By Brian Goslow
Natick, MA – David A. Lang has had a busy winter. His kinetic, found objects creations are currently on view at three locations — the Museum of Art at the University of New Hampshire, Fuller Craft Museum and as of March 12, Boston Sculptors Gallery, where he’s replicating his workspace in “The Shop,” where you can watch his creative process in-person throughout the exhibition, which runs through April 13. Artscope’s managing editor, Brian Goslow, “Cornered” Lang to talk about all of his projects at David Lang Studios in Natick, Mass. prior to him transporting its contents to Boston. To get an idea of what the works look like, visit davidlangstudios.com.
WHERE DID YOU COME UP WITH THE CONCEPT OF TRYING TO REPRODUCE
YOUR STUDIO AT BOSTON SCULPTORS GALLERY AND HOW DID YOU PLAN OUT HOW YOU’RE GOING TO DO THAT?
Well, two and a half years ago, I had a show there called, “OK, Now What?” It was my first show there and it was all kinetic work. That’s the show that Jim Foritano reviewed (artscope magazine, September/October 2011) and every two years we get to exhibit there and I have a lot of new work but I have a solo show up in New Hampshire, at UNH; I have other work at the Fuller Craft Museum and I knew that was going to be the case for a long time and I didn’t have three bodies of work.
The thing that is unusual about this show, for me is, if I could bring — the idea of just taking process to the gallery — not product, and this studio is about process. I’ve got my drills, I’ve got my lathes, I’ve got my outboard motors — all the stuff that I use and do here, people don’t get a chance to see. And it just dawned on me that the simplest thing — well, simplest in one respect — to do was just bring my studio and my process work are there and be working there. So the pieces of sculpture that will be there will be ones that are still in-process but for people to see that lathe, which was my dad’s in the ‘40s — I don’t know how old the drill press is; that old work table over there was from an old school. I have an old typewriter I brought back from an abandoned convent in Ireland and it is frozen in time.
What happens is, I find, my work has sub-bodies within it that I recognize as having themes. On of the themes is about communication; breakdown in communications, miscommunications, successful communications. I have a piece that’s down the Fuller Craft Museum that a folded format that’s called, “Babbler.” It has all these fortune cookies hanging out of it. You walk by it, it starts talking and you understand it — and then you can’t understand it — and it just gets very confusing. What happens is, when we get into a place like this, I might have, I might disc… — I’m usually the last to find out — but I find out that in fact, there’s a theme here. I’ve got a whole series of crutches I’ve got — I think 15 different crutch pieces. There’s a group of them up at the Museum of Art at UNH at the Paul Center Gallery in Durham and it’s called “The Burgers of Calle” and it’s six crutch pairs — some of them very old — some of them from the 1800s and some of them are from World War I that have letters to the person who was using those crutches or from those crutches back home.
So when I realized I have so many different activities going on here that thematically fall into one area or the other, I should just bring that challenge of trying to sort things out and show people how that works.
ARE YOU GOING TO BRING SOME OF THE ACTUAL BENCHES FROM YOUR STUDIO WITH YOU?
Yeah, sure. That’s going. That’s going. That’s going. That’s going. That’s going. That table’s going. Whatever I can carry — a third of the stuff that’s here and the tools that I use everyday will be there.
ARE YOU GOING TO BE DO SOME IN-PROCESS WORK DURING THE EXHIBITION.
SO YOU’RE GOING TO BE PRETTY MUCH LIVE THROUGH THE MONTH OF THE SHOW?
Yeah. I’ll be there four days a week and I’ll be there four, five hours a day. That will be “The Shop.” For want — I didn’t already have a body of work that wasn’t already spread out at the other places. I said why not talk about the process; why not bring the pieces as I’m working on them? Why don’t I bring, “The Shop?” So, that’s how it came about.
TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE WORK IN FRONT OF US AND HOW YOU GOT THE PIPES …
Those pipes are from a 1926 Austin organ from Hartford, Connecticut. I taught at Middlesex School for 30 years, in Concord. I was the head of the art department there. The last year I was there, the organ was being replaced, so I said, ‘What are you going to do with it?’ and it was headed for the dumpster. So I went and found homes for as many pipes as I could not use — I probably have 2500 pipes of different lengths and diameters and pitches and materials. I have been waiting to find out what to do with them. What I have discovered over the years is that the work finds me; I don’t consciously go looking for it but something that I see or do or place that I am will suggest that this is worth pursuing. I think it is so much a matter of being present in the moment.
