A series of works created in collaboration with Matthew Hebert. Each Hybrid Artifact investigates the connection between the handmade and the machine made - highlighting the imbedded artifacts of both processes. The computer's ability to recognize form and innovate in the absence of concrete data is put to the test - as it is with us every time we put hand to tool.
Hybrid Artifact #2 (for John Bartram)
John Bartram’s garden and collecting expeditions provided the first systematic exports of the botanical wonders of North America to England and then on to Europe. This happened in the midst of the European Enlightenment and the materials that Bartram supplied helped establish the foundations of the modern scientific fields of taxonomy and plant hybridization. The transport of these specimens in ‘Bartram’s Boxes’ was a technical (and often logistical and political) accomplishment in its own right. The seeds, seedlings and plants that travelled on the long and dangerous voyage across the Atlantic ended their journey in the hands and glasshouses of some of the most advanced plant biologists living at the time. In effect they inspired and provided the substance of a revolution in biological science that is still being played out today. Interestingly enough, this happened through a direct correspondence between two individuals on opposite sides of the ocean. Two men who both displayed extraordinary passion for the North American flora, a certain impatience and frustration with the tyranny of the distance between them, and a long-standing friendship and collegiality, which was never consummated by them meeting face to face. These two men were John Bartram, striving to both farm and explore the newly colonized East coast of America, and Peter Collinson in England, working hard to both enrich his own modest garden and to help distribute Bartram’s Boxes to the leading gardens and research facilities in England and Europe.
The seeds for “Hybrid Artifact#2 (for John Bartram)” originated from Bartram’s garden in Philadelphia. Donald Fortescue milled a freshly fallen Willow Oak tree on site and made 16 green wood ‘Fortescue’s boxes’ A group of enthusiastic students from the University of the Arts, the Buck’s County Community College and the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, hand whittled small wooden sculptures from wood from the Gardens and provided a hypothetical text description of the completed pieces.
These small sculptures were then individually and carefully packed in the ‘Fortescue’s Boxes’ and shipped across the country to Matthew Hebert waiting with great anticipation in San Diego, California, all the way across the US – 2,700 miles (a tad less than the 3,550 miles covered by Bartram’s Boxes). Matthew then opened the boxes (conserving them carefully) and began work on his technical translation of Donald’s specimens. Utilizing an array of reverse engineering (3D scanners) and digital fabrication technologies (CNC machines and 3D Printers), Matthew translated the hand-hewn objects into 3D computer models, manipulated them in software, and then re-created them as physical objects. He created negatives of the whittlings and then remounted these in the original boxes; framed and lit from within like Victorian cameos. The descriptions provided by the whittlers were read by the original artists and then the recordings linked to their respective cameos.
The 16 artifacts are arrayed to reflect notions of hybridization, mutation, and genealogy. The subtle textures created by both the hand of the whittler and the processes of digital fabrication highlight the problematic space of contemporary making. The radical changes in society resulting from the scientific revolution in John Bartram’s time are drawn into parallel with the radical changes in contemporary society arising from digital manufacturing.
Hybrid Artifact #1
HA#1 marries the disjunct processes of hand whittling and 3D printing. By exploiting an unintended aspect of the scanning software, the printing process becomes intuitive and generative in the same way whittling is. The piece indexes taxonomy and hybridization, through the experimental nature of the process, the final forms of the objects, and their mode of display.
Hybrid Artifact #2 (for John Bartram)
2013. Mixed media (various woods, ABS plastic, lighting and sound component). H 36” x 36” x 6”
Hybrid Artifact #2. Detail. Whittle cameo
Hybrid Artifact #1
2012. Mixed Media (various woods, ABS plastic, foam and brass hardware). H 43” x 19” x 5”
Hybrid Artifact #1 detail. Hand and machine whittled hybrid forms.
An ongoing series of works investigating the essence of place.
Here is a link to the catalog for the Genius loci exhibition.
