A Very Intricate Pencil Rendering

Robb Godshaw, Personal Pencil Production Plant 2010 (polymer clay, no.2 graphite lead, lead dispenser, extruder, toaster, stamp, aluminum foil tape and eraser) Vija Celmins, Eraser 1967 (balsa wood and acrylic paint) 

Mama, where do pencils come from? Robb Godshaw's pencil-making machine offers a whimsical explanation that evokes the endearing misunderstandings of an origin myth. His machine imagines a world where pencils are baked in a toaster, and end-tip erasers are punched from a bigger pink eraser (I'm almost convinced that full-sized rubber erasers grow on trees as a raw material). At the end of the video, the finished pencils are displayed, paying loyal homage to the humble Ticonderoga no.2. I'm reminded of the deadpan sculptures of Vija Celmins, and particularly the work above. 

Personal Pencil Production Plant V1.2 from Robb Godshaw on Vimeo.

In Eraser, Celmins presents us with a faithfully rendered sculpture of a Pink Pearl eraser. The gallery frame give it an archetypal power that brings us to meditate on the eraser. We really notice the font for the first time, or the slightly rounded edges (was it used?), or the odd-yet-intentional geometry of this elementary school icon. Looking at such an accurate depiction gives us a sense of the many nuances that were taken into consideration by the artist. The Personal Pencil Production Plant takes the notion of representation a step further by bringing our attention to the genesis of the subject - its manufacturing process -  along with the artifact itself.   

Yellow polymer clay being extruded around a no.2 pencil lead in Robb Godshaw's Personal Pencil Production Plant

 When an artist creates a representation of a subject, an extreme degree of observation is called into practice. It requires many hours spent alone in a studio obsessing over details. This act of devotion is in line with an expression of worship, conferring value on whatever the subject may be. Portraits of wealthy patrons or marble busts of rulers have traditionally been the subject of choice for representational artists whose devoted labor reflects the subject's societal value. Velasquez broke that convention with his series of beggars, dwarfs and gypsies. 

Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes 1964 (silkscreen ink on synthetic polymer paint on wood) 

In the 1960s, artists again used the act of representation to bring our attention to an unconventional subject. This time, branded consumer products, which had silently crept into all corners of the American environment, were brought to our attention. Warhol recreated Brillo Boxes out of screen-printed plywood. Oldenburg rendered junk food in soft materials. The movement that became Pop Art merged  one culturally overvalued subject (fine art sculpture) with another culturally undervalued subject (everyday consumer products) to illustrate the growing role of products as objects of devotion. 

Claes Oldenburg Two Cheeseburgers, With Everything 1962 (burlap soaked in plaster, enamel paint)

Celmins' sculptural and two dimensional renderings of everyday objects were made during this time, but don't seem to target consumerism with the same critical approach. Her work is more expressive of the mute devotion of craft than of irony. Celmins says in an interview, "I basically sort of re-describe things that are in front of me, which I started doing from the beginning of my career. It in fact started maybe with Pop Art, which opened up this tendency to mimic something in real life, but I think that the work of art is really more about itself."

Vija Celmins To Fix the Image in Memory, 1977 - 1982 (eleven stones and eleven painted bronze pieces)

There is something wonderfully uncanny about seeing an everyday object made out of unfamilar materials. Inconspicuous imitations tease our understanding of reality. We seek clues to help get oriented in the confusion between the real and the clone, and while Warhol's brand of confusion is vacant and impersonal, Celmins' subjects presents a more tender relationship to the unknown. Like Celmins, Robb Godshaw uses an elementary school icon to transport us on a nostalgic journey back to childhood, when everything held a sense of mystique. More than just a display of technical ingenuity and inventor spirit, the Personal Pencil Production Plant makes whimsical reference to childhood, origin myths, and the opacity of manufacture. 

No comments:

Post a Comment