Featured artist: Christopher James, a struggle against sea, self, the practice of art, and/or rocks

*Sometimes you need to misrepresent what your doing to be able to make the art you want to make. *
~Chris James

statement on the wall upon entering Chris' studio:

In the fall of last year the Los Angeles artist Christopher James was videotaping the construction of a sculpture (Cairn, 2011, polyurethane foam) on a rocky stretch of nearby coast. He was videotaping the erection when an accident occurred which led to an unexpected turn of events in which the artist and the sculptural flotsam was swept out to sea. Fortunately the camera was taken along and periodically taped what followed. Although not actually an artwork- this is simply the unedited raw footage removed from the camera afterwards. It has been clearly salt-water affected, but enough information remains as to warrant viewing.

This video/sculptural piece is unsettling, remarkable and haunting. It rose like the swell of the sea and took over the senses - I could almost taste salt. It ushered flashes from my mind's storehouse of of water, sea, ocean, shipwreck, nature gone haywire, man gone haywire because of nature and/or solitude, slices of films about those things and characters that endure nature (and art's) unpredictable forces. It was a ride both mental and visual that I enjoyed having no buoy for. This salt-affected film, or a story of salt-affected film gave me a reference that became dispelled by the slow but sure realization of the dexterity of the technology used to edit the film itself. Seemingly, no salt could do what this film has done, but the poetry of the supposed damaged film clips and effects of that damage were mesmerizing and it doesn't even matter who or what did what to the film - it exists.

I think, and oh I do realize the subjectivity of this, that this work of Chris' is a multi-tiered reflection of this theme, but also about the artist and his practice and its solitude, as well as the chance that one could get lost in it. There's a risk to have the physical structures being made and the intentions for those things collapse together (i.e. house of cards) into a giddy or insane heap. It is, after all, absurd to use your art as a life raft unless you're making your art near the edge of a perilous shoreline... to use floatation devices in your art, not so absurd in cases like these. There is an absurdity that remains though, poetic absurdity, since there aren't many cases like these, to see the artist building his sculptures on a craggy foundation with surging waves converging.

Another tributary of this film is that the material itself, the surfboards, shift in purpose throughout the film. At first it is a material for a sculpture, yes, a precarious one, on the water's edge, but a structure nonetheless that has no other purpose but to be such. Then, as it collapses, the sculpture becomes disassociated driftwood, a carcass of the sculpture floating with an ominous shipwreck sadness. Then a part of the wreckage becomes the life-raft upon which the castaway paddles. But, the uncertainty of the mental state of the castaway becomes more palpable as he gathers and re-stacks the shards of the former structure and makes them into a kind of shelter, his shirt now used as a head-wrap, and his purpose unknown. There are many layers to the work, many ways to read it - this is just a sliver of one. I commend Chris for having the wisdom not to shove any kind of summation of meaning on the viewer. The soundtrack too, I haven't even touched on it, but it is paramount to the experience. The mutterings of the castaway, the water noises, and jags and kinks in the film are all integral.

I ended up wanting to quote from book and film etc. that touch on these themes, so I inserted such words throughout the rest of this digital page. I do so playfully, but in a spirit of homage to the complex marvel he's created. I've taken the liberty (with Chris' kind allowance) of inserting these texts underneath some of the photos.

Thus we never see the true State of our Condition, till it is illustrated to us by its Contraries; nor know how to value what we enjoy, but by the want of it.
~ Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

Roberta 'Bertie': Do you like the sea, Fritz? Fritz Robinson: I like things you can depend on. The sea, you can never be sure of it. Roberta 'Bertie': Well, that's the fun of it. Not being sure of things.
~ from Swiss Family Robinson, by Swiss pastor Johann David Wyss

“The sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea.”
~James Joyce, Ulysses

Chuck Noland: Don't worry Wilson, I'll do all the paddling. You just hang on. ~From the film Cast Away, directed by Robert Zemeckis (wilson is the soccer ball he's painted a face on with his own blood, who becomes his companion and link to sanity)

Allie Fox: If it's on a map, I can't use it...
Allie Fox: Everything we need is right here.
~from Mosquito Coast, the film directed by Peter Weir, based on the novel by Paul Theroux.

I raised my head. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky--seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness. ~Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness

PS - personal side note: Watching this film reminded me of being on the sailboat with my Dad in Savannah as we managed to, over many outings, find every sandbar in the sound after gleefully ripping through the waters of the open sea. Many a night did we wait for the Coastguard to come and take us back for shore. We would practice tying knots, re-route our routes, and enact rescue missions overboard with the lifejackets to pass the time. Dad would stay with the boat for the tide to come back in and Bolyn and I were taken back to shore, to mom. A classic captain and his ship sipping luke-warm hot chocolate and looking at maps that would take him no place for that moment, but everywhere in a way. He also lived in a treehouse on a friend's property once, and a boathouse, so a man with/against nature theme has been persistent in his life, and therefore mine.

Posted by hubbyco on 5/24/12 | Permalink