On Transformation

Part of my practice is to wander my neighborhood and pick things up. I pick things up and look very closely at them. (It is convenient to have a dog to walk with me so that this activity does not call too much attention to itself.) I try to hold on to things that are not “perfect” specimens of their kind: leaves which have been altered by insects; squashed bottle caps; damaged butterfly wings. These objects in themselves call attention to the way my mind tries to organize things into types and then impose an idea of a perfect form for that object, a form without blemishes. I try to challenge the well-worn paths of my expectations so that I can pursue the discipline of really seeing. Then I take my favorite things and put them on the scanner and scan them at a very high resolution—so high of a resolution that the scanner feels compelled to ask me if I really want to make such a large file. When I look at the scan I can see so much more, such fine detail. Every bite mark on the leaf is exquisite.

But I digress. I really want to talk about transformation because that is what some of my recent work is about. So. One way to call attention to the particularity, to the thisness, of an ordinary object is to make it into something unexpected. It is itself but also something contradictory at the same time. This is the project I undertook in the Alchemy Scrolls: Transformation of Earth (showing now at Brookland Pint on the Arts Walk.) I started with resonant objects, some of my favorite things: tools and food. I have been wanting to do something with this clothespin for a long time. And the antique potato smasher. And I fell in love with some crazy Hungarian peppers at the farmers market. Not to mention the supremely strange long purple turnip. Garlic scapes have always delighted me with their giggly squirms. The hammer was left in my previous house by the contractor who later died and I swore I would never hire another contractor because Tom was too damn wonderful to replace. No more renovations for me. But I cherish the hammer. Etc.

This is the point in my thought process where things don’t resolve, they stack up like layers of polyphony, and the resolution happens with the viewer of the work. I hope. I can only point at threads which I pulled together in these works. So here goes:

I thought first of making angels, and then of making dragons. Alchemy is the transformation of materials, of base materials into exalted materials. Tools have an aura, a quidity, an appropriateness, a beauty in good function. Food is a locus of passion and culture. Vegetables mean life, vitality, the transformation of light into energy. Tools and vegetables are of the earth. Tools are the transformation of matter into energy, energy in the sense of making. Tools are used to transform the world into the actualization of an idea (building with tools according to a plan). Food is transformed into our bodies, fuel for our bodies. Vegetables, from the earth, are transformed into food through the agency of fire, air, and water (cooking)—the backgrounds of the scrolls show the elements of fire, air, and water.

So this is as close as I can get to explaining what was going through my head when I was making these works. So come and see them at this restaurant if you can. I ate Saturday brunch at Brookland Pint. It was really good.

Alchemy Scrolls: Transformation of Earth, from Left to Right: Hammer & Turnip; Scissors & Peppers; Masher & Garlic Scapes; Clothespin & Escarole; Wrenches & Onions.

Left to Right: Hammer & Turnip; Scissors & Peppers; Masher & Garlic Scapes; Clothespin & Escarole; Wrenches & Onions
Left to Right: Hammer & Turnip; Scissors & Peppers; Masher & Garlic Scapes; Clothespin & Escarole; Wrenches & Onions