I seek out abandoned, broken, and disused things and try to discover how that they can be brought back into use and meaning. I listen to what they have to teach me. I investigate their specific histories looking for overlooked potentials. I select and develop new techniques specifically suited to each particular situation. It is a slow process that requires both physical and metaphysical sensitivity. It is a type of wayfinding deeply influenced by the interrelated processes of the natural world, of which human actions are simply another thread, woven amidst, and dependent on, older and deeper flows.
I start with things as they are and then unmake rather than make by selectively undoing things that have become dead ends. I remove staples, screws, bolts, and nails; I ripout stitching, peel apart layers, scrape off grime. I repair. I remediate. I sand, repaint, and excavate. My goal is not to strip materials back to a raw state, but to find the poetic place where an object’s material history intersects its lived history, and to open the space necessary for it to shift its direction. This new path grows out of the material’s particular history, connects to its entire lineage, and remains open to changes that will inevitably come in the future. Some of this thinking-heavy work happens while I work with material. Other types of contemplation and digestion require more time and greater distance. I often live with materials for years before I fully understand exactly what they need. This extended time allows me to form a deeply layered relationship with each object and situation and accumulate a complex understanding of its history and context. This slowly built underpinning may not be clearly legible in the resulting work, but I find it necessary to make it an authentic and inexhaustible thing that continually deepens the longer it is considered.
Every atom of every thing has been many many things before. I take things that already exist and grow and reveal what is already there, what has been there, and what could be there. I start by observing, looking attentively for what has been overlooked, what can be undone, and how best to bring something back into a state of becoming.
I am interested in things not only as they are, but as they were, and as they will be. Every object, every piece of wood or grain of sand, is a point in a line stretching back to the beginning. These tangled lines form the web of existence that holds us.
When we change anything, we bend an existing line in a new direction, shifting the pattern and subtlety reshaping the web. The further we bend a thing from what it has been the less and less it can draw on the deep well of its past—like bending a hose until the kink in it stops the flow of water entirely.
When a thing has been bent so far that it is disconnected from its ancient story, it becomes unmoored. When the circumstantial use that it has been twisted into concludes, or it “breaks” and can no longer fill that role, it is cast adrift, with no clear way back into the pattern of being and becoming. These orphaned things pile up as “trash”—a growing mass that drags on the rest of the web and threatens its collapse.
Everything impacts everything else.
When the only future we allow for things is trash it doesn’t matter what anything used to be. When trash is what things turn into, our existence collapses to a disappointing disposable present that seeks salvation in a future that never comes because we can no longer access the flow of material history needed to build it. When we make trash the future, the past becomes irrelevant and we are trapped in a truncated present that leads only to collapse.
A linear, extractive system will inevitably fail if it doesn’t turn itself into a circle.
I don’t wish to bend things in new or novel directions, but rather unbend some of the kinks that have choked objects off from their deep history and kept them from becoming other things. I search for ways to steer objects back into the pattern and link them to threads that augment and amplify the flow of their past towards a shared, becoming future.
No object or material is what we say it is. The words we have for things are just names for the ways we use them. We know nothing of the names they have for themselves. The names we have are limited by our understanding and that understanding is limited by how much of the larger pattern we can see. Things however, are limitless and eternal. The shape of the pattern is all we impact.
We wrongly think of the history of our species as an accumulation of our achievements and creations. Have our accomplishments increased joy? Is there less exploitation and suffering now than there was before, or more? It is only recently—in the last blip of human time—that we have stopped letting things return to the flow of life and becoming. It is undoubtedly our desire to exceed our own mortality that drives this wishful sequestration of material. Buried in our landfills, discarded things wait, like embalmed bodies sealed in caskets for the long arc of time to free them from the suspended animation in which we have trapped them.
In time our denial of the cyclic nature of Nature will end. Our linear system will collapse if it doesn’t evolve to be cyclic. Our denial of our connectedness and smallness will end, or humans won't be around to see what comes after. I hope my great, great, great, great, grandchildren are there to wonder how we managed to temporarily lose our way. In the meantime, I will keep making signposts pointing toward a richer, renewable future anchored in the heritage of the deepest material past