PATRICK THOMAS COUGHLIN
A PROJECT IN LIEU OF THESIS TO THE COLLEGE OF FINE ARTS
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF FINE ARTS
U NIVE RS ITY O F F LORI DA
@ 2010 Patrick Thomas Coughlin
I thank my faculty, Linda Arbuckle and Nan Smith. Their patience, support and
sincere guidance has been a great kindness. I learned much about ceramics from them,
but am most thankful for the lessons that transcend the boundaries of academia that
have revealed something of myself and who I wish to be. Secondly, my supervisory
committee, Anna Calluori Holcombe, Lauren Garber Lake and Bob Mueller, deserves
my sincere gratitude. Their insight and consideration for my process and work were
invaluable and will sustain my practice for years to come. Lastly, I thank my family for
their unfaltering support in the face of uncertainty and my fiscal ruin, their work ethic and
mind-set was, and will always be an inspiration.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ............. ..... ._ ...............3....
LIST OF FIGURES ............. ..... ...............5...
ABSTRACT ............. ..... .............. 6....
1 UN BURDEN ED............... ...............
Heritage as Identity, Experience and Transcendant. ......___ ....... .._ ............8
Heritage as Identity ........._ ....... __ ............... 8....
Heritage as Experience .........._............._ ....___ .... ........
Material Culture: Signifier and Signified ....._._._ ......._.._ ......._..........10
Heritage: A Numinous Experience................ ...............12
2 U NBU RDEN ED: SCU LPTU RAL MAN IFESTATIONS ................. .....................1 4
Installation .................. ................... ... ................14.....
Tools: Engagement and Disengagement ........._....__....._.. ........_.._.........15
Pattern and Ornament................ ............... 19
Heritage Supplanting Religion ......._ ........_.._ ....._...._ ... ..........1
Material ity................ ..............2
3 CONCLUSION ........._...._ ...._. .._ ...............23.....
LIST OF REFERENCES ........._....__....._..._ ...............25....
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ........._...._ ...._..._ ...............26.....
LIST OF FIGURES
2-1 Unburdened, installation view. ......._..__ ... ...._. ......_._............1
2-2 Sam ple of im plem ents d displayed in Unburdened ..........._._ ....... ...__............15
2-3 Detail of Baiulavi: I Have Carried a Heavy Burden. ........._._. ...... .._.._...........16
2-4 Baiulavi: I Have Carried a Heavy Burden. ........._._.._......_.. ......._.... .....17
2-5. D iptych .........._. .. ...._.._ ...............18....
2-6 Examples of work that use earthenware and porcelain. .........._.._. .........._.._....22
3-1 Detail: Sine Labore N~ihil: N~othing Without Labor. ..........._._ ...... .._.._..........23
3-2 Sine Labore N~ihil: N~othing Without Labor. ..........._._ ......_.._ ........._.......24
Abstract of Project in Lieu of Thesis Presented to
the College of Fine Arts of the University of Florida
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for
the Degree of Master of Fine Arts
Patrick Thomas Coughlin
Chair: Linda Arbuckle
Heritage is our inherited traditions, monuments, objects, and culture. These
traditions and objects, if embraced, are an aid in constructing the makeup of our lives
and personal characteristics. Identity may be defined as a set of characteristics
recognized as belonging uniquely to our experiences and personality.
Farming communities, for instance, create a condition whereby individuals have a
strong heritage connecting them to place, position and purpose. These inherited values
provide people in these communities and families with meaning and a sense of security
and place. This helps define a personal reason for and way of being.
When active participation in farming is inaccessible to the next generation, forming
identity from those elements becomes a pursuit fraught with ambiguity. Descendants of
this way of life must find new ways to connect and participate in their heritage or
unburden themselves and forge new values and lineage. If identity is too strongly rooted
in community or family experiences no longer available, abandoning them is difficult.
Memorializing the lost heritage becomes the only viable solution. Artifacts become
placeholders for absent experiences, charged with the task of embodying the breadth of
experiences of which they were once only a part. Preservation and veneration of the
newly-assigned relics permits a new participation, albeit a diminished one, where the
markers for identity can still hold true.
