duct duct duct DUCTS.ORG Issue 12 | Winter 2003 the webzine of personal stories   duct
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Featured Artist: The Sculpture of Jeff Williams

Text by Cindy Moore

  Jeff Williams Artwork

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A locker, a chest, a thermos: there are certain objects in everyday, adult life we take for granted. For the most part, they are only important for what they conceal - or, more accurately, for what we pack into them. Their generic forms are beyond familiar; it's no wonder that their functional, yet mundane, existence easily goes unquestioned.

But here, in the sculpture of Jeff Williams, these understandable objects are placed in inexplicable situations. In something akin to a magic trick in reverse, the concealed is revealed yet becomes mysterious in the process. Through these slight acts of disclosure, Williams calls to question the equally familiar human desires of secrecy, excitement and ultimately escape.

* * *

Looking at the piece entitled Stash , we are literally positioned on the backside of the wall. From the onset, we are given access to visual information that is normally off-limits. What's obvious is that we've been presented with someone's secret -- it's the nature of that secret that becomes increasingly unclear.

The gut human impulse to hide and hoard money is understood. The method shown here though is far from sophisticated, implying either a hastily performed deed or some act of self-involved paranoia. Upon closer inspection, the "money" so haphazardly stuffed behind a mounted mirror is hand-drawn, meticulously counterfeited but ultimately worthless. The whole tableau speaks of concealment for its own sake and serves as a reminder that many secrets are only important because they are solely ours.

In Trapdoor, Williams again presents us with a view inaccessible under normal circumstances. Equally low-tech and almost adolescent in its obviousness, Trapdoor implies a secret already discovered. As if by knowing about what is underneath the chest, its true function becomes transparent.

The trapdoor in question is positioned on a false floor. On one hand, there is an implied adolescent fantasy about escape to a parallel reality, not dissimilar to plots of classic young adult novels like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe or Alice in Wonderland. They present an alternative to the normal flow of life, a cherished place to escape the increasing pressure of adulthood and all of its mundane responsibilities.

Unfortunately, as is true with many youthful fantasies, reality always manages to seep in, as the adult viewer is faced with the knowledge that the door, once opened, would logistically lead only to the floor beneath. In a way, the sterilized plexi-glass trunk also serves as a hermetic vitrine protecting our childlike sense of wonder, a monument preserving the memory of our shared belief of immortality, however temporary.

Childhood and its fugitive nature are also at the core of the sculpture entitled Young American Bowling Alliance. Sealed within the confines of the bag are the additional accoutrements of this very American and distinctively middle class pastime. Preserved through the use of mortician's wax and silly putty, this sculpture is an eerie mix of youth and death. The viewer is left to wonder if this narrative is one of premature death (of a trauma inflicted) or rather the slow process of aging that takes us all. a reminder that the simple act of joining the youth bowlers consigns the character to a life of relative monotony and decay.

Liquor City denotes a different form of societal woe. Seen at first as an "ordinary" teen's locker, the open door invites the viewer to peer into an exposed thermos. As if by magic, this generic thermos becomes a portal to a miniature world, an old west style depiction of "Liquor City." The "ordinariness" of the scene presents a cliché tale of teen drinking, quirkily reminiscent of the after-school-special brand of moralizing so popular throughout adolescence.

The comical, cartoon-like portrayal of "Liquor City" within the thermos again brings to mind the fantasy of escape into another, secret world -- this time through the forbidden. The escape is short-lived, as the action is only prohibited for a limited time. Once legal age, the lure and excitement of drinking on the sly can quickly turn into an accepted societal norm. When the myth expires, the "escape" from the everyday becomes a transparent ploy; and the adventurous journey to Liquor City becomes yet another errand to run.

* * *

Situations such as these can be seen as a comic part of our shared identity, but contained within their generalities is a resounding sense of loss. The secretive nature of each piece calls out to the desire to keep something, however absurd, truly to oneself.

As a whole, Jeff Williams' recent sculpture are monuments to our childlike belief in uniqueness -- the belief that you are completely unlike any of the people around you and that you can somehow remain immune to all the pressures of life to which the others will succumb. if only you could find the secret. As monuments they function more like tombstones, marking the spot where these beliefs ended, where Peter Pan grew old and died.

In these often forlorn but somehow lighthearted moments, we are reminded of our mortal fates and the time in youth where we feared not death -- but the increasing wave of tedium that will slowly carry us to it.

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