“Out of the Mouths of Artists” is a new bi-monthly series on the Bad at Sports blog. The series presents a space for guest artist bloggers– of varying career statuses– to write, to reflect, to pontificate on their current situations, failures and/or successes, and ideas on what it means to be an artist. “Out of the Mouths of Artists” also gives readers a glimpse into artists’ portfolios and studios.
Guest Post by Daniel G. Baird
I have been thinking a lot about tortoises lately. Or, rather, I’ve recently realized that they’ve been on my mind for some time without my knowing. I don’t mean the literal animal, but rather the idea of it as both carrying an exterior ‘world’ upon its back and also having an interior world (its home) affixed to the structure of its body. I see the tortoise relating to other structures in the world and it has recently emerged as a signifier in my own work.
In Hindu, Chinese and Native American mythology, the tortoise is a familiar character that holds the weight of an entire cosmology. It is like a little world. Underside as the surface, interior as the experienced world and shell as the enclosed sky. Because it is seen as containing a depiction of the world in its entirety, it necessarily enters into the question of origins; If the tortoise has the world on its back, then what world is it standing on? Its not the origin-mythology aspects of the tortoise that interest me however. I see the shell of a tortoise as a type of memory-object, something that in its form holds a reference to its own function. Tools also do this. Like the way a child-proof medicine bottle contains the idea of an eventual arrival at a mature understanding of objects in the world.
The tortoise lives a long life and through its endurance and longevity feels almost timeless. With a lifespan similar to ours, the tortoise carries the passage of time on its shell. Some sea-turtles have entire micro-habitats of barnacles and algae attached to their back.
At the present moment, floating 230 miles above our heads, a global research laboratory called the International Space Station is conducting experiments in biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology and other fields in a state of microgravity. For me, it is like the tortoise shell because it carries a world within itself. The ISS is a machine thats working to create conditions for life to exist in zero gravity. With all the knowledge it collects, we can imagine that it might have the capability to make the conditions of another earth within the harshness of space.
Another allusion to the metaphor of the tortoise that is on my mind relates to something more graspable and familiar to us. It can be found within the flat surfaces of computer screens and ‘smart’ phones. These things that transfer information via a representation share a direct affinity to the ancient cave-paintings that are at the root of the history of image-making.
Every device with access to the internet is a TARDIS-like object. In the popular Dr. Who television show the TARDIS is a time machine and spacecraft in an unassuming British police box (vessel) that has the peculiar attribute of containing an infinite space in its interior. It has a close relationship to the dichotomy of the physical and virtual. It is a vessel that carries an interior world.
At present Google is providing the platform for an accurate pictorial representation of the world accessible from the internet. With GoogleEarth we are presented with the Earth as an object to be navigated at will. Through this program, we can pseudo-experience and access locations in the world that are beyond our physical capabilities. Navigating within the Street-View option is a personalized endeavor. After you find your house, which is almost the first thing anyone does, you can transport yourself over vast distances and meander through unfamiliar streets, and never physically move an inch. I’m entertained by the idea that the devices in our pockets are like little tortoises that contain infinite worlds; when you look into the screen you are actually peering into its shell.
The collating of diverse materials, processes and objects that have specific embedded ideas is one facet that could characterize the process in my work. I do not feel the materials and ideas emerge from a research-based practice but rather from a jogging around, and through, interests that have become accumulated and built upon from earlier pieces.
I try to engage in both the macro/micro and physical/virtual worlds of signification. For me, a gradation of earth tone colors has the possibility of pointing towards the structure of geological sediment, a 3d scan of an architectural detail contains the entirety of the building it came from or a used ejection seat has wrapped within it the narrative possibility of terror and release from the technological marvel of flying through the sky. The interest in the tortoise I feel comes from a desire I have towards creating an entire cosmology in a piece. Its use in recent work nods to this impulse.
Daniel G. Baird (b. 1984) received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Recent Solo exhibitions include ‘Strata’ at Andrew Rafacz gallery, Chicago; ‘Vestige’ at the Institute of Jamais Vu, London; ‘Has the World Already Been Made? X4? at both Roots and Culture, Chicago, and Hedah, Maastricht; ‘Meridian’ at Robert Bills Contemporary, Chicago; ‘This New Ocean,’ at Appendix Project Space, Portland. Recent Group exhibitions include Bowling Alone, Andrew Rafacz Gallery; Merge Visible, Prairie Productions, Chicago, and Panoptic Measures, Elizabeth Foundation, NY. He will present work at LVL3 this spring and at Leeds College of Art and Design in 2015. See more of Baird’s work at www.danielgbaird.com.