Thursday, November 24, 2016

16F-5, "Etude, op. 340" (November 24)

How much of me is involved in the making of a sculpture? It's easy to see the physical in the digging and the hauling and even the carving. Intellect is harder to see and might require the asking of questions or close watching of the process coupled with thinking about why it's done this way.

Around me are the signs of much thought. Equipment and tools lie on the sand, a large footprint for one man to be making. A lifeguard comments, "I like your style. The right tools, well made."

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None of this probes very hard into the murk of motivations. A friend asked, within the context of photography, if modern tools and equipment were cheating. My answer focused on my own experience with a tool revolution, when my sculptures became overly complicated because, with new tools, I had the ability.

Early sculptures were carved with basic found tools. Coupled with not knowing much about sand at the time, this produced sculptures that were necessarily simple, and that's the front door to elegance. Later sculptures gained the benefit of better sand, better packing, more detailed carving, and became in many cases jumbles of parts.

I've always had the belief that real artists have not only a plan for each work they make, but an overall plan of progression. Testing, learning, step by step along a well marked path. I wonder where I got that impression. I know from experience and reading that most development goes in fits and starts and happy--or not so happy--accidents. In early 2000 I finally began to get the upper hand on my tools and was able to restrain the excess complexity in favor of complexity-within-elegance.

I still didn't have any plan. I'd think about various forms a sculpture could take, and then go to the beach and make something that often started with that mental image but soon diverged.

It all added up to an undercurrent of frustration. I'm an artist, I've been told; I should be able to hew these things to the plan. The process was enjoyable enough that I kept doing it, but the wide-eyed wonder that led to the early sculptures was gone. Too naive.

There's rebellion in the ranks. Oh, it's a quiet rebellion because other attempts have been quashed mercilessly. A nose many-times-whacked is much less likely to poke out from behind the normally closed door. Real rebellion and change, it seems, are born in a place of some safety. Self-betrayal stops everything and allows for no change. Safety has been growing, or regrowing after being lost after the great success of the new Sand Cart earlier in the year.

Like those earlier sculptures whose excessive complexity led to improved skills in using tools, repeated experiences of self-judgment whose threads can be followed lead to learning. "We don't have to do that any more."

The motives for making art are still mysterious.  There is much talk and more mystery, even when artists meet. To me, with my intolerance for blather, bluster and learned baloney, the truth is a mixture of mystery and application. Does "why" really matter? "Why not" may be more important, as in what stops one who has made art from making more? Sand sculpture is both a betrayal of my well learned principle of being invisible, and a promise to my own desire to be creative. I have, at times, sublimated the creative desire into engineering and toolmaking. There is nothing wrong with that, nor with my belief that it is better for me to make something than to sit and fear judgment. Yet the use of force to overcome judgment has engendered hopelessness.

There has been a slowly growing thread of interest in sculpture for the sake of sculpture, as a time for the Brothers-in-Fur to openly express their creativity and their enjoyment of the process. Rather than drop more rocks onto the new tendrils, I let them be. Let's go make a sculpture.
Build number: 16F-5 (lifetime start #340); monolith on low riser
Title: "Etude, op. 340"
Date: November 24
Location: Venice Breakwater, isthmus
Start: 0930, construction time approx. 5 hours
Size: about 34 inches tall, 21 inches diameter, immersion filtered intertidal sand (Latchform, Box Filter)
Helpers: none
Digital Images: 20, EOS70D and 24-70 L, completed
Photo volunteer: none
Video volunteer: none
New Tools: none
New Equipment: none

There'd been some rattling of palm fronds and sighing of wind through the pines the night before, but the morning was calm. Still, it was clear, and clear days are often unstable. It could go either way: a friendly onshore breeze, or a dry north wind that would terminate any sculpture attempt. When I start walking with my cartload of equipment the conditions are still calm.

When I'm about halfway to the beach, the wind starts to pick up. From the north, again. Not all that strong, so I keep going. By the time I reach the building site behind the breakwater I've worked up a sweat, the sun is hot, the wind is steady and dry. Well, I'm here. Might as well get started and maybe it'll get better.

By the time the pile is made I'm sweating even more and the sun is pounding my back. The wind blows leaves across the sand, but isn't quite strong enough to pick up sand grains. i eat a Force Primeval Bar and have some water, and then remove the form. How far will I get before the wind rises to the point where I can no longer work?

The sculpture dries out as I watch. The best I can do is regular spraying but I could spend all of my time doing that.

The one Idea I have for this is to make it unrelated to anything else. I want a big concave part at the top. The rest flows and changes around that.

Conditions are as brutal as I've ever faced. Very hot sun and that dry, dry wind. I sweat even sitting still. It never gets worse, though, and I can keep working. It is a better day than the one a few years ago, when I was just testing equipment when the wind came up, cold, and I made a sculpture in about half an hour. For this one I just resist the urge for thin elements and sharp edges.

Design questions come to the fore, but my sun-baked dehydrated brain is having a hard time doing much but survive. Carefully, considerately.

What is a sculpture? Does every one have to be a raving miracle of newness? How does one execute that raving miracle when one's brain is oozing away, minute by minute? Feel the sand, carve a line, hollow it out, connect it to the other hollow.

And then... the wind moderates. It has never been hot but it has been dry and the sun has poured down enough heat to make up for it. Maybe I'll be able to finish this.

I continue shaping. A piece that has been left to define the concave's edge is just kind of hanging there, so I work on giving it more shape, and also fitting another piece against it.

Quite suddenly, I catch the scent of the sea and the breeze becomes damp. The flag on the lifeguard's station has shifted around. The sculpture's salvation comes from the sea.

I have done as much as I can. There are places where more carving could be done, but I wonder. Does it need to be done? I look at it and am reminded of some 1984 sculptures that were short on holes but long on elegance. Hollowness has been the essence of most of my sculptures. Technical challenge, uniqueness, a technique developed to support that kind of carving. Yet... what is a sculpture?

I like this one as it is. Call it a study in possibilities, a freedom from preconceived notions and plans. Is it real art? I don't know, but I still think that making something is better than not. Who am I to dictate what my creativity can make? There's some kind of teamwork involved here that I don't understand very well, and wants more study.

I clean it up, sign it, and shoot a round of shaky photos. I'm badly out of condition for this. And hungry. A man jogs past and asks if I made it. "Can you wait a bit while I go get my camera? I live not far away."
"Oh, I won't do anything with the sculpture. You have plenty of time unless someone else objects to it."
I shoot a few more from various angles, and then creakily load up the cart. This seems inordinately hard. I have to stop and think about it. Oh, yes... this first, then that.

By the time I'm done the man has come back with his phone. "The quality of these things is amazing."
"You're right. They're better now than the first real digital camera I bought."
"I have a friend who wrote to me that if I see anything odd or interesting today, be sure to send her some photos."
"Problem solved."

I leave him lying on the sand, shooting up at the short sculpture. It's short because I just didn't have the oomph to fetch another load of sand. Now I wonder if I'll have the oomph to get home. One foot before the other, northward along the beach in the blessed damp air.

2016 November 25

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