Sunday, August 31, 2008

facts & fingers/A MIRACLE on Dupont Street

One month has passed since I severed the two tendons in my left hand, and the process of healing is advancing slowly but steadily. I have recently been fitted with a new, space-age splint, which is a major advancement from the smelly, dingy piece of plaster I've had bandaged to my arm since the surgery.
I've also been receiving quite a barrage of hospital bills, which, coupled with my virtual inability to generate any sort of income, has left me crippled financially to boot.Fortunately, the cost was nowhere near as high as I'd expected. I like to think of it like I bought artwork from a very talented artist, who happens to be a surgeon, and it's an installation piece involving my hand. I've actually sold artwork in the same range, and the purchase was definitely something I needed, utilitarian even: a hand. The discount for not having insurance was HUGE: more than 75%! Added to Obama's amazing acceptance speech Thursday, my faith in humanity grows.
Once the swelling goes down, I'll be able to begin regaining usage, until then I have time to reflect upon and appreciate the kinds of things we often take for granted. In addition, my direction has been shifted. After a decade of focusing solely on making sculpture, I find myself unable to continue, and am forced to seek other routes of creative release.

One particularly latent talent involves storytelling, so, as promised in an earlier post, I will reveal the specifics of my accident. Unlike Cindy McCain, this was more than a handshake injury. I won't go into the moments leading up to the event, but will admit it was very early in the morning and I had been out having drinks with some friends beforehand nearby.

I felt it too late to call my roommates when I realized I'd forgotten my keys, and in a tragic moment of bravado, decided I would climb to my terrace and let myself in. I got the idea that this could be done about a year ago, when, sitting at my computer reading the news, I was startled by a knock on my window. A roommate had found himself in a similar circumstance and scaled the wall. I could picture the succession of steps involved, and figured if ever in the same bind I could easily do the same. I had planned this; it was waiting for me.
I'm comfortable with the idea that man evolved from monkey. I eat a banana daily, and have always considered myself capable of pulling my body into the air, even without a tail. This was a quick succession of 6 foot climbs, and given the layout of the roof, I would never be more than dropping distance above a safe surface. The first step involved shimmying up a drainspout to the top of a rollgate.
Unfortunately for me, in the darkness, I approached the project hastily and paid dearly for my lapse in caution. The first thing I grabbed was a piece of stainless steel that held the drainspout to the building. It offered a great handhold, yet ran at a terrible angle towards the pipe, probably to discourage people from climbing it. When I tried to free my hand for the next step, I found my fingers hopelessly stuck, pinched by my bodyweight against the curve. Dangling 8 feet from the ground, unable to go up or down, I experienced a sensation similar to sheer panic, but worse. As I struggled to free my fingers, my strength began to give out. I have never felt so helpless or scared in my entire life. I remember thinking I needed help, then seeing blood.

The next thing I recollect is sitting on the front steps to my building, around the corner and down the street, looking down at my fingers, and realizing I was seriously injured. I'm not sure what happened between but I assume it was a miracle. I pulled my phone from my pocket and began to call roommates, over and over, trying to keep pressure on my fingers while I did so. Eventually I gave up, put my head down, and was sick several times. I'm not sure how many minutes passed before my telephone rang, but I remember snapping awake and croaking into it that I was hurt. By the time I had climbed the stairs, my energy returned. I rinsed my fingers in the sink, doused them in peroxide and wrapped them up tight.

As wrong as it seems, my greatest worry was having no health insurance, and I waited more than 12 hours before finally agreeing to go to the emergency room. Crazy. Eventually, I was dragged by a concerned friend to St. Vincents in Manhattan. I was fortunate he did so when he did. My injuries would never have healed had I not, plus I risked near certain infection. I could have lost my fingers or worse. As it stands, I am on the road to recovery, lucky, and thankful for having great friends and hospital staff.

