You are on page 1of 7

The Aesthetics of Physics: Space, Replace, Erase, Place and Trace (f. k. a.

matter, created, destroyed, isolated system and time)1

Past, Present and Future Time The Law of Conservation of Energy, a.k.a. the First Law of Thermodynamics, implies that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, given an isolated system. Treating the territory surrounding her Cincinnati home as one such closed system, Carmel Buckleys exhibition Trace: Recent Sculpture and Drawings unwittingly explores this First Law, while demonstrating that time t offers an artistic dimension on par with sculptures spatial coordinates. By pairing quotidian detritus erased by decay, such as a weathered wooden gate (1), tarnished welded wire mesh (2), rusted barbed wire(3) or a corroded garden shed (4), with fresh materials such as sugar cubes, gold wire, bronze barbs or gold-papered blocks, remaining shards become whole again, presenting possibilities that unfold in present time. Absent disintegrating objects, she would never have thought to highlight missing aspects, permitting parts lost to time to be replaced in time. Most objects reveal the tremendous effort imparted during creation (past time) and the wear and tear appearing years later, as time hastens entropy (future time). Reserved for the here and now, present time concerns the duration of some direct experience. Ever since the late 19th Century, artists have visualized duration using various approaches. Indubitably, the best known example is Claude Monets haystack paintings (1890-1), a series of 25 paintings that characterize sunlights fluctuating intensity as the clock progresses from dawn to dusk, weather conditions change and three seasons cycle

from fall to spring. These days, most artists opt for video as the medium best suited for capturing the passage of real time. Environmental artists such as Brandon Ballenge, Patrick Dougherty, Andy Goldsworthy, Winifred Lutz or Stephen Seagal purposely employ natural materials that allow their sculptures to change over time, inviting viewers to noticeably experience something new with each return visit.2 Buckleys recent sculpture similarly emphasizes duration. Inspired by the weathered remains of once invaluable tools found in her backyard, she has transformed discarded shards into objects that occupy space. Rather than restore destroyed cast offs, she adds complementary parts, effectively freezing dissolution, while commingling past (her efforts), future (worn objects) and present time (viewer experience). Such replacements enable viewers to trace matters disintegration, as fresh substances occupy once empty spaces(5) (6).

The Trace as Space-Time Continuum Given times focus here, can it be purely coincidental that the most all-pervading motif is the circle, designating cyclical time, or that the gate evokes hatch marks familiar to prisoners nicking off bits of time in sets of five? Circles emerge as paired buckets (7); a column of welded wire mesh (2); Noddys head, eyes, nose and tassel(8a); a barbed wire wreath(3); the silver papers concentric cuts(11); nested baskets; the shadow cast on the sheds floor; two drawings featuring circles and several chain-stitched drawings(10). Two other recurring motifs are shadows and silhouettes, traces of matters occupying space. Stacked sugar cubes line the floor and crawl up the wall(1a), simulating the garden gates grey shadow at a precise hour, during a particular time of year. All of the works,

even the gate, are lit to radiate shadows on the floor and/or wall, leaving observable traces of each sculptures spatial presence in present time. Before discussing each individual work, lets explore the significance of the title Trace. Trace suggests some original worthy of being tracked (traced steps), copied (tracing over) or located (left a trace) in present time. Another trace-conception concerns Sigmund Freuds notion of memory as modeled after the mystic writing pad, whereby memories leave traces inscribed in ones unconscious (the mystic writing pads waxy surface) that are invisible at the conscious level (the erasable plastic sheet), but remain present all the same. Eschewing Freuds model whereby traces are left behind, Jacques Derrida counters that traces precede events, since traces of long-forgotten memories are permanently inscribed in the myriad institutions (buildings, literature, films, traditions, rituals, museums, universities) we encounter every day. Such ubiquitous traces not only influence our experience of the world, but they frame our sense of present time. An archaeologist on a dig in her own backyard, Buckley has salvaged tools (buckets, sheds, baskets, fencing, barbed wire) that sustain traces of memories otherwise unavailable. Like memories suddenly retrieved from ones unconscious, the sculptural presence of forgotten detritus recuperates such traces. Her flat-screen video of trees (13), taken from a worms eye perspective (facing the forests canopy), characterizes a similar experience, whereby one hears hundreds of birds, but cannot see them. Their loudness manifests their presence, while providing an atmospheric soundtrack that lends Trace its calming, a-day-in-the-country sensibility. An audible trace, her soundtrack effectively situates viewers in present time and identifies the relevant place, that of a backyard or garden.

The Untitled Works in Trace The earliest work here consists of a wooden bird house standing atop a television, splayed on its back, displaying a 40-second video clip the woodsy environs of Buckleys home(9).3 In hindsight, one can see how this sculpture, which seemed quite odd back in 2007, foreshadowed this exhibitions basic themes: her pairing a fresh video with a found bird house (erase and replace), her combining matter and duration (space and trace), as well as the significance of her backyard (place). In the High Def age, this obsolete T.V. seems no less salvaged than the rescued object on top. The worms eye view of trees displayed on the flat screen T.V. (13) discussed above and Noddy(8), the disassembled wooden marionette-like creature sprawled out on its back, echo the T.V.s upward gaze. Noddys rapid-prototype head(8a) lacks ears and a mouth, so his senses, like his sideways stare trained on passersby, are limited.4 Resembling a relaxed sunbather, this inanimate character hardly seems dead. Buckley intuitively sited Noddy adjacent the mobile home, only to learn later that this literary character inhabits a small home, not unlike this garden shed.5 The concentric circles cut into silver paper, draped over a grey wash bucket(11), lend the otherwise flat paper a third dimension, recalling ripples, grates, spider webs or electric stove burners. Two nested baskets, whose missing wooden slats have been replaced with wood-grain wall paper, await the harvests bounty. By weighting down barbed wire with about 15 over-sized, blunt bronze barbs(3), Buckley disarms an otherwise harmful rusty wreath. Using cinder blocks to mimic mobile home wheels, she wraps six blocks with gold paper, attempting every combination, which evokes the

