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.