on the recent work of David Fought
You don't look closely at the white wall, do you? You're not
supposed to. David spent hours re-plastering it, sanding it,
painting it. In essence, he sculpted the wall to become part
of the piece, but an incidental part. You wouldn't notice 3
(5)wires in the same way if you noticed the bumps and imperfections
in the wall. But now maybe you'll notice that no wall is perfectly
straight although it seems to be. And the wires in the wall
are not straight either even though your eye at first glance
sees them that way--as clean, crisp, straight lines. Take a
closer look at the walls in your own bedroom and observe the
way they have dips, slants or bumps. Then walk around your neighborhood
and observe closely to see how "straight" all the
buildings appear, how they hold themselves up under their own
I am listening to an R.E.M. song in our living room and I have
the volume cranked way up so the walls throb and pulse and I
am cleaning up the floor of our closet. I move a bag filled
with miscellaneous items from the shelf to the floor and all
of a sudden I hear a man's deep crackly voice overlapping the
music like someone is talking in the adjoining hallway through
an amplified source. The voice is familiar. I've heard this
person somewhere before but the music from the living room is
much too loud for me to discern what he says. Then I realize
that I have inadvertently pushed the play button of my Microcassette
Recorder that is in the bag I jostled from the shelf to the
floor. The voice is David's. The moment where I heard my husband's
voice in a new context replicates my experience of viewing his
recent work. When I first enter the space of 3 (5)wires,
I know there are shapes created by the bent wires and their
shadows as I move around them and take them in at different
angles, but I'm not sure what's familiar about them. They look
the same. They are not the same. Is it a cityscape? I have to
look again to understand the slight variation of repetition
that is occurring among all three. Within each set of wires,
one or two are placed one or two steps up or down in relation
to the one next to it. And when I look and look again, a sense
of movement begins like these are notations for a minimalist
musical score or these are the leaps and lurches of an oscilloscope.
When I look at 5 (3)sides, I am also struck by how these
shapes are familiar but un-placeable. Each plaster vessel shape
is determined by 3 waxed wire hoops, and they are sitting in
a variety of poses. They are all from a family whose name I
don't know, but I can imagine where they are from. A mathematician
had an idea and brought her 2D model on paper to life as a 3D
object. A theoretical physicist made a model to demonstrate
a discovery about space, time and mass. An engineer made a cast
of a part of a machine or some piping. A geomancer has cast
some earth in divination and this is the resulting shape. It
has aged on his shelf.
David's materials are humble: coat hanger wire and a coarse,
Fix-All® plaster. He doesn't purposefully obscure his process,
but you have to look closely to see the scars and gouges on
3 (5)wires where you might have glanced and thought the
wires to be perfectly straight. David's 'hand' is more readily
apparent in the bumps and grooves of the standing sculptures.
His process begins with collecting coat hangers with the largest
gauge he can find. He hauls them to the beach, makes a fire
in the middle of the day and burns them. He brings them home,
oils them, takes them apart with pliers and then hammers them
so they are not quite straight. He bends them into shapes. He
holds them. From all that repetition, intimacy, time spent with
the object, he discovers something about the object that is
beyond an easy, clever explanation. He could get a machine shop
to straighten them, or buy them pre-cut at Home Depot, but he
prefers to spend time with them in an imperfect state. He has
said that the process of being "with the object" is
easily as important as the final work.
The delight of discovery, finding things in the woods, in the
creek, on the street. David has an intimate, visceral connection
with found objects and materials. He sees things I do not. He
makes beautiful what has been discarded. When I first met him,
he drew my attention to all of the blackened, dried banana peels
in the city gutters, which I had never noticed. Years
ago, he collected crushed batteries of all sizes from city streets,
wrapped them with thread and then installed them in a box like
a bug collector might collect a series of moth cocoons. Once
he took some pieces of a heavy truck tire and made a mold of
their shape from lead. Then he put the treads on our wall. He
has an amazing collection of balls found all over the world
(we used to have a stack of Bocci balls next to our bed). He
says he doesn't know why he does this, but he likes to live
with these things.
For David, readymade objects carry a previous meaning--a was-something
or a did-something. Even paper was a "thing" before
we cut it up or applied pigment to it. For work, David used
to haul TV guides in a semi-truck from a manufacturer in the
Bay Area to a distribution center in L.A. He thinks of the lives,
past and present, of objects and things. He always wants to
know where things come from. He once asked me, "Where do
they make the backs of TV sets?"
From my studio window where I write, I watch him work, arms
coated with plaster. He starts with three hoops, places them
in a box, fills the box with plaster, then carves all the plaster
away except for the plaster directly in line with the hoops
so there's a straight line from one hoop to the next. He works
in a trance-like state. He doesn't measure, but intuitively
feels the shape that emerges. He shaves and files with a variety
of metal rasps. I am struck by how similar my process is to
this when I trim and rasp the hooves of horses. I give them
a pedicure using a sharp, flat file. They have bones instead
of hoops, which dictate the basic, pleasing shapes of their
feet--a cone, a triangle and a truncated dome. For David,
the plaster is the flesh, the shadow that fills the space between.
