“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” certainly applies to the elusive and subjective line between art and craft. Utilitarian objects, simply because they are, in fact, useful, are often overlooked as objects of fine art, despite their groundbreaking design. Even when the scale or medium is changed, many have a difficult task seeing beyond the original context of the object. In my latest series of sculptures, I have created larger-than-life versions of common objects to show the intrinsic and beautiful aesthetic qualities of each, challenging the viewer to see the balance, proportion, rhythm, texture and emotional impact of the original design.
In the process of creating Deus Ex Machina, I have been reliving a childhood fascination with play, invention and imagination. Children often imagine themselves in the scale of the structures that they have built—they shrink to fit the structure, or the structure magically becomes life-sized. In intense, imaginative play, children’s feelings of power and control border on the divine. Deus ex Machina challenges that sense of power and control by making the structure larger-than-life, so the viewer is small in comparison. But in its design and construction, this sculpture also celebrates the artistic qualities of these iconic building parts, especially when joined together to make a room-sized structure.
Ghosts in the Machine
I visited Bethlehem, Pennsylvania last year and viewed the hulking remains of the Bessemer furnaces at the site of the abandoned Bethlehem Steel plant. I began to think about the gulf that exists between current technology and the human sweat and labor of our industrial past. The skill, risk and commitment of a riveter's life, or that of a steelworker, or anyone who helped build huge industrial structures by hand is far from the average young person's life today. The Erector Set introduced the concepts of simple machines and basic mechanical principles to children beginning in the early 20th Century, and reflected their inventor’s awe of that early building technology. Now, as time and rust consume the old iron girders, those wondrous monstrosities are often demolished, replaced with modern materials, if at all.
I get a vision of sun bleached bones when seeing the unfinished white wood girders and screws of Deus Ex Machina. It is as if the remains of ancient dinosaurs of industry were dug up and re-assembled in a museum. Perhaps it was a temple for the gods or was it just another antique machine whose real purpose is lost to time? Clearly, the girders are the skeletal structure of whatever was buried. I am working with the same construction elements that are above and below the streets of New York. I could build a bridge or tower or other structure but anything I build will always contain the power of those elements of old industry.