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SUN BURN (feet firmly planted in mid-air)
SUN BURN (feet firmly planted in mid-air)
Mixed Media
2009

Essay from my written thesis

SUN BURN (feet firmly planted in mid-air)
First the back-story: In high school I was very fortunate to find some success as a
high jumper. In this endeavor, a number of factors have to come together in just the right
way such as speed, timing, focus, leaping ability and a will to compete. To understand
what I experienced, consider being alone on a runway facing down a bar anywhere from
half of a foot to a foot over your head. Running towards the bar, the texture and qualities
of the ground begin to shift as you move from grass or dirt to a rubbery tartan substance
just before lifting off the ground to hurl your body over the bar. Furthermore you only
have three chances to clear this bar at the designated height and if you do the bar is then
raised two more inches for you to complete the process again until you are hopefully the
last competitor standing. Built into this event is a preexisting agreement where the
participant must decide to at some point acquiesce to his or her human limitations and
resolve to fail at the point where the barrier of the bar becomes just out of reach. In spite
of this there resides in every jumper a determination to keep trying to overcome the
barrier, putting aside all thoughts of failure, always seeking to figure out how to inch by
or tweak this or that movement to stay in the competition a little longer. For me this event
was an obsession, perhaps even more so an addiction to the sensation of running towards
a height greater than my own stature, turning my back towards the height and then
driving my right knee into the sky, waiting for my body to reach a perceivable peak so I
could then dip my head back, arching my body with my arms laid out, facing my chest to
the sky and my back to the earth. For a moment I could sense what it might feel like to
defy gravity, a sensation that was other worldly in comparison to walking that left me
feeling just for a spell as though time and space stopped and I could levitate or fly. No
sooner would I gain even a slight handle on this experience as it was happening before I
was already descending back into ordinariness, falling into a giant red or green pit or mat.
Suddenly I could hear noise and was back down to earth once again in my normal
circumstances. The crowd watching on would applaud, as the sport was also a spectacle.
Somehow the crowd’s involvement contributed to my assuring that I had done what I
thought I had, but also acted as a reference point for how I could be distinguished from
them.
Keeping this in mind, consider now another experience that ran parallel to high
jumping for me. While I was growing up my family would frequently visit Venice
Beach’s boardwalk. At this location an individual instantly becomes a spectator to a
multitude of street performers with intense peculiarities, ranging in style and image to
personal eccentricities related to drug addiction, mental health-problems, unorthodox -
entrepreneurial personas and so much more. I found that the best way to experience these
performers was to succumb to their world by silently agreeing to play along with them,
believing in their fantasy so that both they and I could be transported out of the present
circumstance. It was all a temporary transcendence, subject to being repeated while
particular to our innate finitude.
This was not unlike my experience as a high jumper. There were more similarities
than differences between us. While high jumping I fed off of my environment and the
crowds energy. At Venice Beach the street magician/musician also fed off the crowd
while simultaneously being distinct from them. One distinction I was aware of was that
most lived in substandard conditions, oftentimes living on the streets, and also that their
bodies were unlike and yet somehow like mine. Their bodies were sun withered, as they
persisted over and over again to publicly perform the act that they felt suited their life
which gave them a sense of purpose, presenting a challenge that only they could meet and
manage in terms of failure and success. These were possibilities invented out of the
necessity of either not wanting to live a “normal” life or for one reason or another, being
incapable of doing so. Even though we were all distinct in our differences, in a larger
scope we were also all living under the same conditions, the same reality. The sky hung
above all of our heads, our bodies were all suffering the same entropic effects, the ocean
was just over there for all of us, just beyond the sand. And what was it that drew us in
unity to perform repetitive acts that afforded only the slightest sense of transcendence?
We were all personal finite beings with souls, aspirations and longings for significance.
We were all trying to organize our ordinariness into systems of our own making, in hopes
of achieving the complicated task of living apart from infinite meaning. Feeling that even
though on this strange strip of land a kind of launch pad of abject hope, full of
dysfunction, diversity and distant, smiling-even ill-faces, there was a special set-apart from-
everything-else intrinsic value in all of us. There had to be a reason for us- some
explanation bigger than us all that bestowed meaning from within rather than granting it
arbitrarily from without. I wondered why people would continue to show up to the
boardwalk if there wasn’t indeed a sense of something we were missing that upon each
revisit might at last surface.
I knew then, as I do now, that I am projecting a bit of my own past and
sympathies onto this situation, making a connection between the extremes of the
boardwalk as a microcosm for the way I was able to coexist in my own personal
extremes. However, I felt that somehow just because people, including myself can
coexist with extremes in this way and we can be left to our own devices, I was never so
sure that we should. Should we be free to make our own subjective standards, sometimes
borrowing from others to fill in our own gaps of disbelief, at any given moment of our
choosing? Enslaving ourselves to fickle feelings and seemingly eternal consequences? I
could not help but see the trappings of the spectacle as an enabler for addiction and
extreme temporary self-exaltation.
On the other hand it was possible for the spectacle to lend itself to understanding
that there is a greater significance to reality beyond the immediate circumstance. High
jump requires that there be an optimal degree of fine-tuned conditions between the high
jumper and the surrounding atmosphere. I realized that this was true for the performer as
well. This necessity of critically balanced conditions continued to be true as I panned out
to even grander proportions, to the universe itself. Rather than disorder, astro-biologists
conclude that there are known to be at least twenty observable conditions that must be
fully present in such a precise degree in order for complex life to be. Furthermore, only
on Earth has this precise combination of conditions been met. Over and over again
probability seems to indicate that life is supported nowhere else in the known universe
but on our planet. So given the unlikelihood of existence on so many magnified levels I
increasingly wondered why it was that anyone could strive for something in a contrived
set of circumstances and actually attain it even just for a moment of true weightlessness.
