Sunday, April 6, 2008

Winner takes all, Losers make all

Autumn equinox 2007, from Greenpoint, looking west.

Nothing drives everything the way that competition and cooperation do. The ebb and flow of these two behaviors is a primal element of nature, permeating the rise of life, civilization, religion and economics. Left to it's own devices, creation uses destruction as fuel. A species cooperates for the sake of its own survival and competes with other species doing the same; some win, some lose. This system is efficient for maintaining stability, but only apart from distinction between right and wrong. We as humans have the unique ability to make this choice and to discern between options, recognizing the difference between good and bad decisions. When groups of people work together to defeat other groups working together towards the same goal, a tremendous amount of activity is wasted by both sides. In the end, only a tiny sliver of time goes into accomplishing something and the rest goes into hindering others and defending oneself against the hindrances of others. It seems a world wary species like our own has but one common interest to share, the survival of our planet and our race. Cooperation could do it.

We are perched at an epic pinnacle. Thousands of years of preparation have paved the way for an amazing opportunity. Beginning with early families and tribes, small groups long ago joined forces to work together against other mysterious and possibly dangerous groups simultaneously forming elsewhere. Eventually cooperating groups everywhere began forming cities, states and countries, until finally merging into a global empire. This is inevitable and unavoidable, the goal of all history. Hundreds if not thousands of miles separated our ancestors, but now, following the birth of the digital revolution, we're all instantly capable of spanning the globe. Our competitive spirit has gotten us here, and it's an achievement unparalleled that we should be proud of. Suddenly, as difficult as it might seem to achieve, the option nonetheless exists for us to stop fighting against each other and work together towards challenges that can benefit and enlighten the entire population. We've reached a point where a large amount of people worldwide are educated and civil, many long-standing cultural barriers between us have been torn down, and empathy has achieved at a planetary high. Originally, only the biggest governments could span great distances, the power to span and influence the world was theirs alone, because only they could realistically encompass it. Yet, recently, with the blossoming of the internet, the world belongs to the people, suddenly every individual holds global power as well. The question is, now that they're both on the same field, will these two world powers compete or cooperate?

The very nature of a government claiming to be "of the people, for the people, and by the people" is that it should not compete with its citizens, so when people have the same tools as the government, in theory there should be massive forward advancement, like 2 players on the same team. When it comes to global concerns, however, the governments remain covetous and distrustful, natural for someone who's been working alone for so long that the new option of a partner holds little appeal. The question becomes whether or not we can convince the government to put more faith in it's people and stop trying to do everything on it's own.

At some point in my life I came into possession of a dozen or so green-foam novelty statues of Liberty. They were made as wedding favors and tossed out after the party. I knew I wanted to make them into some artwork, but couldn't decide exactly what. One day something motivated me to turn them into Mr. Yuk. For those unfamiliar, here's a crash course, in the form of a scary public service announcement.

When I was a child in the early 80's, they gave us Mr. Yuk stickers at school. We were supposed to put them on dangerous items in our homes but we put them on everything. Imagine the level of fear that a kid's notebook would inspire if someone had just seen this commercial and never seen a notebook before, then saw one with these stickers on it. We were trivializing the warning, in theory wasting someone's time and effort spent designing its effectiveness. Sometimes unsupervised propaganda becomes improperly applied, especially when distributed in faith with a particular intention in mind and the assumption that the recipients will respect that. Art and propaganda are identical, they always have been, and there's power in that if properly used.

The major problem to solve when working with these foam statues was how to keep them from tearing, as I had chosen to stitch them together with black wire, and the foam has no structure internally. I inserted a framework of wire into each statue individually, and was able to quickly make the image I'd envisioned. The effect mimics medical sutures, which was my intent. Additional elements chosen were composed of dismembered plastic army men, and the perimeter was a chain made from binoculars that had come as accessories with a military action figure.

This was a good start, but definitely not a finished piece by itself. The job of Mr. Yuk is to identify dangerous things. He is our friend. The fact that I had built him from Statues of Liberty did not mean I was labeling the Statues as poisonous, only identifying the source of the message. In order to complete the thought, I would need someplace to stick the sticker, something that needed to be identified as dangerous.

My eventual decision was to stick it to America. I'm not unpatriotic, but these last several years have been unthinkably ridiculous, and we've all had to watch in horror as our reputation worldwide plummets and our debt balloons. Putting Mr. Yuk in the center of the continent would be a personal assessment of the nature of the contents of the bottle that's our nation: sickening. The next question was what to make the country from. I considered money, as that seems to be the basic reason that things were able to reach the imbalance we now see. When it's easier to make money through misdeed than valor, the ones who eventually have the most are the ones most willing to crush others. This is a significant concern that needs addressing, but to make the United States from money itself would be too simple. I wasn't interested. I needed to develop a suitable substitution. I decided to aim for the original components that gave money value: gold and silver. I had a vision.


In my neighborhood there's a place that used to be a trophy shop, and still would be, if not for China's negation of labor costs in the production of everything. The guy that owns the building makes a living by running a continuous rummage sale, and he's got a little bit of everything. One day I went over and asked him how many trophies I could get for twenty dollars. He told me to fill a box. He threw in another box of broken ones for free. Instantly I had hundreds of tiny people, each cast into a crude facsimile of precious metal, intended to reward great achievements in multiple events. These men and women represent only the winners; the top 2 percent. I was eager to work with such talent.

I began by fashioning a wooden ring, the same size as Mr. Yuk, which would serve as the frame.

I drilled holes directly in the frame, and mounted trophies directly to it using their own hardware.

After the perimeter was saturated, I began to build outwards, sawing bases from figures and wiring them together.

I used 18 gauge steel wire for most connections, wrapping around wrists, ankles, necks and chests.

I chose the placement of each figure carefully, making effort to achieve a proper balance of density and space. In time, a familiar shape materialized.

The coast was not clear. I had done some polls of people around me, and was discovering that nobody but me was familiar with Mr. Yuk. This was a setback, because without widespread recognition, the image would make little sense. Thus I abandoned my original idea and began to develop a new, universally comprehensible plan. Soon I knew what needed to be done. Who was going to do it?


(this army)

I would place metal champions side by side with plastic heroes, the greatest of our athletes and the best of our soldiers, all eager to spread democracy. It would be epic.

First I gathered up the troops.
One by one, the men fell into position.

Bases were built, supply lines were formed.
In time, the troop buildup reached a critical level.
The hour to act was at hand. An ultimatum was issued.

And the mightiest army in the world leaped into action.

Completed, I turned it over and added some structure.

This sculpture describes the USA in terms of places and pursuits, at home and abroad. Here we have few concerns, and balance our time between our occupations and recreations. Worldwide we act differently, playing war with real weapons and money. In these conflicts, there is no first or second place, the loser is simply the third world.

the following video was taken while this sculpture was in progress

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