I was going to include Charles Simonds’s work in my essay, but decided to restrict it to just two different artists instead. The research work I did on his work is below.
Charles Simonds started his career constructing buildings for imaginary ‘Little People’ on the streets of New York. These were temporary installations that would be destroyed by vehicles, people or the weather. He was interested in making them for their own sake and for the community he was working in, not for art collectors as work to sell.
Working on location in the poor areas of the city, his early sculptures had a strong sense of place, usually constructed in decaying abandoned buildings and echoing that in his constructions. They were also a comment on displaced people looking for a safe place to live (Coffey, 2015).
He initially resisted putting his work into the gallery environment, wanting his work to be discovered by chance on the streets (Weber, 2013). This changed as he received more invites to show in them and whilst he still works in this way on the streets of various cities, he does also create work for galleries.
Early on in his career he created his ‘Three Peoples’ – three different tribes of ‘Little People’. These people lived linearly, circularly and spirally and he described their way of living, their beliefs, history and their buildings in this way. He has built upon this foundation ever since. This way of working with imaginary occupants fits well with my ‘residency’ work.
‘Two Streams, 2011’ is a landscape and buildings for ‘Little People’ reminiscent of an Indiana Jones set, or the floating islands of Jorge Mayet (My Modern Met, 2017). Like all of his pieces, they have body references, the streams in the title appear like tongues projecting from this piece. The small ruined buildings are constructed in intricate detail, the landscape they sit in is portrayed in grey or red colours like rock and earth. It’s suspension from the wall makes it even more other-worldly, but is portrayed with great realism.
‘Ruined Blossoms, 2011’ is a landscape of grown walled flowers in various states of decay. The clay they stand on is dry and cracked, the lack of water perhaps the reason these blossoms are dying.
‘Grown Walls, 2011’ is a fantastically detailed piece, with a central flower turning into brick walls as it goes outwards. The close and uneven walls mimic the flower’s petals but tend to a more regular square shape, crumbling at the edges.
In moving from the street into the gallery, his gallery works do not try to address their setting, his later works take this further in their suspension from the wall or ceiling. Taking about ‘Mental Earth, 2002’ he says that ‘it’s not part of the space, it’s in the space’ (The Institute of Fine Arts, 2016).
In his conversation with Richard Shiff (The Institute of Fine Arts, 2016), we hear how his pieces were originally built on his body, he sees the body as the original house and all his landscapes have body references. From his 1984 exhibition catalogue (Simonds, 1984):
‘These works are wilted ruins, sprouting towers, body rock plant hills, stumps, smears, buds and floral sprays.
They are living places.’
Do these sculptures have a sense of place? With their myriad of ruined dwellings and realistic rock and earth surfaces, they certainly provide locations you can project yourself into, so I would say that they do.
Coffey, M. (2015). “I Build Ruins”: Charles Simonds and the Dwellings of his Little People – artcritical. [online] artcritical. Available at: http://www.artcritical.com/2015/12/31/michael-coffey-on-charles-simonds/ [Accessed 12 Jul. 2017].
My Modern Met. (2017). Miniaturized Landscapes by Jorge Mayet Appear to Float in Mid-Air. [online] Available at: http://mymodernmet.com/jorge-mayet-miniature-island-sculptures/ [Accessed 23 Jun. 2017].
Simonds, C. (1984). Charles Simonds: house plants and rocks. New York: Leo Castelli Gallery.
The Institute of Fine Arts (2016). Charles Simonds in conversation with Richard Shiff. Available at: https://vimeo.com/162981459 [Accessed 14 Jul. 2017].
Weber, S. (2013). BOMB Magazine — Charles Simonds’s Absence by Stephanie Weber. [online] Bombmagazine.org. Available at: http://bombmagazine.org/article/7170/charles-simonds-s-absence [Accessed 12 Jul. 2017].