three thoughts on sculpture
sculpture as a process:
In the spring of 2006 I am preparing to leave New York and visit an artists residency in the woods of New Hampshire. In line at the post office to get my bills and credit card solicitations held for the next six weeks, I spy a poster that warns the public to be aware of mail that does not conform to the recognized standards of package-wrapping; examples include odd or bulky shapes, sloppy or illegible handwriting, poor grammar, foreign stamps, leaks or stains, foul smells, and exposed wires. Though troubled by the state of our collective paranoia, I am impressed by the idea that a simple object can become an “object of interest” through measures that are merely decorative.
In the woods, where many things look unusual to the urbanite, I collect a few iconic “natural” forms–a rotting piece of wood, a rock with a patch of moss atop it, broken slates from the roof of the studio building–and alter them to make them appear even more suspicious. I don’t include text in the work, but odd, bulky, sloppy, stained, and ‘wire-y’ are all eventually achieved, along with dusty, peeling and torn. Ordinary sticks and stones are transformed into instruments of destruction, wallflowers become agents of upheaval. When the “Notes from (Up)country” are seen back in the city, the public will sense their new purpose, and acknowledge them as art.
sculpture as a myth:
Sometimes a sculpture originates in a familiar fable, borrowed from the culture at large. In the comic book world, there exists a superhero quartet called “The Fantastic Four.” Each member is designed to embody one of the Aristotelian elements of the physical universe: air, water, fire, and earth. The earthen member of the foursome, known as “The Thing,” seems to be made entirely of indestructible orange-colored rocks that somehow still allow for normal anatomical motion. He’s not that clever or fast because, like most people who are “of the earth” or “down to earth,” he is dependable, honest, and hardworking instead. The Thing is also not good-looking, unlike the other members of the team, so he’s not socially adept or comfortable in a leadership position. His role is to be a blunt instrument of higher intellects, of greater causes.
His name, synonymous with the first building block of all forms, signifies an object of raw materiality, a seed of undifferentiated potential. I imagine this orange rock entity hurtling through the primordial void, on a collision course with our universe. The moment of impact is a blinding mathematical marvel, but after a few seconds, the visuals are better. The Thing unleashes an expansive, creative force. The result is a flowering of forms, a new diversity of life, multiple pathways to the future, and, one day in 2009, a sculpture to reify the event itself. “The Origin of the Things” is a scientific fallacy (there was no origin), but it works as a story.
sculpture as an argument:
When the apocalypse arrives, it is likely to go badly. In our post-prime America (circa 2010), there are a lot of good doomsday scenarios floating around. I am partial to the one involving the end of easily obtainable petroleum, which leads to an over-reliance on burning coal and wood as a desperate replacement, which will then devastate the environment on all fronts (climate change, soil erosion, food and water shortages). Uncontrolled fires and floods scour the landscape; society verges on collapse. The last sculptor-philosophers retreat to a remote bar, one repurposed from the hulking remains of a California freeway overpass, in order to soberly debate the options.
The four survivors are passionate supporters of competing plans to stave off extinction, and each one of “The Noble Savants” is determined to convince the others of the rightness of his position. The Southern Savant insists that solar power is the solution, which will replace the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. Even better if the panels can be made out of mahogany in order to blend in with the prevailing arts and crafts movement décor in his house. He dreams of “A More Liberal Battery.” The Eastern Savant suggests that everyone drop their desire for material well-being and embrace the quest for inner peace. He imagines an endless sequence of increasingly enlightening rebirths until he can achieve the status of “Avatar Fifty-Five.” The Western Savant has an “Extraction Proposal,” namely to keep on digging and drilling for more resources in the hope that a new bounty lies hidden in the ground. He is nostalgic for an earlier era when every variety of material was readily available. The Northern Savant is not convinced even at this late stage that things are that bad. He still has his backyard barbecue and would prefer that no one try to revoke “The Inalienable Right to Burn,” even if the grill consumes his only lines of defense.