With these, I’ve had these pipes sitting around now, for 10 years. There’s a whole bunch of them over there; there’s more over there. There’s more over here. I then realized that a number of pieces that I have, have to do with war efforts. Some years ago, I found these wheels, and a lot of the pieces I build are on wheels. Then, it occurred to me that, how missile like these things are and yet, at the same time, they’re very monastic and they look ATRUSKIN. And they have blinders on them. And they have voices. And those pipes, for 80 years, 90 years, have performed at chapel services every week; Sunday services, funerals, weddings, memorial services — and they all had all these voices passing through them. So to bring them here, and then put them up in a certain array of tonal ranges to them, I can put the same signal through all of them and some pipes will resonate when others won’t as loudly, but that’s — they have their own voice.
It’s like the shoe piece over there — “These Shoes Could Talk.” These organ pipes could talk. So it’s ambiguous. And it’s haunting and it’s spiritual and it’s peaceful and it’s threatening and it’s inviting. And those are all things that I discovered after the fact. I had a notion of what it was going to do but I didn’t know how it was going to come about.
TALK ABOUT THE SHOE PROJECT …
This here, this building at 25 Washington Avenue, in Natick, is called the Winchell Building. The Winchell Building is the last surviving building that was a shoe factory in Natick. I’ve been here for a little bit more than nine years now. I found these shoe racks out in the back and I found other shoe racks and I just thought they were elegant things. I said, “But where are the shoes?” So, I started looking for shoes and boots and then I talked to people about them, and then the shoes started coming in. Things from people’s attics. Some guy fell off the roof; he was putting the roof on — those are his boots over there. My granddaughter’s sandals; somebody else’s ice skates. My granddaughter’s ice skates.
DO YOU KNOW ALL THE PEOPLE WHOSE SHOES ARE IN THERE?
SO THE VOICES YOU’VE GOT IN THE PROJECT ARE THE PEOPLE WHO OWNED THE SHOES?
Except for two — the voices of the people that are there are in some was associated with the shoes, in every instances. It may not be ‘the person’ talking about that; one of them, for example, says, ‘I remember the time my mother, she had her shoes stolen, but we found these up in the attic and she talked about those shoes.’ And that’s what she’s talking about — ‘Those shoes.’ It turns out, I have them in the original box that they came in, and they’re from the 1920s. They’re beautiful, beautiful shoes. Leather shoes.
There’s a pair of 1952 stiletto heel, alligator heels that came from Cuba. They were made in Cuba. So I have somebody talking about — actually it’s a guy talking about — he’s speaking as if he’s a cross-dresser at that point, but all the shoes have some connection to the people who either wore them or from whose family they came. Only in one instance did I buy a shoe.
TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE WORK THAT’S UP IN NEW HAMPSHIRE, AT UNH, RIGHT NOW …
That show is called, “Songs Into the Air.” There are 20 pieces up there; mostly kinetic. Not all of them are kinetic. There are four new pieces that are up there. It’s going to be up there through March. It is all narrative work. I don’t always know what the narrative is until I’ve built the piece. I’m quite often the last one to find out what the work is about. The work is both kinetic and non-kinetic but it does represent a cohesive body of work. All of it has stories, in one way or another.
There’s one piece up there called, “The Play By Play,” which is about baseball. That was the one I dedicated to my dad because he was born in the house that was ultimately torn down when New York City took the property by eminent domain to put Yankee Stadium there. And that’s where second base was — where the house was. So I dedicated that piece to him and it’s made out of old radio parts that I grew up with. It’s got 13 different baseball game tracks on it and old advertisements — and static — as the stations tune. It’s been a very successful piece that has required almost no maintenance. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Greg Paul.
I THINK IT RELATES TO A GENERATION THAT REMEMBERS TURNING ON — WHERE IT FOR ME, YOU WOULD BE TURNING THESE DIALS TRYING TO PULL IN STATIONS FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY …
It held the country together in bad times and good times and celebratory times. Times of trials. In many respects, it didn’t matter who you were rooting for but it certainly riveted the attention of the country.
AND YOUR WORK AT THE FULLER?
My work at the Fuller is a show called “Machines and Mechanizations: Explorations in Contemporary Kinetic Sculpture”. There are five of us there: myself, Kim Bernard, Chris Fitch, Erica von Schilgen and Mark Davis. I have three pieces there, including “I Could Have Had a V-8” is there. That’s similar to that one — that’s the prototype — that’s going to Boston Sculptors Gallery. “Babble,” which is the format piece, and one of the versions of “The Swine Flew,” which I built for my daughter when she was sick with the Swine flu and it’s a big swine, on wheels.
