Sunday, April 26, 2009

WHO does sculpture?

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The cerebellum is largely responsible for coordinating the unconscious aspects of proprioception.

Proprioception (pronounced /ˌproʊpriːəˈsɛpʃən/ PRO-pree-o-SEP-shun); from Latin proprius, meaning "one's own" and perception) is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body. Unlike the six exteroceptive senses (sight, taste, smell, touch, hearing, and balance) by which we perceive the outside world, and interoceptive senses, by which we perceive the pain and the stretching of internal organs, proprioception is a third distinct sensory modality that provides feedback solely on the status of the body internally. It is the sense that indicates whether the body is moving with required effort, as well as where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other.

Snipped from wikipedia, if you resonate with the above description, then get yourself to the nearest sculpture class. I regularly have students who do very well in sculpture and at the end the semester tell me, "I don't really like it." After I take a breath and I shrug it off, I tell them "well you've had the experience and you'll take away a host of hand skills."

But why don' they like it? It's not me, the projects, or the time, it's none of that. They just may not like the jostling, the lifting, the pulling or pushing, or any of the many movements and disruptions that is part of making sculpture. In a sense, they may not need the extra physical input, or proprioceptive feedback, that is baseline usual in sculpture. The reason is in their brain!

So, who stays? The ones who like the feel of a fire engine siren as the sound reverberates through their guts, the ones who smile when we light the propane burner and the thing goes "boom." That's who.

Is that you?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Behind my work

Amusement and passion for organic form—trees, plants, people, animals—anything that grows in a biological sense (as oppose to pure-gravity formed structures like buildings or piles and as oppose to configurations that derive from industrial design) are the interests that drive my work. My work has been a slow release from dependency upon armature/skeleton, toward objects that utilize balloon or shell construction in order to support weight and formal organizations. With this, I have de-emphasized the use of hardware or external mechanical devices (think hinge or nail.)

The formal organization of my work is inspired from natural rhythms and cycles—breath, seasons, the repetitive pulse of modern life—and despite a lack of affinity for the mechanical world, the work also re-presents mechanical processes and functions through organic references. The result is what can be called meta-machinery, or, a combination of the mechanical and the organic (think Mary Shelly's, "Frankenstein")

My attraction to curves, arcs, or any line that signifies the existence of the third dimension, I equate with a rooted interest in human brain function, or consciousness. Why do we think what we do, or rather, how do we think. Our thinking, living experience, is more than words alone can address, and my goal is to capture this intangibility in form.

The approach I take to constructing these forms ranges from solo studio practices, ever informed by interaction with habitat, to community constructed forms whereby, groups of people complete a form I began. Both approaches begin with a "wire-frame" armature ( My forms center on snakes, vessels, tubes, and so on, upon which I weave strips of wood lathe. As the lathe is incorporated into the form, the wire frame gives way to the forces of the process. The final form is transformed into one that exists in harmony with all forces.

This makes me think of sea creatures, whose forms are also proscribed by a balance between the structure of form and external moments. However, our own non-aquatic atmosphere exerts a pressure upon all organic/mechanical form and hence, I consider this a related realm to my work.

With this in mind, I envision the context of my work to be quite wide. From dense urban areas—both indoor and outdoor, including both—to venues like fields, state or federal parks and reserves.

The vessel, no matter its function, represents trust. Gas tanks, cereal boxes, buildings and even our own bodies are granted a trust in their ability to function typically hard-won by entities such as presidential candidates, lovers, or friends. As such, I see vessels as pure examples of what a culture values.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Why bother teaching art?

1. Visual language is an expression of thought. Lawyers go to school in order to learn to communicate "legally", artists go to school in order to learn to communicate "visually".

2. Because sculpture students must work with many different material processes and types of equipment that depend on mutual cooperation and respect, they develop a sense of community as well as individual responsibility. These are qualities worth developing.

3. Students are encouraged to make the clearest possible connection in their work between methodologies (how they make their work) and content (what their work is about.) Like driving on ice, how ones drives greatly depends upon the type of ice. Same with making art.

