Art & Mind in Nature


The following is an artist’s statement that I’m working on for an upcoming show at Matzke Fine Art and Sculpture Park. It’s a group show with an environmental theme. Serendipitously, I had just been reading Andrew Bowie’s Aesthetics and Subjectivity: From Kant to Nietzsche for my PhD coursework at IDSVA. In the book there is a substantial discussion of Friedrich’s Schelling’s philosophy, and I was deeply influenced as you can see below. John Dewey echoes Schelling about a hundred years later in Experience and Nature. One wonders why these philosophies that espouse our being part of nature don’t seem to have much traction.

Artist’s Statement

We tend to talk today about our separation from nature. Indeed, it seems to be the case that we see nature as literally outside ourselves: the out-of-doors. We damage the environment without regard for the fact that we are in nature, destroying the very earth of which we are an integral part—like setting fire to a house in which we still want to live. Even very early in the 19th Century, but really before the Industrial Revolution affected Germany, Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854) wrote about nature as having two aspects: unconscious forces, what we would call the natural world, and consciousness–including our own sentience–still part of the natural world, but enabling us to be (or to think we are) autonomous. Perhaps this seeming autonomy, our ability to think and act, makes us feel that we are beyond “unconscious” nature, when we are merely an extension of it.
My own sculpture is an exploration of the balance between what I would have previously called the “natural world” and the “man-made world,” but there is an inherent opposition. Instead, I’d like to follow Schelling’s lead and project ourselves within a unity of nature of which we are part. Obviously this does not solve the obvious problem of the divide in which we often find ourselves as humans: seemingly opposed to everything else in the world (and subsequently alienated). Yet the connection we have with art is an example of how we actively engage in a positive way with our world.
My work is ultimately optimistic in that it offers a kind of harmony. I juxtapose incongruous elements, not necessarily to cause a clash, but to create something mythic, something that exists outside of time and the normal rules. A work of art ought to be a bit strange, that place in the world where something new happens.

These Boats were made for Walking, or Heterotopias par Excellence

[The following is a slightly revised version of an artist’s statement that I wrote for a group exhibition that I was in at Anchor Art Space in Anacortes, Washington, USA in June of 2014. Foucault’s term heterotopia really piqued my interest (as it has many other thinkers), yet he wrote very little about it. I’m planning on using the idea of the heterotopia in my autumn independent study paper for IDSVA. More about that later, however.]

"Leibniz' Dog: The Beast of All Possible Worlds" Sculpture in Porcelain and Wood, about 22" long and 30" tall
“Leibniz’ Dog: The Beast of All Possible Worlds”
Sculpture in Porcelain and Wood, about 22″ long and 30″ tall

I recently came across Michel Foucault’s term heterotopia, which simply means “other space or place,” those that are special, set aside from normal life. Examples that he gives are the honeymoon suite, and the colonies of the Puritans in America: places intended to engender a transformation or new beginning. His discussion is literally grounded: it seems he is always speaking of things built upon the earth: rooms in buildings, colonies in a new land. Thus I am surprised when he concludes with a mention not of land, but of the sea: “The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.” What particularly piqued my interest is the intersection of land and vessel in Foucault, something that occurs in my own work. I invoke both by combining “what belongs to the land” with the vessel form. Foucault has hit upon something profound and poetic: “The boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea.” A cocoon afloat on the abyss; a boat upon the sea, or our earth floating in space, is a mysterious and powerful image.