A visual map of my 3-week adventure exploring Japan and studying with renowned sculptor Kazutaka Uchida. Many thanks to my friends at the Northwest Stone Sculptors Association, the Regional Arts and Culture Council (racc.org) for supporting this project with a professional development grant, and most of all Uchida Sensei for sharing his home, studio, and knowledge with me in Toyota City, Japan.
Pulp & Deckle Papermaking
I can’t express how excited I was to see this decent sized chunk of basalt embedded in concrete among a heap of concrete rubble. I had been looking for some kind of stone to carve for the first 4 months (out of the 5 month residency). I think it is actually a good thing that people are mostly not throwing away rocks - why would you? Still, it was good for me. I hadn’t even intended to leave it in the concrete initially, I had never carved concrete so did not know what to expect. I quickly changed my mind after studying the form, and after some careful shaping and polishing I couldn’t be happier with the result. The same rubble pile also produced the flat stone that became the base, after some digging around. They are pinned using recovered brass components that I took from an antique chandelier.
One material I became intrigued with is styrofoam. It is mostly air, trapped in thin (but sturdy) bubbles of polystyrene plastic (EPS). There was a lot of this on its way to the landfill, and I took it upon myself to experiment. Interestingly, acetone will dissolve EPS and reduce its volume by 95%, without producing any evident environmental hazards.
The Golden Age
I spent considerable time restoring the structure of this sled, with some modifications and additions. It is one of the first materials that I recovered. The last time I saw a sled like this is also my earliest memory, at 3 years old. My neighbors had a sled identical to this, and they let me try it on the steep icy road between our two houses. My parents said okay as long as I steered away from the parked cars along the side of the road. As I climbed on I realized that I didn’t know how to steer it, but I was already moving. I shot down the hill, headed straight for the back of a pickup truck parked at the bottom, with my parents yelling what I can only imagine to have been “Turn! TURN!!”. I flattened myself to the sled and slid right under the middle of the truck, the back of my head barely missing the various steel parts jutting downward. I had barely registered what had happened when I felt someone grab my shoes and pull me backward. My dads expressions was a mix of panic and relief as he searched for signs of injuries. Meanwhile, I was unharmed and smiling. It was exhilarating! It was also the last time I got to use the sled.
I cleaned and polished the stainless frame, replaced a missing section of the frame tube, cleaned and waxed the red rails, cleaned/sanded/sealed the wood deck, selectively added some recovered gold paint, and added the vintage Disney cardboard images to the top of the deck. The only parts of the sled that are not recovered from the waste transfer station are the handle extensions - these were antique wood file handles that I had kept from my grandfathers shop after he passed. They add a little leverage to make it easier to steer. So with this sled I will always be guided by my earliest memory, my idealism and wonder significantly fueled by an early exposure to “golden age” Disney films, and by my grandfather who believed in me when I was directionless.
An abstracted fox head. Sometimes simplicity is best. In a large pile of muddy concrete rubble and river rocks, I saw this single gleaming gem of obsidian. I mostly followed the shape of the stone as I found it, ground each side, and polished most of the faces.
This is a much larger version of a paper sculpture I made in my 2017 residency with Pulp & Deckle. It had to be much thicker since I was using recycled paper, and because the rope is nylon or some other waterproof synthetic, rather than a natural fiber. Although it was stronger than I imagined, since it is large and had to be transported a few times, I reinforced the backside of it with a few thick applications of recovered mod-podge glue, which gave it added rigidity and flexibility.
It is difficult to capture by photo, but the highlight of this sculpture is that when looking through these plastic tubes there is a kaleidoscope effect. White insulated wire partly obscures the end of the tubes, but the other part is open, so that as the sculpture gently moves from air movements or a gentle touch, and as people walk in front of the sculpture in the gallery, the kaleidoscope image shifts and dances.
The outer ring is composed of styrofoam shells from bicycle helmets, woven together and held by the tension of their own weight by green medical tubing, altogether suspended from an unusual copper chain that I can only imagine was once a decorative downspout for rainwater. The tubes themselves are plastic anti-static containers for computer chips. One of the last sculptures I made during this 5-month residency, and possibly my favorite.
This is the sculpture chosen for the Recology permanent collection.
The effort here was to highlight the unusual beauty of these off-centered tree rings. It started as merely a discarded chunk of firewood with the bark still attached. The wood smelled strongly of apricot, so I can only imagine it is a section from an apricot tree. It is carved in the round, and is best viewed/experienced when held in both hands. The simplicity of the head form was inspired by one of my favorite historical sculptors, Constantin Brancusi.
This was pushing to see what kind of fluid effects I could achieve with dissolving EPS with acetone. The process was unpredictable due to it being extremely difficult to control, but the results echo melted ice to a surprising degree. My foremost association with this sculpture is with ice caves/caverns. I had seen photos as a child of my parents in the ice caves on Mt. Rainier, and I always wanted to go, but it was too dangerous. Mt. Rainier has always been the family mecca, hence the title. A darker aspect of that title is more obvious, relating to the sheer abundance of EPS in the landfills. I heard someone once say that if aliens came to earth now, they would think banks were our places of worship, since they are everywhere and usually in the largest buildings. During this residency, I wondered what those same aliens would think if they were to judge what we worship based on what we’ve produced, accumulated, and saved (“banked”) in the landfills.
Modules 3 & 4
The vertical angles of intersection are what is important on these two small structures. It is not obvious from the photos due to the nature of their design (must really move around them to see it). Something along the lines of fusing triangles and cubes. These will end up as maquettes for much larger sculptures.
This sculpture took advantage of an interesting form left after a tomato cage was run over by the front loader. The base took more work, a hollow plastic shell that was once the base of a cheap lamp, spray painted with recovered imitation granite texture, then painted metallic black, the underside weighted with recovered glue from hazardous waste and the wood sawdust from chainsaw carving “Excentric”.