Nasher Public: Empire of Dirt

Invocation of the Cosmic Body

The collective Empire of Dirt comprises Xxavier Edward Carter, Tabatha Trolli, and Gata Voladora, who work in a range of media encompassing ceramics, works on paper, installation, and performance. On view in the Nasher Public Gallery from December 10, 2023 through February 11, 2024, their collaboration for Invocation of the Cosmic Body presents, as the artists have put it, “a world-bending environment for visitors to examine their scale against the face of the expanding universe.”


The artists of Empire of Dirt create multidisciplinary artworks that span mediums and disciplines to allow a place of connectivity to ourselves, each other, and long histories of being. In the words of the collective, “Spiritual realms and material realities come together to form the artifacts of the artist's presence through ceramic, paper, performance, and sculptural offerings to represent a collective society greater than all of us combined. An Invocation of the Cosmic Body is a calling forth of that portion of all of us that aspires to reach the unknown through the means we have.”

The installation in the Nasher Public Gallery includes large-scale paper tapestries made by collaging together various papers, from receipts, tickets, and museum brochures to drawings and hospital paperwork. Accompanying these are a group of “bonsai”—large ceramics produced at Ceramica Suro in Guadalajara, Mexico that the artists subsequently adorned with varied materials as well as video and sound components. On the closing weekend of the exhibition, Empire of Dirt will activate the installation in an artist-led demonstration and performance (details to follow).

Empire of Dirt wishes to recognize that An Invocation of the Cosmic Body is sponsored by the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture and is a National Endowment for the Arts Subgrant project.

About Empire of Dirt

Xxavier Edward Carter is an interdisciplinary artist born in Dallas, Texas with a BFA from Stanford University and an MFA from Southern Methodist University. In 2011, he was awarded an Arch and Anne Giles Kimbrough Fund from the Dallas Museum of Art and was a fellow at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in 2016–17. In 2019 Carter was awarded a post-graduate Dijon/Dallas exchange fellowship and was included in the Nasher Sculpture Center’s Nasher Windows 2020 exhibition series. He has works in the collections of the Nasher and the Dallas Museum of Art and has exhibited in Vietnam, South Korea, Mexico, and France. He is currently the Head Artist and Engineer of Goldfish Dreams, an artistic publication and production house based in Dallas, Texas.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tabatha Trolli makes functional ceramics and sculpture as well as working in painting photography. Along with a rich studio practice, Tabatha has been an instructor of Ceramics, Sculpture and three-dimensional design at the university level across North Texas. Currently, she teaches Ceramics and manages the studio at The Creative Arts Center of Dallas. She received a BFA in ceramics at Temple University, Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia and an MFA in ceramics at The University of North Texas in Denton. She lives and works in Dallas.

Gata Voladora (Olga Maldonaldo) was born in Caracas, Venezuela and is of Colombian descent; she currently lives and works in Mexico City. Trained in classical ballet, contemporary dance at the Universidad Nacional Experimental de las Artes, Caracas, and aerial acrobatics with a circus guild in Caracas, her practice encompasses choreography, dance, and performance. In 2019 she participated as a performer in the international meeting of the Performance Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, New York University, in Mexico City, with the piece "El Beso Ideológico" by Deborah Castillo.

An Introduction to the Cosmic Through Abstraction

By X______ E_____ C_____

It is safe to reason that within the cosmic lies all things. The known and unknown universe in its expression to the particles visible and not yet detected, scales ungraspable, horrors of the imagination, and delights, all nest inside of this concept. The concept itself lies inside of itself. Like God, perhaps more ancient as recorded history makes little in the scope of what our conscious ancestors reasoned, the cosmic body stretching beyond our gaze to realms unseen and un-sensed is fruited in human response to the darkness on the other side of our eyelids. That we make these things real with our words, across languages, and across meanings, because landing on the dimensions of what we describe as boundless, is to take a breath, compose and recite the analogue of breaking down bit by bit a collective knowledge and understanding.

The material that our life's meaning is derived from, currency in its forms, legacy in its forms, pathology in its forms, and the callings, the talents, the zeal, are brought together through the traces of ourselves onto the map of the world. The concept of the indexical trace, what is left of our bodies in the absence of the former. Our governments have long used this principle as a means of accounting for our individual debt to society at large through systems of taxation and carceral punishment6. We account for our time through collecting the bits and pieces of the transaction. Receipts, serial numbers, gift wrapped items that imprint a coded language that what we have is authentic, a kind of transference of the value of the object into our lives. The counter is also true. No amount of glue will stick another soul onto you. The very presence of that non transferable object sparks mythologies as long as any history and yet what persists equally is the art between and in the margins of the material world. As we are things with a presence, those things have a presence that is undeniable.

It is the connective tissue, as much awful in a bucket that is discarded as necessary waste. In this instance it is where the proverbial sausage is made, from the fatty, tissue lined, molded, shining with grease. Reflective of the grand blackness, the bestial creatures of astrological pantheons, heroic, flawed, defied beings, unnamable monstrosities, hellscapes, is life, springing like a tree. Not a tree that we would recognize in its majesty or even collapsed amongst the forest. A tree composed like a symphony. Across cultures we recognize the sacred in the form, a blend of what sustains and what is too big to be contained simply by virtue that to nourish it, all foundations must be cracked open. In that essence we form what we may and house it as a not perfection, as to maintain the weighted hand that flexes to scale what mountains may arise and set level to the great floor of the sky.

1Alma Thomas, White Roses Sing and Sing, 1976, acrylic on canvas, 72 1⁄2 x 52 3⁄8 in. (184.1 x 133.0 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of the artist, 1980.36.3

2Betye Saar, Window of Ancient Sirens, Paper, paint, feathers, and found objects on wood, 14 3/4 × 24 3/4 in. (37.5 × 62.9 cm) The Studio Museum in Harlem; gift of Wynn and Sally Kramarsky, New York 1982.6.1 

3Clyfford Still, 1957-D-No. 1, oil on canvas, Measurements support: 113 x 159 inches (287.02 x 403.86 cm); framed: 114 3/4 x 161 1/2 x 2 5/8 inches (291.47 x 410.21 x 6.67 cm) Collection Buffalo AKG Art Museum, Credit, Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1959, Accession ID K1959:26 

4Harmony Holiday, Preface To James Baldwin’s Unwritten Suicide Note, Originally Published August 9 2018 by The Poetry Foundation 

5Tongo Eisen-Martin, Heaven Is All Goodbyes, (16), Originally Published September 12, 2017 by City Lights Books 

6Mira Rai Waits (2016) The Indexical Trace: A Visual Interpretation of the History of Fingerprinting in Colonial India, Visual Culture in Britain, 17:1, 18-46, DOI:10.1080/14714787.2016.1147978


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