skirting designed to cover the gap(14). A carefully covered gold-plated block that serves no function lays strewn behind the trailer like a gold-bar cache stashed out of sight (14a). Resembling ancient crown relics, the scant remnants of two metal buckets, including one complete bottom, are presented surrounding plastic paint buckets(7). Her twisting gold filament around a column of welded wire mesh intervenes on an otherwise banal scene(2). Lounging in her exhibition, I was struck by how physical, rather than poetic these sculptures are. Hardly symbolic or expressive of some related thought, they pose direct experiences, not unlike those found outdoors. Had she opted to title her Untitled works, meaning might have overwhelmed their sheer materiality. Another interesting aspect concerns her preference for surfaces that double as structures, rather than skins spread over armatures. Most sculptures here get their structure from their surfaces (buckets, baskets, bricks, the shed, fencing wire, barbed wire and even Noddys hollow head(8a)). For her 1994 exhibition Tools for the Imagination at the Wexner Center for the Arts, she paired found tools that were essentially armatures with skin-like sculpted forms inspired by each tools form. With Trace, surface and structure are totally integrated. Trace also includes two sets of works on paper: four monoprints leave traces of ordinary objects, such as a fly swatter(15), a screen door swatch or soccer netting(15a), imprinted on Japanese paper, while ten others preserve traces of imagery found in London-based Danish illustrator Kay Nielsens 1914 book of Art Nouveau fairy-tale illustrations East of the Sun and West of the Moon(10). Buckleys printing a random scrap of transparent plastic sheeting with green ink unexpectedly exposed a grassy field

of floral motifs(15b). Just as cut paper prompts a third dimension, her adding stitching to drawing (sometimes drawings of stitches) gives her drawings a sculptural dimensions. Since her drawings and sculptures were produced concurrently, neither foreshadows the other. Finally, Trace helps one to grasp Derridas view that memory traces precede experiences. Her prior familiarity with shapes present in Nielsens book gave rise to a subconscious preference for particular forms (a beehive mound, forest trees, an interior space) that were realized on paper and appear in her sculptures. Just as matter can neither be created nor destroyed, the trace is never erased and space can always be replaced.

Independent curator and critic Sue Spaid is a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy at Temple University in Philadelphia.
1 2

f.k.a. stands for formerly known as, as in the recording artist formerly known as Prince. My recent outdoor exhibition Endurance: Visualizing Time, curated for the Abington Art Center, in Jenkintown, PA, features works by Robert Gero, John Kalymnios, Stacy Levy, Winifred Lutz, David Schafer and Bill Schuck that change and evolve every moment, requiring keen scrutiny and repeat visits. 3 Untitled (2007) was included in Migrations Platform, a mini-exhibition I organized as part of the collaborative exhibition Once Upon a Time in the Midwest, curated by Mark Harris (September 27October XX, 2007). 4 To view the 1949 literary character Noddy, which means simpleton, in action, watch Make Way for Noddy a cartoon featured on the PBS KIDS morning show Sprouts. Check out www.noddy.com for more details about the TV show.. 5 When Buckley recently googled Noddy, she discovered that Noddy has its own wikipedia site.

(1) Buckley, Carmel (1) - Untitled (2009), found object (gate), sugar, 42 x 39 x 48 in (1a) Buckley, Carmel (1a) - Untitled detail (2009), found object (gate), sugar, 42 x 39 x 48 in (2) Buckley, Carmel (2) - Untitled (2009), found object (fencing wire), gold wire, (3) Buckley, Carmel (3) - Untitled (2009), found object (barbed wire), bronze (4) Buckley, Carmel - (4) installation view of east gallery of Untitled (garden shed) (7), 2009 (5) Buckley, Carmel - (5) studio view (golden bricks and baskets) (4) 2009

(6) Buckley, Carmel - (6) studio view (5) 2009 (7) Buckley, Carmel (7) - Untitled (2009), found objects (2 plastic and metal buckets), view 1 (8) Buckley, Carmel (9) - Untitled (Noddy Figure) (2009), Rapid prototype and wood (9) Buckley, Carmel (9) - Untitled (2007), found object (bird house), television, video (1) (10 )Buckley, Carmel (10) - Untitled, drawing series 1-10 (2009), Japanese paper, 26 x 22 inches frame each (11) Buckley, Carmel (11) - installation view of Untitled (gate) and Untitled (bucket) with silver paper, 2009 both (12) Buckley, Carmel (12) - Untitled (2009), found objects (wooden baskets), paper (13) Buckley, Carmel (13) - Untitled (2009), video still (1a) and (2b) (14) Buckley, Carmel (14) - studio view (golden bricks) (4) 2009 (15)Buckley, Carmel (15)- Untitled (2009), from the four monoprint series, Japanese paper, ink, 41 x 27 in. frame each

Related Interests