Working in porcelain and earthenware, McKenzie’s highly technical process of multiple firings, raku firings, transforming photo images into iron oxide decals all highlight a focus on haptic and visual connection. Investigating family histories through personal photo archives, McKenzie credits an inclination for geometric forms that inform her process1Phone Interview with Heidi McKenzie, August 18th, 2020.. In her body of work, McKenzie’s investigation of dual identities and mixed-race heritage coalesce into uncanny geometric forms, from polyhedron blocks, playing cards, and a hanging mobile that give glimpses into the lives of people we do not yet know, but will by the end of the exhibition.
Beginning with "House of Cards" (2019), thin porcelain pieces are stacked atop one another in a tower, the face of each card a photograph. In an allegory of fragility, McKenzie connected her investigations into her family’s history which yielded a photograph of her great-great grandmother, who came from Calcutta to Guyana circa 1865 to work as an indentured labourer2Ibid., to the fragility of her father’s immigration to Canada to build a new home. Illuminated in the porcelain tiles, given the familiar shape of playing cards easily recognizable and familiar to the eye, the narratives intersect. In applying images to an unglazed surface, McKenzie draws attention to the haptic experience of clay through a visual medium. The body of work of "Family Matters" sublimated her ideas from the Australian Triennale’s theme of "Holding Space, Making Place" in 2019, bringing McKenzie’s family's immigrant histories into the public eye by weaving narrative and clay forms together. The impetus for the work is auto-biographical3Ibid., as McKenzie interweaves family history with historical trauma, manifested in both the clay and in the human body.
"Body Interrupted"4This work was not on display at the Gardiner Museum due to technical restrictions but forms part of the body of work of "Family Matters." (2016), a hanging mobile with fragmented images of Joseph Addison McKenzie, the artist’s father, a parallax between photographs from his life and his fragmented body in a state of an eternal present, bearing the physical marks of his life. The fragile nature of suspended clay mimics the fragility of the human body and of memory, a tangible physical presence with an inherent vulnerability. A mobile hangs suspended, moving in a shift of breeze, marking the importance of a physical presence for movement, tying the viewer into the piece itself even without physical touch. McKenzie relates her father’s physical struggles with her own, and pairs this work with "Moving Forward" (2016), later renamed "Boxed In", depicting fragments of her own body on polyhedron blocks that were slip cast, as illness had prevented her from throwing on a wheel5Phone Interview with Heidi McKenzie, August 18th, 2020.. Creating an archive through images, McKenzie works through and links her physical body to the clay body, and herself to her father through a visual language of absence and presence. A synecdoche for connection, "Boxed In" (2016) is a conversation between the physical body, the immediacy of geometric form colliding with our visual understanding of the intimate nature of a hand, the echo of memory in a gaze, each work connected as if seeking one another. Absence depicted on blank facets, jarring and devoid of the familiarity of the body, a severing of connection. McKenzie’s work does not shy away from pain, her work leans into discomfort to confront a pointed absence, a painful presence, and the ever-present spectre of colonization. McKenzie’s work is the making of memory through images and the familiarity of objects rendered in clay.
Moving Forward, 11cm x 11cm x 11cm "cubes", porcelain/iron-oxide ceramic decal, 2015, photo credit: Dale Roddick
Body Interrupted (Detail), 30cm x 28cm x 0.7cm, earthenware, glaze, iron-oxide ceramic decal, 2016, photo credit: Heidi McKenzie
Postmarked (Detail), 14cm x 14cm x 14cm each tetrahedron, porcelain, iron-oxide decal, 2017, photo credit: Heidi McKenzie
Illuminated (Detail), Large: 37cm x 18cm x 18cm; Medium: 31cm x 16.5cm x 16.5cm; Small: 29cm 14.5cmx 14.5cm, hand-pressed porcelain, iron-oxide decal, wood, metal, LED fixtures, 2020, photo credit: Dale Roddick
Building Blocks (Detail), prisms: 28 cm x 14cm x 14cm; half-cylinder: 14cm x 14cm x 7cm, stoneware, iron-oxide decal, 2020, photo credit: Ali Kazimi
Division,163cm x 86cm x 3cm, Hand-made porcelain, hand-pressed tiles with iron-oxide ceramic decal, on frosted plexiglass, in pre-made wood room divider, Each of the 15 plexiglass panes is 20cm wide x 25.4cm high., 2020, photo credit: Dale Roddick
House of Cards (Detail), (image of artist's father, circa 1950) 11.5cm x 16.5cm x 0.05cm, porcelain ceramic substrate, iron-oxide ceramic decal, 2019, photo credit, Heidi McKenzie
House of Cards, 40cm x 60cm x 11.5cm, porcelain ceramic substrate, iron-oxide ceramic decal, 2019, photo credit, courtesy of Latcham Art Gallery.
Postmarked (Installation View), each tetrahedron 14cm x 14m x 14cm , porcelain, iron-oxide ceramic decal, 2017, photo credit: Josie Slaughter
House of Cards (Detail) (image of artist's parents, circa 1955) 11.5cm x 16.5cm x 0.05cm, porcelain ceramic substrate, iron-oxide ceramic decal, 2019, photo credit, Heidi McKenzie
Body Interrupted: Joseph Addison McKenzie, 150cm x 150cm x 20cm (variable) earthenware, slab-built with ceramic decals, wheel-thrown raku, aircraft cabling, installation view, Walnut Contemporary, Toronto, 2016, photo credit: Heidi McKenzie
1 Phone Interview with Heidi McKenzie, August 18th, 2020.
4 This work was not on display at the Gardiner Museum due to technical restrictions but forms part of the body of work of "Family Matters."
5 Phone Interview with Heidi McKenzie, August 18th, 2020.
8 Heidi McKenzie credits potter Angelo di Petta with giving her the idea to make her own tiles.