Unburdened explores the veneration of objects that are a proxy for heritage
experiences that normally form identity. Markers for the material culture of a working
class's heritage may be symbolized by tools of labor and vice: shovel, yoke, sickle, and
bottle. These symbols are paired with trees and flora-based pattern: signifiers of growth
and tradition. The disparity between physical space and two-dimensional space is the
stage where the activity of discarding heritage outright, or finding a new way to interact
with it, occurs. That which is bodily accessible and that which is illusionary separate the
traditions that are either embraced or shunned. Regardless of appearance, a laden
importance permeates the work through materiality, pattern, scale and pseudo-religious
structure as a means to sanctify what cannot be properly honored in its intended form.
What takes place when these collective conditions, in part or whole, are outmoded
or anachronistic? How do we ascribe value to seemingly outdated concepts and
customs originated by forbearers who created them to manage a world and experiences
that barely resemble our own? Unburdened is a monument to this investigation of
responsibility to the past.
Heritage as Identity, Experience and Transcendent
Be careful, lest in casting out the devils
you cast out the best thing that's in you. N~ietzsche
I am Patrick Coughlin, son of Daniel Coughlin, who is the son Lyman Coughlin,
who is the son of an onion farmer. Raised in a small, tight-knit community where local
lore and lineages are so entangled has created a strong attachment to place and
familial occupation. I was young when the long-standing traditions tied to family farming
were terminated. A crisis of identity and an added sense of responsibility to the past
developed. An entire community foisted an identity on me based on the occupation and
traditions of ancestors. It was my generation that was not able to continue, that failed
our history and heritage. Because familial objects, buildings, and detritus of the past
hundred years continually surrounded me, it was impossible to forget our past and my
position as an outsider to its history. As a means to retain a connection to a past I could
never be a part of, I became the steward for the objects of my heritage.
Heritage as Identity
The manifestation of heritage is an indistinct experience. Location, occupation,
race, gender and family are merely a few of the more culturally universal expressions of
an experience that is uniquely personal and pervasively widespread. How is one to
define an experience that is intimate yet broad? Often, individuals respond more closely
to notions of heritage that create an identity for that individual and their immediate kin.
Consequently, the status, conditions, and character acquired by being born into a
particular family or social class determine many of the factors that shape identity and
give meaning to our lives.
Most elements of identity can become heritage. A uniform, a flag, or a brand are
purposed signifiers of identity that may only become heritage through a concerted effort
to conserve them. Conversely, many aspects of identity are meant to be transient.
Identities are crafted, tried on like clothes. Hobbies, temporary jobs, and the innocence
of youth are merely aspects of identity that can be tried on or outgrown. If heritage is
defined by that which people choose to save, collect, or conserve then "heritage is
recognized, designated and self conscious by definition" (Howard, 2003). The fact that
there are many things that distinguish identity that we do not wish to conserve raises
difficult questions about the nature of heritage. "So heritage may be foisted on the
descendants of the perpetrators against their will" (Howard. 2003). We can observe
heritage as an active experience both chosen and assigned.
Heritage as Experience
Heritage is not merely an act of remembering; it's a tangible participation in and
conservation of events, where the accumulation of past experiences and traditions is
given to the next generation. Each generation has its own temporal and cultural context
in applying meaning to these traditions; they are re-embodied with new memories and
perspective. "In this sense, then, heritage as experience means that heritage is not
static or 'frozen in time" (Smith, 2006). Heritage is a process that passes on established
values and meaning while also creating new ones. Places are often major signifiers of
heritage and "while the sites (are) intrinsically important it (is) the use of these sites that
make them heritage, not the mere fact of their existence" (Smith, 2006). For farming
communities, the land holds enormous value as the source of economic stability,
sustenance, and the stage on which to take part in agricultural traditions.
