Friday, July 27, 2012

The Erosion of Meaning

My father has always been a big proponent of “common” sense and practicality. He is a very concrete thinker and so as a son/employee and as an abstract thinker, he and I were often at odds with one another. In my frustration as a young artist working in my father’s electrical contracting shop, I latched onto an idea about my father and his business that has stayed with me in various forms since then.

My father was a good and fair businessman and his practicality served him well for the most part. However, there was one place where it broke down. In the shop where he kept his tools and supplies, there was a conflict of my father’s ideas: 1) Don’t throw anything out because it could be valuable at a later date. 2) Keep the men in the field where they produce value instead of in the shop cleaning up.  The result is that the shop was glutted with piles of unorganized tools and materials. What I spotted was that the value that my father was trying to maintain started to quickly erode as the material became inaccessible because of the disorganization. A $5000 coupling used in rare circumstances was on the floor in a pile with $2 coupling used every day. Once the object was placed in storage without regard to its purpose or meaning, it lost its value.

At the time I was studying the Dada movement in art and it resonated with me. The artists at the time were reacting to the horrors of World War I, and how technology had destroyed meaning. They made art out of objects that had specific purposes and then stripped them of that purpose and repurposed them for art. This worked perfectly with my frustration with my father’s monolithic insistence that everything must be of practical use in light of the de-practicalization of his shop. And so I began building abstract sculptures with his materials. The more old and decrepit the object, the better. Sometimes the finished pieces would have some human or animal look to them but that was part of my take on searching for meaning. For the most part, the sculptures purposefully had no meaning.

After time though, I began to run into the same problem that my father had. Since no one saw meaning or value in the sculptures, they began to accumulate in storage and lose their value. Since I couldn’t justify the ongoing resources needed to continue, I threw everything out.

That was 20 years ago. Since then I have had hundreds of notebooks filled with doodles of sculptures. This idea still has a hold on me.

Now I am working on a website that talks about the process of using and questioning tools for the establishment of meaning. I’m feeling the old tug of wanting to contrast the discussion by building things without meaning.

The impracticality of creating large meaningless things has been helped in the last 20 years with the advent of photoshop. We’ll see…

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