Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fisher of Men

Jorge Luis Borges wrote a fascinating short story ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ about a world, discovered in an Encyclopedia, which slowly through the literary process, comes to posses customs, philosophies, psychology, history, language and literature. So much so that it inevitably grows to encompass and eventually overwhelm our own world. Tlön and Uqbar are a world which:

A secret and benevolent society… arose to invent a country. Its vague initial program included "hermetic studies," philanthropy and the cabala. From this first period dates the curious book by Andrea. After a few years of secret conclaves and premature syntheses it was understood that one generation was not sufficient to give articulate form to a country. They resolved that each of the masters should elect a disciple who would continue his work. This hereditary arrangement prevailed; after an interval of two centuries the persecuted fraternity sprang up again in America. In 1824, in Memphis (Tennessee), one of its affiliates conferred with the ascetic millionaire Ezra Buckley. The latter, somewhat disdainfully, let him speak - and laughed at the plan's modest scope. He told the agent that in America it was absurd to invent a country and proposed the invention of a planet. To this gigantic idea he added another, a product of his nihilism (4): that of keeping the enormous enterprise a secret. At that time the twenty volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica were circulating in the United States; Buckley suggested that a methodical encyclopedia of the imaginary planet be written. He was to leave them his mountains of gold, his navigable rivers, his pasture lands roamed by cattle and buffalo, his Negroes, his brothels and his dollars, on one condition: "The work will make no pact with the impostor Jesus Christ." Buckley did not believe in God, but he wanted to demonstrate to this nonexistent God that mortal man was capable of conceiving a world.
-- Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths, 1988

Though I doubt Mike has ever read any Borges, his sculptures and drawings attempt in their own way to modestly duplicate Ezra Buckley’s efforts, in that they are the awkward remnants of a machine-age which never happened.

His sculptures are built out of concrete, steel and bits of wood. There’s an industrial feel to them; both in the sense that his work seems to be the creation of some foreign manufacturing, but also because they’re the tools that would work in some unknown and unknowable endeavor.

I’m tempted to say that they seem to be the modernist leavings of a more primitive world. Of a civilization left behind. An awkward society of giants able to lift monstrous tools of stone and wieldy machines of iron. Yet, at the same time, those very materials are those of the world of now. Concrete, forged steel and milled wood. They’re the detritus of our industrially developed North America and its crumbling manufacturing sector.

And so, like Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, Mike’s sculptures are the firmament of a world not rediscovered, but one created in toto and waiting, either for entropy to bury it again, or for the lands of his fertile invention to overcome and overwhelm our own.

- Lars Townsend, Michael Wickerson Catalogue Essay, 2012