I understood this notion of active participation in heritage, at an early age. After the
long and difficult winters in upstate New York, family members walk the hedgerow
bordering the property to assess the fencing, and repair when needed. This chore is a
tedious task of walking, replacing posts, and mending wire. On a particularly hot spring
day while walking the fence, I took shelter from the sun in a shaded alcove of brush and
stone. While resting, I came across a cracked teacup, saucer, and rusted tin case. In
that moment, I no longer saw walking the fencerows as tedium, but understood that I
had chosen the same place to rest while performing the same task an ancestor had
performed before me. Through considering the abandoned teacup and saucer, I
understood that day's labor as tradition spanning countless spring thaws. This mundane
chore and these ruined objects became charged with meaning and new personal value.
Material Culture: Signifier and Signified
Because heritage is a deliberate act to conserve and designate, these activities
are directly tied to the crafting of identity. This preservation applies to a wide range of
cultural expression: folk dances, buildings, colloquialisms, artifacts, and any aspect of
life that is consciously saved. The underlying premise of material culture "is that objects
made or modified by man reflect, consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, the
beliefs of the individuals who made, commissioned, purchased or used them, and by
extension, the beliefs of the larger society to which they belonged" (Beaudry, Cook,
Mrozowski 1996). A process of classifying items of heritage must take place if all
material objects convey a specific system of beliefs and ideas. Peter Howard (2003) in
Heritage: Mlanagement, Interpretation, Identity describes the process of moving objects,
events and places into the heritage realm as inventory, designation, protection,
restoration and commodification.
With the onset of mechanization, many tools were rendered obsolete. The sickle,
an old-world agricultural implement, witnessed this transformation. "Day after day, for
two thousand years or more, men with strong backs and strong arms swung scythes
through the grain fields of this world" (Levene 1958) until the advent of the mechanical
reaper by Cyrus McCormick (1831). The age of industrial mechanization brought drastic
changes to the landscape of food production. When an object like the sickle finds itself
in a new cultural context (being an outmoded tool), it signifies an entirely new meaning.
"In order to understand material culture we have to think in terms that go entirely
beyond it, to go beneath the surface appearance to an underlying reality. This means
we are thinking in terms of the relationship between things, rather than simply in terms
of the things themselves" (Tilley, 1994). For those involved in farming, constantly aware
of the cost of labor, the sickle is a vestigial remnant, a reminder of the exhausting
manual labor required of their ancestors. The sickle no longer signifies only the act of
labor but now holds connotations of history, and transition to mechanization that
rendered the traditional method and tool obsolete. The transition to a modernized
society was, and remains, the most profound large-scale socioeconomic upheaval in
recorded history. As expanding technologies demanded new skills, and devalued old
ones, whole populations of skilled workers lost their means of support. "Mechanization
pervaded even the most complex manufacturers, and workers saw themselves as
slaves, not masters, of the machinery they operated, where handicraft survived at all, it
survived as a relic of an older, slower world" (Trilling 2003).
Archaic objects become souvenirs filled with identities of where we came from
and who we are. Because of their inability to partake in purposeful use, our interaction
with these obsolete artifacts is passive: that of constructed memory and contemplation.
"Remembering is an active process in which the past is continually negotiated and
reinterpreted, through not only the experiences of the present but also the needs of the
present. The past can never be understood solely within its own terms; the present
continually rewrites the meaning of the past and the memories and histories we
construct about it within the context of the present" (Smith 2006). Material culture as
heritage is assumed to provide a physical representation and reality for the ephemeral
and slippery concept of "identity" The artifacts that remain are the only ways in which
individuals in a truncated heritage are able to participate in their traditions and preserve
an identity, albeit in a very diminished capacity.Heritage: A Numinous Experience
"Heritage provides meaning to human existence by conveying the ideas of
timeless values and unbroken lineages that underpin identity" (Smith, 2006). Finding
meaning in life is an essential purpose in avoiding what Viktor E. FrankI terms an
"existential vacuum." "Rooted deeply in the human person is what we call the will to
meaning: the struggle for the most meaningful fulfillment of personal existence" (Frankl,
2004). When the active experience of heritage is inaccessible, it creates a crisis of
identity and also produces an "existential vacuum" where the very meaning and purpose
of life may become suspect. Heritage forms identity, and also serves a clear existential
purpose. Heritage allows people a way of being that is not center-focused. By imparting
sentiments that one belongs in a group and has a purposeful function, heritage creates
an inclusive sense of meaning and station.
