We come upon a scene: simple, useful structures comprised of modular component parts, each part a four-inch bullnose-edged cube with nodes or receptacles adorning its 6 faces, allowing it to be joined to others in various and simple ways. These modules are crafted of wood, but also of random, seemingly scavenged materials: post-industrial matter such as packing foam and cardboard.
And, most surprisingly, they are made of natural matter as well: greenish-tan pods, quickly identifiable as gourds, grown inside molds of the repeatable modular unit—the sustainable interplay of the restrictive form and the gourd’s natural mechanism of expansion, growth, and expression.
These living modules, it becomes evident, can be infinitely related to one another, forming architectural components, furniture, birdhouses, and myriad hybrids born of necessity, imaginative construction, expressive value, and/or ritual intent. The scene contains a healthy variety of the possibilities, in varying modes of completion, manufacture, and development: experimental bits of an unfolding assemblage, a work in progress discovered in medias res.
The goal, plan, and purpose of the scene and its objects and its makers seem more than opaque: they seem absent. We are left alone in the encounter. The modules and structures themselves offer few clues, preferring to maintain a universal posture, a Lego-like simplicity, ease of use and re-use, staging and re-staging, that suggests a nomadic and provisional consciousness. When we linger too long outside the scene, waiting for some embedded meaning to arise, we miss its true nature: the utopian nature of this scene.
This nature is established and sustained by our immersion in the scene: this is not a theatrical scene, staged and set up and meticulously bracketed to secure and transmit a particular message – it’s no diorama, and we are not spectators outside of the scene, safely perched apart in our critical distance. No, we are here and now, embedded in what erases the stage/audience split: in the real. And Andy Mowbray – the tireless bricoleur, the anti-engineer – is here with us.
It’s useful to bring Andy in now, after the scene is set. His is a collectivist, Modernist utopian ethos, one that flattens things in the horizontal dimension, in order to gain depth and weight in the vertical one. His is an all-in belief in the universal possibility of simple, use-driven form to effect and drive creative invention. That, of course, sounds a lot like a very Modernist version of emancipation: freedom happens when the field is leveled and the parts are universally accessible and useful and open to all. But Mowbray leaves off Modernism where it failed: instead of providing some overarching vision (think Fuller’s Geodesic Dome here) of what to do with the parts – that might end up policing production and creativity (think Wright, Corbu here) and/or forcing a wholesale revolutionary overthrow of our current life for the utopian one (imagine climbing inside the Dome now…), Mowbray provides no instructions or visions, choosing to meet us where we are, in our real, and to allow a local, primal and intuitive creative intervention.
What makes his own participation in this local intervention so authentic is his clear relinquishing of his authorship–not by allowing others to play with the parts (the actor become director), but by surrendering to his own play, his own sheer madness and forgetting, his own total immersion in his process and making, and the realtime unfolding of the units into the useful, playful, ritualistic objects that comprise the scene. In other words, this scene isn’t finished, and neither is Mowbray. In fact, a full half of the scene—toward the back of the gallery— is devoted to the bricoleur’s modes of production. The machine with the mold is there, the remnants and detritus of recent labor, half-formed, failed, and rotten gourds, as well as experimental five-sided shapes (a nascent evolutionary development?), and casually pinned cultural gatherings, notes, inspirations, ideas, photos – a kind of thought-parlor qua workshop found in the flowering of a never-beginning and never-ending process of continual development.
In the end Mowbray doesn’t give us something to ponder about Utopia or universality or locality or immediacy or creativity. He gives us the real thing, and lets us muck about uncertainly in and among its sheer materiality—it’s realness. So what we get are not monuments to this or that hero or ideal, or manifestos, or a revolutionary trumpet call. What we get, are a bench, a child-sized totem, a collection of broken gourds swept into the corner, Tyvek branding reorganized as an quasi-mandala, photos and musings, additions and subtractions by the day….what we get is a creative scene, one ultimately about art and its possibility for universal – which, in Mowbray’s hands, means local, immediate, and provisional – transformation; what we get is inclusion in the unfolding and burgeoning of possibility and life; what we get, finally, is immersion in the scene of our own immediate potential and creativity.
Andrew Mowbray: Another Utopia is on view at LaMontagne Gallery, 555 East 2nd Street, South Boston. http://www.lamontagnegallery.com/
For more on Andy’s work visit http://andrewmowbray.com/home.html
Photo: Stewart Clements