Local artists creates an indoor sculpture park for gallery show

Heavy, damp, gritty but also a little refreshing; so familiar, but until you step into the Student Union Gallery, it’s a difficult scent to place: grass.

“I feel like touch is such a neglected sense in art studios and instillations; it’s really such a shame that you can’t walk up and touch things,” said local artist Emily Longbrake, whose ceramics show, “Touch,” is currently on display in the gallery. “Little kids just walk right up to [the grass] and sit down on it.”

Some of Longbrake’s over 100 ceramic sculptures sit on white pedestals surrounded by a large patch of real grass from Country Garden Farms, while most rest on the grass itself. Everything in the show is meant to be physically interacted with.

“When I go to a museum, I always want to touch the thing that’s behind the glass and unavailable to the public,” she said. “I wanted to have a show where people could go in and cross that barrier…touch the art and interact with it. It was really fun to see people do that [at the opening] It’s funny, a lot of people are really nervous about going in there and touching the artwork.”

Some of the inspiration for the show and its set-up came from outdoor sculpture parks that Longbrake has visited in other countries.

“We don’t really have many outdoor sculpture parks here…there’s a sculpture park in South Africa that I visited, and there’s one in Seoul, South Korea that made such an impression on me,” she said. “This is just a tiny version of that, of a place where you can go up and touch the art, and enjoy nature and sculpture at the same time.”

“Touch” took roughly two months of constant work to complete, and Longbrake used the facilities in the UAA Fine Arts building to do so. All the pieces in the show have been fired twice at 390 degrees and, according to Longbrake, are durable enough to place in the dishwasher or microwave without fear of damage, like a coffee mug.

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Longbrake first started working with ceramics a few years ago while attending school at University of Oregon, where she graduated with a Bachelors in physiology.

“I just had a lot of friends and family that had taken pottery classes before and really liked it,” she said of her initial interest in ceramics.

Longbrake took classes at UAA last year to help refine her abilities. “I took classes full-time; it was like my one year of art school,” she said. “I already had a Bachelor’s, so I wasn’t really interested in doing more academic work.”

“Touch” will be on display in the Student Union Gallery until Thursday, Sept. 13 during regular gallery hours. If interested in purchasing some of Longbrake’s work, most pieces are available for sale, and are listed in a booklet inside the gallery, along with prices, which range from $10 to $75 depending on the size and design of the piece.