Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Zoo

When I decided to use circuitry as my material it was obvious to me that I would have to gather as large and varied a collection as possible from dozens of factories, so I could have the flexibility to create whatever I wished.  The problem was that with thousands of pounds of circuit boards accumulating, I had to be able to easily find what was needed for each piece.  A single circuit board takes up very little space and will store on shelves like books, but like a book in a library, is impossible to find unless you know where to look. 

 If you go into a bookstore you find things arranged by topic.  I decided to arrange my circuits by aesthetic, which is the way I would use them, anyway.  It became my library of visual language.  If they had an oriental look to them, they were filed in Oriental; if the circuitry lines were serpentine they could be found in Serpentine.  Circuitry patterns that called to mind grass or flowers or trees would go in Garden.  The category Zoo is for circuits that suggest animals.  I’ve tested this on visitors, pulling out a circuit board and asking them what they see.  Often they get it right away, even though these circuits were never designed to be anything but electronic.  I have a baboon, a frog on a throne, a monkey, an elephant, a horse, a toucan, fish, Insects and so on.  A few other categories include Geometric, Candelabra, Mae West (big and curvy upstairs, slim in the waist), Formal, Mechanical, Bulbous, Maya and Chartres. These labels may not mean anything to someone else, but I almost always know where to look for something, and where to put it back.

Deciphering the Language

The design of the artworks came by instinct at first, but it became apparent that I was dealing with a visual language that seemed to have its own rules of grammar, sentence structure and form.  What was discovered by trial or instinct could prove to be one of these rules that would apply to other similar situations with the circuitry design.  How repetition or disrupted- repetition worked, or removing a visually distracting part of a circuit board.  How the eye caught the flow of lines in unexpected ways.  How density of the circuitry played into the overall flow.  How by choosing the right boldness or intricacy  of the circuitry, a piece could be made to visually work well seen at a distance and equally well but very differently when seen close.  Combining the circuitry in certain ways could provoke the feeling of eloquent prose, other ways of eccentric poetry.  It was the circuitry itself that taught me its language.

The Studio

My studio is just a football field from my back door, in a woodland clearing.  (It’s a rural area in the northern Catskill Mountains, and I have cows for neighbors).  I completely designed the studio, a builder did the basic structure to my plans, and I finished the rest.   The center of the interior is a large open space with a high arched ceiling and on both ends of the building are good-sized lofts for storage or displaying finished works.  Under the loft on one side is my workshop and all the machines, and under the loft on the other end are rows and rows of shelving for materials. On the wall of the open area opposite the main door are some tall windows, which look out on the woods.

People have occasionally asked if I get shell shock when I go into Manhattan from this quite rural place, but I lived in New York City for many years and feel quite comfortable there.  I know where all the parking places can be found, and where to not even think of looking for one.  And there are thousands of inexpensive restaurants with very good food of every kind because New Yorkers eat out most of the time.  Nothing like that in the countryside, but on the other hand I can laugh at a chickadee chasing a squirrel, or throw tomatoes at a bear who’s after the birdseed – which you don’t see very often on Fifth Avenue.  And in a little over two hours I can be on Fifth Avenue.