Sounding is a collaboration with the San Francisco–based sculptor Lawrence LaBianca and was developed for Bay Area Now 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Sounding derives from the book Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, which has long been a source of inspiration for both of us. Our fascination with Moby-Dick comes in part from its detailed evocation of the bygone crafts of sailing and whaling and the struggles of men at sea, and also from its powerful and ever-relevant dissection of monomania. Through this work we hoped to conjure the era of the book’s writing through the use of period forms such as a cabriole-legged table and hailing horn, while making it also very much of the moment by incorporating contemporary sound recordings and digital fabrication technologies. We constructed the table out of steel rods and filled it with beach rocks, then lowered it into the ocean near Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay, where over the course of two months it accumulated living accretions from the ocean. Atop the table is an oversize sound-amplifying funnel reminiscent of the hailing horns used on whaling ships, which is constructed of laser-cut panels of polycarbonate lashed together with nylon zip ties. The horn amplifies and concentrates a sound recording made by a hydrophone close to where the table was submerged.
Sounding provides a direct link to the living oceans surrounding the Bay Area through sight, sound, smell, and touch. In both form and concept it also links to the historical, literary, and metaphorical oceans of Moby-Dick.
This piece in the series was constructed far from the ocean, on the Continental Divide, at Anderson Ranch Arts Center just outside of Aspen in the Colorado Rockies. It consists of a matched pair of cabinets mounted on tripods. Each 12-sided cabinet is made of ash and walnut, and on each of the 12 sides is a lens that focuses the viewer’s eye onto a circular digital photographic transparency at the cabinet’s center. One shows a panorama of an aspen forest under snow. The other shows a macro view of the circumference of a single aspen tree. Aspens are clonal, and an aspen grove is usually a single genetic individual—one of the largest organisms on the planet. Panopticon presents two views of the same organism – one looking inwards, one outwards. By interacting withPanopticon, a viewer’s attention is focused both inward and outward. The digital images are contained and distanced so that the experience is both intimate and removed.
The word panopticon originally referred to a form of prison architecture with a central viewing hub from which all of the inmates could be viewed simultaneously. This structure was proposed by the extraordinary 19th-century British social reformer and philosopher Jeremy Bentham, whose embalmed body (self-titled Auto-Icon) is still on display in a glass-fronted cabinet at University College London.
Under the Bridge
Under the Bridge includes two small, finely crafted, lidded cabinets standing opposite each other on tripods. Raising one or the other of their lids reveals and activates a small screen set deep into the cabinet body showing looped video footage of moving water. The footage was shot from the centers of the famous bridges of Sydney and San Francisco, but no part of the bridges or surrounding landscape appears in the frame. The waters are from my two “homes” on either side of the Pacific Ocean, and they are superficially similar yet fundamentally different.
The inlay in the top of each cabinet is a map of shoreline that each bridge spans oriented in the same way as the view of the water shown in the video. The maps were taken from the first western maps made of those shorelines. Sydney’s shoreline was mapped by John Hunter as the first European colony was established in 1788 . George Vancouver mapped what would become known as the Golden Gate in 1798. The two distant shores were apprehended for the first time by Western explorers only 10 years apart. Both maps essentially represent a first look at the new shoreline. Our first attempts to understand and incorporate a new world into the old.
Correspondence was inspired (in part) by the tradition, typical of all European colonies, in which local (expatriate) artisans would construct exemplary pieces of cabinetwork for display back in the European capitals to demonstrate both the technical competence and (more importantly) the extraordinary natural resources of the colonies. These pieces followed in the tradition of the 17th-century Wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosity, but to me they are more emotionally loaded - bittersweet nostalgia mixed with an emerging colonial sense of place and pride.
2008. Created in collaboration with Lawrence LaBianca. Gallery installation Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.
2006. Paired cabinets made of ash, walnut, glass lenses and plexiglass with digital panoramas on film. H 60” x 36” x 30” and H 52” x 36” x 30”
Under the Bridge
2005. Paired cabinets made of Madrone, Australian myrtle and shell, with video components. Each cabinet – H 44” x 34” x 28”
Cabinet displayed with digital ink transfer prints on polyester film. Handmade cabinet of celery-top pine, Tasmanian blackwood, glass and brass, containing pen and ink illustrations on polyester film, found shells, hand-tied fishing flies and lead sinkers.