Monday, May 5, 2008

life change/BIG MONEY

In the Summer of 2002, I moved to Delaware to earn my MFA. With me I carried a U-haul trailer full of metal. These works in progress would become the first part of my thesis.
Constructed entirely from found-objects, my cargo was portraiture of great American men.
The project idea had come to me following a degree of introspection on what it meant to be an artist in the contemporary world versus what artists have traditionally been employed to create.

The way I saw it, my government had paid artists to depict its presidents for hundreds of years. By doing the same, I thought I might vicariously feel legitimate, patriotic.
Of course the original scale was no good. On our coins, you can barely see the skill with which these realistic portraits of men long dead have been rendered. Artists whose names would be difficult to discover were paid taxpayer money to design these ubiquitous objects. I would resurrect their efforts, pay them their dues.
I exponentially expanded them, building a Romanesque monument to money.
Each step when creating the backgrounds was controlled and planned.
I chose the materials I used based on two criteria. Primarily, it had to be abundant, and cheap if not free, also, it had to possess an inherent value that far exceeded its present insignificance.
License plates, for example, represent time and money. These are official badges that allow vehicles access to the street. Rules and regulations aplenty rely on these strings of random letters and numbers to identify and classify drivers. Plucked from junked-out autos, each has a story known only to those who lived it.
Can lids, though worthless and abundant, have each played a vital role in providing one or more people with nourishment. Symbolically, these represent lives being lived, calories and digestion.
Compact discs hold the most important thing that humans share: information. In 2002, America Online had peppered the world with them, thinking that dial-up modems would last forever. Mailboxes everywhere were inundated with packaging that defied logic in its opulence.
Finally, pennies. Money itself, more worthless than it's face value. To purchase this much copper would have cost me hundreds of dollars.
Once people knew I wanted pennies, jars and buckets began to appear at my studio.
I sorted them according to finish and age, the old and the new.
Each coin needed 4 holes precisely drilled before it could be woven into the pattern with copper wire.
Though an exact count has never to my knowledge been taken, I would estimate that approximately 6000 pennies were used.
Making coins holds symbolism on multiple levels.
Our lives are run by money. Very little happens on the planet that does not require it.

By capturing it monumentally, I was able to direct attention to something to which we've become numb.
Everyday we generate more of these, the end result of our transactions. We throw them on the table or drop them on the floor.
Yet they return and accumulate.
These coins are are signs that lives have been lived, the driving force behind all action, the reduction of a paycheck.
We worship large accumulations but discard the smallest particles like trash.
What I had made were self-portraits, not only of me, but encompassing us all.
We made a collective decision, millenniums ago, to put our faith in this invention, and then to trade our time for it alone.
Since then it's created the world we now see, to the degree that we tend to believe that there could be no other system.
No one can say whether it's pushed us forward or held us back, because we have no other model for comparison. We are stuck with it.
Enlarging the smallest currencies of the current global superpower is a way of presenting the insignificant in such a way as to give it value in our minds rather than our bank accounts.
To draw attention to details in life we overlook or have forgotten.

Truly these are significant objects, no matter how comfortable we've become with disregarding them.
As an artist, making coins presented me with a unique and exciting challenge.
I needed to study my models as carefully as possible, knowing that the audience would be in possession of identical objects.

Any hint of inaccuracy could discredit my skill in rendering realistic representations with foundobjects.

Imagine looking at a painting in a museum and being able to have the models on hand to verify the skill of the artist.
In a world where becoming an artist is a financial mistake, creating money from nothing holds much allure.
My biggest expense was time and hardware.
The entire project took me one year.
This year consisted of endless 12-15 hour workdays.
Seven days a week, month after month.
The time passed quickly.
I was driven by the desire to see these objects appear.
My concern was not their monetary value, but rather the value in the power of their images.


1 comment:

Joey Mugica said...

I find your work INSPIRATIONAL. I read your profile and so agree with many of your views. It is indeed a reality that we are an amazingly wasteful society. I am a recovering alcoholic who was in a near fatal car collision. I'm 6 months into my road to recovery and have become inspired to go back to school to become what I have always been, an artist. Thank you for creating! I too intend to make this the year of creation and not consumption.