Did this correspond to our human inclinations to strive to achieve a greater understanding
of our existence and reach for the furthest parameters of reality? Perhaps this was a clue
to our purpose. Perhaps there was something transcendent to grasp that was worth
grasping.
In relationship to MONO-RAIL, SUN BURN aims to accomplish the impossible
task of packaging the sense of the above mentioned into one looming figure which
appears to be somewhere in between the high jump athlete and street performer. This
performer affords all who are willing to look on a chance to believe in the impossible and
the chance to see the fine-tuned system that enables the figure while simultaneously
working against it. Concomitantly by its own free will the figure can use the system to
levitate but all the while the entropic features of the system work against it running down the body, the vehicle of levitation and wearing it away. So while there is another way of
existing (levitation/transcendence) within ones own subjective experience that offers
deliverance from the day in and day out of suffering, hope seems possible, sort of.
With tattered feet pressed together hovering with force just over a small step-like
structure, amidst a launch pad that calls to mind both post-painterly abstraction and high
jump runway the figure appears still, focused on a goal just ahead of its gaze. Though the
figure is focused the viewer cannot yet see the object that demands such fixed attention
for what lies in our immediate focus is the backside of the figure in which resides a small
painting. This painting embedded in the lower back where the kidneys would be located
is perhaps a code for healing in a place that bears the pain that comes as a consequence of
gravity. While this place in the arch of the back can hinge at any moment determining
whether or not the figure slumps forward or reclines back, the arms and chest open to the
sky remaining in a welcoming gesture.
I feel at this point that I must explain that I fought against making this piece for
several reasons. First, the piece seemed to be too literal and therefore not clever. Also I
found it difficult to make a levitating figure particularly because it is my first figurative
sculpture of any kind. Yet at the same time I felt an internal pressing to proceed with my
idea and make the figure no matter how nervous I was. Instantly I felt that in spite of the
potential for failure I should embrace it like I had embraced it so many other times in my
life because the truth was the piece mattered to me. In spite of the potential pitfalls and
trappings that would likely ensue from my inexperience sculpting a figure, there was still
meaning in the feat and the object that would come from my efforts. I also considered
that there might exist a shortcoming in working with a figure amidst paintings and a large
Mono-Rail. Yet I concluded that in the genuine formal disparity that existed between the
works there was a space where things could happen. And yet amidst the disparity there
emanated a sense of unity for all of these works were subject to the same conditions, as
they all where unified by the same environment and the same maker. Might this be how
unity and diversity can exist and work, under one Maker?
Just as I had anticipated I not only struggled with this piece during the beginning
and middle of making it but I also struggled with the end. My aim was for the figure to
seem immediate, not fussed with, urgent even, retaining a sense of the “now!” but as one
comes upon it from the front of the body and finds the figure is only performing an
illusion the body is exposed by the truth of the circumstances. Something in that was
missing and I realized the body needed to emphasize more than just a literal body. It
needed to emphasize weightiness, visceral and almost disgusting weightiness to create an
even greater contrast from the backside, which was tattered yet, levitating and light. I
took the found suit that I had placed on the figure and covered it in a shimmering
Micaceous earth charcoal grey paint and covered the front of the body with layer upon
layer of paint, medium and texture to such an extreme that a very painterly-like
“visceralness” began to surface and a sense of weight began to create a contrast that
seemed vital to the effect and content of the piece.
I found the figure began to be both what I wanted and more. The uneasiness of
the piece started to unite with the Mono-Rail, and these two distinctly different images
had something underlying in common, the kind of something I had been looking for. For
instance they both bore evidence of a need for something greater and presented an
imperfect almost destined-to-fail approach to getting there. In some respect they became
enhancers of one another while still maintaining their own particular singularity, bound
up in their own specifics. MONO-RAIL and SUN BURN showed traces of longing for
the same escape, bearing the weathered effects of time, repetitive action and
imperfection. Finally they conveyed a sense of the abject hope that surfaces when one
tries under the force of their own ability to both create and live under their own Meta-
Physics, that constant evidence of humanness as I have seen it.
In the end this work tries to point out in some sense that there might be another
way. We are welcome under the force of our own will to proceed as we wish. That we are
“human beings” not “human doings” and we can be still and know. Maybe there is a truth
that is bigger than the spirit of the age, a truth that initiated and sustains finite density and
it might be observable if we are willing to shed our selves and reprioritize what comes
first.
In closing, these three thesis works come together in a space as much as they can
and the rest is left up to any viewer at any given moment. It is my aim that these
purposely full and present works can come together in a way that goes beyond the limits
of my own personal interest to cross over into something increasingly meaningful. To
summarize the show would be difficult but I think it approaches an accurate assessment
of the times we are living through. By means of this work I try to honor the best of
human intentions while also looking to equally examine shortcomings that might need
revisiting not so that a critique of humanity becomes the endpoint of some sort, but so
that a discussion can move beyond critique to asking what is plausible. Maybe we can get
far enough away from looking to our own stock and our own inventory for a moment to
see that there is something much bigger going on outside of us. I would like to suggest
that perhaps the bigger thing going on doesn’t need a tower built up to it, for it is right
outside our front door, unwilling to compromise our free will, but still wooing us like an
echo from a point when all there was, was a finite density, a density that was then spoken
into being through a dazzling display of creative force.