At the turn of the century, I happened to find myself with an extra head lying about…what to do, what to do?
This head was an imperfect thing, the result of a casual experiment (I think…I can’t remember any clear demand for this) with a new piece of software that would, with a bit of coaxing, trace digitized photographic images with vector-based splines, in essence creating a line-drawing representing the borders of high-contrast areas in the original photo. I had applied this software to a solarized triple self-portrait I had made with a near-obsolete Polaroid camera, resulting in a set of three life-size silhouettes: frontal, three-quarters, and side.
I used these silhouettes as templates for five profiles in 1/8″ hardboard, which I fastened together at 45-degree intervals and wrapped with heavy gummed aluminum tape left over from the HVAC portion of a building project.
The result didn’t look remotely like me, or even remotely like a (mummy-bandaged) human head. After some thought, I disassembled the “head”, trimmed the noses and chins from the three-quarters and side profiles, and then reassembled them. Wrapped up in aluminum, the modified piece suggested a rejected android’s visage from a cinematic science fiction epic. Perhaps the forehead was still more or less mine…perhaps not.
I do not recall the exact reasoning behind my next design decisions, or even if I had decided to think of this experiment as a potential art or design project. (It may be my failing as a artist and designer that I do look for a rationale in inspiration, when in fact the latter by all accounts should leapfrog or preclude the former.) However, untypically I have a decent set of sketches and photographs documenting the development course, if not the logic behind it (if there was any). Shortly thereafter, then, a piece of irregular metal shielding stripped from a defunct fax machine was fastened to the back of the mask, as a sort of coronal or headdress for the vaguely-alien-robot-head. It seems that I felt like I should further emphasize the portrait-like nature of this odd visage, judging by sketch studies I made of different sorts of frameworks or surrounds, initially resolutely orthogonal but eventually composed of irregular curves.
I had recently returned from a visit to Venice, and a photo of a wall-mounted, rather-unlovely Madonna-and-Child shrine in San Polo protected by a be-starred copper hood or umbrella (clearly meant to symbolize the heavens) suggested I further equip my framed mummy-face with a sacerdotal canopy.
Further evolutions of this piece can be traced from the sketches, which accompanied construction (and occasionally deconstruction, when I removed or modified an unsatisfactory element):
- Fragments of hundred-year old pine planks were carefully rabbited and pinned to a bit of salvaged ply sheathing, and then joined edge-to-edge using small coins in hand-cut slots as dowels to create the frame;
- Miniature roofs of salvaged aluminum coil-stock and sheet metal were snipped and beaten into curving shapes and fastened with a hundred salvaged screws;
- Various arrangements of broken circuit-boards, swirls of old rope tangled with the remains of an obsolete electrical service, tatters of blue Mylar and fiberglass screen, and lengths of flexible ducting (along with dyed-sawdust mixed with glue – instant “crud of ages” – to occupy the crevices) were made to fill the space inside the frame and under the main canopy;
- The head itself was held in the fore of the tangle behind it by with several lengths of stiff armored cable, the ends embedded beneath the metal “skin”;
- A halo of odd stars was created from outdated compact disks cut with a small abrasive wheel (the disks tended to shatter explosively, rather than cut cleanly);
- Finally rubbed-back paints and metal leafs were applied to the head and the sheet metal of the canopies and carefully oxidized in various areas to suggest weathering.
And then it was done, and I was left to contemplate (post-rationalize, again, as always) what I had made: a shrine to a machine god or totem to a supernatural mechanism, clearly. I am not comfortable with calling it a work of art, even though it has pleased me for ten years to keep it mounted in a prominent location in my house.
I believe it to be a visualization or evocation of another world, actually…not the one any of us inhabit but a potential one, or parallel one…or perhaps one that exists only in a dim corner of my imagination. This piece, completed when I was 33, seems to have been my clearest perception up to then of that milieu, which (for reasons I don’t understand myself) I refer to as “the autumn world.”
That world is, or was, like ours, but sliding into some kind of slow decline, taking a widdershins course from a technocracy into a new medievalism and even a neo-Neolithic (if not beyond and further backwards). It’s a world that is not “going out with a bang” (which I still fear will be the fate of this one we inhabit), but rather with a long, drawn-out exhalation or whimper.
I think my piece here is a simulation, relatively accurate, of an artifact from the future history of the autumn world, a piece of way-finding from a future medieval Venice perhaps (a Venice perhaps build on the fragments of deep-sea drilling platforms, I am almost sure), from a point at which the marvel of machines is still remembered or even totemized, although the principles of technology have been largely forgotten or mistaken for supernatural agencies.
(Incidentally, I strongly suspect that some of my later projects, including some “experimental” architectural ones, may be inspired or even situated at other points in the history of the autumn world.)
At the time I finished this particular work (whether it be sculpture or a bizarre bit of inadvertent forgery), I was still capable of muddling through some basic Italian grammar, and I was still fresh from that visit to Venice. I recalled the name of a particular verb tense, il futuro anteriore – that I persist in literally translating as “the future preceding” although it is in fact the Italian term for the Future Perfect, a tense that no longer sees common usage in English (where it requires the unlikely “will have” combination of auxiliary verbs to accompany the main). Il futuro anteriore specifies action that occurs in the future, but that is completed before another future action…a “past future.” This paradoxical term struck me as an appropriate title for the product of a uncertain world where history seems to run counter to the course we assume that it has taken in our subjective reality.
I have been assured that, in Italian, il futuro anteriore can also be used in conjecture concerning the past.