Ash Arder is a transdisciplinary, researched-focused artist from Flint, Michigan whose work investigates ecological and industrial systems, especially in consideration of the power dynamics between humans, machines, and the natural world. Her practice illuminates moments of intimacy, tenderness, and connection within industrial spaces. She transforms recognizable objects like hardhats and car parts into sculptural forms that contrast the hard, cold bodies of mechanical tools with the soft, warm bodies of the humans that deploy them.
Arder is a 2018 graduate of the Fiber Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art, and Flesh Tones is the artist’s first solo museum exhibition and the second installment of Cranbrook Art Museum’s Fresh Paint series, which highlights new work from Detroit-area artists. Through deeply personal family narratives, Arder’s practice explores the impact and legacy of the automotive industry in southeastern Michigan. The departure point for Flesh Tones is a photograph of her late parents celebrating her baby shower at the General Motors factory where they were employed. By extracting and highlighting different objects, textures, and details from the assembly line, Arder contrasts the cold, hard forms of machines with the warm, soft bodies of the humans who operate them. The intertwining of personal and industrial histories continues with Arder’s manipulation of a 1987 Cadillac Sedan de Ville – her family car from childhood – that she sourced from a junkyard and deconstructed.
Flesh Tones encompasses a celebration of community brought together through industry while also exposing the complicated nature of aligning identity and well-being with material possessions. Arder’s work memorializes the often obsolete, ephemeral residue of a system at a crossroads in a time of climate change. Rather than a melancholy goodbye to the proverbial, resource-intensive machine, she offers an optimistic rebirth through a demonstration of solar power. Arder harnesses the source of renewable energy to ask who is keeping whom—or what—alive in a time defined by inextricable human-machine relationships.