Studio: 2017-The Democracy Project


"Democracy": Study for ceramic floor mosaic, Casein on paper  19' x 9'

OPENING THE STUDIO AFTER 15-YEAR ABSENCE :  Reentering a studio artist mindset, created both reservation and anticipation. Reservation- in that the "art scene" was 15 years down the road from my last creative focus.  Both mind and body needed a renewed and disciplined creative reset.  Anticipation-I had been collecting interesting things over the years and it was time to do something creative with them. These things collected had interesting form/function/signifier identity as well as a potential for simulacra manipulation.
From a very formalized fine art training, I looked at the visual world as existing of three basic elements (Beings/People, Places, Things). Before closing the studio, my portfolio had explored both Place and People in various ways. It felt natural for a creative challenge focused on "things". I had also decided to revisit my deconstruction past and challenge art's prime tennent that form follows function and approach the studio working off the idea that function follows form to see what would happen to the creative process. Things (various forms) that had been stored for years were brought out and placed around the studio as a way of getting their visual presence into the creative space and into my stream of consciousness so that a function could be created for each thing/form. It is important to note that all of the "things" collected were related to a personal experience carrying deeper meaning. 
Among the things that were placed in the studio were:
1. Old heavily used leather work gloves (I had worn out and saved over the years).
2. Rusted tin cans (recovered from a Union Valley abandon homestead).
3. Alder tree bark (recovered from our property).
4. A burnt out part of an orchard ladder (used to build the studio).
5. An old American flag from the WWII (found in the basement of Son's  first house).
6. A beat up marching band color guard fake rifle (found in an attic).
7. Ancient Church bingo set (recovered from a closed church).
8. An old fashion water heater tank (recovered from a Union Valley abandon homestead). 
9. Cardboard box full of used pencils and erasers (saved from working in a county youth detention facility).
10. Sleeping eye mask (found in a hotel room).
11. A 1920's truck 4 piece motor hood (recovered from a Union Valley abandon homestead near an abandon saw mill).
12. Sledge hammer head and heavily used wedges (worn out from processing fire wood at home).
13. 25 lbs. of anthracite coal (purchased from Amazon) 
14. A rotting 60's soccer ball (found in the back yard of a store in Mytilene Greece).
15. Ceramic tiles (laying around the shop from previous project).
16. Shot Gun casings (donated by a friend and land partner from a previous work).

While the studio was getting set up in 2016 with "things" spread around, and  uncluttered, America was becoming focused on the newly elected President Donald Trump. As his approach to leadership began to unfold, his processes and decisions were quickly being questioned. Concern was beginning to surface in the media over the way his administration seemed to be operating on the fringe moving in and outside the rule of law. It was alleged that Trump had broken campaign laws in order to be elected by eliciting the assistance of foreign powers. While completing the preparations in the studio, PBS filled the studio with conversations over potential misdeeds of the Trump administration. As I listened to accusations and responses coming from both sides, the "things" around the studio and the media news began to meld and collide within my stream of creative consciousness. Studio time and  energy was beginning to focus on American political disorder that was to evolve into social conflict at the end of the Trump presidency.
Ideas about putting function to form gathered momentum through the summer of 2017. Confrontations between President Trump, the democratic party, and the media was becoming a daily joust over the networks. The media had concentrated its reporting on every facet of the Trump administration and it was beginning to spread into its coverage of congress and the separation of powers set out in the Constitution. Trump accused the democrats of being on a witch hunt and calling out journalists for reporting "fake news" even though they were presenting factual events being gleaned from his administration and Trump. The media accused Trump of lying to the people and abusing his powers as President. Trump called the media "a national threat to democracy". The Democrats in congress began to press for investigations looking for truth. Republicans pushed back using the "witch hunt" defense. Political confrontation escalated to the point that lines were drawn and both sides were in attack mode claiming each other of lying to the public. I found this turmoil fascinating and my creative process was colliding with reality on a daily basis.
Before 2016, I was interested in exploring human communication beginning with the premise that all human communication could be understood as a streaming dialectic between truth and lie. The premise was that any communication uttered had a 50% chance to be the truth and a 50% chance to be a lie. It seemed to make sense that both forms could be equally weighed as both served an outcome. If valid, then the notion that communication as truth should be challenged since it is only half of the probability. But, it would threaten the institution of law and order since truth is at its foundation.  This thought process continued through the summer of 2017 while considering the "things" for creative potential. It was late August when the media exploded with non-stop analysis and criticism of the Trump administration's activities. Creating a collision with my thesis of a balanced dialectic and  morphing it into an investigation of how the lie was becoming an overpowering form of communication and opening the possibility that  truth had become a mute concept. By January 2017, alarmed by watching our democracy weakened from a constant stream of disingenuous attacks from the Trump camp and their intense rebuke of anyone who disagreed with their narrative, the studio was ready for a function follows form process that focused on this national conflict.

