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CAPTURING THE FLEETING By JONATHAN ANDREW BURNS SUPERVISORY COMMITTEE: PROF. Nan Smith, CHAIR PROF. Linda Arbuckle, MEMBER PROF. Anna Calluori Holcombe, MEMBER A PROJECT IN LIEU OF THESIS PRES E NTED TO THE COLLEGE OF FINE ARTS OF THE UNIVER SITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS 2012
2 2012 Jonathan Andrew Burns
3 Table of Contents Abstract 4 5 Project Repo rt Introduction 6 Hunting a s a Spiritual Act 6 8 Taxidermy as a Memento 8 10 Inspired by the Baroque 10 11 Installation 11 12 The Figure 12 Widower 12 13 Orphaned 13 Legacy 13 14 Successor 14 Contemplation 15 Use of Materials 15 16 Influences 17 18 Images 19 23 Bibliography and Works Cited 24 25
4 Summary of Project Option in Lieu of Thesis Presented to the College of Fine Arts of the University of Florida In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts CAPTURING TH E FLEETING By Jonathan Andrew Burns May 2012 Chair: Nan Smith Major: Art Capturing the Fleeting is an exhibition that presents preserved memories through sculpture to indicate the fleeting nature of life. Boyhood hunting experiences allowed me to witness the transition between life and death. These experiences led to a raised awareness and curiosity about our brief time and provided the inspiration for this body of work. Capturing the Fleeting evokes feelings of memory and loss through a figurative installation composed of a life scale classically modeled male figure whose gaze focuses on four sculpture vignettes. Combining classical sculpting techniques i n clay with preservation methods and materials used in taxidermy I create hybrid sculptural forms which compose the vignettes. Sculpted hands are used to express the feelings and peak emotions of fear and anxiety. These emotions are articulated through t he illustrated tenseness of the muscle and bone structures. They grasp, clench, hold, and fall limp to suggest a narrative of loss. Deer and waterfowl elements have been chosen because they represented the animals my family hunted. The memory of these ani mals in my conscious mind reminds me of family in my household. The animals prompted me to consider our inevitable passing. Incorporated taxidermy methods such as treating skins, cleaning, and casting materials all showcase the desire to preserve. This
5 wor k also shows a personal approach to juxtapose two traditional, yet completely different disciplines into a new body of contemporary sculpture. This exhibition showcases a life sized, naked ceramic male figure seated on one side of a bench. The book in hi s lap suggests an empty photo album. One free standing vignette and three wall vignettes are placed across from his direct gaze. Each vignette represents the potential loss of a loved one in an archival format representative of taxidermy. The imagery within each vignette is a metaphor for loss of a beloved family member: a spouse, a mother, a father or the self. The set distance between the seated figure and the vignettes activates a space where the viewer can contemplate the events taking place. This space represents a psychological cushion where loss is being processed. It represents a moment of inner reflection and acceptance. Capturing the Fleeting offers the viewer an insight into the c onnectedness of all life. This body of work inspire s the viewer s t o capture special moments of their own with the ones they want to remember.