In Mr. Van Lannan's 4th grade class, David remembers that he
was a cut-up, a class clown. But instead of sending him to the
principal's office, this wise and discerning teacher made an
artist out of a 9-year old. Mr. Van Lannan told David he could
stay in the class and listen to whatever was happening, but
he had to stay at his own work station (an area with tables,
a sink and a collection of art supplies) and make whatever he
wanted. David recalls making a paper mache dog and layering
it with different paints as he changed his mind about what color
he wanted it to be.
I open How to Write by Gertrude Stein and read a few
sentences from the chapter entitled "Sentences":
are many ways to think alike about sentences.
It is very little that they open and close.
It is useful to be and useful. Used. Any word may be in
a sentence. A word is a noun. What is a noun.
Gertrude Stein's writing is not opaque or abstruse, but object-like
and suggestive of the underlying shapes and forms that make
up thinking and writing. She uses grammar in the way David uses
physical shapes to suggest something about how we construct
meaning or what David calls "objecthood" from the
basic materials of wires or words. "What" is a noun
just as 3 (5)wires or 5 (3)sides
David said about his work in a recent artist's statement: "these
objects are what they are." One of David's favorite sayings
from Stein is the following: "there is no such thing as repetition".
John Cage (as quoted by David) says this in another way: "In
Zen they say, 'if something is boring after two minutes, try
it for four minutes. If it's still boring, try it for eight,
sixteen, thirty-two, and so on.' Eventually one discovers it's
not boring at all."
David prints out photos of 3 (5)wires and 5 (3)sides
onto 8.5x11 paper and I use an Exacto knife to cut out the shapes
made by the cast shadows, or I cut out the shapes made between
the wires of each piece, or I cut out the entire shape of the
piece itself. I place the stencils on top of related texts:
a journal entry written while sitting in his studio, a book
on Wabi-Sabi, the collected writings of Donald Judd. The result
is a series of pleasing cut-up poems made from words and letters
and parts of words. Read
aloud, the sounds are bits of a passing conversation.
The vowel or consonant sound-bytes draw attention to the phrases,
sentences or words that are more whole. Performed with another
reader, these poems become sound sculptures. The text does something
similar to what David's objects do: it draws attention to the
meaning inherent in the shape.
Here is my favorite paragraph that David wrote (from his Thesis):
general, when we 'see,' we are not purposefully pointing
our eyes and logically deciding what is there, even though
that is what our eyes would have us think. The act of
looking is no more manageable than are feelings of desire,
and what we 'see' is at least as subjective as the act
of falling in love. The simple materials that comprise
these sculptures, placed in this particular manner, offer
a puzzle to be solved by the viewer. The work both triggers
and rewards scrutiny as one seeks sculptural resolution.
As the viewer unpacks the puzzle, the objects become dissected
into its disparate parts, only to be reconstructed into
something un-nameable--all the result of looking. What
we bring--how we see–is an important ingredient
of this work. By making (and changing) decisions about
what is actually there, the viewer consciously conspires
with the object in a process of constructing phenomena.
What can you find that astonishes you about objects in space?
What pulses can you discern in the life of some object's trajectory
in an adjoining universe? The machine pauses for a second and
there is the shape. 3 (5)wires emerged over the course
of a year as David experimented with variations of a coat hanger
stuck into a white wall. When he saw Donald Judd's work in New
York last fall he was inspired to ask these questions: Why do
slight variations in a pattern call our attention back to what
we are looking at? How does a series of slight variations in
a group of wires/objects create space and sonic resonance?
If I were an art critic, I would argue that David's work exhibits
a tension between a modernist aesthetic (geometric, sharp, precise,
clean, line-configured) and the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi
(organic, dull, vague, crude, bowl-shaped); that is, the
controlled light, cool shadows, and mathematical pattern of
the straightened wires vs. the rough, distressed, one of a kind
plaster shapes. And yet elements of one are in the other. The
dark, scarred wire that gives them their fundamental shapes
goes through the same process–was burnt in the same fire
and bears the same imperfections from the same hammer.
3 (5)wires and 5 (3)sides are different solutions to the same question: what happens
in the spaces in between differently shaped wires?
in the wall serve as lines AND as objects simultaneously. The
shadows are lines indicating the 2-dimensional, flattened aspect
of a 3-dimensional object (the wires). 3 (5)wires begs
the question: Does the object draw the shadow or does the shadow
draw the object? 5 (3)sides are 3-dimensional
in the way the wires in the wall are not: they deal with gravity
by sitting or leaning; they have mass and texture and surface
with an inside, front side, and back side.
The literary connection most obvious to me is that of the haiku
where the spare use of language creates the space for a moment
of enlightenment. A something you realize or didn't see before.
on muddy trail
first bloom of spring
David hums the notes and chords that are 3 (5)wires.
Baker, Stephanie, unpublished haiku, 2007
Cage, John. I Have Nothing to Say and I
Am Saying It. West Long Branch, NJ: Kultur, 1990.
Fought, David, Personal Interview, June
Fought, David, non-Specific Objects (objects
in-between), Master of Fine Arts Thesis, California College
of the Arts, June 2004.
Judd, Donald, Complete Writings: 1959-1975,
The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Nova
Scotia, and New York University Press, New York, 1975.
Koren, Leonard, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers,
Poets & Philosophers, Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley,
Stein, Gertrude, How to Write, Dover
Publications, New York, 1975
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