A LONG DAY’S JOURNEY
Starting around 2009, my work has focused on perceptions of safety and the psychology of anxiety in American culture – those things which give us a feeling of security, and those that are the sources of our deepest paranoia and hysteria. Initially, my work dealt with taking elements of America that are often thought of as being fearsome and destructive, and representing them as things which ultimately provide us safety and comfort. This idea that the paranoia in American culture may be “misplaced” was something that I found to be an intriguing and provocative motif, however it was quickly obvious that there were two sides of the story: One side which reconfigured something we fear into something that inspires a feeling of well-being, and the other view which disassembles those things we assume keep us safe, but in reality may be one of our greatest vulnerabilities.
Having lived my entire life in and around the City of Detroit, a place that is no stranger to paranoia and anxiety in its communities, I wanted to incorporate my personal experiences of living here into my work, and photograph this place the way I experience it. I felt it was important to delve into the lesser-known side of this divided region of America, where the outlying suburban towns go largely ignored, and focus my attention on the places where so many families “escaped” to after the City of Detroit-proper began to collapse, where they went to feel safe and secure, and where many of those families continue to live their lives – myself included. The photographs I began to make were mostly of darkened houses on night-shrouded, suburban streets: forcefully framed, nearly colorless views into these privacy-laden enclaves, photographing them when they are at their most unaware as a way to symbolically undermine the illusion of privacy that the decades of flourishing paranoia has manufactured. Facades of houses, backyards, neatly groomed and winding streets, all come together in the photographs to create an amalgam of a place often ignored because of its uniformity. My consummate ambition with the project is to confront the reality of safety and privacy that suburban environments in effect provide, and to open a new discussion about the legitimacy of the American suburban vision, perhaps not only here in Detroit, but throughout America at large.
NESTS AND SHELLS WITH SKIRTS AND BELLS
Nests and Shells, With Skirts and Bells was derived from a confluence of ideas ranging from shelter, security and comfort, to determination, strength and the resistance of fragility as seen from an American viewpoint. As an American artist, I wanted to approach an irrefutably American motif, the atomic bomb, and see if there was a way in which it could be brought comfortably into the American home, to make it something sensual and cherished that could be appreciated not only as an piece of art, but also as a symbol of personal appreciation for the Bomb.
The sculptures take their form from the combination of three main motifs: "nests" and "shells" which are alluded to by the vessel-like nature of the pieces, and the tall spindle that extends the bulb of the sculpture upwards, physically and symbolically protected from any dangers below. The third source is the shape of the “mushroom clouds” from American atomic weapons testing, where the terms “skirts and bells” have for many years been used by the device's designers to describe and study the shapes seen on the stems of mushroom clouds caused by atmospheric pressure. Each piece is individually inspired by a specific explosion, with it's form mimicking the expanding and rising cloud that was so often associated with “protecting” the security of America – shielding and sheltering the country from both physical and ideological dangers.
Each sculpture is composed of up to sixty hand-turned wood elements, each painstakingly fit and finished. It was important to me as an artist to root the process of making these pieces well into the tradition of American craft, and to work with a "no effort spared" mentality as a way of giving tribute to those who also spared no effort in designing the Bomb. In each piece, I try to capture a moment of the determination and ingenuity that lies behind America's most iconic invention, as well as the moment of realization of what had been invented.