Sunday, November 29, 2009

Making an Art Bale

This video demonstrates my process for creating the first art bale; an enlarged version of the compressed art cube.

MFA Open Studios in New York

Last weekend I visited the MFA Open Studios at Hunter College and Columbia University in New York. My main reason was to check out potential grad schools and see if either of those programs offered what I am looking for as an artist. I liked a lot of the work I saw. Also, I was hoping to find some inspiration for continuing evolution of the compressed art cube. I was interested by the work some of the artists were doing, and found some correlation to the questions I have been asking, I was struck by inspiration when I discovered these bales of cardboard on the sidewalk. (in New York, people just place trash and recycling in piles on the street for pickup) I think the baling method allows me to go bigger and to do away with messy and binding mediums. I immediately began work on a method for creating art bales.

If you would like to see photos of artwork from the MFA open studios, here is a link:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

7 & 8

Compressed Art Cube #7

Compressed Art Cube #8

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Materials And Drying

The new art cubes are drying. Cube #4 is wrapped in bungees because after a day of being out of its mold, it started to uncrumple - the glue is not all dry and Cube #6 is also back in its mold because I had to reglue some of the layers.

The basic materials I've been using. The petroleum jelly is to line the mold so the cube doesn't get stuck to it. The two small containers in the middle are samples of acrylic medium, of which I got at the East Bay Center for Creative Reuse, everything gets slathered with that. Also I have been using the Yes! glue, which I also got at the Center for Creative Reuse. The Yes! glue is non-toxic and ismade of dextrine, which is a starch deriviative, probably not as archival as the acrylic and it takes a longer time to dry apparently.

Relationships Between The Compressed Art Cube and Duchamp's Readymades

Marcel Duchamp is widely credited as bringing to art the idea that ordinary objects can be made into art by the discerning artist. The use of found or appropriated objects has continued to be an essential part of works by Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson, Damian Hirst and countless others. Duchamp's "readymades" were objects like a comb, bicycle wheel or a typewriter cover, often slightly altered by placing them upside-down or some other minor alteration to the intended configuration. Infamously, in 1917 Duchamp submitted the Fountain, an upside-down urinal signed with the pseudonym R. Mutt, to an exhibition curated by the American Society of Independent Artists, as a way of testing its all inclusive entry standard. Fountain was rejected, but immediately caused a philosophical schism over the very nature of art that continues to our present day. Must art be beautiful? meaningful? must it be made by an artist? Fountain postulated that anything could be considered art, and brought into question the significance of art as a special and unique object. Duchamp saw the artist "not as craftsman, but as gifted perciever whose choice of an object is seen as a creative act.”

I asked myself some of the same questions that must have inspired Duchamp's readymades while concieving the Compressed Art Cube. I do want to question and perhaps expand the notion of what art can be, but my answer is not nearly so total or revolutionary. The Compressed Art Cube is firstly intended as a formalist inquiry; into the nature of the materials, the use of force to create the work (while simultaneously destroying another), and the simple repetition of a cube form. There are also conceptual components such as the desecration of artwork, the ethic of reuse, and method of appropriation and automation. The Cube is however still an object made by an artist and intended to be beautiful in a way. So far, I still consider the craft an important part of making the pieces, and the choice of objects used to make the cubes is not done so much as a gifted perciever, but as a collage artist working with the arrangement of forms and images.

In his book The Abuse of Beauty, Arthur Danto names three basic types of beauty: aesthetic, intellectual, and moral. The initial rejection of Fountain was based on the perception that it was not art and not beautiful. Danto argues against this initial reaction by describing a "metaphysical distinction between Fountain, and the urinal it consisted of." Fountain is the total artwork; Duchamp's intentions and philosophies as well as the accumulated response to the artwork, which gives the piece an internal beauty which is at least intellectual, if not aesthetic and moral as well. This has led me to the the understanding that: the Compressed Art Cube might act as a test for the hypothesis that the artistic intention which gives artwork an internal beauty is metaphysically distinct from the material object in such a way that the beauty might remain if the object is radically altered.