What did I learn? That I'm not invincible. Darn. So much for that theory.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

FOR SALE: the Product Project

Due to the recent economic downturn in my life, I have decided to resurrect some mass-produceable artwork from my past. I have the raw materials to start manufacturing these immediately, and will be taking orders from anybody interested. Both items are available for $60 each, or together for $100. These are handmade, limited addition art objects, signed and dated by me.

read on to learn the background behind these rare commodities

PRODUCT ONE: The Barbantula
the original:1999

In 1999, I created a spider sculpture using found objects and Barbie doll legs. During the next year, I made 4 or five as commissions for interested people. Each was original and unique, and sold for $75. Little did I suspect, this project would follow me for years.

second series:2004

In the summer of 2004, having just earned my Masters degree and trying to plot my next move, I found myself at a dollar store buying 2 dozen "Made in China" Barbie knockoffs. This 24 dollar investment was to become my ticket to the life of a traveling salesman. I tinkered around for a day or two until I had developed the quickest, cleanest solution possible. I figured that for $40 apiece, I would multiply my initial investment tenfold. I put up a link on my website, and wandered the streets of Manhattan with a suitcase full. Eventually I met some other artists who were also interested in selling art on the street, and I set up near Union Square.

What followed was one of the slowest and most boring afternoons of my life. People passing by would turn their heads, but nobody stopped. I was told to try the East Village, which I did, and there people would stop and talk, but I was scared away when another artist showed me a ticket he'd just been given. The last place I tried was Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, where plenty of people thought they were awesome, but where people barely have enough money to afford deodorant, and everyone makes their own art anyway.

I scrapped the idea and dropped off the entire stock at a store on 1st Ave. called ModWorld, where I managed to sell one on consignment for $80 before the place went out of business and disappeared without ever contacting me or returning the remaining pieces. By this point I was deep into many other things and not too concerned.
third series: 2006

Two years later, something unexpected occurred. My mom has a friend who liked going to thrift stores with a friend. It was her hobby, however, she didn't particularly want to buy anything for herself. She knew that in the past I had made art from dolls, and she started buying a few Barbies each time, for less than a buck apiece. As time went by, a few dozen became hundreds, and I began receiving them in the mail.

These were real Barbies, with the patented bendy leg. They were much nicer than the fakes I had used for the second series. I decided to revisit the project for a third time, and developed one more prototype in 2006. This time I considered it to be more of an art project about consumerism than a way to make money. I was frustrated by the New York artworld and the emphasis on making artwork simply to sell. I made one dozen, and developed a cardboard "package" with stenciled lettering, which was designed to hang on the wall like a painting. I called the project "Don't Tell Mattel", alluding to the potential corporate lawsuit I might face if someone blew the whistle.
This is the kind of tongue-in-cheek humor that I've always enjoyed perpetrating, and the final design is quite elegant. I've given all but one of the 12 away as gifts, but now stand poised to create more. These are the collector's items of the future, guaranteed.

PRODUCT TWO: Corrugated Omelette
readable sculpture

In 1997, at the age of 21, I created quite a stir in my area by being featured on the front page of the entertainment section of the local newspaper. The story title was "Ted's Different Slant" and stemmed from a package I had mailed to the editor containing a copy of a hand-made book entitled "Corrugated Omelette." He was so surprised by my ambition that he read the book and wrote a favorable review. When the story aired, I received over 100 orders and went to work mass producing dozens at a time. I lived off these things for months, and everyone who bought a copy loved it.

The book is 80 pages long and the cover is made from cardboard, hence the title. The content is fiction, seven short stories I wrote in college while earning a degree in art with a creative writing minor. The project itself overlapped departments and I received independent study credits in sculpture and literature. I self-published using my first initial and middle name, T. Thomas Stanke, because it's a cool pen name.

The end result is a fun read, combining text with collage elements cut from Time-Life books I got at the Salvation Army as illustrations. The rest of this post is the first story, a funny bit of social commentary that sets the tone for the rest of the tales. The final story, not included here, purports to be a missing section of the Bible, written by "doubting Thomas", which paints a picture of Jesus as a lover of colored eggs and bunnies. Hilarious.

Read on as if this blog was the book:

Both of these products are available directly through me, for $100 each, handmade, signed, limited additions.
If you'd like a Barbantula or Corrugated Omelette of your own, please contact me directly:

FAN LETTER circa 2001

Going through some old papers recently, I discovered the only non-electronic fan letter I've ever received.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

