JOHN OUTTERBRIDGE: THE SOWER

from:   Sankofa, 2006

Leiden: John Outterbridge’s installation at Naturalis, The National Museum of Natural History, The Netherlands. 

 

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Photos: Peter Kirby

John Outterbridge’s statement:  Nature in the city, the city in nature: rocks, gnarled roots and tangled twigs, bicycles and plants, dried and desiccated bones, a sailing ship of old, birds and animals, sprouting potato and yams, together beneath a glowing orb (is it moon-ness, the female?)

It is a microcosm of our environment, a fertile garden from which we can harvest ideas and reflect on our history and our present existence, on our connectedness and the spirit that informs it all. It is a metaphor that speaks of change, of fossils in dormancy or in transition, as well as of the organic that germinates and nourishes. All of this together signals the living future.

         

to:   JOHN OUTTERBRIDGEs assemblages and sculptures in RAG MAN at ART + PRACTICE,

Los Angeles 2016,  until February 27.

A FULLNESS OF LIFE      by Rosanna Albertini 

Sankofa was the dream of a sower, il seminatore. I looked at Outterbridge for a week while he was preparing the installation, and the key moment wasn’t the display of bones and animals from the museum’s collection interspersed with tiny bicycles, it was the final throw of white beans all over the floor of his fossilized garden, the accurate positioning of yams and potatoes, some already sprouting. Only then did we sit down, as gardeners do, waiting for the natural growth as an infusion of living into the dryness of history. For the first time we spent a considerable length of time together, letting the talk veil curiosity about one another and the many things art can be. I was writing portraits of women artists then, a bunch of interesting flowers indeed, and John gave me as a present one more flower to discover after, back in Los Angeles: Dominique Moody. “Legally blind, she goes by bicycle” -he said, and laughed remembering that his attempt at being a real dutchman on a bike along with the many swarming through Leiden like mosquitoes, had just ended in a spectacular fall.

JOHN OUTTERBRIDGE, Caged, 2008 Mixed media

JOHN OUTTERBRIDGE, Caged, 2008  Mixed media   Courtesy of the artist and Tilton Gallery, New York    Photo: Peter Kirby

Never is his art separate from the feeling that living things and people could be lost and broken down forever if there isn’t somebody caring for them, presenting them in a personal, surprising way, as if art were an offering to life asking for clemency, or inclusiveness. Universe isn’t an audience, doesn’t listen, cares even less. If it wasn’t for humans, lady earth wouldn’t have a face, the many faces she shows to the sky who still cries tears and storms over their eternal separation.

JOHN OUTTERBRIDGE, Rag and Bag Idiom II, 2012, Mixed media

JOHN OUTTERBRIDGE, Rag and Bag Idiom I, 2012, Mixed media, The Eileen Harris Norton Collection    Photo: Peter Kirby

JOHN OUTTERBRIDGE, Rag and Bag Idiom VI, 2012. Mixed media, 14 " x 12" x 6" The Eileen Harris Norton Collection Photo: Peter Kirby

JOHN OUTTERBRIDGE, Rag and Bag Idiom VI, 2012. Mixed media, The Eileen Harris Norton Collection Photo: Peter Kirby

As an artist making assemblages, John Outterbridge is the sower who picks up, and takes in, debris left on the ground by rush and forgetfulness. Some debris were recently wrapped up in small bags: soft, irregular forms of a self  contained visual idiom.  We don’t  know exactly what they are, sometimes they became pillows, three of them placed on top of  a rag almost a flying leaf that carries bodies bigger than she. If the leaf is a soul, I can see the artist painting the heaviness of the burden with the colors of a fruit salad: yellow, orange and green and a touch of watermelon.

Colors, fabrics, shapes, are the harvest of thousands of years chewing them till they mutate. Art works become dust and dirt despite the efforts of the art conservators. Yet an artist like John doesn’t care, his creatures were born old, they look old, already damaged at birth. Like the Asante Adinkra symbol in Ghana, he is the bird turning his head backwards to take an egg off his back. Sankofa: go back and get it. You don’t forget that a couple of wings are not enough for a machine to fly, they rest in a box almost protected by the lives they had, folded tenderly against their skin. Rags and bags? So are we.

 

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This post is first of all addressed to John Outterbridge, as a token of mine and Peter’s affection. I just received from Dominique Moody two evocative photos: the first is a bicycle made by an African boy, donated to John in South Africa during a trip that followed his visit to Leiden-the city of bicycles; the second is a picture of John Outterbridge and Dominique Moody taken by Tami Outterbridge at the opening of RAG MAN, December 12, 2015.

