Sunday, June 28, 2009

Freak Show

Galerie Califia in Horazdovice, Czech Republic is an artist-run, non–commercial space, showing both international and regional art. From August 21st to October 31st, the gallery will be presenting Freak Show, an exhibit curated by Tony Ozuna. The title plays off of the theme as artists as freaks in the eyes of villagers.

The artists are from Czech, Holland and the United States: Josef Bolf, Veronika Bromova, Marie Hladikova, Doro Krol, (me) Drew Martin, Jolana Rucharova, Clint Takeda and Lenka Vitkova.

I designed the poster, which includes drawings for each artist but not specifically of anyone in particular. Half of the drawings were drawn when I lived in Usti nad Labem and Prague in the Czech Republic in the mid 1990's.

I will be showing a homeless self portrait sculpture. Following, are pictures and a writing about the project. The difference will be a change of clothes and instead of the crochet covering there will be a blanket I made, which is covered in my drawings. I want this piece to read more now as a collection of drawings than as a sculpture:

A Homeless Self Portrait

by Drew Martin

Several years ago I created the Museum of Peripheral Art (MoPA) to give direction to my artwork and to open projects to collaboration and community engagement. MoPA is not a museum building or even a gallery; It is a concept and, in its greatest realization, a network of public art projects, both subtle and serendipitous. The museum’s very first project which is still maintained today is a communal art wall on a busy street corner of my property. Neighbors and passersby arrange and add to its eclectic collection of objects.

MoPA’s most recent project is a self-portrait /homeless man sculpture, displayed on the streets of different towns and cities in America. It is about riches-to-rags reality and the anxious self-defenses (physical and emotional) against utter failure.

The sculpture is a study of the human form, simultaneously realistic and abstract. There are, for example, believable legs, which make the sculpture human-looking but it is also an amorphous mound of cloth. The Dying Gaul and reclining Buddha references are lost on the pathetic heap. Influences are found here but the homeless man sculpture is less realistic than Duane Hanson, less dramatic than Edward Kienholz, less rigid than George Segal and less graphic than Kiki Smith.

Viewing the homeless man sculpture plays on our levels of politesse: to witness but not stare. There is an initial shock but the stillness is serene and one sees past the taboo of homelessness. The sculpture suggests "Let sleeping dogs lie" (not so much to avoid provocation, but to allow temporary peace to endure: in this dream state the realities of the outside world don’t exist).

The sculpture can be viewed at on another level: commenting on this kind of street art...without a home: gallery or museum. The sculpture is more accurately a homeless sculpture. People who indifferently pass this object as either a desperate human or an art project share the same apathy. By being interested in the object (human or sculpture) one realizes that our interest in art is not as superficial as it is often suggested: that it is really an interest in humanity. Apathy, can also have a deeper meaning. When people walk by MoPA projects and no longer stare, it means that this art has become part of their environment and, in turn, they become part of the project. This is central to the homeless man sculpture. There is a statement in the work but there is as much a statement in the reaction to the work.

This sculpture is about the rock-bottom core of having nothing else to lose. This is true of viewing and understanding the work and of the creative process in general. We are all impoverished on many levels: perhaps it is in love, faith or even one’s sense of potential and we let that part of us lie on the ground like the homeless man.

Homeless people are simply considered living trash. The church gives us a charitable perspective but long gone is the ancient Greek perspective, which was relayed to us best by Homer: that the poor man may indeed be a god, perhaps even Zeus, fooling us and therefore we must always pay respect. This is very different than the church’s notion that God might be judging us on by our actions. The pragmatic mind does not entertain the Greek thoughts and so humanity and art, which go hand in hand, are lost together. In the jacket pocket of the sculpture is a copy of Homer’s Odyssey.

Before the work began I decided not to turn this project into performance art (by including a real body) in order to reinforce this link of humanity and an art object. Francis Bacon said that art is just a game to distract man and that the most challenging aspect for the artist was to deepen the game in order to return the onlooker to life more violently. The homeless man sculpture does this through realism. The first time I displayed the homeless man sculpture in front of my house, an old lady who was driving by called the police.

The sculpture is by default a self portrait. The proportions are from my body and the clothing and accessories are my own including a hat I made. Such an article goes beyond the notion of found objects because there is much personal labor invested in the components. The throw on the sculpture was crocheted my great grandmother. It is a beautiful antique quickly disintegrating. On the throw is random stitching, which were attempts by me as a young man, when this object was trusted to me for safe-keeping, to maintain it. The most interesting part of the sculpture for me are the shoes. The shoes are at least a decade old and were once very expensive dress shoes. On the feet of the statue they are sadly in disrepair. Their patina came from the miles I walked through New York City streets.

The fact that the homeless man is a sculpture and not a painting or photograph is important because, in this case, the sculpture assumes an element of time. If it were a painting or a photograph one could not check it’s vital signs or feel it’s material. Here there is a play on words because this kind of artwork, like many other MoPA projects are tactile and accessible for direct encounter. I call this kind of work "touchables" which is appropriate for an "untouchable."

This is degenerative art, especially when compared to the bronzes of ancient Greece and Roman marbles. Poor materials and a pathetic human representation may not be the best way to promote ourselves as advanced beings and the pedestrian takes offense to things that he or she does not find beautiful but it is this lack of perfection and humbleness that strikes a chord.