6 PROJECT REPORT Introduction Memories are constructed from the daily experiences and events in our lives that impact our thoughts and resonate within our minds. Sometimes memo ries lay dormant for years before coming into fruition. A fter years of maturity and complimentary experiences those dormant memories can awake n S piritual encounters may arouse memories from deep within. Many people feel a sense of pe ace and spiritual enc ounter when they are outdoors and surrounded by nature. Generally, t hose who hunt go into nature to escape the mundane. Some of those hunters look for a spiritual encounter there. Artifacts and trophies play a major role in hunting. Taxidermy preserves th o s e moments that a hunter experiences in nature along with family or friends. Hunting is not just an act of killing. It encompasses ritual, rites of passage, and reverence for the animal hunted Capturing the Fleeting my project in lieu of thesis explores how ritualistic hunting practices increase awareness of the tenuousness of life T he s culptures that form the project encourage the viewer to make memories with those who are special an d beloved. Hunting as a Spiritual Act Every year, the cool air and fi ery colored leaves of autumn bring s a feeling of the holidays. This time of year also excites hunters about the upcoming hunting season. Many hunters begin flipping through catalogues and looking for the latest products available on the market. There is a vast array of equipment and weapons these days, although most are unnecessary for a successful hunt Although many hunters eat or donate the animals they kill, hunting is hardly a means of economic dependency. According to James A. Swan in his book In Def ense of Hunting the average hunter spends about one
7 thousand dollars annually on hunting licenses, equipment, travel, food, lodging and other things (Swan, p.3). This hardly makes for the argument that hunters hunt as a means of sustenance. However, many who hunt do it for food and enjoy the taste of wild game They represent about 45.5 percent of the hunters in the U.S. There are the recreational hunters who set out strictly to treat hunting as a sport or a hobby. They represent approximately 38.5 percent of all hunters. And finally there are the nature hunters who represent 17 percent of the hunters The spiritual hunter s admit that there is something more than treating it as recreation. To them, ultimately it is a sacred act with as much as or more meani ng than organized religion (Swan p.17 19). Spiritual h unters begin to associate reverence for the animals that they hunt. They begin to think and feel like the animals and develop a deep appreciation for the ir beauty Many artifacts begin to fill the hom es of these hunters such as mounted deer heads, paintings of wildlife, animal sculptures, and clothing with images of the animals. Some go as far as depicting imagery of that animal on their weapons. Such reverence begins to stir the heart of the hunter ev en when not in presence. Much like indigenous tribes who create totem poles, images kindle feelings of awe and respect for the animals and birds hunted. For the hunter t here is nothing like being in the woods Nothing is at rest in the natura l world yet everything knows instinctively what to do In the woods t he cycle of life and death come s more frequently and acceptingly than what we experience in our s u bu rban landscapes. Hunting has been practiced i n my family for generations and it is in the woods that I feel most awake and alive These are the moments that matter to me most My father is a taxidermist and that constantly remin ds me of th e peak nature experiences while hunting. Many memories were made with my father and brothers during my boyhood years. The hunt always e xcited us We went from the commotion of the suburbs to experience the rawness of nature during the hunt Those mornings came around quickly for at 5 a.m.
8 our day be gan The early morning smells and darkness would roll in t o a blazing sunrise revealing the dew on the grass and the evidence of deer beds nea rby. My deer stand was up in a tree and there my thoughts were free of distractions. My mind was being fashioned to contemplate life all that will inevitably pas s Our hop es were in the moment; to harvest a deer or two which helped feed our family of six Experiences from earlier hunts seemed to haunt the back of my mind during those years. Conversations with my brothers loomed about killing animals. Uneasiness came from watching something die. There was not guilt necessarily, just the discomfort of watching the animal in its last moments. Sometimes it was not even a matter of being a witness, but findi ng out more about the particular animal later on These memories from the hunt haunted my thoughts into adulthood as I considered my family. Realizing that my kin would suffer the same fate as any other living creature I felt compelled to cherish the precious fleeting moments that we have together. Author Dudley Young Obse rves: What is religious about hunting is that it leads us to remember and accept the violent nature of our condition, that every animal that eats will in turn one day be eaten. The hunt keeps us honest ( Young p.139) Taxidermy as a Memento Personal involv ement, effort, and anticipation help create deep memories Hunting during my boyhood with my father made a world of difference to me as an adult. It served as a rite of passage. Killing the animals was not what made me a man during those days. It was the d edication to forcing myself out of bed early on the weekends, carrying the equipment out to the vehicle, walking back to my tree stand and waiting there patiently. Waiting until my father who led the hunt said it was time to quit.
