I’d like to tell you a bit about the ‘furniture’ in aWay station. I started my artistic career as a furniture maker and it’s still an important part of my art practice. Most of the furniture in the aWay station was made specifically for it prior to and during my residency. And many other pieces were made by furniture making friends (Yvonne Mouser’s versatile bucket stools and Richard LaTrobe Bateman’s robust split blackwood stool which I work at every day).
The are three distinct furniture-ish components in the aWay station that I’ve created – the articulated library, the trestles and the digital stereopticon.
The articulated library was the first piece envisioned for the aWay station. In part, it was a response to the size of the Project Space (1800 sq. ft.); a pretty daunting space to ‘fill’. I considered making a smaller hut or shack inside the space within which to work. Literally a field station that could be relocated to other sites of inquiry after my residency ended. But it seemed a cowardly response to such a generous space. So the shack opened up and spilled out to fill up the Project Space. There is now a ‘working’ space defined by Yvonne Mouser’s bucket stools and the almost overflowing crate of hand crafted whittle chips, a ‘resting’ place with butterfly chairs, rug and banjo at hand, and a ‘sleeping’ place with a folding camp stretcher and handwoven blanket from Oaxaca. The walls of the shack morphed into the articulated library; a set of simple boards and boxes made from Jarrah which can be reconfigured readily and secured with exquisite little brass Japanese sash cramps. The articulated library has constantly changing roles as storage (for books, whittling blocks, tools), display (my whittling efforts, the scaled skin forms, found flotsam) and rehearsal (of the digital stereopticon and its projector).
The trestles were the next pieces conceived and were the first made and installed. They were designed as the main work and display tables for the aWay station. They’ve been amazingly useful and have been the center of all my activities. They’ll be used purely for display towards the end of my stay as there is just so much work on hand thanks to the ever expanding worry of whittlers.
The digital stereopticon is the final piece that I’ve been designing and building here at the Headlands and it’s still coming together. One of my initial desires with the aWay station was to dissolve the walls of the Project Space by creating tools that capture and map the external space onto and through the walls of the interior space – visual, auditory or experiential. The digital stereopticon is the distillation of this notion. It is both a capturing device and a viewing device for digital stereoscopic movies made in the immediate physical environs. I’m going to wait until it’s finished to post images – both of the stereopticon and some of the images that can be viewed through it.
One of my whittling guests, Maggie Sasso, asked a perceptive question which has been playing on my mind over the last few weeks while I’ve lived in the aWay station. She asked what was my attitude to nostalgia? I went to a lot of effort to make most of the furniture in the aWay station from scratch and to use equipment which was not antique, aged or nostalgic. Yet aWay station is clearly connected to the work of other contemporary artists who are interested in the histories of collecting and museology – Mark Dion, Michael C. McMillen (whose extraordinary retrospective just finished at the Oakland Museum of California), Rosamond Purcell, Fred Wilson, David Wilson (of Museum of Jurassic Technology fame) and others. Artist’s who mostly use found and modified objects to create their installations. I greatly admire and enjoy these artists’ work. However, one aspect of some of this work that I don’t relish is their use of illusion: the fact that their works are simulating historical precedents and conjure this history through appropriating materials or objects which have the patina of age and use. Nostalgia is used to draw in an audience through romantic (or sometimes dissonant or uncomfortable) associations and to create the illusion of reality when in fact the tableau are contemporary and fictional. I wanted the aWay station feel more like a Victorian gentlman-naturalist’s study when it was freshly minted – when it had the freshness of new discoveries yet to be made. And for it not to carry any steam-punk, sideshow connotations at all. I hope I’ve been successful, but wonder if an audience fails to make the connection with scientific discovery without the appropriate overt signifiers – either aged mahogany and brass, or stainless steel and pyrex.
I would be interested in hearing your comments on nostalgia and its use in contemporary art in the comments section.