Better Lovers – Artist Profile

Better Lovers is an artistic partnership between Layla Marcelle and Jacob Raeder, two artists who describe their work as “applying contemporary dance methodologies to object making. Choreographers designing ceramics and ceramists making films, [we] are committed to the entanglement of material processes with things, and assemblages of humans and non-humans in complex topographies of being and becoming.”

I, too, found this description a bit cryptic, but nevertheless reached out to both artists to explore what they do. I will be honest – I still haven’t wrapped my head around this collaboration. I’m reminded of some conceptual artists I studied 40 years ago when I was in art school, although Jacob in particular does produce ceramic objects. I do note that both artists have some serious credentials so I’m not quick to dismiss them. Both Layla and Jacob hold BAs in philosophy and BFAs from Alfred University. Layla also holds two MFAs, one from Simon Fraser University and one from Tyler school of Art, while Jacob earned his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Jacob also was a Fulbright Scholar at Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam.

I asked in particular about their films, but they told me “it matters a lot to us how our films are experienced. Chapter 1: On Warm Adobe, for example, was part of an installation, where you had to stand on a platform in order to watch the film, as pictured here.”

Layla did provide 2 gifs (one above, one directly below) featuring ceramic dice from the film Chapter 1: On Warm Adobe. It may give you a sense of their film work.

Just because I don’t completely understand Better Lovers doesn’t mean I shouldn’t relay our conversation. So here goes…

JTW: My first and most overriding question is: “What the heck is going on here?” Better Lovers is a design company that “applies contemporary dance methodologies to object-making.” Can you walk me through that a bit more?

BL: When we first started talking about creating a singular identity that encapsulated our different respective practices, we often had conversations around different material or methodical discourses. We both have a deep love and respect for craft and craft histories and traditions, but are not exclusively invested in what we see as contemporary institutional craft discourses.

We embrace what excites us, and choreographic/dance-thinking really excites us. For example, what happens if we think about the artistic production of objects as choreography? Choreographic thinking proposes a series of relationships, so rather than an object being a discrete thing, how it is made and how and who uses it and it and how it breaks can all be considered as part of its ontology.

Dance-thinking is a framework that allows us to experiment in a way that feels unknown, playful and expansive. We think of what we’re doing as designing relationships with objects, in addition to making objects. The objects are then also collaborators.

JTW: Can you tell me more about your ceramic objects and how Better Lovers’ methodologies were used – it they were used – to create the objects I see on your website?

BL: We are artists deeply concerned with how the objects in our lives come to be, and continue to exist. Our name Better Lovers is itself about the relationship we have with our things, and our things’ relationships with us, and each other. We have a few maxims we work with when making objects. One is ‘Better Over Time’ and can be understood as the beauty we find in aging and use: the stained cracks in the glaze of a coffee cup, the polishing of heavily used handles, the fraying of well-worn garments. Things breakdown, but they can do so gracefully. We consider wear as a vital part of design.

Utilitarian ceramic has historically been designed to resist any sign of degradation, but many of our ceramic objects have idiosyncratic crawl glazes on them. Like gold luster being slowly worn away through use, the crawl glaze can sometimes break away, marking its passage through time.

Jacob started researching crawl glazes in the Netherlands in 2010 when he was a Fulbright Scholar. He made ceramic climbing-holds that featured non-slip grip surfaces. We continue to test and use crawl surfaces because they’re so viscerally compelling. Crawl glaze demands touch, and we’re all about touch. We love sensuous surfaces. Felt, chocolate, rubber, polished porcelain, crawl glaze. We want to seduce audiences to taste our sculptures, to smell them, to caress them.

JTW: I see riffs on functional ceramics in your Urschrei exhibit. Can you tell me about inspirations for your work?

BL: The sculptures in the Urschrei exhibition are effigies of misanthropic optimism and distracted consumerism. They are playful, but not whimsical. Absurd, but functional. They are in conversation with one another, but not dependent on one another. Together they’re an exquisite corpse.