9 In all honesty, some day s it was better not to shoot anything It was more about getting out of the routine of suburban life. It was about b eing in nature and having some time to clear the mind. I would ride in the tr uck thinking about things I canno t even recall these days I kn ow being out there with my dad taught me about dedication and sportsmanship. I learned about putting up with unfavorable smells to hide our scents from deer and walking into the dark when all I could hear were unfamiliar noises in the grass and trees Over coming fear was as important then as it is now in life I would get nervous but once in the tree I felt s afe and confident The rest of the morning was a trial of patience. Most days were the same. Nothing happened and we left empty handed. But persisten ce was the key. Every season, weekend after weekend year after year, we went. We did not always succeed, but we were building memories together. the study of r emoving skin. Taxidermists receive many bad reviews They are seen as being disconnected from social norms even as having bad hygiene and living out in the boonies as strange folk Some movies portray taxidermists as crazy experimentalists in remote lo cations who recreat e strange creatures The reality is that taxidermists can be entrepreneurs who make a modest living working with a subject matter that fascinates them more than anything else. They develop a keen knowledge about the animals they mount. M y father and mother met in art school at the Fort Wayne Art Institute before the Vietnam conflict. My father served in the U.S. Navy and later sold life insurance for New York Life. He was always an avid outdoorsman and began doing taxidermy on the side us ing skills he developed in art school After a while his clientele grew and supported by my mother t he y began their new profession full time. By the time I was born, taxidermy was a household event. My oldest brother helped periodically and I even threw salt on the hides for some spending cash. I grew up not knowing that th is life style was quite
10 different from the home life experienced by other suburban kids Taxidermist c onventions were where I started seeing some of the more quirky a nd bad taxidermy in the world. Later in life p eople would make jokes about how taxidermy seemed so awful and a bad rendition of nature. I never understood how even good taxidermy was a poor interpretation of nature. It always meant something different to me. It was a manife we hunted. The sentiments the n beca me translated into art, for good taxidermy requires extraordinary artistic skill (Swan, 29). It was about making the animal sacred through preservation similar to t he way native people create totemic motifs. Taxidermy allows the hunter to relive moments where they harvested that particular animal. It recalls everyone from that day and certain events that went along with it. M emories fill my mind of waking up in my tr ee stand the day a procession of doe came my way being followed by the buck. M ed in delight across the field as the buck went down moments after I squeezed the trigger The sun was just coming up and a golden light was across the edges of everything it passed. My father mounted that first buck I shot. I still have this mount hanging on my wall today. Those days have long since passed. Yet, I would have never had this opportunity or life experience had we not put in the years of effort a t hunting In truth, s o much more goes into a mounted deer head This memento of the hunt represents the learning, the discipline, the people, the moment all are ephemeral, just like the life of the animal. The trophy represents an attempt to tangibly ho ld on to the specialness of that camaraderie and the event, and thus the mounted head is more than what it superficially seems Inspired by the Baroque Memorials have been created since art was first developed. Traditions seem to dictate that certain peopl e and places be remembered. Monuments and public gravesites have kindled a profound
11 interest in my mind since youth an interest that took root through observing loss. Some of the greatest known works of art in the world are held in Eu ropean m useums. There has always been a deep appreciation in the history books for Greek art Greece introduced much of what is today considered as classical a ntiquity. Over time, as artists practiced copying these old masterpieces, new ideas were slowly introduced such as dep icting sensuality Classicism gave rise to other movements in subsequent years after its reemergence during the Renaissance. During the late Renaissance the Baroque style flourished as a way of narrating and displaying power; however, it was also used for memorializing people and events the Catholic Church thought noteworthy Of one of its most esteemed artists was Gian Lorenzo nton p.3). Bernin i was a devote Catholic and ca ptured the spirituality of the s aints in his highly charged sculptures like the Ecstasy of St. Teresa (fig.8) She is in a state of awe and reverence for something