On August 13, Elissa and I led a Public Art Walk for the Wallingford Community Senior Center and Sustainable Wallingford. It was totally awesome, even though (maybe because) as Elissa notes on her blog, Yellow Umbrella, we were definitely the youngest of the group. I think because we both come from museum education backgrounds, we are eager not only to study and consider art intensively, as we did in grad school at UW, but also to create informal conversations with others to hear what everyone has to say about it. We framed the tour as a discussion of O(o)utside A(a)rt vs. I(i)nside A(a)rt and all the different permutations that may result from that theme. Seriously, so much fun! Everyone seemed into it, even though we kept them marching for something like 2 miles total, and I love that it all climaxed with a debate about the importance of intentionality on the part of the artist (Does ivy overtaking an abandoned car count as art? Or is it junk? What’s the difference? According to this group: INTENTION. The consensus was that if we cut part of the ivy away from the car as an artistic intervention, it would be art. Done. That was easy.).
Okay, so. What I really want to tell you about are some of the major questions that came out of this tour, especially with regard to one of the artists whose work we highlighted that Saturday: Jon Zucker. His wife, Leslie Dalaba, runs Treetop Acupuncture out of their house in Wallingford, and I mention this because although I haven’t tried her acupuncture, we did get to sit down in their living room and have a chat, and it was a lovely home.
Jon is one of three artists involved in Organica/Mechanica, an installation at Carkeek Park this summer as part of Heaven and Earth III: Cycles of Return. Besides this high-profile piece, Jon creates regularly and has been doing so for decades. His figural sculptures are made of found objects and/or cast metals, and are often composed in such a way that they can move seemingly organically.
The sculpture pictured here was the focal point of this stop on our tour, although Jon was kind enough to invite the whole group into his backyard to see the collection of pieces he has made over the years. To our eyes (and here I mean mine, Elissa’s, and almost everyone in our group), this figure appears to be guarding the house behind it – it towers above passersby, one leg striding forward and we could not help but see its cubic head as wearing an expression of impasse. Whether you agree with this interpretation (and do you agree? discuss in the comments section!), Jon told us that since he installed this and the other figures in the front yard, the house has not once been broken into.
Does this “usefulness” make the objects utilitarian? Or can they still be art because of Jon’s intention to make them for artistic purposes? I suspect you would not call them junk, would you? At one time, he had placed a couple of sculptures in the grassy median between sidewalk and street, but the city informed him he must move his “litter” or be fined. Everyone’s a critic, eh? I wonder what the city would say about the visitors who leave items at the door for Jon to transform, like the box of shower-heads that are slowly working their way into his pieces? And, just to make this questioning even more complicated, do these anonymous donors become part of the process of artistic creation, or are they more on a par with grant-funding organizations? Hmmm, maybe I’m thinking a lot about the role of lay-people in the artistic process because of ongoing conversations with Mandy Greer at The Project Room, but more on that to come in a later post.
Now this post has run away from me, and there are a lot of questions already included, so I’ll close with the most important to the Wallingford Public Art Walk, this blog, and my ideas about “the local” in general: Why does Jon’s art belong on a “Wallingford” Public Art Walk? Because it is inside the boundaries of the Wallingford neighborhood? Because it is outside of the house and therefore in public view? Because it was made by an artist trained inside the academic tradition at the UW School of Art, although he has said that he would never sell his artwork commercially? Because it is made of materials outside what we often think of when calling to mind iconic sculpture (in this case, aluminum cast through the lost-foam process)? Or in spite of all these things? Well, that turned into quite a few more questions, didn’t it? Let me know what you think in the Comments!