4. From early childhood, we are trained to behave and work within the parameters of our teacher’s expectations. We either meet them, or not. Unfortunately, this survival tactic simultaneously discourages self-sufficient thinking. When art students focus on their own ideas, they discover possibilities that otherwise would be impossible to predict through instruction.

5. By forcing students to examine their assumptions, art education attempts to clarify leaps of faith in their thinking. Why do students believe what they believe. Scientists do this everyday, all the time, and look at what it has help yield: Newton's theory of gravity, better braking systems in cars, more options for lettuce in the grocery store. Good for the goose...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Does language have the mandate on meaning?

I’m thinking about the two commonly divided parts of the brain; right, left; verbal, visual; reptilian, modern, and wondering why we still cling so tightly to the superiority of the rational, verbal, analytical sub-routines at the expense of mystery, pleasure, and feeling? I see this as a continuation of the rational mind, let loose by the Enlightenment and evidence that humans must hold to knowable, quantifiable tid-bits out of evolutionary fear.

The old chestnut in art “form vs. content” which was widely discussed when I was going through school in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I believe hasn’t been answered, rather largely forgotten. I think the rationalists won. They categorized art as being interested in either form or content, with the majority of Abstract Expressionism art being formal and everything after being content (Pop, Minimal, etc.) I think the argument was the final blow to relegating Abstract Expressionism to the dust bin. But it also has taken a toll on what we should expect from art. Does a work of art have to have obvious signs and signifiers in order to have meaning? Is the meaning absent without these cues? Or is it merely too blurry for anyone but a select few to understand?

Idea is prime. Everything is an idea or collection of ideas. A plastic bag, the Mona Lisa, etc. Artists use ideas to re-present bits of the world back to an audience in order to reconstitute meaning. So, art can come from a gathered pile of carefully considered newspapers waded-up and scattered on the floor, as easily as it can come from cutting up the words on said papers and making whole new sentences. One yields and idea that is more “formal”, the other an idea that is more “verbal”. But both contain an idea.

Now the rationalists make the mistake of claiming only the verbal piece to have meaning because it has more accessible clues to it’s meaning. The lump of paper on the floor, has to be felt, like the land, a sun-set, etc. Therefore its meaning never goes through the language machine in our mind and as a result leaves no language in it’s wake, just sensations.

And why have the rationalists won? They own the very media they use to fight the battle. Words. Like taking your ball from the kickball field and going home. Game’s over when you say it’s over. Formalists, as a personality, may not care. We may be content to feel and know there is great reward in that, and choose to congregate with other “feelers” for company. But I think we feel less-than, or believe we’re less-than because we’ve been told so.

What’s to do? First, we must help our rationalist friends use their eyes, ears, and hands to understand the world through something other than language centers. And in understanding through the whole body, they might begin to see another vector of meaning, and might even take the risk to trust an entire industry that deals in this currency (us.) We’re not here to hurt you.

The recently passed veteran radio personality, (what does a long time in any industry have to do with fighting in a war?) Paul Harvey, gives a scathing critique of the visual sense when comparing it to the written word, stating that Shakespeare’s words offer far more for the mind to chew on than any movie could, or has (my paraphrase.) I associate his deep suspicion of the sensual, the body, with the Puritan/Protestant roots of our nation, especially in the Midwest. It seeks to vanquish the corporeal as just a temptation from the more important rational.


But dangerous when he preaches this hogwash to the semi-to-completely non-curious (we know who you are.) This is what leads a nation to believing that recess, visual art, music, gourmet food and the like should be looked upon with suspicion, even hatred, and definitely not funded with public monies for the public good. They then become entertainment and must compete with every other form of pass-time.

Be careful when you’re about to be swayed by an argument made by a rationalist. They will be very convincing because that’s what they’re good at, using language (much as I am here, maybe...) There are many ways to communicate, where would we be without the ability to read body language? (Besides engineering school) The list here is long and stands to justify that being human, and part of a “great nation” means we can make meaning from more than words and strong signifiers, we have a mandate to find meaning in forms, sounds, and good ole fashioned art too.