Sitting in an outcast Brooklyn lot that could serve as a site for idle automotive work or an incongruous presidential press conference are 24 clay orbs that weigh as much as 1,000 pounds and take on different properties as the light changes over the course of a day. Each was made by the sculptor and painter Bosco Sodi, who started by shaping balls of wet clay and leaving them out to dry for four months in the shadows and then three months in the sun. After that they went into a kiln, to be fired for 16–24 hours at temperatures rising above 1,2000 degrees. From there, they moved into the back of a container truck and traveled from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Red Hook, the industrial Brooklyn neighborhood where they are living now outside the former home of Perfect Bodies Auto Collision.
“It’s nice to decontextualize them,” Sodi said recently during a walk around his work. “I like to see them as objects come to a completely different habitat.”
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The outdoor exhibition “Perfect Bodies,” which opened in October in collaboration with the nearby art space Pioneer Works and runs through December 20, is a few blocks from where Sodi lives when he’s not in Oaxaca. Down there, he works in the context of Casa Wabi, an artist retreat he established and built with designs by the storied architect Tadao Ando. The clay comes from a surrounding town known for making ceramic tiles, and it evinces different qualities after being burned with materials wood, coconut skins, and jacaranda seeds—“anything I can find that is combustible,” Sodi said. “I like to use different fuel types to get different textures and different colors. It becomes a kind of painting—painting that is not controlled at all.”
Certain of the orbs are marked with a sort of shine; others are gritty and bare, with cracks and disfigurements. “Some of them glaze by themselves. Some don’t glaze at all,” Sodi said. “I accept all the accidents that happen to the clay. If a part comes out during the burning, it’s part of the process.”
The earthiness of the enterprise is what interests Sodi most. “Clay has been a very important factor in human evolution,” he said of a material that for him evokes the four elements (earth, water, fire, air). “Clay was one of the first tools that humans used, to carry oil, to carry water. And it’s all connected [in ways] you can see in any culture. The beginnings of clay pots in Japan or Korea—they’re very similar because they come from human instinct.”
Oaxaca is where Sodi spent the first few months of pandemic-related confinement with his family in the spring, with a cultural regimen in place. “I had a family meeting and said, ‘We can go to Casa Wabi, but we have to do things. We can’t just go there to avoid everything.’” For his teenage children, he drew up lists of movies to watch and books to read. (Among the movies: epics by Akiro Kurasawa, thrillers by Quentin Tarantino, The Bicycle Thieves, Battleship Potemkin. And the books: Gabriela Garcia Marquez, Junichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows, Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir, I Confess I Have Lived by Pablo Neruda.)
They also teamed with others around them to build a much-needed convenience store—”a typical corner store that sells everything,” he said of an operation he likened to a more charming 7-Eleven that also sells local crafts and wares like mezcal and hats. “There was no store there and it was necessary for the community. We wanted to do something positive during this terrible nightmare.”
The spirit behind the Brooklyn exhibition was in certain ways the same. With Dakin Hart, who curated the installation (and who also works as a senior curator at the Noguchi Museum in Queens), Sodi—while working on a show at Kasmin gallery in Chelsea that opened at the same time and closed in November—identified a location suited for our current times. The outdoor milieu proved to be an issue when a gust of wind managed to roll one of the weighty orbs out of place. “I moved it back and I put some small stones underneath,” Sodi said.
But it has its upsides too. “It’s nice to do something that people can walk around and and see a bit of culture.”