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About my Practice
My grandfather worked in the steelyards of Chicago when “the city with broad shoulders” stood as an icon of industrial progress and triumph. I have spent all my life in the rustbelt, first in Chicago and then near the yellow bridges that populate the river’s edge in Pittsburgh. I attended graduate school just outside the ghostly urban decay of Detroit. You can trace a direct line from my environment to the inspiration of my artistic practice. Watching that line as it meanders from the landscape of my birth to my current interest confirms for me that the influences of our environment and experience mold our perceptions. The aftermath of industrial triumph is tangible here, one layer among many in an urban bricolage of history and experience, monument and artifact. Intermingling with this layer are the new artifacts of a different order.
I was part of the first generation to come of age in a wireless world. My Chicago’s skyline stands as a monument to the city’s technological prowess and future promise, but the abandoned steelyards and machine wastelands that dot the edges of this advance through time are artifacts of past failures, fragments and ruins of industrial decline with their own narratives. If the monument has historical value, it is the artifact, in my practice, that I value as material for creation. As Alois Riegl points out in Historical Grammar of the Visual Arts, the past age’s monuments become the present age’s ruins. It is through the artifact, the ruin, the fragment and the collage, that I examine how monuments can be repurposed, reinvented, fractured, and renewed.
My work creates dialectics between monuments and artifacts in order to examine the influence of perception on history, truth, reality, and bias. What happens when objects or images exhaust their historical context, when the past is digested into the current and projected into the future in a perpetual flux of consumption and destruction? Walter Benjamin discussed parts of this enactment stating, “In the process of decay, and in it alone events of history shrivel up and become absorbed in the setting.” The monument is set to become the artifact; my grandfather’s industry is my ruin. In turn, my technology, which seems its own monument to progress, is fated to become artifact. However, this motion through history is not as linear as it seems; time moves in circles and waves through fractured spaces subverting the idea of progress. By lending the artwork the specificity of individual perspective, each viewer deconstructs and reconstructs the piece, constantly destroying and renewing its meaning through that perspective. Monument and artifact, history and memory, utopia and dystopia, progress and decay, creation and destruction—these are the inter-relations at the center of my practice.
I use non-linear narrative, in the form of video collage to explore these concepts. My installations and objects, created from basic building materials, house collages of image, language, and sound. While appearing to be reflective of our own architectural spaces, they are manipulated to distort the viewer’s perception and allow multiple events to take place in the same frame of reference. I use sculpture as both a prop to support the video/collages and a tool to manipulate the experience of the work, the speed at which it is viewed, and the access a viewer has to different parts at different moments. The fractured narratives, presented at multiple places in these structures, or in multiple objects, ask the viewer to rely on constructs and memory to create a narrative meaning that may be similar or dissimilar from my original intent. My point is to explore memory as a fiction, as a narrative device we all use to interpret and recreate truth, reality, and history.
My practice is currently defined by the role the viewer plays in its construction. Viewers bring their own constructs, experiences, and memories to my artwork, becoming living participants in the constitution of its meaning. Thus the pieces are always their own fragments, transient, repurposed, decaying and being rebuilt with each viewing. This fragmentation means there is always a piece missing and a piece being replaced by each new viewer and his/her own perceptions. It mirrors my first experiences with the artifacts and monuments of industrial ruin and technological progress. My pieces display the cycle of destruction and rebuilding with one viewing to the next. My artwork is a collection of moments rather than a clearly defined argument, because the way I make art parallels the way I have experienced the world. The shift and flux applies to my practice and my ideology. I view this method as a reaction to progress and truth, didactic approaches that lead to fundamentalism and perhaps even a historically corrosive totalitarianism. The artifact, fragmentary and transient, open to interpretation and filled with the aura of intimacy, stands against totalitarianism and fundamentalism. I am concerned with individual perspectives and their origins rather than the overarching narrative. How does individual meaning-making originate and interact with the shifting structures of our society? This environment is now a place where events grow like fractals instead of geometrically. They are fractals of relationships that constantly alter in a world that continually offers us more stimuli. I want to explore this at a personal level, through narrative and the viewers’ relationship to discovery within my work. My art is an exploration of time and the process of meaning as it shifts. It is a process that is sometimes continual, sometimes linear, sometimes circular, sometimes fractured, but always and perpetually in motion.