material, and conceptual boundaries. She skillfully imbues her objects with elements that demonstrate a capacity to grow, adapt, and endure. Ideas of duality permeate every inch, coil, and cavity that surrenders to the mechanics of her choice. Regarding life as a transformational journey, she purposefully positions her sculpture to possess vitality and vulnerability, a combination that speaks to the technology of nature. The ontological approach of her work finds equilibrium between our biomechanical side and the consciousness that supports it propelled by our immaterial energies. Each object represents the processes, histories, and influences that have surrounded her as she discovers her own potentiality and personal power. Her authenticity has formed like her congealed layers, a gestation of perfect timing, and birthed through an intuitive, persistent, and resilient process.

Written by Karen Crews Hendon March 2016
Monterey, CA