No one with a last name other than Coughlin has ever lived in our turn-of-the-
century farmhouse. Invariably, historic family objects or treasures are re-discovered in
one of the several buildings on the property; one need only look. These objects from
unknown ancestors provide a strong sense of inheritance and place. When cleaning out
one of the dilapidated barns, we found a multi-tiered chest of bank receipts, worn
photos, a wedding band, contracts, a pistol, letters from family members, and postcards.
Though my parents looked at these objects as one more bit of curiosity left behind by
long-dead relatives, for me the chest became a tabernacle. The artifacts became
numinous: filled with or characterized by a sense of a supernatural presence that
arouses one's elevated feelings of duty, honor and loyalty. "This sense of inheritance
promotes the idea that the present has a particular 'duty' to the past and its monuments.
The duty of the present is to receive and revere what has been passed on and in turn
pass this inheritance, untouched, to future generations" (Smith 2003). Artifacts become
placeholders for absent experiences, charged with the task of embodying the breadth of
experiences of which they were once only a part. The act of preservation becomes an
act of veneration, fulfilling the existential need to create and give meaning to my life.
UNBURDEN ED: SCULPTURAL MAN IFESTATIONS
Unburdened, a grouping of sculptures, explores the veneration of objects that are
proxies for heritage experiences. The work is a physical manifestation of the hidden,
signified meaning that lies within the material culture of an inaccessible heritage system
in a farming community. The work is ultimately concerned with the creation of a physical
memorial so that I may unburden myself from the responsibility of preservation.
Figure 2-1 Unburdened, Installation view.
"Museums are fundamentally more about memorializing the past so that it may be
forgotten than actually remembering the past-particularly complex pasts"(Smith 2003).
Unburdened is a monument to the investigation of and our responsibility to the past.
The examination of what modes of being are worth keeping, and what should remain
separate is the central question of the work.
Tools: Engagement and Disengagement
The sculptures of Unburdened focus on a specific class of objects from the
material culture of a farming heritage. Objects of labor and vice (yoke, shovel, sickle,
and alcohol) are the personal effects that now contain a larger signified meaning than
their original purpose. All the elements have existed for countless generations and, as a
group, impart associations with history, manual labor, and forgotten customs. Each tool
4s A E
Figure 2-2. Sample of implements displayed in Unburdened. A) Molls: The Custom of
Habit- a hand holding a Sickle. B). Virtute et Labore, //: By Virtue of Labor- a
also holds its own connotation of a heritage experience, and is transformed or altered to
convey its underlying meaning.
Within this classification, the implements are divided into two sets: physical, three-
dimensional objects and objects that are two-dimensional illusory. This is a device used
to separate the particular heritage experiences that are closed off or shunned, versus
the experiences that are tangibly embraced and kept alive. The yoke, sickle, and bottle
represent aspects of a heritage purposefully kept separate. Baiulaivr: "I Have Carried a
Heavy Burden, a large-scale tiled wall work, represents the act of labor that is not a
choice. The yoke, a central feature of the piece, embodies oppression and bondage,
traditions that were not a choice but an act of survival.
Figure 2-3. Detail of Baiulavi: I have Carried a Heavy Burden. A) Lattice with
transforming pattern and tree branches. B) Detail of shovel pattern and
Figure 2-4. Baiulavi: I have Carried a Heavy Burden.
The two panels forming the diptych are titled Fio: I Become and Mlos: The Custom
of Habit, These panels, representing shunned heritage experiences, use the hand
gesture of a Catholic blessing combined with the eschewed heritage objects. In Mlos:
The Custom of Habit, "the hand holds a sickle, signifying the hard, manual labor of the
past. The Sickle's blade extends back into the forearm, piercing its flesh. This presents
labor that is damaging to the one committing it. The liquor bottle in Fio "I Become"
signifies another destructive habit that is a heritage experience still practiced: the vice of
alcoholism. To reinforce the separation of illusory space from dimensional reality, a
diamond pattern overlays the picture plane of these objects and becomes a lattice-like
fencing that is a physical and conceptual barrier.