unseen. But it is clear that her heart has been pierced and he r encounter w as extraordinary and un like anything she had experienced before. Using overstated movements and extreme detail, Bernini expressed intense feelings of raw emotion. The lighting in basilica s also emphasized the drama taking place ; another key as pect of Baroque sculptures. The notion of stirring the soul through exaggerated movements and articulations make the Baroque style appropriate for creating spiritually inspired figurative work as a means to memorialize moments Installation Capturing the Fleeting (fig.1) serves to inspire the viewer to reflect on special remembered moments in time. The taxidermy materials juxtaposed with the figurative work shows a desire to preserve key memories with my family The installation consists of a life sized, unclothed ceramic male figure seated on one side of a bench. A book in his lap implies an empty photo album. One free standing
12 vignette and three wall vignettes are placed across from his direct g aze. Each piece echoes the way taxidermy seeks to fix the mo rtal flesh to hold in that preparation precious memories, making a touchstone from something insubstantial. The imagery within each vignette is a metaphor for loss of a beloved family member; a spouse, a mother, a father and the self. The set distance betw een the seated figure and the vignettes activates a space where the viewer can contemplate the events taking place. This space represents a psychological cushion where loss is being processed. It represents a moment of inner reflection and acceptance. Th e Figure The sculpted human figure has inspired generations throughout history. Contemporary times are no different. The three dimensional human figure at life scale serves to create an immediate connection between viewer and subject matter. People intuit what subtle body movements and gestures mean often conveying so much more than spoken words. A picture is worth a thousand words the old saying goes. In Capturing the Fleeting (fig.2) I have chosen to use parts of the figure as a strategy to rein the v iewer in without biases. The solitary use of hands in the vignettes creates a very open format where the viewer s can relate their own connections to become more intimate with the piece. Inspired by Baroque scu lpture, the gesturing hands are used to express the feelings and peak emotions of fear, anxiety, and isolation; the animation of life and flaccidness of death These emotions are articulated through the illustrated tenseness of the muscle and bone structures. They grasp, clench, hold, and fall limp to suggest a narrative of loss
13 Widower The sculpture entitled Widower (fig.3) represents the loss of a beloved spouse. This piece was inspired by the monogamous nature of geese. Hovering as thoug h airborne, this free standing vignette pictures male and female ceramic hand s intertwined and protectively enveloped by a pair of mounted goose wings The female hand represents the death of the beloved partner, while the male hand represents the partner left behind. Grasping her lifeless hand he is holding onto the special memories that have been made over the years. The goose wings are inverted to symbolize death. The wings reiterate the shape of the arcing hands. The encapsulate the two h ands, and rest upon a nest like form. The nest is formed from wood wool often used in taxidermy to mount waterfowl. The nest in this context represent s domes tic memory. A steel rod painted black runs from the floor to support the hovering sculpture. This structure allows the sculpture to offer the effect of falling through the air as well as presenting a form that can be viewed fully in the round. Orphaned The wall sculpture titled Orphaned (fig.4) represents the unforeseen loss of a parent. In this s sculpted from clay are wall mounted to loom over a taxidermy doe form. This c ast foam mannequin of a female deer has been set with glass eyes and ceramic ears. The two hands represent the child reaching out helplessly to the dying doe. Hung at an angle the doe falls into unconsciousness. The child hands reach outward ; however they are purposefully spaced too far apart to grasp the doe. In this reality as in death the dying doe will fall through the hands. The glass eyes have been altered and painted on the back to give a blue hue on the front pupils. The eyes of a fallen animal
