About Populace Fragments

    About Populace Fragments

    Wednesday, July 8, 2009 :: Closeup shot of "Populace Fragments" at Carnegie Museum of Art.


    At the time of this writing, "Populace Fragments," a sculpture comprised of aluminum, resin, wood, and some paper assemblage, is on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The work is included as part of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh 99th Annual Exhibition. Doryun Chong curated the show.

    I have been developing "construction systems" for the assembly of works using the same parts. The sculpture, currently on display, is a recent incarnation of this concept. Throughout the year, I make castings of joints, which have been molded from a pattern. I also cut pieces of conduit and manufacture other parts. The parts are designed to allow for some flexibility during the installation process. Working this way affords me the possibility of indicating volume without developing a mass of material. The referent for this process is contemporary manufacturing and architectural engineering. The question of how the most stability and volume can be attained with the least amount of material is often posited. Orchestrations in line are usually the answer. The vector typically bears much of the load in any engineering scenario. "Line" is (arguably) also the most efficient means of expression available to the artist during the process of drawing.

    "Ephemeralization" is a concept that was developed by Buckminster Fuller. It means that over time, more is done with less. Efforts such as recycling, ecological and environmental design use the idea of ephemeralization as a critical point of focus. Evidence of ephemeralization can be seen in the repetition of patterns in music, art, and nature. Forms can be engineered to produce the most yield in terms of their use and structural support. This concept can be applied to meanings that are often attached to forms. An example could be how W.A. Mozart would recycle melodies and play them backward and upside down in other compositions or sometimes in the same piece, sometimes in different keys. "Repetition with variation is the crux of creativity," says Douglas Hofstadter.

    The process of construction is critical to my creative practice. When learning scales or chords in music, one builds on previous knowledge. The same is true in programming or any other field. Every facet of society seems dependent on a predetermined construction, be it a faulty or functioning one.

    "Populace Fragments" presents the viewer/user with a three-dimensional grid of constructed lines, with four zoetropes hanging amongst the negative space of the composition. The form resembles that of a large building. These constructions remind me of Sol LeWitt's works, which (as he described them) were based on architectural structures in Manhattan during (I think it was) the '50s. He stated that many of these buildings were based on the ziggurat form, implying a sense of guardianship, a separation between interior and exterior.

    Postmodern architecture can be thought of as sort of a theater of our cultural psyche. In metropolitan buildings, we can see out of them, but we cannot see into them. There is also a sense of isolation leading to insanity (Schizophrenia) brought on by the idea that one never has to leave the building during a lifetime in order to survive. This isolation yields the possibility that (as in solitary confinement) the only connection to the outside world comes from a second-hand media resource. The skyscraper, therefore, becomes a crucible of isolation. Three films that beautifully explore this concept are:

    • Way Down Town (directed by Gary Burns)

    • Me and You and Everyone We Know (directed by Miranda July)

    • Schizopolis (directed by Steven Soderbergh)

    A reference to this state of affairs is provided via the zoetrope elements. Some people can see an animated sequence using the zoetropes, and some people can't. The obfuscation of images in an exhibition setting can be off-putting to some viewers. If the viewer is trying to see images in this work, they have to become a user or participant in a performance. Many viewers seem inclined to interact with artworks if they haven't been acclimated to (or tainted by) museum exhibition rules and regulations. The sculpture transforms into a performance piece when the viewer starts to engage the artwork by trying to see images, bending over and blowing on the zoetropes, and even sticking their heads inside the work's negative space.

    What is expressed by the construct is that you have a viewer who is engaged in a work that references architecture, who may or may not be trying to view animated images therein, with varying degrees of success. It's almost like watching the goings-on in someone's living room at night. What you have is a voyeuristic metaphor. The inclusion of the zoetrope can be read as a comment on the degree to which our culture is voyeuristic/exhibitionistic: the viewer is viewing and performing at the same time, whether they know it or not. Social networking technologies give us a panoptic [panopticon] view of how obsessed we are with the arcane details of our personal lives and our compulsion to share our mass stupidity with the entire world. Marketing professionals were smart enough to figure out how to capitalize on our narcissism.

    There are four zoetropes in this work. Each animated sequence references the alchemical elements: fire, air, earth, and water. These depictions are comments on how our society relates to these elements:

    • Fire - A gun barrel fires into the air.

    • Air - Smoke billows out of a smokestack.

    • Earth - Food flies into a subject's mouth and then is immediately excreted.

    • Water - An eye stares into space while dark orbs crawl on a subject's forehead.

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    Tom Estlack | E-Newsletter SignUp Subscribe