Anticipation

Jeff has a piece that you may not have heard of before. It’s called Anticipation, and it’s pretty different from his other work. The first time I saw it, I kinda freaked out. Watch this video and you’ll see why:

Unlike Jeff’s other sculptures which run on their own once the motor gets started, Anticipation requires the complete involvement of an interested human. The crank must be turned for the hammer to move at all. The interactive nature of the sculpture makes it seem more game than art at first, but the range of feelings the machine generates as the wheel turns and the hammer rises are genuine and very intentional.

Even more unlike Jeff’s other works is the presence of an actual name attached to the sculpture. Last week, I spent almost a whole blog post exclaiming over the fact that Jeff numbers but doesn’t name his work. He leaves his sculptures free of leading information so that his viewers can draw their own conclusions about what they seeing. Why does  Anticipation need a name, then? What is he trying to get us to see?

When Jeff gave his TEDx talk in Westlake, TX, he talked about the alternate realities or “reality bubbles” that surround each of us and are made up of the stuff of our lives. He talked about how his reality as an artist with a background in a solid family differs from that of, say, his adopted daughter Kaila, who came into the Zachmann home from a background of neglect. She still deals with the truths of her early reality every day, but her bubble has expanded to include the structure of a loving family and the joys and despairs of growing up in today’s world. Like each of us, her reality is relatively unknowable to anyone outside her personal bubble (which is, well, everyone). Her actions, however, offer an outsider a glimpse into her reality.

Jeffrey Zachmann Sculpture #710

Jeffrey Zachmann Sculpture #710

As an artist, Jeff has a more concrete way to offer glimpses into his reality: his work.
His love of movement and his fascination with machines can be traced back to his childhood, and as we’ve learned along the way, his art is also informed by his father’s practicality and the inventive necessities of farm life. His sculptures normally offer a deliberately open-ended view into his reality so that his creative energy can be easily assimilated into another person’s reality, but in this way Anticipation is different. It’s his grown-up sister trap; it’s artistic creation with the end goal being full participation in his reality. Rather than scaring unwanted siblings out of his bedroom (the sister trap’s ostensible purpose), Jeff is giving the person cranking the wheel and winding up the hammer the ability to feel the anticipation he feels when creating his kinetic sculptures. Something is coming, something will happen, and it will happen because the person turning the handle will make it so. There is a time when the hammer slowly crawls along upside down, nowhere near the nail that is still buried deep in the wood base from the last cycle of the sculpture, where excitement may wane and frustration may take over. When will it work? How long do I have to crank this thing? Suddenly, the nail pops up of its own accord and the hammer is no longer upside-down. All that remains is for the wheel to turn just enough for the hammer to swing and drive the nail back into the wood. It crashes down, and the motion is complete. It’s exhilarating and noisy and so cool because you’ve made something happen just by turning a wheel. Those emotions, that frustration and that excitement, are what Jeff wants to share directly. He’s not just giving you a glimpse into his reality, but the option to be fully immersed in it for a minute.

Just wait ’til he finishes his version of Anticipation made with a 10 pound sledgehammer. You’ll really feel it then.

Anticipation is for sale for $2,500 and will be at Red Dot December 3rd through December 8th!

 

Don’t Bore Me.

Jeff and Carl are in Pennsylvania this week at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show, an exciting show filled with lots of amazing artists. They’ve been enjoying life Philly-style and are looking forward to a great rest of the week! Be sure to check Facebook for updates from the show.

Sampling the local fare in Philly.

Sampling the local fare in Philly.

 

While they’ve been away, I did some work that involved me sending off an artist statement to a firm interested in Jeff’s sculptures. While I was putting together the things they needed, I got to thinking about artist statements. I know what you are thinking; it is an exciting life I lead. Anyway, for those unfamiliar with an artist statement, it is a short piece of written work that the artist puts together to describe his/her art. As an example, here’s a short one that Jeff has on the homepage of his website:

The short intro to Jeff's work found on zachmann.com.

The short intro to Jeff’s work found on zachmann.com.

