Sound Wave by Jean Shin
In the fall of 2008, when the Museum of Art and Design in NYC relocated from its former home across the street from and overshadowed both physically and psychologically by the Museum of Modern Art, and took up residence in a much more spacious and congenial building overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park, they held an exhibit called “Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary.”
After the Mona Lisa 7 by Devorah Sperber
The show featured works made from salvaged materials one would not usually associate with the creation of art, including sculptures made from discarded LPs, rubber tires and even a reproduction of the Mona Lisa made entirely of spools of colored thread. The collection was a true celebration of the powers of imagination, and in some cases, the extent of extraordinary patience.
Destiny Unchanged by Chakaia Booker
We live in a culture of contradictory impulses, always questing for the next new thing while continuing to be lured by nostalgia for the past. We produce and discard things with increasing readiness and indifference, and then set up elaborate systems to process them back into usefulness. One need only toss a crumpled piece of 100% recycled paper into a dedicated bin made of 100 % recycled plastic to feel the full weight of the irony we stagger under as consumers. The certainty that nothing will be wasted has made wastefulness acceptable again.
have a look at this awesome slideshow of her work and be amazed at the materials used!
That irony certainly lurks behind the creations of artists like Tara Donovan, who fills gallery rooms with her elaborate constructions made from millions of paper cups and plates, straws, buttons and straight pins among others, materials that defy and transcend their own nature to become something completely other than they are, hard becoming soft, soft becoming rigid, inanimate coming to life. Her work is proof that nothing is as it seems and that anything, even the most mundane and uninspiring of items, can have a second life.
When I lived in NYC I would visit the Strand bookstore as often as my budget and shelf space allowed. The number of my purchases was further limited by the size and carrying power of one large reinforced canvas totebag and my own upper body strength. I miss my days indulging in the embarrassment of abandoned riches of that establishment, part bookstore, part graveyard, part junkyard, part cathedral. My mission, and the reason for my repeated visits, was not one of thrift, but salvage. I arrived with a list of recommended authors and titles, and rarely left with exactly what I was seeking, but always exactly what I required. The Strand did not hold onto its stock for long; I was one of millions passing regularly through their doors. When a book fell into my hands, it was clear that the meeting was destined. There were times it also felt clandestine, with so much furtive running of fingers along spines in the dim and narrow recesses of a dusty aisle, like an act of recognition, kindness and faith, bringing home these books who had all led former lives, some of them longer than my own, and perhaps more full. It felt like a contract, an alliance, a promise: you tell me your secrets and I will tell you mine. I will not break you, I will not mark you, but feel free to do these things to me. But mostly it felt like a gesture to the Universe, witness of so many human and material abandonments, acknowledging that nothing is without purpose, everything deserves a second chance, and being found so often means first being lost.
I have vast respect for artists like the ones I’ve highlighted here, who use found or repurposed materials in their works. It seems to me an indication of the highest and purest form of intellect and imagination when someone sees what to most people would look like a heap of old tires and instead sees the beginnings of a beautiful artwork. There is cleverness in such an instinct, but there is also love: love of the overlooked, love of the potential in all things, and love of the gift we artists all share, the impulse and the facility to make things, sometimes out of nothing, but mostly out of other things with promise only we can perceive and bring to light.
There is a great tradition in New England of treasure hunting amongst the discards to be found in second hand stores and even left free for the taking on the sidewalks in front of residences. With the right eye and sensibilities, one can return home with great finds, some in need of only a little cleaning, repair or decorative touches to begin a new life. Some months ago, friends of ours presented Brian with a beautiful sidetable they rescued from the trash. After several weeks, this table was transformed and now occupies the perfect place in their home, looking as if it is what and where it was always meant to be. Beneath its fresh coat of paint, I am certain this piece retains all the memories of its past life, and the history of how it came to be left one morning to be picked up as garbage and lost forever, and then caught the attention of a certain wise and vigilant couple.
A few weeks ago, Brian and I made the rounds of some antique shops north of Boston. And now, thanks to a successful visit to one particular shop in Essex, he has a new table in his studio awaiting the same happy results. Those of you who follow him regularly will be able to see its progress over the next several weeks. Bringing new life to rescued furniture represents a new direction in Brian’s work, but one I think is both timely and relevant to the next phase of our life as we make concrete plans and set a timetable for closing one chapter here in the Boston area and beginning another one in Vermont. We recently acquired the old but woefully underused family car from my parents, and this will be our mode of transport in our new location. Meantime, another car, which has served us well but was sold last week to new owners, is about to start its own new life without us, here in the town we will soon leave behind, the leaving of which will be partly subsidized by this sale. The cycle continues, someone’s loss is someone else’s gain, and even in moments of utmost abandonment, there is the potential for rescue, and a second chance.
This post is dedicated to all good champions of the overlooked, the discarded and the abandoned. You know who you are. Although it was not originally intended as such, it is now also a celebration of all the folks out there who have been suffering from the damage caused by one bad weather event after another in recent months, and are in the process of cleaning up and rebuilding their lives from whatever materials are at hand, with a lot of help from something that can never be washed away: the human will to endure.