Figure 2-5. Diptych A) Fio: I Become. B) Mos: The Custom of Habit.
The shovels, however, exist in three-dimensional space and allow the viewer to
become a hypothetical user to interact with the tool. The shovels become a symbol for
the embraced heritage experience that is rooted in labor. The shovel's nature is to cover
and uncover. By placing one shovel pointing upward and one tipped in the earth, I am
giving expression to the activity of heritage investigation. I am deciding what should be
unearthed and what should be buried.
Pattern and Ornament
Pattern and ornament are present in all the work and serve several functions.
Unburdened uses Renaissance through Victorian-era ornament to place the work in a
historical context, making an allusion and comparison to the long-standing history and
heritage of European decorative arts. European decorative ornament was created to
embody magnificence, conveying the importance of the owner through meticulous detail
and luxurious material. Pattern and ornament from this historical context fills the work
and its mundane images with a reverent majesty. "Another function of ornament is to
express reverence for the sacred" (Trilling, 2003). Through the visible "we may be led to
invisible beauty" (Trilling, 2003). Therefore, pattern is applied to convey the spiritual
importance created through the tools' and implements' meaning and relationship to
heritage and identity
Heritage Supplanting Religion
Religious constructs of architecture and iconography are used in Unburdened to
suggest supplanting a religious transcendence with a heritage experience. Catholicism
allows for a very personal experience within the faith. The religion encourages the
congregation to choose patron saints and a multitude of rites and practices beyond the
necessary dogma of the mass and liturgical calendar. This structure provides a system
larger than the individual, in which to participate. Religion is normally a practice that
gives life meaning; however, "when the clergy do not or cannot awaken the heart, that
tells us that they are unable to interpret the symbols through which they are supposed
to enlighten and spiritually nourish their people" (Campbell, 2001), and the "existential
vacuum" remains. Heritage becomes a system that allows individuals to re-interpret the
fai led transcendence of organ ized rel ig ion and connect to a personal ly-m edilated,
alternative concept larger than themselves. "Many people have learned to let religious
symbols speak directly to themselves to order their lives. They don't believe a group of
bishops or other religious leaders could meet in conference and decide for them which
interpretation of a symbol must be believed. But they don't reject their religious tradition.
They discover that symbols, when they are not pressed literally, can speak clearly
across different traditions" (Campbell 2001). Unburdened strives to use the symbols of
Catholicism and apply them to an experience that has personal meaning and value. In
Molls and Fio, the hands holding the implements mimic the posture seen in countless
religious paintings in Europe, allowing "that which is shunned" to be experienced
positively in a revered light.
All objects in the exhibition have undergone some sort of transformation. Clay is
transformed: through fire, what was once fragile earth becomes a permanent object. As
a material, clay suggests that, through designation and preservation, the mutable
heritage signifiers, too, have become permanent.
Hybridization occurs between nature and material culture: shovels have handles that
grow into trees, or roots that grow into shovels. This amalgam of the man-made and
nature is a metaphor for the newly assigned otherworldly character that embodies the
spiritual need for meaning sought in the material culture of a re-configured heritage.
MIate rial ity
Ceramics as a material is paradoxically fragile and permanent. By using ceramics
as the unifying material in an installation of multimedia work, ceramics become an
allegory for expressing heritage as a fragile constant. Even when broken, fired ceramic
materials remain a permanent artifact. Through the various objects created in
Unburdened, a hierarchy of materiality is created between earthenware and porcelain.
Objects that represent aspects of heritage that are unattainable are earthenware.
Objects made in porcelain are meant to be engaged and used.
Earthenware is of low value: a secondary clay, full of impurities associated with
roofing tiles and objects of disposable worth. By using earthenware, I am aligning the
inherent meaning of the material with the aspects of heritage that are meant to have
less value. In contrast, the white, vitrified porcelain evokes connotations of wealth and
purity. Historically, porcelain was a highly sought-after material: at one time, by weight,
it was worth more than gold (Prime, 1879). Using porcelain for objects that are
accessible lends them this added importance. Through porcelain, the objects become a
spiritual and physical ideal, an ambition yet to be realized.