 

One thing I’ve never really understood is why artist statements are so ubiquitous. First of all, I’ve never met an artist who enjoyed writing them. Second of all, a lot of art that has an accompanying artist statement is visual art. Why does something visual need words to accompany it? Can’t you just look at the art?

I guess there is much to be said for contextualizing a piece of art. One certainly does feel more connected to a piece when one knows something about the artist’s process, interests, influences, and motivations. I’ve grown more and more interested in Jeff’s recent work the more I’ve learn about how much his childhood is influencing his artistic style. It’s fascinating to learn about his motivation to create things using found materials because they connect him personally to an earlier time and place. I appreciate having these insights because it enhances my experience with his art while still allowing me to view his work on my own terms and through my own lens.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of artist statements that don’t simply contextualize the work they accompany. The artist has accidentally overwritten their statement, and suddenly a piece of art that should speak for itself is forced to take on meaning that is larger than life. When Jeff and I were in Grand Rapids at ArtPrize, we saw a sculpture that I immediately hated (I make my judgements fast, people). It was a naked baby doll propped upright in a glass display case. The baby had one of its arms and one of its legs sawed off and replaced with robotic-looking limbs that hovered an inch or so away from the body. The whole thing was macabre in a very juvenile sort of way, but for me the worst part was the artist’s statement. Here is a sculpture that leaves very little to the imagination already but that is supplemented by a statement claiming it is opening my eyes to children’s dependence on technology. It does not discuss the artist’s inspiration or choice of materials. It does not place the work in any sort of historical artistic context. It simply explains what it means. I as a viewer have had to do no work, and I am no better off having seen that sculpture than not having seen it.

Perhaps you are wondering what is so wrong about an artist wanting his viewers to see exactly what he sees in his work. I respond that there is nothing necessarily wrong with it; it is their art and they may do what they like, except that it is boring me. Part of the joy in looking at art is discovering one’s own feelings along the way.

"Artist Statement (No One Here Gets Out Alive)"

William Powhida, “Artists Statement (No One Here Gets Out Alive)” (2009), graphite and colored pencil on paper, 18″x15″ (Image courtesy the artist and Charlie James Gallery)

 

One of my best friends from college is an artist named Anda Tanaka, and I like the way she thinks about artist statements. I remember watching her get ready for her art shows when we were still in school. For her, one of the most stressful parts of putting together a show (I mean, besides doing the actual artwork, getting the venue ready, and doing all the rest of her schoolwork) was writing the artist statement. She could sit for ages trying to come up with the words to adequately contextualize her work. I always liked her statements, as once they were finished they were very clearly written pieces that matched her determined personality (plus she always wrote them out by hand on beautiful paper, so they ended up being small works of art themselves). When she did pieces that were deliberately done in a certain style, her viewers were always treated to a succinct explanation of the historical context of her work. But when her work was less obviously rooted in history, she definitely struggled. “It’s like, you know how I play the trumpet? [Anda is also a very accomplished jazz trumpeter, no big deal] Well, after I’ve improvised, people will be like, Wow! How did you come up with that? Was it based on something?, and I have to say no, because, it’s not… I’m improvising. Art is like that. Sometimes you’re just improvising.” Indeed, as Iris Jaffe explains in The Anti-artist-statement Statement, “for a fine artist to be entirely aware of his or her creative process and the resulting artwork thereby created is a nearly impossible feat- and one that would require essentially super-human levels of self-awareness and analytical ability on the artist’s part.” Anda, like so many artists, doesn’t want to have to trivialize her work through the over-generalization of a complex and beautiful artistic process. She also doesn’t want to over-analyze her own work for the perceived benefit of other people, because in the end there is no real benefit to dumbing down art for a viewer. “My art is often about myself. It’s personal, like a self-portrait or a self-analysis. But I don’t want what I’m thinking to influence the people who see my work. I don’t want to put words or thoughts into people’s heads. I want them to think for themselves.”

