I was asked to add a sculpture to a brief exhibition held by our good friend Jim Hobbs, in his studio in Peckham. The reception last night was a great fun occassion. I loaned this:
It is about 170mm long. We were also asked to respond to a list of numbers found on one of the shelves that I took to be syllables and lines 5/6, 2/5, 2/5, 5/2 which gave the structure to this poem about storage:
One-hand piano piece
In the wake of Trench War.
The first Xerox machine,
It needs no fine tuning.
An assortment of nails.
(Lost book hound on the
Thesis on Lost Time).
(1-2) The first couple of lines refer to Paul Wittgenstein, the concert pianist who lost an arm in the Great War. In this period pieces for one hand were written and stand for devices that make do with imperfect elements available at the time and go beyond themselves.
(3-4) One of the first Xerox machines, however, was constructed for the inventor by my Engineer Grandfather at Roneo Works. The machine worked first time despite its complication. This stands as one of those marvels where a rare moment of perfection occurs.
(5) There is always an assortment of nails on a decent shelf. My favourite is a jar lid screwed onto the underside of the shelf with the jar hanging from it to create more space above. This stands for the hope that homeless elements will become useful again.
(6-9) This refers to Walter Benjamin and his suitcase. This stands for great things that are lost and almost lost.
(10-14) Finally we have the life-trajectory of a work of art, most of which is made for storage and often as a heat-sink for surplus value/investment. This is why Jim’s exhibition in a store room is a very efficient proposal. It is also quite subversive, because all the work has been stored in full view and arranged without regard to how much money someone might pay for it.
In this context my little sculpture makes a bit more sense. Of course it wasn’t made following a narrative, but these general principles of prosthetics (making-do), perfection, and usefulness were kept in mind when trying to make the bits come together. But following its completion I have tried to interpret what it means.
It is made from a broken bone augmented with a kind of prosthetic wooden part. The wood is Lignum Aloes, a mythical wood that is not categorised by its species or attributes but by where it is found. Any wood can be lignum aloes if it is found in one of the four rivers that flow out of the Earthly Paradise. It stands for little moments of grace or shavings from perfection that come to meet us downstream. For that reason the word ‘Euphrates’, a name that refers to nourishment, can be glimpsed appearing in the acrylic block that supports the wooden part.
I do not know why it has a hole in the end like a wind instrument. It may refer to the breath that re-animates the dry bones. And after all, Ezekiel made a couple of sculptures in his time.
There is a catalogue of the show featuring all of the artists available through a publishing-on-demand website here