The Compressed Art Cube product is an aggregate of other artworks as well as a new art object created by another artist. If there is a metaphysical component to an artwork, distinct from the piece itself then perhaps that internal beauty could exist even if the object was obscured or obliterated. In process of making the cubes, I make decisions about which artworks to use, what types of media to combine, how I want them to be arranged on the exterior of the cube, producing a crumpled polyp of color or a glimpse of a larger image and so forth. When I handle the materials I've gathered; some from dumpsters, others were donations, or my own, from the thrift store and such, most of the components would be considered 'bad art' or perhaps not art at all, yet I do pause to appreciate the thing and see it as art. Upon inspection, most anyone could see the cubes are made of other artwork and they will know something of the original work, yet it will also be obvious that the peculiar arrangement is art in itself. How will viewers consider the remaining details of the appropriated artworks in combination with the new artwork I have created?

If I crushed the urinal signed R.Mutt into a cube, Fountain would stil exist but it would be forever changed. An new artistic intention would be superimposed upon it's history, and thus it's artistic importance. Probably for a time people would say it had been destroyed by a fool, but the images and writings and thoughts that are the truly beautiful part of Fountain would remain. Perhaps a museum would simply find a similar urinal and say it was the new physical component of Fountain. Perhaps the crushed urinal would have to be accepted as it was, and it's history and interest and internal beauty would only grow deeper, the publicity and controversy of a great work of art smashed in an act of artistic irreverence would resonate such that an even greater work of art came of it. I hope that Duchamp would appreciate the destruction, considering that he wants to get rid of art, and feels there is an "unnecessary adoration of art in the world today" At the very least, Compressed Art Cubes create fewer, more dense works of art than had existed before.

Danto, Arthur Coleman, The abuse of beauty : aesthetics and the concept of art, Chicago, Ill. [u.a.] Open Court 2003

MacLeod, Glen G., Wallace Stevens and company : the Harmonium years, 1913-1923, Ann Arbor, Mich. : UMI Research Press, ©1983

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More Cubes

Compressed Art Cube #3

Compressed Art Cube #4

Compressed Art Cube #5

Compressed Art Cube #6

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Compressed Art Cube #2

Compressed Art Cube #2
4 1/2 " x 4 1/2 " x 4 1/2 "
Ren Dodge

Compressed Art Cube #1

Compressed Art Cube #1
4 1/2 " x 4 1/2 " x 4 1/2 "
Ren Dodge

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jedediah Caesar

My friend pointed out that in the video, behind the painted styrofoam block sculptor Jedediah Caesar is talking about, there are pieces more similar to the Art Cubes; "he put studio debris into big cubes and then uses resin and then has them sliced after they become like huge cement blocks he sliced them industrially and the cross sections illustrate the materials and process". I can see the relevance to what I'm doing, and I like how it's written about on the Whitney Biennial site (below). The use of compression and old acrylic medium is more sustainable than encasing is resin, and perhaps less common. I would like to see a compressed art cube sliced.


"The faceted cut-resin blocks, which he exhibits alone or in stacked groupings, have been likened to geodes and marbled agate. Their variegated compositions allude to the “allover” abstraction of certain Abstract Expressionists, and when cut into cubes and rectilinear forms
they replace the pristine geometry of Minimalism with a chaos of matter in space. “Encasing everything in resin puts things at the same material level, but reveals a pre-functional object materiality,” the artist notes. “It’s like destroying the meaning of a thing and reengaging with another meaning of it at the same time.” Recently, he has sliced his resin blocks into rectangular panels and mounted them in rows on the wall, allowing the viewer to follow the embedded objects from one cross-sectioned tile to the next, like the frames of a film. An untitled 2007 piece includes a full-size lounge chair elevated on a wooden platform and rendered useless by an accumulation of debris on the seat and around it; another untitled work from 2007 incorporates various natural materials encased in resin to form a freestanding block, its sides cut smooth, with palm branches, flowers, and wood sprouting from the top like plants from a core sample of earth. "
© 2008 Whitney Museum of American Art


