Thursday, August 21, 2008

SHOCK & AWE/fear & disbelief

Most people assume that my sculptures include lots of welds, however, this is not true. The variety of incongruous materials I select makes welding near impossible, as only two metals of the same composition can be joined to each other. Additionally, the abundance of painted surfaces, as well my frequent decision to use plastic or wooden objects makes welding even less preferred, as these materials will constantly burst into flames from the sparks.
"Encyclopaedia Anatomica"

Spring 2003. While attending gradschool in Delaware, with access to full metal facilities and a great iron scrapyard, I created my only welded sculpture ever. Inspired by a copy of Encyclopaedia Anatomica, which is an amazing book containing photographs of wax models from a museum in Italy, I had an idea. The subject matter for my project would be "the five senses".
I began by creating an ear, 3 feet wide and 4 feet tall, which weighed about 100 pounds. I built the framework from welded, rusted iron, then added chrome and aluminum highlights by drilling holes and using nuts and bolts.
I paid special heed to the three tiny bones, the incus, maleus & stapes, that turn sounds from the world into electric impulses that our brains understand. I made them from trophies. The cut-away nature of the view reveals a cochlea in the inner-ear that is the horn from an old automobile.
The second sense to emerge would be smell. I did a quick sketch of my reflection using the glass of a welding hood, and I used it as a guide for the shape of the nostril and bridge.
Most of the metal came from car parts I scavenged nearby.
I wasn't content with a nose alone. I felt the need to include the sinus chamber as well.
The parts were selected by two criteria: color and shape. When working with found-objects I always prefer a natural finish to an altered one.
The cross-section was framed by a few cut and distorted bicycle rims.
Together, the two new sculptures took up nearly 10 feet of wallspace. I was eager to make the eye next, but then something tragic and unbelievable occurred, and the world stood still to watch it happen. In the months preceding, Bush had been cackling soundbites about WMD's and Iraq. "Nine eleven" was still being said often, and troops were being amassed. The administration was dead-set on gettin' Sadaam outa' there, and contractors were licking their lips as invasion seemed eminent. Planes began dropping flyers over the future battlefields in anticipation of the big event. Newsmedia raised the prices on prime advertising slots and began gearing-up reporters who were interested in being front line embedded. Yet for all the whining, and all the phonecalls, Bush was unable to get the approval of the UN, so it seemed relatively safe to assume that we would hold our ground. That's what I believed would happen, and I wasn't worried. I thought war was something that was earned, not purchased. I thought there were rules.
actual US leaflet

Then, one day while driving down to the ocean with my parents who were visiting me for a few days from Wisconsin, the radio station broke for a special, presidential, announcement. We all fell silent in disbelief as a squeaky cowboy issued an ultimatum to the military of Iraq to lay down their weapons and surrender in 72 hours, or face dire consequences. Not ten minutes had passed and the radio station went back to playing the Britney Spears as if nothing had happened.
actual US leaflet

I went to sleep that evening with a heavy weight on my mind. When the WTC towers fell it had been tragic and emotional. The senselessness of such deliberate destruction of lives and cities was horrific, and to have prevented it from happening by having had prior knowledge would very well have been the greatest miracle our planet had seen since JFK's successful last-minute agreement with Kruschev during the Cuban Missle Crisis. Unfortunately, this time, we had no warning, and prevented nothing. Now, considering Baghdad's predicament, and imagining how many more people might lose their lives and cities in less than a week, one could only pray for someone else to intervene, the international community, or congress. Nobody did.
Back in my MFA studio, during the 72 hour period, I was possessed. I continued to work on my artwork, only now the medical association dissolved. I was staring instead at body parts. Around the time the first aerial bombardments began, the "nose" became too heavy and crashed overnight to the ground, ripping a large section from the wall, and cracking the slab of the concrete floor. The final shape would weigh 550 pounds.
As our troops surged ahead, I thought a lot about violence, death, blood, and killing. I was in my mid-twenties at the time, healthy and athletic, and I imagined the situations being created involving others like myself, from here and abroad, being paid by rich, powerful people, to massacre others.
I read in awe as hundreds of billions of dollars were charged to my nation's already hefty expense account. This was the Bush economy coming to life, and the torrent of funds made millions of people forget what they were working to create: body parts. Missiles were fired and new orders were signed to replace them. Buildings were leveled and money was available to rebuild. Tons of money.
Amidst the zombied pool of American citizens it was difficult to speak against the effort. In a small conservative school in Delaware, one mention of concern for our motives would be met undoubtedly with the same ferocity of being found to be the one person rooting for the away team in a bar full of hometown fanatics. My challenge as an artist was to find a way to discretely cry folly in regards to the whole matter.What we were doing was underway. Flesh was being torn from bones, fingers and hands turned to shreds, eyeballs burst, and intestines spilled in dirt. The problem was heavy, and needed to be addressed. To show consolidarity with my fellow Americans, I too would create carnage. Nothing in my environment came anywhere near to conveying this kind of pain and gore, therefore I felt detached from what I knew to be real.
Only on this massive scale was I able to feel comfortably close to the disgusting result of violence for money. I tried to make the object as gruesome as possible, mixing red and pink and white with the burnt brown flesh.
Interior objects were embedded deliberately to point to the source of the conflict.Viewed from most angles, the sculpture looked like an abstraction, an interplay of objects and shapes. The title, "Operation Iraqi Freedom", conjured images of explosions and fires. People have grown so accustomed to accepting abstract images as art that it didn't occur to them look for more meaning.
Tiny details, perhaps, went unnoticed.I've never had an interest in making abstract artwork.
Everything is deliberate.
Beneath the floor piece, I drew a chalk outline in the shape of Iraq.
The view from the front reveals a yin-yang of flesh and bone.From the right, a few details of the face remain: an eyelid, the nose.

And from the left we see skull, bleached white and clean.After a while I rolled it outside, past some gun sculptures that another student was fabricating himself. The difference was, he supported the war, thought Clinton was a pussy, and owned dozens of handguns and rifles. As I said, this was dangerous turf. Left in the sun, with a new outline drawn on the asphalt, the sculpture began to corrode and decay.Each passing storm, each dew-filled morning, brought moisture to the metal, fueling the electrochemical rusting process.
Left long enough, the entire shape will sag and dissolve.
In time, the piece moved to a ring of concentric circles, a bullseye or maybe a crater, built earlier by my studiomate, Zach.In the process of moving the sculpture with a forklift, we noticed a nest of hornets that had stationed themselves deep within the structure.We were fortunate, escaping unharmed, as life returned to normal.
Others have not fared so well.

Left after graduation for future generations of metalshop scavengers, the sculpture has faded from existence, long before the conflict that inspired it.

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