Walking






 

Seemingly Unconnected Events, 2007- present. Plaster cast in newspaper paper molds and premade plastic packaging, a typical curving cylindrical unit with an articulated surface is 12-24”L and approximately 21/2”diameter, vacuum shaped plastic packaging molds vary from, approximately, ½” x ½” x 2” to 8” x 8” X 1 ½”, installation size varies according to situation and available space, sound of the sea overlaid with sound of commerce (optional, courtesy composer Robert Carl).


My installation, Seemingly Unconnected Events, pays homage to an humble creature, the sea worm Hydroides Dianthus. The piece also acts as a record of my consumerism by casting plaster into the non-recyclable plastic packaging from goods I have purchased since 2007.

Sited in a gallery setting this work has taken several metaphorical forms: a wedge, a cube, a cityscape, and a scattered mound. Its original site was in the Wentworth-Coolidge State Historic Mansion in Portsmouth, NH. There it was situated throughout the house in niches, closets, a subterranean space, a stairway and in a room overlooking a bay of the North Atlantic. In the latter site, our agreement with the historic site was that we could move objects in the room but not remove them. I choose to create new gallery furniture for some of the vitrines and parts of them work to integrate the historic objects with the contemporary sculpture. There was also a projection and a sound piece. This work stems from activities prominent in my art-making process: reading, walking, collecting and an intense interest in making. It is also related to my desire to explore making sculpture using materials and processes that are safer for the environment and for the human body.

While walking on the north Atlantic seashore I have often picked up shells colonized by tiny serpentine tubes. To me these twisting lines are utterly beautiful, and as seen in the specimen included in the installation, intriguing in detail. They are the hard limey tubes of sea worms, Hydroides Dianthus. In November 2006 The New Yorker magazine published an article by Elizabeth Kolbert in the Annals of Science series. "The Darkening Sea: What Carbon Emissions are doing to our Oceans" described a change in ocean acidity due to an imbalance in the reciprocal relationship between the oceans and the atmosphere. This imbalance, related to climate change, is causing the oceans to become less basic, and hence, some creatures living in calcium-based structures, like coral and sea worms, are endangered. Kolbert's article discusses tiny pteropods in detail. Since I was, at the time of reading the article, intrigued by another calcium based creature, the sea worm and its habitat tubes, I began to envision a project made from hundreds of larger than life homages to this tiny life form. 



Poet Paul Valery once said, “When nature wishes to turn out a hard article of set shape, a support, a lever, a brace, an armor plate; or when it aims to produce a tree trunk, a femur, a tooth or a tusk, a skull or a sea shell, it works in the same indirect way: it takes the liquids or fluids from which all organic matter is made, and slowly separates out the solid substances it needs.” My process, too, is to slowly separate out the things I need to form my work within the multi-layered context of the world. 


To create curving forms reminiscent of the Hydroides Dianthus habitat structures I coil newspaper into molds. Plaster is poured into and out of the interiors of the curving cylindrical mold forms to create hollow tubes inside. The technique yields complex surface markings that parallel, though do not duplicate, those on the sea worm habitat tunnels themselves and is intended to create sculptural forms that contain some of the detail and beauty of the originals. This is a labor intensive process and yields paper molds may be used only once since they are burned off the positives. The white plaster positives retain faint impressions from the newspaper and burning. The casting material, plaster, is itself primarily calcium and similar to the Hydroides Dianthus casings in constitution. 


Simultaneously with the above activities, I began to save the plastic packaging from products I purchase. I had often had noticed that these plastic packages were ready-made casting molds and, when cast into objects, could provide a sculptural record of my consumerism. Pairing the beautiful organic forms of the sea worms with these stripped down man-made forms creates a striking and telling combination. Kolbert's article concludes as follows, and is the source of the title, as well as influencing the content, of this work: "As the process of ocean acidification demonstrates, life on land and life in the seas can affect each other in unexpected ways. Actions that might appear utterly unrelated—say, driving a car down the New Jersey Turnpike and secreting a shell in the South Pacific—turn out to be connected. To alter the chemistry of the seas is to take a very large risk, and not just with the oceans."

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