Figure 2-6. Examples of work that use earthenware and porcelain. A) Detail of Fio: I
Become, the work was created using only earthenware. B) Virtute et Labore /:
By Virtue of Labor, a multimedia piece where porcelain is the only clay used.
The uprooted shrine is the culmination of Unburdened. As the only object that
contains both porcelain and earthenware, it combines the low and the highly valued, the
unattainable and the actively engaged. The uprooted shrine is the only work that does
not possess an implement or tool. Housing a single, revered porcelain onion, the
earthenware shrine is titled, Sine Labore N~ihil: N~othing Without Labor. The onion is the
"fruit of labor." The fallen iconic structure of the ended heritage system enshrines the
purpose for the existence of the other implements. Farming traditions depend on the
harvest of a crop. This is a memorial to the harvest that no longer exists. The stool
supports the fallen shrine and suggests the need to find a new way to interact with the
experience. All of the sculptures deal with an aspect of separation, whether a physical
barrier of patterned grid, or as uprooted or dead trees removed from nature. These
images imply that without labor I have nothing: no truthful embracing of an identity that
is assigned. I am separated.
Figure 3-1. Detail of Sine Labore N~ihil: N~othing Without Labor.A) Enshrined porcelain
onion B) Root structure of Sine Labore N~ihil: N~othing Without Labor
Figure 3-2. Sine Labore N~ihil: N~othing Without Labor.
The act of making this body of work is in itself an embracement and participation in
my heritage. Because of meticulous care and the sustained labor of working large-
scale, I was able to re-embody my heritage. Through this labor, I gained access to a
transformed heritage: the act of making an onion from clay made me the "baroque"
evolution of the unadulterated "classicism" of forbearers who grew them from earth.
Although it means my heritage experience and identity is a bizarre characterization, an
open door is still an open door.
LIST OF REFERENCES
Beaudry, M., Cook, L., & Mrozowski, S. A. (1996) Artifacts and active voices:
Material culture as social discourse. (pp. 270-310). Walnut Creek, CA, Altamira
Campbell, J. (2001) Thou art that: Transforming Religious Metaphor. (pp. 33 ,110).
Novato, CA: New World Library.
Frankl, V. E. (2004) On the theory and therapy of mental disorders: An
introduction to logotherepy. (pp. 173). New York, NY: Brunner-Rutlidge.
Howard, P. (2003) Heritage: Management, interoperation, identity. (pp. 148 -149).
New York, NY: Continuum.
Levene, B. H. (Winter, 1958-1959, Vol. 42, N~o. 2) Lincoln and McCormick: Two
American Emancipators. The Wisconsin Magazine of History. Wisconsin
Historical Society. 97
McCormick, C. H. (Aug. 22, 1931, Vol. 20, N~o. 541) The McCormick reaper: "A classic
invention". The Science N~ews-Letter, Society for Science & the Public. 118
Pearce, S. M. (1994) Interpreting objects and collections. In A. Tilley, C. (Eds.),
Interpreting material culture. (67- 75). New York, NY: Routledge.
Prime, W. C. (1879) Pottery and porcelain of all times and nations. (pp. 121. New
York, NY: Harper Publishing Company.
Smith, L. (2006) Uses of heritage. (pp. 33, 68, 70, 71, 85, 268). New York, NY:
Trilling, J. (2003) Ornament a modern perspective. (pp. 80-81, 116) Seattle, WA:
Washington Univ. Press.
Patrick Coughlin is from rural Western New York and is a descendant of several
generations of farmers. It was in his youth that the livelihood and tradition of farming
ended for his family and is slowly vanishing from his community. After receiving a
Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in ceramics from Syracuse University, Patrick attended the
post-baccalaureate program at the University of Florida and subsequently participated
in a number of residencies. Most notably, Patrick was the "Salad Days" resident artist at
Watershed Center for Ceramic Art in Newcastle Maine. Upon completing a yearlong
residency at Genesee Center for the Arts, Rochester, New York, Patrick returned to
Florida as an MFA candidate in ceramics. In summer 2010 Patrick begins a new
position at the Pottery Workshop Design Studio in Jingdezhen, China.