14 turn blue; the blue color is used here to reinforce the idea o f death. The ears have been sculpted of ceramic to create a material transition between the arms which synthesize the sculpture and the taxidermy form. Orphaned allows the viewer to consider the idea of allowing despairing memories to fall away. Legacy T he wall mounted vignette, titled Legacy (fig.5), features a limp hand downcast and hanging from a decorative wooden trophy plaque. This vignette is composed of a sculpted ceramic hand, a laque. The hand gesture was Pieta (fig.9) In that sculpture, t he his side. The r endition of the hand in Legacy is stylized in much the same way. My interpretation has the sleeve of forearm skin bunched up above the wrist. It is as though the skin has fallen down to expose the contents, in this case a taxidermy foam structure, undernea th. The polyurethane foam is a metaphor for concretizing memory. The model was sculpted to mimic the hard defining muscle structures typical of taxidermy mannequins. Attached to a plaque the arm represents vignette is a reminder that all life passes; including our own. This piece which reveals something below the skin is also a reminder that our loved ones will not remember us for what we accomplish in this life but by who m we are as people; underneath the surface. Succe ssor Successor (fig.6) a wall vignette is characterized by two clenching ceramic fists adorned by a skull cap with a large spread of mounted antlers The sculpted arms are positioned to suggest a crowning
15 session. The old order has passed and the new has arrived. They say a man nev er truly becomes a man until his father has passed. The stag has historically been used as a symbol of rejuvenation, rebirth, and the passage of time (Biedermann p. 92). Here the heir prepares nervously, almost reluctantly to pl ace the antlers upon his own brow. The positioning of the curled fingers and skull orbital cavities create a mask like quality suggesting the unfamiliar change in perception. Successor adds an insight to loss; an opportunity to play a greater role in the c hain of life. Contemplations The life scale ceramic figure that is the central sculpture of the grouping sits alone on a concrete bench. In Contemplations (fig.7) the unclothed male figure holds an empty photo album. Deliberately sculpted to depict emp ty photo frames the album becomes a reminder to invest in the loved ones in life. It also allows the viewer to fill in the story. The figure is sculpted without the protection of clothes to indicate his vulnerability to his feelings of potential grief. The vignettes in front of him. The use of color on the wall is mirrored in the features of his f ace and on the album. The flesh like but flat color makes him appear like statuary and frozen. It also draws attention to the idea that he is no longer in a physical place but in an emotional, psychological state. His feet are together, tense and withdrawn. This detail in gesture suggests that he is unsure of what he may see. The overall posture is contained and poised. He i s ready to own his feelings; he fixates on his significant memories. The concrete bench allude s to the type of seating often found near memorials. Its hard surface indicates discomforting realities in life. The figure is seated on one side of the bench, an empty place beside him. His solitary placement suggests the absence and loss of loved ones. This state creates a void felt by the viewer as they walk between him and the vignettes.
16 Use of Materials Ceramics, fired clay, has been an important factor in this body of work. Clay enables the modeling of the figure down to minute details such as veins and wrinkles. This type of detail is essential because it displays the subtle nuances that mean the difference between fleshes looking dead versus alive. Our br ains subconsciously intuit the difference. The forms begin as solid masses. I add and subtract where I see fit until it is anatomically correct As th e clay begins to become leather hard many details are added. I then cut the sculptures into pieces to be h ollowed out After scoring and reassembling the pieces, the surfaces are once again cleaned and details finalized. The sculptures are fired slowly; typically, the kiln is candled for over a twen ty four hour period and then fired to cone 04. Application o f cold surfaced house paint reflect s the corresponding colors found in the co mplimenting materials. L ayers of paint allow one color to be seen over another. The subtle color layering and brush stroke is reminisce for instance Morning on the Seine, Mist Effect (fig.11) As in these hazy paintings the surfaces of the s culptures capture the colors pee king through the overlapping white strokes. This suggest s the dream like state in which memories begin to take shape. The taxidermy materials which compliment the figurative work are meant as a metaphor for memory. Since memory is at the core of taxidermy I borrow freely from those types of objects and preserved the goose wings myself The goose wings are actual wings including sk in and bone. The skin was p reserved with tanning chemicals and the wings are supported with wire into the bone. Wood wool a material for stuffing birds, was included around the bones Additional wood wool under the wings provides gesture to support the na rrative. Some taxidermy mannequins were not available such as a human arm. This object had to be constructed through a series of techniques. Initially a clay arm was sculpted from which a mold was made. The mold consisted of a two part, silicone inner sle eve and outer