2:10. Burglary, larceny. Photo by Dominique Nichole.(

We wanted the rich and manifold history of ceramics on display both from a materiality standpoint (thrown terracotta, cast porcelain, slab-built stoneware, figurative sculpture, mix media) as well as the inculturated understanding of the material (the shaking dice as infinite loop of fate, the direct references to Vanitas paintings and mortality via the tombstone photograph and skull polaroid, the repurposed John Gill bowl cast into concrete and turned into a clock). We also wanted to engage with the trendy, naive gloopiness of some contemporary ceramics, but we wanted these objects to have gloopy auras. They’re a little funny and a little sad because it’s 2023 and the planet is dying.

5:08. Typewriter, etc., written in a vertical column

JTW: I also see combinations of object references that reminds me very much of some surrealist painters – dice, mechanical items such as clocks and radios and fountains, etc. Again, will you share more about your sources of inspiration for these items?

BL: We have a reverence for the materiality of things coupled with a deep commitment to silliness. Poking fun at ourselves and the culture of consumption feels healthy. Perhaps that is where our affinities with surrealist painters comes from? The seriousness of play. Maybe more pataphysics than surrealism? The objects are earnestly absurd (chocolate fountain bookends; ashtray flower vases) and absurdly earnest (the photograph of the headstone engraved with “Help” marks Jacob’s grandfather’s grave).

1:45. End of tags

In the exhibition, all of the titles are borrowed from the score for “Street Dance,” one of Lucinda Childs’ first choreographic works in the mid 1960s. The score is a set of directions for the audience, guiding their gaze and attention to objects in windows, to small actions and to architectural details at precise moments; e.g., “3:50   fire escape.” It’s a brilliant piece. There’s a way in which objects become performers, and that’s something we wanted to point to, to footnote. We want to point to dance history as well as ceramic history.

JTW: You are exploring media such as textiles and of course film. Yet the core of what you do seems centered around ceramics. What does clay offer that other materials may not?

BL: Jim Melchert has a lecture titled ‘Once a potter, always a potter’ where the thesis is that there is an infectious quality to ceramic production and ways of thinking. Regardless of other artistic activity, our formative time in the ceramics studio will impact how we think about and ultimately produce work. The films, performances and textiles are great examples of this infection, this fever. Our sweaters have puff paint applied as if it was crawl glaze, as well as references to Ettore Sottass’ ‘bacterio’ patterns. The labels on the sweaters are the recipes of the crawl glazes that we use. The films we’ve made promise to teach throwing on the potter’s wheel through hypnotism. So yes, perhaps now we are the vector. But all materials have their own specificities. We both just happened to be seduced by clay in adolescence, and here we are.

JTW: Can you tell me more about your collaborations – such as with Crush Studio? How do these collaborations come about? How do they play out in terms of working together and producing finished products? Are they expanding or limiting?

BL: Better Lovers is a collaboration between us (Jacob Raeder and Layla Marcelle) and we’ve collaborated with other artists, such as Crush Studios (Jenna Robb and Olivia Verdugo) as well as filmmaker Hsin-Yu Chen. The nature of our collaborations is a direct result of Layla’s experience as a choreographer and dancer, and the generative reality of multiple voices. Collaboration is a practice of communication.

Our collaboration is a back and forth of ideas that are rejected or elevated and begin to fuse into a singular focus. Collaboration often acts as wheatstone, grinding and sharpening the individual’s ideas more efficiently than if we were working on our own. Collaboration can look like division of labor, where everyone works towards their strengths, and the finished work is stronger as a whole. Collaboration can also look like cooking in a kitchen, like a dance, like watching a movie in a packed theater. We resist the idea of the virtuosic and instead lean into the idea of collaboration as AI prompt, as tarot reading, a protest march. The statistical aphorism “All models are wrong, but some are useful” seems appropriate when discussing our collaboration, and our collaboration’s collaborations – the seeking of useful, albeit flawed, ways of creating our art.

Better Lovers has a website and an Instagram site.

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