Water Flowing Underground, T.H.

Fritz Buehner

2003. Carved cherry.

"The bulldozing of an irregular topology into a flat site is clearly a technocratic gesture which aspires to a condition of absolute placelessness..." Kenneth Frampton

"In my sculpture, the archaic practice of carving serves as a metaphor for intervention while its slow and methodical nature challenges our current relationship to time. It is also a process in which space and material are in an absolute dialectical relationship. In carving, the incremental process of removal shapes space as it gives form to material - material and space give shape to one another. Carved form and space occupy what Duchamp called an 'infra-thin' impression of their opposites.

Tanks and SUVs speak of the pervasiveness of institutionalized power and violence that have grown ever more openly accepted in United States' culture. Tract houses and automobiles are emblems of the rapid and unchecked colonizing of earth by humankind within and beyond the United States. In the United States in particular, placelessness - the making of a tabula rasa, the erasure of the social and natural histories that inhabit a site, serves to accelerate the cultural succession from wilderness to cultivated land to development property. Without placelessness suburban developments and malls would not be possible, neither would urban renewal. Malls and the franchised businesses that constitute them privilege the global over the local. The shops, the clothes and the food are all familiar. Through the franchising and malling of America and the globe every place becomes 'our' place.

The houses, tanks, diners, trailers and other structures pictured in my sculptures are to scale copies of railroad hobbyists' models. With these images I form imaginary worlds, in which the emptied landscape is a theater where commercial buildings (a gas station and diner), army vehicles and houses become objects in games of power and control where loss and displacement are commonplace. These are objects of childhood and adult hobbyists, which on the one hand signify youth and male gender formation and on the other its continuation and a desire to return to the past.

In an ongoing site-specific project titled 'Sprawl' I have carved repeated images of a tract house into deadfall. The scale of the houses is the same as in the studio pieces. However, with the context shifted to the out doors the miniature becomes the loaded term. In a study in contrasts the tiny carvings magnify and dramatize the real-time landscape that surrounds them as they insinuate its immanent demise.

'Sprawl' has engendered 'Swarm,' a project first presented at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire. The idea of swarming and 'swarm intelligence' has both ominous and positive implications. Explicit in the idea of swarming is that the intelligence of individuals in the swarm is limited, but specific. Responding to external and internal pressures the highly specialized intelligence of individuals send messages throughout a swarm that are responded to almost instantaneously. In a swarm the survival of the group depends on those instantaneous responses. Such 'networking' has enormous potential for modern technology, but swarming, as we know it in nature, can have devastating consequences. For the Saint-Gaudens project I placed 64 multiple castings of a tract house in a field that formed a tessellated platform blocking sun and air from reaching the grass on the ground where they were placed. After two months the platform was removed leaving behind a 'footprint' of devastated ground. In some ways we could view human activity on the planet as being like a swarm interested in its own survival, but indifferent to its environment where individuals seem to count less and less.

Of late, to test my own impulse toward anthropomorphic identification and nostalgia, which always lurks at the periphery of my work, the sculptures, rather than forming scenes with groupings of objects now contain single objects that often appear pathetic and isolated. In my newest series 'Arroyo', an upturned, partially buried, and dislocated trailer appears to drift or be submerged in a desert wasteland.

Making objects and locating the subject matter of my work within carving's dialectical relationship between space and matter is intended to reinforce the dialogue of oppositional tendencies within my work. The sculptures are frozen moments in time. The image of a trailer adrift in a desert suggests movement but is fixed within a monolithic object. And as the grain of the wood surface dissolves the materiality of the log into a pictorial space, size and place mutate from closed and miniature to open and infinite."

Fritz Buehner
is on the faculty at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he received his diploma in 1965. He's shown at the National Museum of Botswana, the Gallery at Green Street, the Work Space Gallery, and Saint-Gaudens Picture Gallery, among numerous others. He has received residencies and awards from several foundations, including MacDowell, Yaddo, Art Omi, and the New York Foundation for the Arts.