Saturday, December 7, 2013

Using Metaphor in Art (Especially in Bricolage)

Arthur Simms, "Globe, The Veld" (2004).
Metal, Wire, Plastic, Artist's Nails, Wood, Objects, 17" by 14"by 14".
Text by Peter Orner. Courtesy of the artist.

This morning I was reading the review of  "Come Together: Surviving Sandy" by Roberta Smith in the New York Times. This is a big exhibition of work by 300 artists who survived and were affected by Hurricane Sandy (The show is currently on through December 15 in Brooklyn. See the link for details.) Roberta Smith mentioned an outstanding work in the show, a 1995 piece, “To Explain, Expand and Exhort, to See, Foresee and Prophesy, to the Few Who Could or Would Listen”  by Arthur Simms. She said that it should have been in a museum collection by now. 
I went looking on Google to see Arthur Simms' work as I was unfamiliar with it, and I discovered that Arthur Simms is a sculptor who uses the technique of bricolage to transform found objects into art by combining them in particular ways. (You can see some of his spectacular sculpture on his website.)
Previously I have written about the difference between bricolage and assemblage: while assemblage emphasizes the identity of the individual objects, the objects in bricolage lose their individual identity and are subsumed into the whole of the work. The objects or pieces become parts of a new whole that is the artwork. But what is the meaning of such transformation? Why do artists use found or repurposed objects in their work?
My search for Arthur Sims also turned up an interview with Simms by Phong Bui of "The Brooklyn Rail. ") What I found was the usual very insightful interview by Phong Bui, but it really spoke to me about the metaphors inherent in art, some of which artists focus on and others that are simply too ordinary to even be recognized per se. I hope you will read the whole interview, but here are some highlights about metaphors in Simms' work.

Arthur Simms, "Caged Bottle" (2006).
Rope, Wood, Glue, Bicycles, Metal, Bottles, Wire,
50 by 62" by 36". Courtesy of the artist.

Rail: It’s your identification with the materials, therefore allowing the alchemical process to take place. This is a strong belief that Martin Puryear has always insisted on, even at the expense of what comes and goes in the art world.

Simms: Yeah, I love his work man. His retrospective at the MoMA in 2007 was an important experience for me. In fact my piece, “Hemp Or If I Were A Bird,” (1991) is an homage to both Martin Puryear and Constantine Brancusi, whose work he admires for the same reason we are talking about. Like them, it’s the transformation that excites me most. People have asked me, “Why do you choose certain objects?” and I have said, “well, maybe because it’s shiny, rusted, has a certain color or patina,” and so on, or maybe it references my background and a million other things. Whatever the reasons may be, once they’re chosen and find their ways into the work, they take on into another life. So, as you had just said, it’s about alchemy
Rail: "...the way you tie things together is essentially a form of wrapping, which is interesting in that it is similar to the way in which, let’s say, polite language wraps social interaction, architecture wraps space, or how people in Asia, particularly in Japan, take extreme care in wrapping objects, whether it’s groceries or gifts. Or how the dead bodies, depending on their socio-political-religious ranking, are wrapped as part of the process of mummification, which was considered a passage to the after-life, as in Ancient Egypt, for example. Do you see your work as a wrapping ritual that transcends the mundane, in this case, found and used objects, to some form of transcendence?"

Simms: Yes, I do. It’s like a skin that has energy. To me, the rope is like lines as in drawing, an activity that I do more than sculptures. I’m drawing with the rope obsessively until it becomes a sort of skin over all these various things that are on the inside, which you can barely see. Later on I started using wire as a different kind of skin..

Arthur Simms, "Buddha" (2008). 81" by 50" by 52"
Wire, Bottles, Bamboo, Wood, Metal, Ice skates, Wheels.
Courtesy of the artist.

Rail: Like a painting that has been painted over so many layers that you can see its accumulated history on the surface but you can’t see what has been buried underneath. At any rate, in citing the found materials that you use in your work, which are basically everything from milk crates, plumbing parts, old shoes, rags, bottles, and cans to various objects such as hand tools and so on, it reminds me of the bower bird, especially the male, which, to attract its mate, often builds a bower with a variety of materials such as feathers, stones, broken shells, and leaves, mixing them with discarded plastic items, coins, nails, pieces of glass, and so on. And this selection of various materials is what makes up the bower, and one is never identical to the next. This is what some ornithologists called the “transfer effect.” In other words, do you have a general idea that relies mostly on a spontaneous process in which the image is gradually formed? Or do you make drawings beforehand?

Simms: No, I never make a drawing beforehand. I always consider my drawing as something in and of itself. I don’t make sketches or little maquettes of the sculpture mostly because I enjoy the improvisational aspect by keeping the two activities of drawing and sculpture independent. But as far as your reference to the bower bird, I had looked at and admired many birds’ nests at the Museum of Natural History like I do with other natural occurrences, things that are made by different creatures and insects. It’s all open and all there for any one of us to take and use accordingly in to our works.


I will be including images of Arthur Simms' work in my talk on bricolage at the 2014 International Encaustic Conference in Provincetown in June.