As I've described and shown this project to people, the question arises why crush art into cubes? What is the significance of this action. For someone who has read this blog so far I think I've described it from a largely technical point of view, but I know there is more meaning and purpose lying beneath the crumpled veneer of the art cube. I like to say "there are five or ten artworks crushed into a single cube, thus making a more valuable art object and increasing the art-value density of it. " Is this really true? The statement points to the notion that art is a special quality given to an object by the artist creator, and that special property somehow continues to exist even if the object has been damaged or crushed or whatever. What is the art-value of objects people throw out? Does the artist or owner have the power to remove the artistic value from an object simply by placing it in a dumpster or the curbside? Or once an object is art, is it always art as long as it continues to exist? how is that object changed by being included in another artwork and combined with other artworks?

The art cube asks these questions and posits some possible answers. Searching through the trash of art schools and soliciting unwanted artworks from people, I have found that other people are always questioning the notion of special art-value. In some cases the owner of a piece has felt liberated by the opportunity to shed their unwanted art; as though it's special art-value has prevented them from throwing it out, yet when they hear there is an opportunity for it to be included in an ongoing art-making project they see the opportunity to get rid of something that is both precious and unwanted. When creating the cubes, I feel compelled to include some remainder of each pieces essential and unique art properties. A beautiful brush stroke, a colorful section of glaze, some compelling detail of a photograph - I seek to reveal the strengths f my component artworks and not leave them utterly destroyed and unrecognizable. In this way the art cube retains some of the essential art-value of each of the minor peices included in it. As an artist I sought to challenge the limits of sacred art-value, but have thus far found that there are limits to challenging - that I do find special, perhaps even sacred art-value in the most mundane piece of art school trash.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Every act of creation is first an act of destruction" - Pablo Picasso

"Every act of creation is first an act of destruction" - Pablo Picasso

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Making the First Cube

I began production of the first cube today. After lining the cube mold with vaseline, I stuffed it with shredded and shattered art. Wearing latex gloves, I smeared some acrylic medium of each piece before putting it in the mold, so that It will all stick together. I stuffed it full, which is about 10" of art. Inside are bits of glass art, ceramic, canvas, paint and paper, my idea is that the more compressible elements will fill in the space around the glass and ceramic.

Using the car jack, I compressed it down: 10" of art compressed to 4" I wonder if i shouldn't have used more material.I didn't hear the glass and ceramic breaking as I cranked it down, which should be OK, as long as it all holds together in a nice cube. Now I have to wait until the acrylic medium dries a bit, I think. Maybe it won't dry inside there, but there are some holes in the wood. After a few days, I'll take one side off and see what it's like in there.

The Finished Compressor

The compressing device is now complete and ready to begin production of art cubes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is Acrylic Medium Sustainable?

I'm trying to examine this question, because I'd really like to use acrylic medium as a binder for the art cubes. I experimented with a few alernatives, such as using wheat paste or paper pulp. I made a little paper pulp pancake, and it turned out OK, but it is not very durable, and I think for the kind of effect I want, which is the different art mediums showing on the outside of the cube, it would not work. Plus it would be hard for it to dry in the center. Wheat paste ... I wanted to try it but I just don't see it working right, everything would become covered in white slimy wheat paste, and it would probably mold or break down or get eaten by insects. Also, Jason Liang's blog warned that it did not work for his straw bale compression. And it's not like wheat is totally "free" environmentally, considering all the energy put into it's production, I wouldn't automatically assume that is significantly less impact than acrylic.

Most sources on the internet, as well as Karen Michel's book describe acrylic as green or sustainable or at least non-toxic. I don't know how to evaluate it's total environmental impact with respect to wheat paste or some other binder like rabbit skin glue, gum arabic, or whatever. But, I think I can find acrylic discarded or at Scraps or East Bay Center for Creative Reuse and it does seem to be non toxic. So for my purposes it could be a very low impact material. Below is the MSDS for acrylic. I was suprised to learn just how safe it is (though this may not be true for some pigments used in paint) Just don't paint you eyeballs with boiling acrylc, and you should be ok.