THAT WAS AT THE BOSTON SCULPTORS GALLERY SHOW IN 2011 …
That was in Boston; that was at the Boston Sculptors Gallery the last time you [Artscope] were there.
WHAT IS IT LIKE FOR YOU TO WATCH PEOPLE’S REACTION TO YOUR WORK?
It’s a delight. It actually informs my work, a lot, and it gives me a sense of direction where I might not have gone in a particular direction. Someone might go, “Oh, my God, look what that’s doing. Do you ever think that …” and they’ll tell me something, and that’ll become the theme of another piece. The more interaction there is with people, the more my work, in my mind, in my studio, is informed and the more work that comes out of it in response to them. People respond to my work; I respond to their reaction, and that’s kind of what feeds my work.
THE MAJORITY OF YOUR WORKS MOVE AND ARE MOTION-ACTIVATED AS PEOPLE NEAR YOUR WORK. WHAT DO THEY REACT TO MORE — HAVING THE MOVEMENT OR SUDDENLY HEARING A SOUND OR VOICE COMING FROM IT.
Both, but for different reasons. They may walk into a room, and a piece will start making sounds. They’ll start to walk over, but by starting to walk over, they trigger something else going and they’ll stop. So they end up being a very active participant but being almost as attention-deficit as I am because they’re being tugged in a lot of different directions by being fascinated by some little thing, which is beckoning to them. The same thing happens to me all the time. It’s very interactive and it’s delightful to talk to them. But I don’t think it makes any difference; they respond to both of them.
HOW ABOUT AGE WISE … YOUNGER? OLDER? DOES EVERYONE REACT THE SAME?
It goes right across. It goes from 3-year-olds up to 90-year-olds.
WHERE DO YOU FIND YOUR MATERIALS?
These days, the materials find me more than I find them. I’ve got so much stuff left here. And people start bringing me things. Or if I’m out — I take a lot of pictures with my iPhone — and quite often I will find things because I’m seeing them in the picture that I’m taking not realizing there’s something I might be interested in.
DO YOU GO BACK AND GET IT?
I got back and get it. Or pick it up right then. I ask, “Can I have that?’ I really do live, so much in the moment. For example, I was very thirsty this morning, so I went out to my car to pick up that bottle of water — and it was frozen. As I brought it in, I just stood it there on the lathe and this little thing started melting and bubbles started coming out of it — just sort of bubbling up — so I could put it on the lathe, turn the lathe on and start turning the dial and have the thing moving back and forth as the bubbles were coming out of it, and this is what it looked like. There is no way I could have planned that. The things just seem to — they’re there. They’re there all the time. More than anything, it’s just a matter of finding them.
Now, here’s this piece, and it’s doing its thing, and this piece is in the background and it’s sitting on top of the lathe and light was coming through it and I started to turn the handle. How do you put together that combination? You can’t plan it. It’s got to happen — you just need to be there.
WHEN YOU MOVE THE WORK IN HERE TO THE BOSTON SCULPTORS GALLERY, WHAT DO YOU THINK IT’LL BE LIKE TO COME BACK HERE WITH IT EMPTY?
I’ll be able to clean it. I’ll be to find stuff that I’ve forgot that I had. I’ve have so much — it’s like an archeological dig in here when I’m looking for things. A good day for me will be the day I can find all my drills or all my screwdrivers because I pick ‘em up, put ‘em down, drop them somewhere else. So maybe — with stuff at Fuller, Boston and New Hampshire — that ought to free up a lot of space so I can find things.
HOW MANY SCREWDRIVERS DO YOU ESTIMATE YOU’VE LOST HERE?
When I need one? Every one of them, including the one I’m looking for. I usually end up going to Home Depot to buy a second or a third of what I need because I can’t find the first or second of that particular item. That’s why I have so many sanders or saws or drill sets — partial drill sets.
(“David. Lang: The Shop: runs from March 12 through April 13 at the Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Avenue, Boston, Mass.; “Songs Into the Air: David Lang” continues through March 31 at the Museum of Art, University of New Hampshire, Paul Creative Arts Center, 30 Academic Way, Durham, New Hampshire; “Machines and Mechanizations: Explorations in Contemporary Kinetic Sculpture” continues through June 1 at the Fuller Craft Museum, 455 Oak Street, Brockton, Mass.)