Oklahoma Contemporary
David Stevens, Studio-in-Place artist
A figure wearing a maroon University of Oklahoma baseball cap looks directly into the camera

New Light

Aug. 05, 2020

#StudioInPlace: Imaginary Cultures

David Stevens' August digital residency project blends ceramics and storytelling
An abstract ceramic chunk, pictured sitting atop green grass in a tightly cropped photo
Is this a fragment from a forgotten culture or a figment of Studio-in-Place artist David Stevens' imagination? The artist's digital residency project blurs the lines between cultural study and speculative fiction.

"Lost civilizations" have always fascinated Studio-in-Place artist David Stevens. The Oklahoma Contemporary ceramics program and studio manager in part credits an early viewing of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in which the adventuring title character goes on a spellbinding quest for the fabled Holy Grail. "George Lucas didn't create any of the things in that context," Stevens said, referring to the series' depiction of historical sites like the lost City of Petra. "He just changed the context."

This is some of what animates Stevens' Studio-in-Place project. Part cultural study and part speculative fiction, his August digital residency initiative will blend ceramics and storytelling to create work exploring the cultures of world history that might have been. "Growing up, I loved reading about the Seven Wonders of the World and ancient Greece and all that," he said. "But the older I got, the more I realized I wasn't necessarily fascinated with the cultures as much as what they left behind. As I started watching and reading more sci-fi, I became really interested in these imaginary ancient cultures that are just a brainchild of either an author or an artist."

Stories don't have to be true. They just have to be good.

— David Stevens, Studio-in-Place artist
A figure examines a golden goblet in a still image from the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Continuing a body of work he began in graduate school, Stevens' August Studio-in-Place project will result in a series of tabletop sculptures of fragments and maquettes from invented civilizations in what the artist playfully calls "a painful misinterpretation of human history."

As with past Studio-in-Place projects, Stevens' requires a little help from the public. The artist is seeking submissions for stories to integrate into the work. Whether they're family anecdotes or books and articles you've read about ancient civilizations, fairy tales and misinterpretations of objects, he welcomes your submissions to studioschool@okcontemp.org by Sunday, Aug. 9.

Share your favorite historical (or not-quite-historical) yarn with Stevens, and it just might be incorporated into a one-of-a-kind piece crafted by the artist. In the meantime, check out his #ThursdayThree installment to learn more about Stevens' practice — and be sure to follow along here and on our social media channels as he "unearths" fragments from civilizations real and imagined.

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