February 1 – April 1, 2001
New Work by Belgian sculptor Thierry Delva
[ electronic models ]
Exhibition Synopsis Thierry Delva’s body of work in Electronic Models continued and expanded his now widely known series of ‘container works.’ Delva’s work addresses questions of how modernist understandings of form, material and history relate to content and objecthood in the dematerialized world of consumer electronics, wireless technology and virtual reality.
Electronic Models consisted of plaster casts made of the interior of boxes from which fax machines, computers, cell phones, VCRs and other consumer electronics have been removed. The commodity having been extracted, the styrofoam and cardboard inserts were re-inserted and the boxes filled with hydrocal plaster. Each plaster cast sits on a plinth made of MDF, constructed to the exact dimensions of the cardboard box that contained the ghost of the sculptural piece now set upon it.
While this work maintains Delva’s interest in content, its sculptural properties mark a clear moment of evolution in his work. In literally filling the space left behind once a newly purchased cell phone, camera or other electronic gadget has been wrested from it’s ‘original packaging,’ Delva’s work draws our attention to the ghosts in our culture created by a world eviscerated and dematerialized by computers, fax machines and other instruments of the virtual.
Electronic Models was curated by Steven Holmes.
Artist Biography Born and raised in Deinze, Belgium, Delva now lives in Prospect, Nova Scotia. For over ten years, Thierry Delva has been concerned with the persistent questions of modernism; content, form, self-referentiality, the rigors of practice and material. While earlier work involved stone cutting and carving techniques adapted from traditional masonry practices (Delva is a papered master stone mason), his more recent work has involved making casts of the containers that bring North Americans everything from their food to entertainment to status; boxes, can, jars and jugs that held beer, roses, cell phones, flashlights and VCR’s cast in plaster, iron or bronze.
Although Delva has exhibited widely in the Canadian Maritime provinces, his work has also recently appeared in solo and group exhibitions throughout Canada, including a three person show with John Greer and Philip Grauer at S.L. Simpson in Toronto, Harbor Front Center in Toronto, and Gallerie Brenda Wallace in Montreal. His work has been reviewed in Sculpture, Espace, C international contemporary art, and Canadian Art.
Delva moved to Canada in 1975. He completed a MFA at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1993. He now lives in Prospect, Nova Scotia where he has a studio and teaches at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.
by Steven Holmes
In 1839 it was discovered that when light was focused by a lens onto a coated piece of paper or metal it could be 'fixed' through a chemical process. The invention of photography, the 'art of fixing a shadow,' marks an important moment not only in the history of art, but in the history and philosophy of science as well. The ability to record the visual world in an ostensibly objective way came during an era already intoxicated with the belief that the totality of the natural world could and would be eventually dissected, recorded, analyzed, classified and assigned its place in the order of things. Archaeology, botany, zoology, astronomy, geography, phrenology, entomology and myriad other sciences set themselves on an unbridled campaign to record, classify and otherwise wrestle the natural world into discrete bodies of knowledge, and photography became handmaid to this task. Everything from the plumage of newly discovered exotic birds to the contents of newly breached Egyptian tombs was marched past the dispassionate eye of the camera, fixed onto tin, paper and glass and archived in cavernous libraries for later retrieval as evidence in the litigation of peer review. Photography shared its nursery with the taxonomic progeny of Diderot, its virtues as an 'objective' process more than celebrated - photography became the liturgy de rigueur of an age bursting with epistemological hubris.
Yet as quickly as science was discovering new islands and planets, new species and phenomenon, by the 1850's it was also discovering the remains of lost civilizations, extinct species and life forms. Dinosaurs, ancient hominids, strange resemblances of birds, fish and other animals were exhumed, studied to see if Darwin was right. Footprints, fossils, bones, ephemera of all kinds were collected and photographed, but were also cast in plaster to both preserve and facilitate reproducibility. By the late 1800's, photography became the preeminent process of cataloguing evidence; plaster became its material manifestation.