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John and Dominique

SHELTER AND CATHEDRAL

NOMAD: SHELTER AND CATHEDRAL

Los Angeles — DOMINIQUE MOODY’s NOMAD is ready for the road

after seven years of work, dreams and sacrifice — by ROSANNA ALBERTINI

DOMINIQUE MOODY, Nomad, 2015 Photo: Dominique Moody Courtesy of the artist

DOMINIQUE MOODY, Nomad, 2015
Photo: Dominique Moody
Courtesy of the artist

Nomad is an itinerant artist studio opened to everyone’s desires. I don’t call it a house. House is word for a solid body that restricts the space around the people, brings isolation, separate lives. Being a living, active artwork, Nomad is an inside out private space: yet intimacy and dream and a touch of humor make it a place in which one feels at home. The Nomad’s eyes, the windows, are washing machines’ doors. The porch is a clearing in a forest where the wood in part has had been transformed, and in part keeps its natural shape. It’s a welcoming space.

The ups and downs of this art project during the last seven years have been more than I want to count. It can’t be skipped that the artist is legally blind. She can see only in awkward, movable sequences. A walking figure from far looks to her like a pair of legs attached to an anonymous bust. Legs have a voice, didn’t you know? Dominique laughs. The central vision is gone, the new world is flat. Such an uncomfortable condition, in a life that doesn’t go beyond a survival level, grew in Dominique an indomitable ability to dominate the change of landscape around her with expressions of her inner sense of order and beauty: art is her house and her house is art. In many ways, as an artist and as a person, Dominique Moody keeps alive the pathway traced by Noah Purifoy. But her cathedral is not stuck in the desert. It moves, it’s pulsing.

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The construction is so accurate that she seems to have grown by herself, as if objects and forms had shaped around Dominique a smiling place. Feelings, remembrances from her entire family life twist together with every inch of wood, cork or metal, nail or screw. The nine Moody children moved all the time, they only knew a nomadic life although they also learned how to fix sweat-equity houses, under their father’s guidance. Dominique was number six, conceived on a ship on the way to a U.S. military station in Augsburg, Germany, where she was born. In the Nomad she brought back her father’s hands, as well as a basin, found in the mobil home where he finished his life, with both legs amputated.

In the back of her eyes Dominique saved and put in motion the sense of magic she felt as a little girl at the window, enchanted by the old garbage trucks in Philadelphia. The workers would arrange spontaneous decorations in the front of the truck with broken chairs, metal bars, broken dolls, pieces of bicycles, and all the leftovers they could collect which were to big to fit in the back. The joy of assembling found materials likely comes from there. Visitors, inside her space stripped to the minimum for her daily needs, rediscover their own magic, as if dealing with a peeled peach exploding with juice, and they try to bite the taste of the day.

Nomad is a space for happenings. The non-verbal dialogue between Dominique and David Hammons, at the end of a day filled with visits, is more real than any description.

The Nomad still full of people, someone steps on the porch: “I’m David Hammons,” he says. Dominique is very tired, she can’t say she saw him, only his great hat hit her vision, and the extraordinary glasses he wore. And she notices his body, maybe David’s hands, pointing at the globe and the basin, at the very end of the Nomad. He had instantly grabbed her father’s presence. Despite the exhaustion she starts the story, how meticulous her dad was about order, the old trailer where her parents started their family life, and the crutches in his solitary mobil home, and the globe they always had in the household, to navigate the world. Dominique feels, more than sees, David’s body becoming silent, his head bent toward her mouth. Pockets of visibility shrink. But she notices the lenses of David’s glasses separated. The whole visit is swallowed by the day getting dim, along with her brain. She remembers he said: “You know you have to do this, must tell the stories because it’s an epic journey you are on.”

Glass sculpture found by Dominique Moody in a San Francisco dump in the 70s. Photo: Peter Kirby

Glass sculpture found by Dominique Moody in a San Francisco dump in the 70s.
Photo: Peter Kirby

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As the nomad starts her journey on the roads of Los Angeles, if you meet her, remember her motto: embrace life with no anger.

“Praise to you, my Lord, for giving me bus rides and trains in Los Angeles with people who reveal their unique personalities, because I can’t drive.

Praise to you my Lord, for making me able to speak to other people when my eyes lost their central vision and the eye contact.

Praise to you, my Lord, for giving me the possibility to teach art to young children and ask them to look in their friends’ eyes, until they saw themselves in someone else’s eye!

And praise to you, my Lord, for helping me to love my blind eyes: because of them I can see my dreams.

(Dominique’s prayer as I made it up, in the style of Francesco D’Assisi’s Cantico delle creature.)

Dominique Moody and David Hammons:

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Photos by C. Ian White   –   ©2015 C. Ian White