Room 5: VALUE

I ran out of time again. But now I found some.

I will continue where I left off and talk about value. Last year I participated in a group show on the theme of value.  The other participants in the show were

Debby Davis

Steve Foust

Tattfoo Tan

Each artist interpreted the theme in a very different way. As a whole, the Value Show questioned what is valued in our society and asked what is really valuable to us. Below a few of my contributions.

Lost Souls (2009) 52 by 21 by 21 inches. Found trunk, shoes and soles found on Staten Island beaches,  lamp and Laotian paper lampshade made of the bark of the mulberry tree.

It came with the following text:

Lost souls is a meditation on the cheapness of life.  It is a monument to the thousands of immigrants who die each year, asphyxiating in trucks, drowning in the mediterranean sea, the Atlantic ocean or the gulf of Mexico, dying of thirst in the deserts of  North-Africa, of Texas and Arizona. These men, women and children were big and small, young and old. All unique, like the soles in this work. Like these soles, these souls are lost; nobody remembers them.

Shoes are  used, in art as well as in political events, to represent missing persons. In demonstrations against the war in Iraq for instance, empty boots were used to represent soldiers who died in the war.  In this work, most shoes are so worn out that only the soles remain, as is often the case in the long hardeous trek of  undocumented immigrants. The battered old-fashioned trunk symbolizes their voyage, the light the escape they desperately seek from darkness and misery.

Like these soles, the people they symbolize have become worthless. Because they cannot sell their labor power, they have no value. We have to rediscover the true value of people and things, by stopping to see them as money.

A collection of cans (2009) 49 by 23 inches. Found Ikea-shelf, cans found on Staten Island beaches, found pillows.

It came with the following text:

“Everything is collected in this world. In his book  ‘Descent of Man’ (Penguin Books, 1978), T. Coraghessan Boyle tells a story about a man who collects cans and roams the earth in search of the rarest specimen. His “trophy room boasted an unblemished copy of every american can produced in the past four decades”.

The cans in my collection are anything but unblemished.  His cans were worth a fortune, mine have no value. But which are more beautiful, more interesting? My cans have gone through a lot, they have a story to tell. I keep picking them up, wiping the sand from them, polishing them with my sleeve., holding them in the sunlight. I will need to find another shelf soon.

Why do we have the urge to collect? According to psychiatrist and neuroscientist Peter Whybrow, author of “American Mania: When more is not enough” (Norton, 2005), the reason is that our brain was formed during times of almost constant scarcity. The permanent threat of having too little, lead to a genetic encouragement of  eating too much, of collecting possessions. But while we are made by a world of scarcity, we have created a world of potential abundance. We need to change. Guided by instincts, we become fatter and sicker, we stupidly continue to collect more money and things, even if we have more than we could possibly could spend or use. But we are more than instincts. Our consciousness tells us to change.”

Below a closer look at the shelfs:

The desire to value the neglected and accuse our value-system of causing  ever mounting avoidable pain has been a constant thread in my work. To an “Art against War” show organized in reaction to the first Gulf war I offered the following contribution:

“Free Speech” (1991) 98 by 32 by 12 inches.

I’ve been told it’s painful to watch and I take that as a compliment.  But it’s true that it is depressing. If you want to sell art, don’t make stuff like this. Who would want it on his wall? Actually it was meant to be incorporated in a wall, with the foreground extending over it, melting in it, like a fading song. Maybe one day I will get the chance to install it that way.  The foreground consists of posters I ripped from New York walls, taking care to take only those that advertized past events. Most of them protest against  something, there is such a great choice of injustices.  Together, they are a cacaphony of lost, powerless voices.  Urban grit.  But at least they can shout, can’t they? Nobody got arrested for hanging these posters. Their use in this work is meant as a tribute to ‘free speech’ as well as an attack on its pretensions. Behind this wall of democracy, there is a fearsome, horrible reality that mocks the values on which our so-called civilization is supposedly built.

To capture this reality, I used dolls. Most of them I found in a burned out house in the street in Brooklyn where we were living at the time (the Fort Greene area).  I gave them a surface of rusted iron. They look like the have been buried for a long time in a mass grave. Here’s a detail:

I also nailed some little dolls which I found on a beach on the outer skin of the work. They were handmade in black cloth and tied together in pairs. In between the tied up dolls there was a little piece of paper with two names.  Lovesick people from the Carribean islands threw them in the ocean, in the hope that the goddess of the sea would bring the two people mentioned on the paper together.  These dolls added their silent voices to the cacaphony of desire for escaping pain, emanating from the posters on the wall. Unfortunately, during an exhibition in Gallery Z in Soho, the dolls were stolen.

I would like very much to find a good home for this work, preferably somewhere where many people can see it. It’s taking up too much space in my basement.

Violence is integral to our present value-system and the longer it will rule, the more violence will follow. My  horror over this is a constant theme in my work. Here are a few examples:

“Caspar smiles” (1989) 22 by 18 inches. Mixed media and found objects on canvas.

This is a portrait of Caspar Weinberger, the architect of the mad nuclear escalation in the 1980’s, a man not known for his sunny disposition.

“Postcard from New York” (2001) 36 by 24 inches. Acrylic, oil, pigments  on clayboard.

Made after “the day that they wounded New York ”.

“Le jour de gloire” (2008) 28 inches high. Found bones, wood and toy soldiers, glue, gesso, oxidized iron.

This was exhibited as part of a “monument on the Iraq war”. Below a close-up.

More on this theme later.

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This entry was posted in Found Objects, Lights, Oxidation, sculpture, Value and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Room 5: VALUE

  1. jacqueline goossens says:

    Tom, over the years I was often the first person who saw your new art-pieces. I live and sleep surrounded by them. I thank you for that.
    As a writer myself I have to say I admire the way you write about your art: clear and unpretentious. So thanks again.

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