16 cm x 20 cm. 54 pages. 1 fold-out. 29 color plates. Offset printed softcover. Saddle-stitched, in grey paperboard clamshell with typography in white foil.
Published in 2016.
Ron Jude’s (b. 1965, American) Vitreous China is comprised of an archive of photographs he made while exploring areas of light industry in (primarily) Midwestern American cities. Rather than comment on the workings of industry itself, Jude depicts the ambient peripheral zones suffusing these environments: big rig parking lots, side exits, and other secondary spaces in which Jude imagines his grandfather might have daydreamed, or let his mind wander, during his many years as a kiln operator in vitreous china plants, first in the Midwest, and later in Southern California.
Supplanting the narrative inadequacies of photography with an alternate experience of atmospheric immersion, Jude exploits the seemingly factual, descriptive traits of the medium while also pursuing moments of subjective transcendence. Like the paradoxical relationship between the surface beauty of vitreous china (an enamel coating applied to porcelain) and its blunt, utilitarian function (strengthening toilets & sinks), the photographs, interwoven with a series of short texts by Mike Slack, attempt to tease out an experience that embraces both the physical crudeness of these spaces as well as the intangible complexes of memory and narrative encoded within them.
First edition of 375 copies, numbered. Special edition of 25 numbered copies, with signed archival pigment print.
…the past is a fog, the present is chaos, the future doesn’t exist. Things seem to exist, things seem to change, to transform. Ancient sand is liquefied into polarized glass. Crushed glass is melted into shiny white enamel. Broken sinks and toilets gather dust in a junkyard. Metal is forged from rocks pulled from the earth. Rocks are pure history. Living matter becomes nonliving matter, accumulates and collapses into itself, compressed by its own mass. Real cars and trucks are assembled from steel and vinyl and fake fur, all calibrated to the dimensions of the human form, the parameters of the human mind. Nature is a weed; it acts on its own. Plants grow through cracks in concrete (itself part of nature). Gravity is a feedback loop, an organic force. Time is a side effect of Gravity, which is dictated by Mass (which accumulates over Time). All of these measures are only different qualities of the same substance, the same thing. The weight of our earth is the weight of our world, a weight without an exact sum, or without comparison, which is technically weightless, and invisible. Our feet touch the ground and we’re stuck to it, like iron filings trembling on a magnet. The sun comes up and we call it a day…
…coming across Kansas, or somewhere in the plains, riding in the back seat with the baby, she closed her eyes and her thoughts spiraled into a soft semantic loop, the way creek water can sometimes form an eddy along one of its cool, shady banks — not quite a whirlpool, just a gently rotating, self-generating galaxy-shape branching off the main water-flow. The syllables of the word “Yucaipa” kept repeating like a birdcall in her head, a transmission in the middle of the night, a signal with no reply. The cigarette lighter clicked out of the dashboard socket and she opened her eyes, watched as Floyd pressed the red hot metal coil to the tip of a cigarette and inhaled deeply. He saw her face in the rear view, winked at her, blew a thin column of smoke through a one inch gap in the window. “Go back to sleep, Alice,” he said to her reflection. “Nothing to see out here for another eight hundred thousand miles.” She gave him a lazy smile, mumbled, “Watch the road, honey,” turned her head and peered into the cozy darkness beside her, where the baby was still asleep, then drifted off again…
…two nights earlier, a mild earthquake out near the Salton Sea had jarred me awake. I’d been thinking about orogenesis and tectonics, the instability of seemingly solid, monumental earth, trying to visualize a subduction zone and the amount of pressure that has to build up before two massive plates begin to shift underground. And now here I was, listening to my dying mother on a Wednesday afternoon in Redlands, making mental notes about the hospital room: smoggy primordial Inland Empire sunlight scorching thin polyester curtains; a potted cactus on the windowsill, its shadow lengthening and morphing by the microsecond; a medical device beeping at an unhurried, indifferent tempo, tracking some vital statistic but seeming to slow the pace of time itself; an ominous brown stain on the acoustic ceiling tiles directly over the bed, near a dusty AC vent. Alice’s own psychic pressure had built up for nearly five decades and some long-submerged narrative had been thrust to the surface. She seemed relieved to be telling me all this. “We were afraid,” she sighed, “afraid that if you knew the truth you wouldn’t love us. I was terrified somebody would mention it, even by accident.”
…among Floyd’s belongings I found a well-worn Memorex 60 High Bias cassette tape labelled in my own handwriting: Snapshots, 1981. I’d mailed it to him from a small town post office on my meandering drive back from Indiana all those years ago. He’d been into audio gear at the time — an expensive reel-to-reel and some complicated recording equipment, a mess of cables and electronics inhabiting my old bedroom in Yucaipa, the fallout of a vague middle-age dream (never realized) of quitting the vitreous china plant and being a sound engineer. I thought he’d enjoy the tape but he never mentioned receiving it, and I never asked. The track listing is illegible, a water-damaged blur of red ballpoint ink faded to pale magenta, but the tape is still playable: a series of short field recordings, ambient noise from the middle of nowhere. The dense high-pitched drone of crickets in humid midwestern air. The low oceanic rumble of eighteen-wheelers on a highway overpass. A quiet metallic c-clank, c-clank, c-clank from a factory several miles away. The broadcast of a tornado warning on cheap car speakers and the simple rhythm of windshield wipers squeaking back and forth…
…in third grade I was scolded for ripping a page out of a civics texbook: a stock photograph of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. It was mesmerizing, this sleek silver structure which was only an outline of itself. I had various theories about it, and had convinced myself that it was in fact not an “arch;” it was a gigantic metal oval that had fallen from space and landed next to the Mississippi river thousands of years ago. Half of it was lodged deep inside the earth and there was no way to remove it. I daydreamed elaborate cross-sections of the land around and below St. Louis, envisioning the hidden lower half of the oval. I never saw the real Arch until I drove to Indiana in 1980 to be with Rudy, and it seemed even more alien to me then, much bigger than I’d imagined it as a child. When I drove back west about a year later — fed up with Rudy’s secrecy and paranoia, homesick for California after a bitter, colorless Indianapolis winter — I bought a garish, oversized postcard of the Arch and a postage stamp at a gas station off I-70, and wrote him a note: “Anonymous tip: There’s a body buried under this thing, but you’ll never find it because you’re a terrible detective.”
First editionOut of print