Acrylic MSDS 882259

Friday, October 9, 2009


So, I've almost got the compressor ready for action. I welded the frame out of 1 1/4" square tubing. The cube mold is made from 2"x8" douglass fir. I drilled some holes in the sides to let out any water or whatever goo i might squeeze from the art. Just some finishing touches to put on there to attach the jack. I need to figure out what kind of binder I'm going to use (acrylic medium?) and what might work as a mold release (olive oil?, linseed oil?) Also, I hope it can dry a little bit in the mold. I'll probably start by making a 1/4 cube, like a little pancake of art, see how that works out.

I love the smell of fresh cut wood.

The Compressed Art Cube

My mission at this point is to begin compressing the discarded artworks into simple cubes; about 4" square. Here is my sketch for the machine I am building to do the actual compression. It is a metal frame, with a wooden box as a mold and a car jack to compress it together. The walls of the cube mold come apart, so it will be easier to remove the art cube when it is finished

Inspiration for the Compressed Art Cube

I think my key inspiration has been the blog of edmund liang, who writes about his research making sustainable building materials. In this photo of his, he's created some blocks from compressed straw for use in straw bale+concrete house building.I love the simplicity of the idea, and the technique of force used to create. After reading his blog I learned so much about compressing things, his process warned me of a lot of potential pitfalls in the art of compressing materials - such as the need to address problems with adhesion of the material and with drying, both of which i think will be tricky with compressed art.

CCA Dumpsters

So, I dumpstered some more art, this time from the california college of the arts, oakland. They make some pretty good trash there: I found lots of discarded prints from the printmaking studio, some glass bits, and a large ceramic sculpture of a girl on a couch. I want there to be at least a little inspiration and quality to the raw materials I'm putting into my sustainable work. there is a depth about working with these already worked medias, like my job is not so much to create something new, but to extract the creativity from already existing art. creativity that otherwise would have been lost. I am inspired to design a new fate for these collected discarded works: the compressed art cube. Basically I will find a way to crush many works together into a small cube of condensed art/creativity. Kind of like how a junkyard crushes cars, but in this case the compressed art cube is the ultimate destiny.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Works in Progress

So, I have three works in progress right now. I'd like to have lots of works in progress since I expect them each to be relatively simply constructed, but inspired and representing a compelling use of the material. I need more discarded art, I'll be looking at CCA, maybe Laney College, as well as some of the artist studios near here in Oakland, maybe a thrift or salvage store...where else can I find abandoned art to dissect.

I got the idea to add a head on to this one. The colorful face is really beautiful,I think, and it just floats there atop the seated figure so effortlessly, like a bobblehead. I think it needs something more in that grey brown area. Maybe an extension of the burgeoning grid form.

The figure is lashed to another canvas. It is mostly done, but could use some work on the lashing. Maybe tie the substrate canvas together with opened up figure. Maybe give it a more three dimensional look. The canvasette is weak and has torn easily where I went through it with the hole punch, whereas canvas from the canvas board is much tougher than the canvasette, which I guess is textured paper with gesso.

Don't know where I'm going with this one. I think I'll cut the panels down smaller. The paint circles should be melted onto the base, but how?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Traces of Time and Change

I read the article: Traces of Time and Change: Kim Youngae - by Cassandra Fusco and it presented some interesting ideas that I may try and work into this project. The New Zealand based artist, Kim Youngae, uses cotton-pulp casting to exactingly recreate building debris, such as chunks of plaster and wrought iron gate pieces, remafde in the cotton pulp molds. Her work references history and the cultural significance of these building materials. Unfortunately, all the imagesin the library provided pdf were high-contrasted to near death by the scanning process and I cannot find any better images online. Any ideas where I can get images of Youngae's work to share on this blog?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Shredding Canvas

My first stroke of inspiration is to shred the canvas into strips. I am a little fearful at first, thinking that it is cruel to just brutally shred the figure paintings. But, I get over it, I must disassociate the material from my imagined preconceptions. Once I get started, I really enjoy the feeling and sound of ripping the canvas. It is easy, and the grid weaving pattern seems naturally to like being torn in long thin strips.

I remove some canvas from the "canvas board" It is just glued onto the cardboard.

Shredding it; this seems to be a process that is built into the canvas material itself, like it was made to tear into the incrementally narrow strips. These ones are about 12 threads wide.

That's one painting. I kind of like this perspective, like it could be an installation right now. I guess one element of process oriented art is there are all the little moments of art along the way, usually only enjoyed by the one making it.

I'm cutting a frame out of another canvas board painting. I like the shape of the chair behind the figure.

I make holes to thread the strips of canvas through.

So this is the result of the first foray into this process. I heave gotten some positive responses to it already, but I am wondering where I can go with it. This will probably be one element in a larger piece, I want to find out what I can do that works along with this structure.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Textbook for the project

Since this is an independent study class I thought I should find a textbook. Here is my first pick: Green Guide for Artists by Karen Michel.It's a beautiful book with some really good ideas. It contains recipes for glues and paints as well as lots of tips for "greening" the studio. It has nice photos and layout. It is a little thin, so I will definitely need to suppliment it with more scholarly sources. Intuitively, I question the true green potential of some of the recipes. For example, wheat paste require all this wheat to be grown, processed into flour and then boiled for 1/2 hour plus some ingredients like alum or quick lime to be added as a preservative; is that really greener than mass producing acrylic medium or glue? Probably, but how much really. Lots to learn.

Working with discarded paintings

I'm just experimenting to see what I can do with these as an art material.

Removing canvas from canvas board. I never really dissected one of these before, it just canvas glued on cardboard, not too suprising.

Removin rectangular sections

Shredding it

Removing dried paint from the container

Preliminary Materials

These are some of the materials I'll be starting with, I assume I'll need to collect more art and other materials to recycle as the work progresses. Here are a bunch of unwanted oil paintings from a figure painting class. Also some paint which has dried out in it's containers.


Sustainable Practices in Mixed Media Art Making
Ren Dodge
Art 669-67 Special Study

Objectives: To develop and exercise techniques for sustainable art making. Sustainable means of art making should require minimal waste of energy and materials. Should not support the creation of toxic materials and can actually serve as a means for reducing and removing toxic bypducts of art making from the ecosystem by binding these materials in a stable art form.

Focus will be on flat work or wall hanging type work to include painting, drawing, assemblage, collage, other compositing techniques, etc...

Skills and Techniques I would like to develop include
-Reconstitute dried paint
-Use of/making of sustainable non-toxic glues and binders
-Collage and assemblage techniques; glues, sewing, folding, laminating, etc..
-Substrate Recomposition
-Learn archival techniques for sustainable art
-Learn archival properties of recycled materials

Find Artists Doing This: Robert Rauschenberg

Serial Work
Once I develop some of the techniques I will be using, I will connect it to my artistic style and develop a series. I would expect to complete 6-12 quality pieces by the end of the semester. I can imagine some elements of the work already; it is wall hanging, composited of recycled artwork and art materials. (As I usually do I try to make my work "about" as much as possible and to be dense with meaning. I consider the state of being alive, infuse the work with a sense of my personal self, and feel the greater human culture is naturally referenced thereby, and of course any work is going to be about ITself too and thus relate to other art, I could go on...)

Challenging art as a sacred object
Art has long been held above other material things created by humans, in fact to say something is "art" is to elevate it to a higher value than other objects. Is art making such a rare and special event that it may be exempted from conventions of sustainable production desirable in other fields? Is the the use of toxic manufacturing techniques (pigments, resins, solvents, etc..) acceptable by otherwise conscientious persons. And of course it must be fastidiously preserved by more energy intensive methods of conservation. Art can never be recycled, reused, reclaimed for another use it is apart from other objects.

EXPLORE: Art as a material or process for waste handling and disposal.