In 2010, as a fledgling student artist, I found my relationship with far-away objects fascinating subject matter for how I experienced the world. This is a story of the methods and processes I developed for expressing those new-found sensibilities. It’s like Jane Eyre but with balsa wood. Spoiler alert: it’s awesome!
Nylex clock- redundant at a distance:
MATERIALS: Balsa wood, adhesive, distance.
As a “Class D” hoarder I can tell you that sentimentality goes a long way when attaching objects with meaning on a level which others may find bewildering.
In my case object-sentimentality is activated through sight and further amplified through touch. It is indicative of music from the past defining the soundtrack of one’s youth, but instead of being delivered to the brain via the ear, my tactile memory fires-up following up close and personal engagement with 3 dimensional “stuff”. In other words, holding an item of sentimental value adds to the experience more so than just being in its presence.
Of course not everyone shares the same degree of emotional attachment with things. One person’s significant dust collecting keepsake in another person’s hands will most likely be a pointless piece of nonsense destined for the rubbish bin. It is however, curious to see what happens when my sentimental object is on show to the masses. And even more interesting when the object is at a distance which eliminates any opportunity to be amplified with a tactile experience.
READER (V.O.) (CON’D.)
Case in point is my relationship with the Nylex clock. While studying a Diploma of Visual art in 2009/2010 I would pass it on the train several times a week and remembered its heyday when the large bright lights and huge digital clock and thermometer display dominated the skyline; not to mention it's pop-culture foot print.
Come 2010 it had seen better days. The Nylex company was in financial trouble, the clock’s electrics needed a major overhaul and it had been some time since its lights lit the horizon. It had managed to devolve from a National Trust heritage listed Melbourne icon into a National Trust heritage listed monument to the slow death of the Australian manufacturing industry.
As the train waited at Richmond station, no matter what I was doing, I would always look up and check that it was still there. That of course was during the day, on my return journey at night it had disappeared. There was only blackness in the distance. It was as though at dusk workers deconstructed it only to rebuild it again the next day at first light.
Nylex sign - Survey footage.
The Nylex clock being assessed by Steve Mead, the world's greatest art history teacher.
READER (V.O.) (CON’D.)
It was decided that, given my interest, I would research and develop a sculptural artwork inspired by the Nylex clock to be presented at the end of year Diploma in Visual Art graduate show.
My Nylex clock would be monument to redundancy: redundancy in a once prominent icon being replaced by cheaper off-shore interests, redundancy in a National Trust classified display that doesn’t light up anymore because the company who bought it from the liquidators won’t pay for the electricity to power it, redundancy in its relevance to a modern city – and as a stopped clock it wasn’t even right twice a day.
My research consisted of a planned tactile exercise. I would make a hand crafted Nylex clock using visual surveys collected in the few moments my train would rest at Richmond Station. The information gathered and the final construction was completely analogue so that the hand making process would surrogate my inability to touch the actual Nylex clock. The information would be transferred old-school to graph paper with pencil and Artliner pens and a 3 dimensional facsimile would be hand cut and fabricated using the model maker’s friend: balsa wood. After several weeks of squinting and pushing my face closer to the glass in the hope that the extra few centimetres would make a difference, I had enough visual notes for a diagram.
Using this hand building process and slowly bringing this piece to life, component by component, from a single sheet of balsa wood, into a familiar 3d structure, was really the most rewarding experience. I do recommend you try it sometime.
READER (V.O.) (CON’D.)
Last but not least was to make a decision to paint the finished piece in order to make it look like the real thing. I had a long and interesting chat with my sculpture teacher Paul Quinn (who I should add in parenthesis here that after all my years of art schooling both in Australia and abroad, was and is the best art teacher I’ve ever had. Like all good teachers Paul always left me asking more questions than getting answers, and the quality of those questions was predicated on forever being curious. It’s hard to sum up but his considered responses were succinct and well thought out, delivered in unique Paul Quinn style, the likes I have yet to experience anywhere else in my schooling – cheers man!). We discussed the idea of the scale model and the part that it plays in terms of representation. From memory it went like this: It’s not the real Nylex clock. It’s a model. Painting a model converts the essence of the “thing” from a sculpture to a prop. A prop isn’t a bad thing but it is not the real Nylex clock so why try to fool anyone by getting paint anywhere near it. Using the natural colour of the material breaks down the “object” into its most basic form harking back to classical ideas of what a monument is. Bronze sculptures, for example aren’t painted (and indeed there is a thesis in that which I will let somebody else do).
Paul was right, and it’s something I took years to slowly understand and implement; to have confidence in the viewer that they can work things out. It’s not what you add; it’s what you leave out which defines an artist’s work, which ultimately builds confidence in the concept when doubt tries to creep in.
There was one final part of theatre to complete. I wanted the viewer to experience the Nylex clock as an interactive experience, from a distance. That required being in a particular location within the gallery, and relative to the exhibited piece, so it could be seen at same size as when I did my surveys from Richmond station. You can see the images on the right to see how I found an effective, and may I say totally interactive resolution, given that I was required to work around the other 20 other exhibits in the gallery.
READER (V.O.) (CON’D.)
Today, nearly eight years later several squandered attempts have been made at bringing the Nylex clock back to old glory. There are many promises but so far no delivery. It’s still there though, motionless and quietly disintegrating. As for mine, I’ve still got it. It’s on a shelf gathering dust nicely, at a distance.