BIDEN MY TIME/getting a head

I have to admit I was pleased to hear about Obama's decision this weekend to choose Joseph Biden as his running mate. We might finally have a shot at escaping the greasy clutches of the corpulent corporate constituents who've been gleefully profiting from the recent downfall of America.
I feel closely personally connected to Joe, because 4 years ago, when John Edwards was in his present shoes beside John Kerry, Biden delivered the commencement address at my MFA graduation ceremony at the University of Delaware. It was a beautiful afternoon, and spirits were running high. We were about a year into the conflict in Iraq, and sentiment on the conservative campus ran with the troops.Biden began with a rousing show of approval for the young, talented graduates, hearkening the day he'd graduated from the same university, young, determined, and filled with unflappable resolve. That being said, he spent the next 3/4 of his podium time regretfully admitting that he had been misled by the current administration into voting to invade Iraq. He fervently called folly on the bogus intelligence presented, and expressed his desire for an immediate change in the entire operation.
All around, the stands erupted in boos and hisses. Hecklers called out gruff insults like they were at a sporting event, yet the applause was also loud, and no-one clapped as hard as me. Hearing him say this was an unexpected cherry on top of the banana split that had been my masters program. Total satisfaction. I felt at the time I could relate to this noble senator. I had just completed tons (literally) of sculptures, and was also ready hit the world running. Additionally, I shared Biden's conviction regarding the danger in actions fueled by bravado and greed. Man's lust for shiny objects has plagued our species for thousands of years, and blinds those who fall victim to its charms, turning them into violent, dangerous, stupid creatures.
At some earlier point in my schooling, I participated in an outdoor show in the garden of the Agriculture Department. There was some sort of expo taking place, and a lot of bigwigs would be coming be to eat barbecue and drink mimosas. I installed a large metal sculpture, hoping to generate a possible sale. The area has deep pools of colonial money, and I felt like this sculpture might make a great addition to someone's private estate. The sculpture was placed in a clearing atop a rock terrace, staked into the ground with 2 foot metal spikes. A soft bed of green nestled it gently.
Nearby, there was purportedly an experimental cow with a window in its side that let you watch it turn alfalfa into mud. Ah, science.
A few stragglers showed up for the sneak preview, but the real celebration would take place that weekend. I left the area feeling content, excited.When I rode my bicycle down the next afternoon, this is what I found: NOTHING.Overnight, my sculpture had disappeared completely. All that remained was one screw. Shit!
I felt sick to my stomach. Never in my wildest dreams had I expected this, and I didn't exactly know what to do. I needed to file a police report. Before doing so, I went to the sculpture facility to discuss the crime with my professor. When I got there, I ran into another gradstudent who asked me why my sculpture was in the scrapyard out back.

I investigated, and sure enough, there it was, face badly smashed, mysteriously returned to its point of origin. I tried top imagine what kind of people would willfully destroy someone else's artwork. Barbaric indeed. I was pissed.I wonder if the artist who spent umpteen weeks pouring his efforts into the likeness of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad felt the same way when he saw our troops yanking it off its pedestal with heavy machinery. Similarly, I'm sure the artists who carved the giant Buddha in Afghanistan destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 would share my disbelief and shock, had they not been dead for 1400 years.
Unfortunately, as artists, we make powerful images, and people react. Fortunately, in my case, the intent was more likely admiration than anger, perpetrated by people simply unable to resist a cool, shiny object. The fact that it had been returned made things easier to stomach. I just wished they hadn't damaged the face. I dragged it into my studio and hoisted it to the ceiling, pondering the mystery and trying to shake the sour feeling I had been dealt.
Later, discussing the event with other gradstudents, a likely solution began to emerge.
We tried to imagine the kind of off-kilter mentality these kind of people must have. I couldn't believe the short-sightedness that went into helping themselves to something so obviously not theirs, ultimately stealing my chance to make a decent sale and gain some local exposure.

It was well known that the campus had its fair share of frat houses. Even without evidence, they seemed the likely culprits, using it as the centerpiece for some drunken escapade. FUCK YEAH!!! The theory was corroborated by an undergrad who had seen the sculpture in the middle of the street as she returned home from a night of drinking. She'd thought it was a dream, but it proved the path had not been a straight line.
Little did I know that, in one year when I was waiting to collect my diploma, these same rowdy meatheads would be booing the commencement speaker and future vice-presidential nominee. Idiots.Ironically, another staunch fratboy was also delivering a commencement address around the same time somewhere else. This time it was a future ex-president, a war-president. FUCK YEAH!!!!!!
I bet he didn't decry the debacle in the Middle East the way that Biden did, but then again, I'll bet I know which one actually wrote his own speech....DUH!