Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Earthday Present

Recently I visited my parents house in West Salem, Wisconsin.
Many of my old sculptures live in various places on their property, like this lizard and bird, locked in a dramatic moment of survival. For my own amusement, and to solve a problem involving a broken tail, I created a museum-like diorama. The bird has gotten the lizard by the tail, which will break off and allow the reptile to escape. In a few years, the tail will have regrown to surpass its original length.
Behind the house is a forest and a cornfield, a valley, and another hill like our own. Over that hill is Best Buy and Barnes and Nobles. Eventually you reach the Mississippi.

Down in the forest , while still an undergrad in college, I placed a sculpture of a fat farmer. More than a decade has past since I visited him, so I decided to perform some upkeep on Earthday.He was once wearing pants, but the elements had long since consumed them, leaving exposed the synthetic batting that had given his legs form. I pulled out the filler, watching the millipedes and worms scurry, and shortened his legs.
That was better. I fixed his posture a bit, too, leaning him forward and adjusting his hat. This sculpture is not particularly graceful, and was more than anything else an early exercise in welding. The best part, possibly is the outstretched hand created from found-objects.

After I had finished rejuvenating my old friend, I noticed something peculiar sticking out from his back.A closer investigation yielded an extraordinary find. A deer had shed one of his fall antlers into my sculpture! All my life growing up in these hills, I had searched for shed antlers, but had never found any. Now I had been given one by an 8-point buck who, by this season, was probably a real trophy, ready to be executed by hunters. Thank you Mr. Deer!

Later that same day, organizing some old things in a closet, I found an old favorite book.I had bought it at a rummage sale in the late 90's and it had been very influential in forming my worldview. The book is assembled from oral traditions of the surviving Hopi elders, dictated to Frank Waters in the early 60's. Their myths are unique in that they recall multiple creations and destructions, during the latter phase of each they claim to have been taken to protection underground by special beings called Kachinas, who in this world are similar to insects.

In the present day, the 4th creation, the Hopi people were given a task upon emerging from underground to the surface of the new continent. They were to split up into 4 clans and trek as far as possible in each of the 4 cardinal directions before turning right and spiraling into the central point once again. The journeys might take thousands of years, but were necessary according to the Great Spirit in order to properly begin the life of the new land and claim it for their people. Eventually, a few hundred years ago, the remaining groups arrived at Oraibi, Arizona, which is where they remain to this day. According to these elders, most other indigenous inhabitants of North and South America are Hopi's that gave up the mission, stopped migrating, or got lost and formed lasting settlements. To mark their beginnings, some of the ancients buried statues in crypts, breaking off a piece to carry with them as they continued on their journey, with the plan of reassembling the entire sacred object when they returned.

In 1999 I made a sculpture based off these parameters. It was a free-standing Kachina with two deer horns. The face was made from a vintage electric can-opener. When I left for the East, the sculpture remained stored in a closet at my parents' house. He now lays atop a massive pile of my other early work. Somewhere along the lines, in a dramatic moment of my past, a horn had broken off. The evening had been intense and filled with emotion. I have traveled with the missing horn ever since. Serendipitously, the new antler fit the empty spot perfectly, showing growth and re-emergence.
At once I realized that the sculpture had come full circle, regrowing what was lost, apart from my presence. Creative magic, in harmony with nature, working with me on my art. To have a Kachina working for me is better than having a wealthy benefactor, since the Hopis are the true owners of the whole continent. This entire experience has been encouraging, giving me the strength I need to push forward as an artist in New York City.

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