I think her desire not to over-influence her viewers is (as it should be) a genuine concern for many artists, Jeff and Carl included. They hope to garner unique and genuine responses to their work and tend to be very successful in their endeavors, which I think speaks to their integrity as artists. At shows, they rarely have up much more than a short description of their work. The visitors to their booths have the distinct advantage of meeting the artists themselves and are able to form a much more organic and human connection to the art and the artist than are viewers who are simply confronted with disembodied work. Jeff and Carl take their viewer’s connection to their work so seriously, in fact, that they have chosen to use serial numbers rather than titles to keep track of their creations. “People ask me why my pieces are numbered and not named.  It’s that I think of them as machines and the numbering reflects that. It’s a serial number, starting from my first metal sculpture. I find that when I put a label or name on a piece, a person looks at it differently.  With a number, each viewer comes away with his or her own thoughts. An engineer, a child, or even a scrap metal dealer comes away with a different view, all equally valid, and all equally personal,” says Jeff.

Zachmann photos (22 of 54)

 

While I’m still a little bemused by the idea of an artist statement for visual art, I am obviously not ready to dismiss their usefulness altogether. It’s exciting, however, when an artist thinks enough of their viewers to give them the freedom for personal reflection. I truly admire the artists who give me a job to do when looking at their art. That, to me, keeps things far from boring.

“No Limit To Human Sh*tiness”: Art, Emotion, and Immorality

A recent experience has brought new significance to two abstract and subjective concepts that I often find myself considering in conjunction with art: emotion and morality. I’m not attempting to assert that “emotion” or “morality” are necessarily inherent in works of art. It is not my place to ascribe either of those concepts to a piece in which neither may purposefully exist. Instead, I would like to discuss the place of art in regard to human emotion and moral codes. More to the point, and to sound less like the lecturer I am coming across as currently, I would like to discuss one of my best friends and how she made me remember to hold on to the little things in life.

Arriving home at her apartment late last Sunday night, my friend was attacked and sexually assaulted as she unlocked the door to her building. Someone arrived on the scene and succeeded in scaring the attacker off, but not before the attacker had beaten my friend almost senseless (among other horrible things). My friend was in bad shape that night. Her normally pretty face was swollen and covered in bruises, and she had to have her cheek sewn up where the skin had broken under her assailant’s punches. Her entire body ached severely enough for prescription pain meds even days after the attack. Of course, her physical pain is nothing when compared to the emotional trauma she experienced.

Not surprisingly, my friend’s outlook on the world has darkened considerably since Sunday. After what happened to an intelligent, confident, and hilarious woman like her, I’m inclined to agree with the succinct statement she made after her release from the hospital: “Turns out, there is no limit to human sh*tiness”. Indeed, there is little use arguing against the fact that the world often seems like a morally reprehensible place. The goodness we may try to see in other people is too often overshadowed by the acts that unfortunately end up defining our lives and/or the lives of those closest to us.

When we see the world in such a dark light, it’s almost impossible to think what good something as trivial as art can be for humanity. Art can’t prevent the physical pain that my friend is still feeling almost a week after her attack. Art can’t redeem the world. But can the right kind of art help heal us emotionally? Can it help us re-ascribe to humanity some modicum of morality? Do these questions even matter to anyone but me? I respond with a firm “maybe” to them all.

The truth is, I hate art that tries to force me to think or feel something (the exception to this rule is the work of Banksy, whose identity is hidden and whose art is admirably irreverent and thought-provoking in its blatancy).  It is with an equal intensity that I hate art that makes me feel nothing at all with its bland simplicity (here’s to you, canvases that are painted red or paintings that I could do myself with a single brush stroke). I would of course do well to remind myself of the subjective nature of art: there is a place in the world for art both bland and preachy (I believe bland art is most often found in hotels, but I digress). Many artists creating the work I have disparagingly titled “preachy” are trying to bring awareness to social injustices or environmental causes, and I respect that fully. I think we may all agree, however, that art like that is not art that is easily digested. Art that is full of intention must either confront the viewer with garish obviousness or beg the question What does it mean?, which scares away those who think they can’t “understand art” if they can’t decipher a meaning within the first few minutes of seeing a piece or reading the artist’s statement. Art shouldn’t be about deciphering or about message-shoving. At least, the art we want to heal us emotionally or to re-ascribe a modicum of morality to humanity shouldn’t be like that. No, the art that does the most to lighten our load when the going gets tough is the art I fondly refer to as “unpretentious”: it’s the art that doesn’t attempt to tell us what it is or how to look at it or what to feel or believe or wonder. It’s the art we don’t stare at and ask, What? Why?!. It’s the art we can look at for seconds or minutes or hours without moving and feel completely at peace while we gaze. We shouldn’t have to ask What does it mean?. Instead we should want to ask, What does it mean to me?