Like the photograph, the plaster cast is a direct impression that assumes an honesty, indeed an innocence on the part of the archaeological or photographic technician; both processes, seemingly indifferent, impartial, deadly cool. Democratically recording whatever stands before it, the camera will become the tool of medical examiners, police inspectors, insurance adjusters, department of motor vehicle bureaucrats. Plaster will become the material of crime scene tire tracks and forensic reconstruction.
Startlingly photographic, Electronic Models documents and commits to history the supra-contemporary, the new, state-of-the-art but simultaneously soon-to-be-extinct objects of our own time. Electronic Models freezes in time the emblems, archetypes and models of an era hyperventilating from the pace at which objects careen from production into their own obsolescence.
Electronic Models is 'straight', documentary sculpture.
With Electronic Models, Thierry Delva expands and deepens career-long engagement with the persistent concerns of modernism; content, form, self-referentiality, the rigors of practice and material. While his earlier work involved stone-cutting and carving techniques adapted from traditional masonry practices (Delva is a papered master stone mason), Electronic Models consists of plaster casts made of the interior of cardboard boxes from which disk drives, computers, cell phones, and other consumer electronics have been removed. The artifact now removed, Delva returns the styrofoam and cardboard packing inserts to the box, fills it with hydrocal plaster, and then sits each cast onto a plinth made of mdf, the cheap wood-like material one finds tacked to the underside of inexpensive furniture or kitchen cabinets. In turn, each plinth is constructed to the exact dimensions of the cardboard box that contained the ghost of the sculptural piece now set upon it. In a sense, each ghost sits on the vessel that, metaphorically and literally, is both crib and coffin.
This is 'straight' sculpture, sculpture functioning not unlike the photography of Paul Strand. Like Strand, Delva has long worked within the strict confines of the modernist prohibition against gesture or signature in his work, believing that the object itself can speak more directly about its own truths than can work wrought with sentiment, intent or impression. Both hold that the objects of our culture are themselves worthy of nomination to art simply by taking an impression of what is already there, and although Delva's work is clearly contiguous with a tradition of conceptualism in Canadian sculpture, (while Strand's, of course, is not), the result is somewhat the same. Where Strand's photographs seek transparency, seek to facilitate a direct experience of the thing photographed, Delva's work likewise strives towards a transparency of process. With technical proficiency bordering on the compulsive, both his earlier carved work and the present cast work is produced with almost ritual-like obedience paid to rendering in exact dimensions and detail the original containers he has chosen to record. Like a photographer, Delva has produced negatives, the negative space left behind when a box is emptied of its contents, a negative space documented in plaster.
Like a snap shot, as emotionally detached from the subject as the washed-out light blasting from the electronic flash of a forensic photographer at the scene of a crime, each of these casts is a dispassionate documentation of something too new to have yet accrued its own cultural resonance, yet sure to eventually assume the same kind of charm and nostalgia as have once state-of-the-art 8-track cassette players or 'high-end' audiophile quality turntables. But more specifically, it is not the electronic object itself that Delva asks us to consider; rather, it is what the object has left behind. Electronic Models presents the physical evidence of emptiness, renders physical an actual and metaphorical void. In literally filling the space left behind once a newly purchased cell phone, camera or other electronic gadget has been rushed home and wrested from its 'original packaging,' Electronic Models draws our attention to the ghosts in our culture created by a world voided, eviscerated and dematerialized by computers, cell phones and other instruments of the virtual. Like the footprints of a long defunct reptile left in the primordial mud of an ancient riverbank, Electronic Models is the pro-active casting of the cultural, technological and social remains of the near future.
Electronic Models is about the leavings of a culture, its objects cast in the same ghostly white material one would use to cast the footprint of some lost hominid, a footprint left by a life born into certain extinction because it would never be able to adjust to a warming or cooling planet, evidence cast in the same material one would cast the incriminating tire track or boot print of a more contemporary tragedy. Plaster, the material of 'evidence,' exhibiting for a jury not the positives, but the negatives, exhibiting incriminating negatives.
January 26, 2001