Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Shape Shifting

by Drew Martin

In the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine, René Auberjonois plays the character Odo who is a shape shifter/changeling. The natural state of this metamorphic species is a shimmering, goopy liquid. Amusingly, his kind refers to humanoids as "solids."

In the Star Trek tradition, Odo is the in-need-of-a-hug show outcast, as was Spock in the original series, as was Data in Next Generation. Unlike these predecessors, ornery Odo is not a logical counterweight or friendly android; he is cantankerous and dismissive.

Not only is Odo the least human of these pivotal characters but he knows nothing about his origin. He serves as the constable on the station and transforms himself in order to spy on suspects and to access areas undetected. He can be a mouse, a bag...even a framed painting.

In the episode The Search, Odo finds his home on a rogue planet and meets others like him. After a brief introduction, he is left alone in an arboretum. When he is rejoined by a maternal figure, she asks him if he has made good use of his time in that garden. He is confused and asks her what she means. She comments that he has been among the "solids" too long and that he should take the shape of the various plants around him in order to understand them better; to assume the form of something is to know it.

This idea has a wonderful extrapolation to art, especially sculpture. I imagine Odo wandering around museums emulating Rodin, Canova, Oldenburg, Calder, Moore and Kapoor.

Michelangelo said he was freeing the human forms that already existed in the blocks of marble. If this sounds a bit too romantic now, it was a conceptual leap at the time.

With Odo in mind, perhaps a great sculpture could be viewed as the transformation of the artist himself or herself into a three dimensional object for our benefit. Additionally, it would be an interesting way to interact with a sculpture. Put aside the analysis, art history and any attempt to figure out what it is trying to "say" and just imagine yourself taking on its properties.