I noticed, the other day, that this older sculpture, titled Letterbox, didn’t ever get on my new www.archart.net website, and while the piece was created sometime in late 2002, probably, it remains one of my strongest pieces, which makes its website absence all the more strange. Now in the hands of a private collector—i.e., someone bought it!—Letterbox was the first in what is an on-again/off-again series that I’m particularly drawn to, and a model for a number of new pieces in the works.
One of my arguments for assemblage sculpture is that media—letters, photos, film strips, slides, documents, and so forth—is a valid new artistic medium (well, really, not all that new, but pretty much since mid-Twentieth Century), along with found objects generally. While there are old such records—think gravestones and the practice of rubbing, old manuscript and books, and ancient artifacts of many types that hold a similar representation—the sheer scope and scale of the traces of our lives today provide for a rich and evocative artistic medium that is largely new. (In a recent New Yorker, there is an article that falls within the magazines “Department of Public Health,” and written by Kathryn Schulz, about death certificates, which date back only around 120 years. The article is a fascinating read.)
What I find especially interesting is that such media provides the sense of record, and that such records represent occasion for strong projection of meaning, by viewers, onto these fragments, hints, and other evidence in our modern life. An excerpt from my artist statement for the Bromfield Art Gallery show still holds up, I think:
My art is made out of the material created in the headlong rush of materialism: recoveries from forgotten trunks, drawers, and boxes, gleanings of estates, flea markets, and tag sales, and the revealed and retrieved from streets, sidewalks, and trash piles. The material includes media—photographs, slides, cards, prints—that are plentiful, to say the least. But there’s more: the written and printed record of personal and public lives is also copious, from the informational sort, such as diaries, letters, books, documents, and magazines, to the many and various recording products, such as films, records, and tapes.
Not surprisingly, these objects are capable of being powerfully infused with nostalgia. After all, our homes and lives have been crammed with such things, and they are part of our shared experience. Even physical objects with which viewers are not personally involved (such as an anonymous fourth-grade class photograph, or an unfamiliar piece of costume jewelry) are likely to have meaning projected on to them by viewers.
In Letterbox, I used cut strips of various letters, mixed, to form collages that are sandwiched in glass panels suspended in a hidden and rather complicated—but stable!—system using mono-filament and springs, among other items, over an upholstered red velvet base. The lighting comes from Christmas lights attached under the top cover, with its cherry wood and ceramic slab top, and which is held up with plate glass panels. The letter strips are not particularly readable (too narrow, for the most part), but people seem to find the fragments intriguing, in part, no doubt, because of the strangely hyper-formal presentation of them.
The image used in this post was used in a gallery one-man show called CONVERGENCE OF THINGS: OBJECTS AS MEDIA—Assemblage, Found Objects, Utility, and Intentional Presentation, at Bromfield Art Gallery, back when it was still at the Thayer Street location in Boston.