“As people organised themselves into larger and larger settlements, simply walking down to the river for refreshment became less practical. Fountains were a way to bring water into communities as cities developed. Some of history's first public works, they were a place for people to gather as they hydrated and cleaned, serving a similar function to the riverside of old. Over time the ruling class realised these social centres were a powerful means to propagandise users in celebration of the gods or achievements of the state, and they became more artful and technologically elaborate.
More and more complicated grew the ark, and now the water is piped directly into our homes, and our rulers have begun trading futures of this essential element on the stock exchange as a commodity while droughts worsen.
During our time of pandemic, the fountain is a symbol of our social lives – something that has become so rare in our dense cities. We long for our collective gathering places and what connects us, even as those very things threaten to spread the virus.” – Charles Harlan
Charles Harlan was born in 1984 in Georgia, and is currently based in Wilmington, North Carolina. As a sculptor, Harlan explores found and industrial materials – from stones, bricks and wire fencing – in a practice informed by his surrounding environment. Harlan has described his aim as conveying “art experiences with non-art objects”. For him, these sculptures are artefacts, moving across the history of manual labour and craftsmanship, his own personal narratives, and wider human nature and storytelling. Water, or the suggested presence of water, including the themes of bathing, baptisms and fishing, has occurred before in Harlan’s work.
At Freehouse, this presence takes its most integral role to date; the large-scale, singular, solitary fountain here is fully functioning, and constructed from found materials. As with his other work, Harlan here transforms these mundane objects into a symbolic form. They are artefacts in a material sense, but they are also something more, living out the tension between these two states, use value and symbolic value, shaped by the passage of time.
Harlan has exhibited internationally, with solo shows at galleries that include JTT, New York, Atlanta Contemporary, Karma, New York, Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles, Carl Kostyál, London, and Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels. He has featured in numerous group exhibitions, including at David Zwirner, New York, Massimo de Carlo, London, and M Woods, Beijing. “Fountain” is Harlan’s first solo show with Freehouse.