One of the first questions I asked Jeff when I started working for him was about emotion. I wanted to know what drove his work, and his answer shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with his sculptures. He explained that he makes his sculptures purposefully devoid of emotion. He does want them to be something of a foil to the often dark, thought-provoking works I described above, but he doesn’t achieve that goal by instilling any one emotion or moral message into his own sculptures like “happy” or “healthy planet earth”. Instead, he leaves them completely open to interpretation by the viewer. He doesn’t even name his sculptures for fear that a name would force a reaction. The real interpretation, he says, is expressed in the faces of his viewers. It’s one of the reasons he loves art fairs so much. He doesn’t watch his sculptures at his shows. He watches the faces that crowd into his booths, the eyes that follow the movement of each marble down, around, through spiraling metal and across empty space and back up in an endless cycle. When they watch, he hopes, they lose themselves in the movement. They forget the immorality that plagues the world, the people who attack young women outside their apartments and the pain of living that affects us all to varying degrees. They get to feel the emotions that accompany childlike wonder.

This is a picture Jeff took in Madison, WI of his booth full of people.

This is a picture Jeff took at Art Fair on the Square in Madison, WI of his booth full of people.

So, can art help heal us emotionally? Can it help us re-ascribe to humanity some modicum of morality? I think it can. At the very least, good art can give us a moment to realize that the awful truths of humanity are not the only truths, and that emotional fortitude is not unattainable. A moment may be all we need to reset and regroup for the next onslaught of life uncensored. One thing we must be sure to remember is this: that while people suck and bad things happen, there exist pockets of inherent goodness in the world- in a sculpture, in a book, in playing fetch with a cute dog- and we shouldn’t gloss over those things in our rush to drown in the mire. It’s the happy trivialities that keep us afloat, and we should cling to them for all they’re worth.

Speaking of happy trivialities, here’s a video of sculpture #702. As Jeff would say, lose yourself in the movement.

The Inside Scoop on #702

Zachmann photos (33 of 54)In order to better understand Jeff as an artist, I think it’s important to occasionally sit down with him and have a focused discussion on a single sculpture. And while Jeff is constantly making sculptures, it’s not often that he makes one without a home ready and waiting for it. This is a good problem for an artist to have, but it also means it can be difficult to find the time to talk about a piece before it’s crated up and out the door. I therefore took advantage of #702’s unsold status and asked Jeff to share a bit about his creative process through the work he did on this specific sculpture.

blog702Jeffrey Zachmann Sculpture #702

What did you know about the sculpture before you made it?
Before I made the piece, I just had an idea of the size of the piece I wanted to make. One of the things I try to do is have sculptures in a variety of sizes and prices so patrons at art shows can find something that will fit their space or budget. With this piece I had an idea of the form I wanted. I had made a similar piece in the past and wanted to fine-tune the composition. Sometimes, after looking at a piece I’ve had finished for a while, I start to think I should have done this or that differently. It’s usually a composition thing.

