As mentioned in my last post, I’m getting set to build some repurposed objects. As I was organizing the very humble materials I’ve gathered thus far, I came to a realization. At first glimpse, these crude pallets, ratty furniture parts, and other discarded pieces are simply waste. They are garbage unworthy of attention. We’ve decided as a culture that the best place for this “refuse” is out of sight, rotting in some landfill we never have to see. This happens all too often in American culture, and the “refuse” we choose to discard is not always in the form of packing materials and worn out furniture. All too often, we do the same with entire communities, if not entire classes of people. I’d like to keep that firmly in mind as I try to nourish these forgotten materials into objects imbued with purpose and utilty.
Please don’t be confused. I don’t think that building objects out of refuse will change the world. It won’t; at least not what I plan to do. However, I do believe that anything can be a meditative act. As one spends more time with any activity, that activity begins to become more rich with meaning. We begin to notice connections and metaphors. Our activities begin to creep into our consciousness and affect other aspects of our lives. I know that playing organized sports from childhood through high school had a profound impact on my personality and mindset. I also know that photography and drawing gradually changed my visual perception over time and that making sculpture changed the way I think about materials and objects. As I begin trying to make interesting and (hopefully) beautiful objects out of forgotten materials, I hope that activity can also affect my mindset and become more rich with metaphor and meaning.
Even in my past, I used to make sculpture from very humble materials such as construction grade two by fours and cheap plywood. I discovered that with enough attention and ingenuity, these materials could be transformed into something that many people seemed to value. I’m beginning to realize that is the case with so many aspects of life. The quality and circumstances of one’s raw materials, so to speak, are so much less important than the time and effort we use to nourish them. I’ve seen (and made) some really crappy, uninspired art created with very expensive and exotic woods. I’ve also seen (and made) some really well-received work with the most humble materials imaginable. It is about the attention and ingenuity.
So, again, I hope to keep this in the forefront of my mind as I work. Too often, I find myself continually frustrated and fatigued with America’s abject neglect of its most vulnerable citizens. Mostly, they are ignored. If they are given attention, it is typically to demonize them as lazy, unfitting, and wholly to blame for their circumstances. We don’t invest in impoverished neighborhoods. We don’t invest in their schools. We prefer to keep them rotting in the landfills of non-functioning neighborhoods and, quite frequently, prison. We see no purpose or utility to their lives. However, this flawed perception says much more about the deficiencies of the affluent than it does about their targets of disdain.
As any inner-city or rural school teacher can tell you, people respond to attention and effort extended them. People want to have purpose and want to have value. They only relinquish that hope when culture continually and habitually reinforces the idea that they lack utility, that they belong out of sight in their neglected environs. Those who do have the advantage of someone or some organization investing in them often thrive beyond expectation. And, they do so with a greater richness of experience, richness of expression, and richness of purpose. Hopefully, I can keep this in mind as I begin to sand, polish, stain, and refresh my own forgotten treasures. While my repurposed objects may not change the world, hopefully they can help change my own perceptions and attitudes while providing a metaphor for the cultural nihilism of unnecessary neglect.