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American Artifacts

The series American Artifacts is a group of mixed-media sculptures accompanied by text. The work is created and presented in a form which simulates an exhibit in a natural history museum. At first glance, the sculptures appear to be artifacts from some foreign or primitive culture, but on closer inspection one finds that the "artifacts" are derived from objects common to modern life in the United States. The accompanying text describes the objects in a style reminiscent of the descriptions one might find in a natural history museum beside stone axes and broken ceramic figurines, yet refers to contemporary American life. (continued below)

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Fetishes Clubs Scrolls
Fetishes Clubs Scrolls
Beads Figures Effigy
Beads Figures Effigy
Installation View--University of
Tennessee--Chattanooga Installation View--Urban Institute for 
Contemporary Arts
Installation View Installation View Altar
Gong and Trumpet Tent and Carpet Cage
Gong and Trumpet Tent and Carpet Cage
Santa Shrine
Santa Shrine Santa Shrine greeting cards

 

(continued from above) The American Artifacts series is rooted in my observations of beliefs and behaviors that are considered "normal" in the United States, which parallel beliefs and behaviors that Americans consider bizarre in other cultures. Since those observations are presented in the form of artifacts the viewer is drawn into the perspective of an outsider. In looking at actual artifacts one expects the objects to reveal interesting aspects of the culture from which they came. In this case the viewer finds the bizarre within that which is "normal".

There is a multitude of ways which people around the world give meaning and order to their lives. Through humor and satire, this series challenges viewers to recognize many of their own beliefs as culturally instilled. It also serves as a reminder that those of us living in technologically advanced cultures are, in many ways, not so different from those whom we label "primitive".

Many of my own culturally instilled beliefs about issues such as privacy, food, and property were shaken-up during my two month stay in Zaire in 1985 and again during my three month stay in Guatemala in 1989. While I had read and thought a lot about other cultures this first-hand experience with beliefs and behaviors very different from my own affected me at a deeper level. This period of being an observer within another culture enhanced my ability to observe my own culture (and myself).

In creating a new piece for this series, my starting point is an observation of a belief or behavior which is prevalent in American culture. I may make this observation while walking through the mall, talking with friends, or driving on the highway, but often it comes as I recognize in myself some assumption or expectation with which I am not quite comfortable. From that observation I explore parallels and contrasts to other cultures. Then from those parallels and contrasts I seek visual images which I might combine in ways which will convey the concept. I create the sculpture using materials and techniques which reinforce that concept.


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