What was difficult about the creation of this piece? How did you get over the difficulties?
This one took me a while to find the right pieces of metal. The blue bits were pieces of a barrel that someone had repainted a couple of times. The sizes of metal pieces let me highlight the over-painted parts. If the pieces would have been larger they would have been too busy for people to really look at. I think the larger vertical piece with the perforations is part of an industrial fan guard. When I found it, it was still shiny and unrusted, but I liked the perforations. I left it out in the weather all winter to get the rust to start forming. The smaller bits of screening are pieces from a larger screen used in sorting gravel and sand. I love this kind of screening as it adds a really nice texture to the sculpture. I’m starting to run out of it and am having a hard time locating more, so it’s nice when I have a couple of small bits like this that fit right in.

What surprised you about the way the piece came together?
When I was building this piece I thought I had messed up a bit and left too large of an open area to the right of the jump. The counterweights for the element that holds the three balls before releasing them (on the left side) gave me a way of filling that spot. It seems like a logical fix now but the problem had me scratching my head for awhile before I came up with it.

What about the piece makes you the most excited?
I really like the high arc the ball takes with this jump. It can be difficult to get it to work right when I do a high arc- the aiming can be difficult- and where the ball ends up can vary unless it’s tuned just right.

How does this sculpture fit in with the rest of your work?
I think my work is a progression of things I’ve learned: how to use the laws of physics to my advantage, how to use the juxtaposition of panels, numbers, and stainless steel, how to construct the frame to work as a both a support structure as well as an artistic element at the same time. I think I’m working toward the perfect sculpture. That’s something that will never happen, though. Each new thing I add to what I’ve learned adds millions of possible combinations to what I already know. Exploring these combinations is what keeps my work interesting.

What do you think of sculpture #702? What interests you most about Jeff’s discussion of his sculpture? Leave comments below.

The First Post

Hello, and welcome to Zachmann Studios’ first blog post! I’m Klara Wagnild, executive assistant to Jeff Zachmann and marketing director for the studio (that means I’m the one in charge of the blog).

clydeandklaraThis is me (sadly the best picture I have of myself currently).

My position as blogger is fitting since I am able to wax philosophical about a piece of art at the drop of the hat, whereas Jeff is too Minnesota-nice to impose that kind of nonsense on anybody without them asking first. I come by my skills honestly after spending four years in college studying philosophy and my whole life being interested in art. Jeff was kind enough (and busy enough) to consider employing me and my questionable abilities just a few months ago. I have enjoyed every minute of my work for Jeff and am looking forward to becoming even more involved in the art world as time goes on. But enough about me. Welcome to Zachmann Studios!

Zachmann Studios is home to the kinetic sculptures of Jeffrey Zachmann and the machine art of Carl Zachmann. The father-son duo work independently to create intriguing static pieces that, when set in motion, become captivating. Each sculpture they create is unique. Jeff bends, welds, bolts and screws stainless steel and found metal into the framework for a sculpture. His pieces favor a lift system that is visually suited to each sculpture’s framework and moves marbles through a fascinating and seemingly endless path. Carl’s sculptures explore the designs and textures of our industrial past through the use of moving gears on static backgrounds. Here are some examples of the artists and their work:

jeffsmilingThis is Jeff: Kinetic sculptor extraordinaire, all around nice guy.

453This is one of Jeff’s pieces at the airport in Brisbane, Australia.

20130618_143719This is Jeff hard at work in the studio.

20130618_143720This is Jeff’s “hard at work” face.

690

This is Jeff’s sculpture #690.

headshotThis is Carl.

SN 002 JPGThis is Carl’s sculpture SN 02.

archeologycarleditThis is Carl engaged in his other passion, archeology.

photobooth

Here are Carl and Jeff in a photobooth at Carl’s wedding to his lovely wife, Krista.

So, why the blog, you ask? Blogs may be an artistic medium of their own, but used by and for artists, they can offer a unique glimpse into the creation of new works and the lives and creative processes of the artists themselves. This blog exists to actively place Zachmann Studios in the discourse of contemporary art. The blog will be updated frequently to reflect the activities of Zachmann Studios. New sculptures, inspirations, reactions to shows, and passions will all be discussed.  Comments on posts are encouraged, and the artists and I can be reached in a variety of ways for further conversation. Check out our Contact page here, and thanks for reading the first post!