Joel Young

What Can I Do? (2022)


300 porcelain units, between 1” (2.5 cm) and 4” (10 cm) in diameter; Birch plywood, 18” x 17” x 10” (45 x 43 x 25 cm), 32” x 32” x 27” (81 x 81 x 68 cm), 12” x 12” x 60” (30 x 30 x 150 cm); digital photo prints, 12” x 18” (30 x 45 cm)

What Can I Do? is a multimedia installation project that explores material processes, political dialogue, and land relations. The work consists of a set of 300 glazed porcelain sculptures cast from geological debris found in the Montreal/Tiohtià:ke/Mooniyang urban area, three digital photo prints, and a wooden display and seating area that invites audience participation.

This project developed in phases that built off of one another, wherein civic actions would inspire craft production, and vice versa. I wrote a letter to my MNA expressing concern and disdain for a recent decision by the Quebec government not to establish a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation for the victims of residential schools in Canada. Having taken this one small action, questioning its futility and ephemerality, I wanted to find a way to concretize words. I wanted to find a way to concretize words. Walking along the railway tracks that day, I considered the violence enacted upon this land, and picked up a handful of stones. Taking porcelain imprints of these handheld geological formations seemed like a way to hold these concerns in my hands. I covered these slip-cast ceramic surfaces with different glazes and metal oxides, heating them to become real stones, fixed in a moment of time. The size of these objects, their materiality and variegated textures, and the interactive installation, invite human interaction. They are tactile and beg to be held – when I show them to people I notice it is a gentle way to start a conversation, to relate to another person through tactile presence.

What does political art look like? What does it mean to make something with one’s hands? Can craft be a vessel for social change? These questions were the driving force behind this project. Moving through different craft practices (such as slip casting, glaze mixing, woodworking and photography), I tried to figure out how my making process relates to the land I inhabit in a North American settler colonial context. I hope that objects and craft can help us communicate with one another about difficult issues when words – declarations, promises, laws – fall short and leave us in a state of inaction.

Joel Young (b. 1988, Halifax, Canada) is an artist and cultural worker who works in sculpture, installation, and video. He is currently working towards his BFA in Studio Arts at Concordia University.