Monday, April 9, 2012

Charles Simonds' Bodies and Bricks

Great lecture by Artist Charles Simonds at ICA the other night. He creates tiny worlds with clay. Beginning with videos of himself emerging naked from a clay pit in NJ (where he got his clay) made back in early 70's, he presented a history of his work. In the early videos he smeared his body with clay to make a clay landscape of himself before using tiny clay bricks to build structures on top of his body/landscape. This duality of body-like landscapes with small worlds of brick became a central theme for him.

Working then on the lower east side of NYC in very run down neighborhoods close to where he lived, he constructed tiny clay brick worlds in little niches of crumbling hollowed out building corners, etc. Short videos he made were great to watch combining the work with the times.

A good video doc. of his work although in spanish is here:

To get an idea of the times this movie of him is great as well though nothing to do with the art per se:

The landscape portion evolved to become surrealist sculptures with mouths or other dreamlike evocations emerging. Noguchi, Giacometti, etc. come to mind.

Eventually the work moved into galleries such as the Whitney where Mr. Simonds found a way to connect back to the street art by placing two complimentary creations in buildings across the street from the window in the Whitney room.

Mr. Simons explained he works with internal dialogues for the "little people" at times but also with meta narratives of a more primal nature as in Jungian archetypes though he did not specifically mention Jung necessarily. He did mention his parents were both psychologists and implied this subject was part of his work.

Outdoor work continued in art parks.

As the work became more refined and customer's requested pieces constructed inside their homes,
he began to do both extended multifaceted works with ideas and their counter ideas bouncing back and forth and extremely elegant riffs as it were on a simple idea. The brick constructions at times became soft as the landscape.
In the larger works the landscapes took on a more almost Henry Moore like importance to the overall piece.

Or completely heroic.
Can the work inform today's architecture? Of course. In the early 70's the ecology movement, anti-war movement, back-to-the-land movement, all can be found in today's America. Our desire for sustainable living includes architecture made of natural materials, food grown locally without any harmful chemicals, and not fighting wars on the other side of the world in order to protect other countries from themselves. One big difference is our desire to avoid fossil fuels now. But we would not have the technological head start here again if it had not been for the good work done during the Carter administration when we could only get gas every other day according to your license plate.

In this work the narrative is people building the present by excavating the past in a continuous cycle.

Simplistically, the mud brick locally made is very natural and local, etc. And Mr. Simonds points out how building with earth bricks is a universal method globally back thousands of years such that he will hear people tell him his work reminds them of Pueblo cliff dwellings if they are from North America, or  North African early history dwellings if they are from Europe, or Chinese early history if from Asia, etc. Primal qualities of material and construction of course are evocative of sustainable living and architects have used rammed earth construction and straw bale construction since the 70's for this reason.

However, if we look closer at the places created by Mr. Simonds we find the integration of building with landscape; the ritual narratives relating to the buildings (as in his court piece where the defendant is either pushed into the pit or walks around to meet the judge and leave free); the psychological stimulations rather than the technological. All this can be incorporated into our Maine way of living as it can be experienced in our towns when we tune into the emotions.

And drop out of the rat race.

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