17 plaster jacket mold. The inner silicone jacket was necessary to prevent the polyurethane expanding foam from attaching to the interior mold wall. When the mold was ready, the polyurethane was poured in, expanded and then became hard. The cast ing then cured and was cut, shaped to fit the lower hand attachment, and set with an anchor inside the ceramic hand. Plaster was poured inside the cavity of the hand where the anchor was placed and then left alone to cure. These processes, although long an d grueling, were very essential to the work due to the desire to showcase proper preservation. Influences A variety of contemporary sculptors use the figure as a vehicle to explore mortality and vulnerability. Amongst the many, these particular artists h ave played a critical role in my studio research: Tip Toland, Beth Cavener Stichter, and Kiki Smith I am also influenced by the historical masterpieces created by Michelangelo B uonarroti and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Tip Toland is known for her figurative w ork exploring mortality and weaknesses Her work moves the viewer s to question their own vulnerabilities and benevolence. She creates an intimacy through the work by The beauty of the modeling and intricate detail pulls us in. We begin to feel a kinship with the ineptness of the individuals portrayed. The feelings exposed from the work resonate within my own studio research. My work capture s those feelings of vulnerability and humanity Beth Cavener Stichter uses anima ls to convey base instincts in the human condition. sculptures create a scenario where the viewer can hone in on what is taking place as opposed to focusing on someone committing the deed. The animals enhance the narrative by convey ing stereotyp ical behavior. Similarly, I use animals to substitute the roles of particular individuals in a family
18 By u sing animal references in my sculpture s I allow the viewer s to bring in their own narrative assigning people from their own lives to the story Thi s further personalize s the message for the viewer. Kiki Smith explores narratives and legends through figurative sculpture She juxtaposes human forms against those of animals to convey ideas of death and rebirth. I draw my inspiration from her eccentric illustrations of myth and folklore. These comparisons prompt us to contemplate meanings from a fresh viewpoint. Her unique portrayal of relationships between the figure and animal suggest primal impulses that lay dormant in our psyche showing spiritualit y achieved through an intimate connection with nature. My work shares a similar intent i n that an awakening takes place; a revival of the conscious mind through an experience in nature My studio research gained depth by studying and reading about Kiki Smi Michelangelo Buonarroti and Gian Lorenzo Bernini artists from the Renaissance have also played a critical role in my studio research and practice Their mastery of the human form and attention to anatomical detail a re a n inspiration for me to continue pursuing the figure as a narrative sculpture device By borrowing directly from their imagery, specifically the gesture s and posture s of their sculptural masterpieces I create a memory trace with the associated spiritual connotations of th eir works Bernini captured the subtle nuances in his subjects that conveyed intense emotions of spiritual conviction as mentioned in The Ecstasy of St. Teresa Mich elangelo masterfully portrayed hands, such as in The Creation of Adam (fig.10) in a way th at expressed power with undertones of gentleness and elegance. The hand of God and Adam are portrayed in a way that activates the space between their remaining background to narrative use. These great masterpieces of centuries past fuel my enthus iasm to create the figurative works in Capturing the Fleeting
19 (fig1) (fig.2)
20 (fig. 3 ) (fig. 4 )
21 (fig.5 ) (fig.6 ) ( fig.7 )
22 (fig.8) (fig.9) (fig.10)
24 Bibl iography Swan, James A. In Defense of Hunting New York: Harper Collins, 1995. Young, Dudley. Origins of the Sacred: The Ecstasies of Love and War Biedermann, Hans. Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanin gs behind Them Meridian/ Penguin Group, 1994. Pinton, Daniele. Bernini: Sculptor and Architect ATS Italia Editrice, 2009. Works Cited Gian Loren zo Bernini, Ecstasy of St. Teres 1647/51. Sa nta Maria della Vittoria, Rome. Michelangelo Buonarroti, Pieta, 1 498/1500. Michelangelo Buonarroti, Creation of Adam, 1508/12. Sistine Chapel, Vatican. Claude Monet, Morning on the Seine, Mist Effect 1897. Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois.
25 Biographical Sketch Jonathan Burns was born and raised in northeastern Indiana. He received his undergraduate of Fine Arts degree, he moved to Bend, Oregon for a couple of years where he practiced as a professio nal greatest artworks. Mr. Burns has gi ven presentations on his work at the Institute for Ceramic Arts Italy as well as in M iami, Florida at the New World School of the Arts. He will receive his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Florida in May 2012. He is married to Stephanie Burns of Eugene, Oregon.