Thought Signs

Artist Statement

Through an exploration of decipherable codes and symbols, my work expresses the intrinsic limitation language places on communication. The hand built ceramic sculptures reference illuminated manuscripts, ancient cuneiforms, and primitive accounting systems known as tokens. These archaic systems of recording information are juxtaposed with modern codes and ciphers such as binary, substitution, and Morse. The viewer is invited to literally decode the piece's nonsensical pangrams, whimsical definitions, and historic cipher text.

I use simple mono-alphabetic substitutions in two layers of encryption. In the first, each texture of the ceramic work stands for an individual letter, and in the second, the shapes of the work reference codes such as Morse and binary. The incorporation of binary code into the work is a device that communicates a relationship to modern, digital technologically based forms of communication and encoding. These have become a part of our everyday experience but often go unnoticed.

Recent works have encoded famous cipher text, such as Japanese World War II diplomatic communiqués and passages from the Rosetta stone. The text that I choose serves as a code or metaphor for written and verbal communication. By encoding information, my work shows the inaccessibility of language and communication, creating new systems of signs and symbols that are equally as inadequate as language at conveying meaning.

Shalya Marsh | Thought Signs 2012

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Archaic Structures


I use red earthenware clay for its color, workability, firing range, and capacity to take on a primitive look and feel that references ancient ceramic objects. All of the forms are hand built by pinching, coiling, extruding, and slab building. These methods facilitate the intuitive process and immediacy of creating. The pieces are surfaced using terra sigillata, a very fine slip that is lightly burnished, fired, and then washed with oxides such as copper and iron to draw out the details in the surface. These techniques, while simple, offer an extensive vocabulary of form, texture, and color.

Shalya Marsh | Archaic Structures
2011 - 2012

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Shalya Marsh | Codes and Ciphers Image Gallery
2009 - 2010

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"Many people say that artwork "speaks" to them because it connects in a personal way, touching on an emotion or a memory, but viewers of Shalya Marsh's ceramics can say this and mean it - her art is formed and arranged in code..."

"The word "cipher" has multiple meanings, one of which is "the key to a secret method of writing." It's not hard to see how it relates to Marsh's project, since her goal is to have people unlock messages through code. She's equally interested, however, in another definition of cipher: "Something of no value or importance." Her use of this meaning is a reference to the fact that language has no value when its deprived of its context..."

MATTHEW PARRISH | Williamsport Sun Gazette
January 3rd 2010

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Shalya Marsh | Semantics Image Gallery

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Kits and Sets

Shalya Marsh | Kits and Sets Image Gallery

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