The rectangular room looks like the kitchen of a mad man. Random, utterly useless contraptions line the walls surrounding beautifully crafted and purposeful ceramic bowls and cups.
David Detrich and Denise Woodward-Detrich, the married couple responsible for the carefully designed chaos, are not insane inventors. They are Clemson University faculty members and the featured artists in FUNCTION NOT FUNCTION, the new exhibit in the Armory Art Gallery.
The gallery's visitors will be immersed in an intriguing world where every piece explores the idea of the functionality of fine art.
"When you think about utilitarian pottery like what Denise makes, it is something that you touch. It is a very physical experience, and you don't do that with art," David Detrich said. "So what is the potential functional attribute of fine art that you can't really touch? What is the function of art?"
Denise, who is the curator of the Rudolph E. Lee Gallery at Clemson University, can answer that question concretely. Her earthy ceramics are strikingly colored and shine with a glazed outer layer. Each piece beckons to be held and used, but still seems too fine to dirty with food or drink.
The contradiction in her work speaks to the theme of the exhibit: the tension between art and utility.
"I'm the dysfunctional one," said David, who is an associate professor at Clemson and head of their sculpture program. His pieces look like elaborate machines constructed out of irregular, discarded bits of junk. The artwork looks fragile, often standing on spindly legs, but like the cups and bowls Denise made, they scream to be touched.
As Clemson faculty, both artists see the value in bringing a themed exhibit like FUNCTION NOT FUNCTION to a small, Southern town setting.
"It is somewhat of a challenge to be an artist in the South," said Denise, comparing her current lifestyle to her upbringing in the Northeast. "It's more of a missionary thing. We're artists, and we're going to make an impact."
David, a St. Louis native, agreed. "You don't need to live in New York City or Los Angeles or Chicago to have a quality artistic experience or education," he said.
Using unusual methods to expose people to art is not new to the couple. They helped coordinate a fundraiser held in Clemson's Memorial Stadium to foster a bond between the arts and athletic programs at the university.
"We had a few eyebrows raised when we proposed the idea, but the athletic department has been incredibly supportive," said Denise with a smile on her face. "During one of the fundraisers, the starters for our basketball team were at the live auction and were up there holding the artwork up and raising the bid prices."
Featuring artists who have had plenty of success in highlighting a unique way to consider art, FUNCTION NOT FUNCTION aims to make visitors ask important questions about how they can experience art.
"My favorite saying about art is that it allows you to see the familiar from an unfamiliar point of view," David said.