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AP ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: MARY COWSER

I have tried many different visual arts at ESD and discovered that Sculpture is my passion. In Sculpture, I am not restricted to clay or canvas, and that freedom has allowed me to express my creativity to its full potential.

巻き寿司 (maki sushi) was the start of my obsession with small objects because when I saw that toilet paper roll, I knew it was going to be a sushi roll. From hot glue caviar to cactus pad tempura, Sculpture was probably the most fun and exploratory art I created. With White Noise, I wanted to focus on blending the natural and unnatural. I contrasted the machinery from an old lego bot with the natural forms of bamboo shoots and river rocks. It represents how nature will eventually reclaim the Earth when humanity goes extinct, and the Buddha represents the peace that it will bring. 中國園林 (zhōngguó yuánlín) has a similar message but focuses on the way that man harmonizes with nature and cultivates it into beautiful gardens. I tried to contrast the green moss and tinfoil shapes, the glass shards and green seed pods, the rice with the plastic rose. It is the ideal way man should interact with nature, appreciating and propagating it instead of destroying it.

I challenged myself to plan out my AP piece thoroughly before I started work. I filled my sketchbook with concepts and ideas but eventually settled on a six-part hanging sculpture that would be modeled after a Japanese netsuke concept. Specifically, telling a story through a small, compact sculpture. But instead of researching Japanese stories, I decided to focus on Chinese mythology to connect myself back to my ethnic heritage. I chose my favorite tales, took the essential objects or concepts, and condensed them into singular sculptures. It was a journey through laser cutters, silicone molds, pressure pots, and many more new techniques. It was my most complicated composition by far, and seeing it all come together was a big inspiration to me. I synthesized many of the concepts and techniques I used in previous sculptures to create something representing my artistic style while also being something completely new and refined.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Sculpture at ESD and plan to continue my passion into college. I cannot think of a better catharsis for my creativity.

Mary has supreme mastery over the miniature. Her netsuke utilize modern materials and experimental techniques to reimagine Chinese mythology in a format that demands prolonged attention.
- Dane Larsen, AP Sculpture Teacher

fable

This is the piece fable; it’s a hanging six-part sculpture that chronologically tells six of my favorite stories. The pieces are titled as follows: 天壤之别 tiānrǎngzhībié, 盘古 pángǔ, 后羿 hòuyì, 嫦娥 cháng'é,  后土神 hòutǔshén, and 鳌 ao.

fable: 天壤之别 tiānrǎngzhībié, 盘古 pángǔ, 后羿 hòuyì

In the first piece, the egg, I told the origin story of the universe according to Chinese mythology. Born in a cosmic egg, pángǔ used an ax to break through the egg and separated the heavens and earth and yin and yang. And I represented that with the two halves of the egg broken with an ax suspended between them. I titled that one tiānrǎngzhībié because, in mandarin, it is an idiom that means the difference between heaven and earth.

I finished Pangu's story in the next sculpture, when pángǔ eventually dies, his body became part of the earth (represented by the dried flowers and crystals growing out of the skull), his hair became the stars (represented by the constellation of tags with a star named in mandarin hanging above the skull). And his eyes became the Sun and moon.

The next piece jumps to a man named hòuyì who was tasked to shoot down the 10 suns that scorched the earth and made it impossible to grow things. He at first tried to reason with the suns, but after that failed, he shot them down 1 by 1 with his bow and arrows. But before he could kill the final Sun, the emperor of heaven stole the arrow because he realized that the earth needed at least one Sun. The 10 suns are represented by the 10 holes in the white ring, and the one that survived is emphasized with an orange flower. The inner black ring has 12 holes representing the 12 moons that the Chinese believe in, they all survived. The final inner ring has a yin yang symbol painted on it because I wanted to confirm that hòuyì did what was needed to keep the cosmic balance in order by shooting the suns.

fable: 神 hòutǔshén

The bottle piece finishes houyi's story by telling the story of his wife cháng'é. After houyi shot down the suns, he was given an elixir of immortality as a reward but didn't drink it because that would mean he would have to leave his wife. But one day, his student snuck into his house to try and steal the elixir, so cháng'é drank it before he could and ascended to the moon.

I represent the elixir with the dried baby's breath inside the potion bottle and cháng'é's ascension to the moon with the hanging of curled pictures of her inside the bottle. I wanted to emphasize that she was trapped on the moon and forced into a position where she had  to drink the elixir because there are other versions where she steals the elixir for herself.

The final hanging part is a 3D map with rivers and dams highlighted with various homegrown crystals and flowers. It tells the story of how the goddess hòutǔshén gifted the Chinese people a map of China's rivers and how to dam them so that they didn't flood. I always loved that myth because it's where the line of myth and reality starts to blur as the great flood of china has been backed up by geological evidence, which begs the question, how did they acquire the knowledge of damming and diverting the rivers.

fable: 鳌 ao

And finally, the piece on the pedestal represents the shell of Áo the turtle. His legs were cut off and used as support for the sky after a disaster. And that his shell became three islands where the 8 immortals live. I represented the islands with the flower crystal structure on the turtle shell as the three islands are said to be made of white and the buildings of pure gold and platinum with jewels growing on trees. I surrounded the shell with other natural objects I grew crystals on to represent the ocean and debris around it.

巻き寿司 (makisushi)

My hanging maki sushi piece is in the same vein of Asian culture but is more whimsical and fun.

巻き寿司 (makisushi)

 I wanted to use as many inedible materials as possible in the sushi-like plastic, twine, and hot glue pearls but try to emulate the look and feel of authentic sushi.

巻き寿司 (makisushi)

 It was the first piece where I really explored mixing the natural with unnatural items, and I expanded it in my box piece.

中國園林 (zhōngguó yuánlín)

My box piece is reminiscent of a Chinese zen garden but with a twist.

中國園林 (zhōngguó yuánlín)

It has all the classical elements that a zen garden would, but the compartments have things like foil, plastic flowers, and wire.

中國園林 (zhōngguó yuánlín)

To contrast the natural items like moss, rocks, and rice.

white noise

In my final piece, white noise, I really wanted to contrast the natural and unnatural. So I contrasted the machinery from an old lego bot I deconstructed with the natural lines of bamboo shoots and river rocks. And in the thick of it all is Buddha, who is untouched by the white noise around him. I initially kept the bamboo its natural color, but I realized that I wanted to form a stronger connection with Buddha to the natural objects, so I matched their colors.

white noise

Ideally, I would like the viewer to look at the Buddha using the screen as a window. With the prevalence of technology, people connect more with nature through a screen than hiking into it. And even now, we learn and see so many things through screens that it feels more complete when viewed that way.

LISTEN TO MARY'S PRESENTATION OF HER WORK HERE: