Whorl (2000)


Whorl is a very shallow box, only about one inch deep. The frame is covered with maroon floral-patterned wallpaper. The central image is a tightly cropped photo of the classic Greek sculpture the Discobolus of Myron. This picture, mounted on a card is floated above an etching illustration showing the life stages of the dragonfly. On the sides of this etching are four sections of red felt where each piece is rolled up and pinned with a map pin. Upon each felt roll is a word from an English language primer. Just above the dragonfly illustration are two pieces of plastic flower leaves. Centered on these leaves is an atomic model of the protons and neutrons of the element oxygen. At the very top of the piece is a narrowly cropped black-and-white photo of several rows of many well-dressed men standing outside. The bottom of this assemblage, extending the entire width, is a row of blue cats-eye marbles. There are mirror panels on all four inner walls.


Whorl spirals like a clock spring or a nautilus shell, pulling the mind from the open outer coil down into the tight winding of its center. This circular movement coheres the elements of this piece. The arrangement is like a tightly wound coil, a gesticulation of tension, of power not yet unleashed. I’m thinking of the infinitely large scale like the whorl of a galaxy as the aftermath of a great cosmic explosion and dispersion of matter. And conversely, the interior wheels within wheels are like a fractal of eddy upon eddy that progress to the infinitely small. Whorl is also a term for cataloging the individuality of fingerprints.
I don’t typically work from an overt concept. To use Whorl as an example, I did not have the concept of a spiral, whirling, or spinning in mind when I put this piece together. I assembled this piece out of an intuition that these images and objects and words would come together—literally a composition. Only after, or near completion, did I look at this and contemplate associative words. This is mostly how I work and how I develop artwork titles. It’s a fairly common practice for visual artists who naturally tend to work on the visuals first and the vocabulary comes later. Sometimes this reverie comes mid-assemblage and it helps guide the remaining elements into place. Rarely do I have an overarching concept and then develop the visuals around it—mostly when I tackle a series project, as it’s the nature of a series to have a conceptual tie between each work of the set.

It always excites me to discover the title of a piece I’ve been working on—sometimes after a year or more since it was started. It’s a revelatory feeling, like when you read a line of poetry that resonates as truthful. A good title is like a keystone to an arch placed in as the last step, almost like an act of faith, and critical for the whole structure to function.

In 2000 I made a series of these intentionally shallow, one-inch-deep, boxes which I came to call my relief assemblages (as in bas relief).

This article was first published on fturek.art.