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One Man’s Trash: Assemblage Art and the Act of Reclaiming

I have been hard at work preparing for my thesis exhibition.  The Reception will be Friday April 19th in Cincinnati.  Save the date!  Details here:

Wood, random parts and wheels

Wood, random parts and wheels

My show is now essentially two parts, digital and physical, which is fitting since that has been my conceptual focus.  Initially I imagined the exhibition would consist entirely of a digital projection.  However, I was inspired recently to create two functional sculptural elements for the space, one a projector stand (more of an assemblage tower) and the other a desk which will house the computer and mouse.

I spent last weekend digging a lot of things out of roadside piles of trash and trashcans at DAAP.  But some of my best finds were at One Man’s Trash Inc. where I was fortunate to get a “just lock up when you’re done” from a gruff but generous man.  One Man’s Trash specializes in clean-outs of attics and cellars, etc., so I was able to find many very strange, old weathered wooden items in their yard including a beautiful dresser and what looks like an old mining cart.  Essentially, I am bringing some rustic, Hi-desert aesthetic into the otherwise boring, clean white cube space of the gallery.  Below are some in progress images of the work in progress.  For the real deal please come to the exhibition!  (I will also post installation shots after it’s up)

I always appreciated sculptures and functional items that included recycled bits of material that would otherwise end up in a land fill.  This is not a new idea of course.  So-called American folk-artists have been creating some amazing works in this vein for centuries (Noah Purifoy, for one).  The popularization of the now trendy term and concept “reclaimed” is reflected in internet sites such as Craigslist, Etsy, Pinterest (for the aesthetics not action) and the “Rise of the Sharing Economy” more generally.

For me the word reclaimed evokes notions of community, recycling, and creativity.  The act of creation is essentially claiming–acquiring or claiming materials and then stamping, signing, declaring the new form as one’s own.  But while supposedly more original processes such as painting and sculpture are often thought of as the creation of “original works of art”, the notion of re-claiming gives a deserved nod to the universe at work.  Someone manufactures paint tubes and canvas.  We claim the wood from trees for paint brushes.  Trees create more trees.  Pigments were formed in the stars, eons ago.  Everything that is made is made through materials and tools that are acquired through sale, theft, or some other method of claimed ownership.  Reclaiming is a concept that at once reflects our human needs to take and to give.

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Jukebox Coffin: Box Etymology

it’s a beautiful word, isn’t it?  three perfectly balanced, elegant letters.  the self-contained O literally “boxed in” by the feminine curvature of the B and the masculine dynamism of the X.

box /bäks/

box 1 |bäks|
1 a container with a flat base and sides, typically square or rectangular and having a lid

the sheer amount of definitions, as well as idioms and common expressions that contain the word box is testament to the importance of the idea of a box in American culture and language.  with the great exception of the term box as slang for coffin, most of these phrases are positive.  we see boxes mostly in a positive light–not as restrictive spaces but rather as precious objects, bringing organization and meaning to our world.

I believe even the common idiom “think outside the box”, which at first glance seems to use the word box in a pejorative way, is a popular expression due to the warm feelings the very word “box” evokes in the first place.  the phrase now evokes feelings of creativity and inventiveness rather than restriction and status quo.  maybe that seems like a stretch.  this notion of the near automatic positivity of the word box is reinforced from a quick reading of the etymology of jukebox, another term with highly negative roots but that now evokes extremely positive, nostalgic emotions.  This is from

Jukebox1937, jook organ, from jook joint “roadhouse” (1935), Black English slang, from juke, joog “wicked, disorderly,” in Gullah (the creolized English of the coastlands of South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida), probably from Wolof and Bambara dzug “unsavory.” Said to have originated in central Florida (see “A Note on Juke,” Florida Review, vol. VII, no. 3, spring 1938). The spelling with a -u- might represent a deliberate attempt to put distance between the word and its origins.

For a long time the commercial juke trade resisted the name juke box and even tried to raise a big publicity fund to wage a national campaign against it, but “juke box” turned out to be the biggest advertising term that could ever have been invented for the commercial phonograph and spread to the ends of the world during the war as American soldiers went abroad but remembered the juke boxes back home. [“Billboard,” Sept. 15, 1945]

and if that’s not enough evidence for the greatness of this beautiful three letter word, I’ve just created this list of wonderfully mysterious words simply by pulling words from various definitions of the noun box 1  (bɒks), via the Collins World English Dictionary:

base, baseball, birds, border, casing, central, coal, coffin, collected, compartment, computing, container, contents, cubicle, cut, device, ditches, dividing, enclosing, female, genitals, hinged, hole, horse-drawn, housing, lines, machinery, mail, mechanical, newspaper, original, page, parts, post-office, printed, protective, rectangle, redistributed, removable, sap, section, shelter, space, stable, systems, transporting, tree, wheeled, white


as a side-note, maybe Jukebox Coffin would be a good band name.  or a pretty sweet amalgam to actually create as a work of contemporary art.  if only i was a sculptor.

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