I had volunteered to teach art to refugees in Greece for three months starting in January 2017. It was to be a safe place to journal, formalize studio ground rules and work out ideas in my journal. While volunteering on the Island of Lesvos, there was a museum that had restored ancient ceramic floor mosaics from both Greek and Roman eras. The use of symbiology in them, as both aesthetic and social instruction, caught my attention.  I also took time to explore preserved artifacts of early Athenian democracy. Both were influential in journaling through those cold months. The Greek economy was struggling and many Greeks had to make sacrifices.  The house I rented a room in was a good example. Having limited income for meeting expenses, the owner couldn't afford heating. The months from Jan. through to March were bitterly cold. It was a miracle I thought to bring my down sleeping bag. As a result, I would spend most free time at a pub or coffee shop thinking, journaling, and meeting with new found friends, or huddled inside my sleeping bag waiting for mornings to come so I could go to the heated office of the NGO I was doing my volunteering at.  

Throughout the stay in Greece, the communication dialectic worked its way through nightly journaling. Being alone and without social responsibilities, I was completely free to think and scratch out ideas. One night at a favorite pub, I got into a discussion with the owner Apostoli, who was curious about my constant journaling. During the conversation on dialectics, he remarked that the journal seemed to be focused on the lying side of the dialectic and that my thinking might be one sided. Going home that night, I realized that my Greek friend was right. The journal was not a balanced dialectic weighing the yin and yang of communication. It lead to the realization that the social fabric in America was out of balance and trending dangerously toward chaos. It seemed to be succeeding.
This was the turning point for how I looked at the "things" in the studio after returning from Greece in April 2017. I resolved to explore the use of lies as the "form" of the things waiting in the studio and my task was to assign a function for each "thing" that would highlight real-time events of the Trump narrative. The first work started was "Democracy Mosaic". The experience in Greece influenced the idea to explore a tiled ceramic floor mosaic form to function as a representation of  American democracy by using color, and shape symbolically. I researched symbiology in "The Secret Language of Symbols" A visual key to symbols and their meanings: David Fontana  to resource how symbolism has been used in the past. From notes taken, I began to create a symbolic representation of democracy in the form of a classic floor mosaic. The outer boundary of red and blue rectangles represented the coming together of two equal perfect squares and the two main parties. Inside that boundary is a second layer of equilateral triangles representing male/female as well as holy heaven and earth referents, as well as the three branches of a balanced government. Inside the triangular border are found 50 squares made up of 50 small rectangles representing the union of individual states. There are, as part of the union, 5 blank squares that represent the unknown future. The corner stones of the mosaic are four black squares comprised of nine smaller black squares. They represent the supreme court and the nine justices. Etched upon each black corner is a labyrinth representing the difficult journey needed to find "the way" to truth.
 While completing "Mosaic", Democrat investigations of the Trump leadership exposed deepening threats to our democracy. Liberal elements within congress were finding that President Trump's exercise of his office was manipulating the rule of law with disregard for the checks and balances of our Constitution. It was during the Mueller investigations May 2017-March 2019 that the title for the whole body of works became," Canary". The idea was that our 45th leader was "THE" canary in the coal mine whos singing was a warning about their being an unsafe environment. Unfortunately as the canary kept singing, the much of the nation was becoming mesmerized by the hypnotic singing  via sympathetic media and at large MAGA rallies. This body of work is about a canary, who's nonstop singing, has created a siren's song that has mesmerized a significant portion of the nation to the extent that they have failed to realize the dangers created by siren and they have failed in their duties to protect the Union and its principals.