What if the sky was on the ground, and we looked down instead of up? But then what happens to the ground? If it's on the same level as the sky, perhaps our perceptions of both could shift.

In St. Louis-based artist Kahlil Robert Irving's exhibition "Archaeology of the Present" at the Walker Art Center, visitors are greeted with a raised wooden platform with various sculptures popping out of it. There's a large black-painted ceramic cylindrical shape that visitors can touch but not enter. There are squares and rectangles of ceramic tiles with various detritus baked into them. On a two-channel video, there's footage of a city street on one screen and the sky on the other.

"The installation at the Walker overall relates to theater," Irving said. "Instead of theater being something that you sit and look at, this has a bit more of an experiential opportunity for the viewer."

The performative nature occurs because people have to enter into the platform and interact in the space with the art, and maybe even with one another.

"The emphasis on physical experience is kind of the driving force," Walker Curatorial Assistant William Hernández Luege said. "There is a way in which we're not hand-holding the experience of the work but instead creating this structure that guides the way in which you interact."

Irving's practice focuses on everyday objects that he re-creates and recontextualizes in the studio. He works primarily in ceramics and aims to challenge Western cultural ideas while calling attention to the ways that the lived experiences of race and class are embedded into oppressive systems of control.

Last year, he had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that focused on the internet as a living archive of everyday Black life, death, survival and more. But for his Walker show, he wants to keep viewers in the present.

"I'm dealing with real stuff," Irving said. "I'm not trying to fool people by the coincidental nature or the intentional representation of something. … It relates to the stuff that's right here with us right now."

Sky is not the limit

The two-channel video of the sky and the ground, aptly titled "Sky View {(for wonder) "Snap}," is one such example. In Western culture, the sky often symbolizes unlimited possibilities — think of slogans such as "Reach for the sky," "Where wonders take flight" or "Unleash the power of blue." The sky seems to symbolize endless potential, whereas the ground feels like a difficult and concrete reality. But the ground is absolutely a necessity — think of phrases like "pounding the pavement" and the ardor it invokes.

The present day is right under our feet, not up in the clouds.

"Ground Gate – [Way View, glam and glitter (Aligned)] Portal" and "Streetview | Pool & Paper (Underground star ways)" are both rectangular shapes of glazed and unglazed ceramic tiles, decals, luster and enamel that sit just below the surface of the platform. The black tiles are covered with white dust-like patterns, like the stars — but not at all — because various detritus suggests that it's the ground. There's a cover of the New York Times, an outline of a flattened bottle, a car air freshener in the shape of a pine tree.

Irving felt inspired by the mosaic floors of Antakya, an ancient city in what is now southeastern Turkey and northern Syria that was hit by two devastating earthquakes on Feb. 6, and then two more two weeks later, killing more 50,000 people. The ancient mosaic tile floors may not even be intact anymore, but the ones Irving saw portrayed scenes of everyday life, mythology and nature from ancient times.

Ironically, while many of the elements in this piece look like found objects, everything is made by Irving in his studio and then glazed and the surface is covered in enamel.

"The issue of these works is they look like they're fragments, but actually it's built together as one piece," Irving said. "It's this inversion of what we think it is versus what it actually is."

Irving's sculptural installation isn't anything like what the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden outside represents.

"When someone's walking into the gallery, and there are other people in the room, those people become a part of the sculpture," Irving said, "whereas outside, everyone's just audience except on the Siah Armajani bridge, where it becomes activated when the people are on it."

'Kahlil Robert Irving: Archaeology of the Present'

When: Ends Jan. 21, 2024.

Where: Walker Art Center, 725 Vineland Place, Mpls.

Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed. & Fri.-Sun.; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thu.

Cost: $2-$15.

Info: walkerart.org or 612-375-7600.