Thursday, June 26, 2014


I'm pleased to note that Gary Lloyd's 1978 work, "Chomsky's Vessel," will once again be on public display in "Valley Vista," a group show curated by Damon Willick and opening in August at CSU Northridge.  I wrote about this particular piece when it was last shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2010.  Here are some updated thoughts:

"Chomsky's Vessel," 1978, 44" x 8" x 12", Encyclopedia Americana and chain binder.
Collection Michael Salerno, Los Angeles.  Photo: Gary Lloyd

A remarkable, insistently physical presence, Gary Lloyd’s “Chomsky’s Vessel” is a powerful and complex poetic metaphor expressed through the juxtaposition of two apparently incompatible elements: the complete edition of an Encyclopedia Americana, “dug out” in the manner of a primitive canoe and clamped together by means of the second element, a heavy chain binder.  The piece is intended for display on the floor, where we look down into it from above—and where, low as it is in stature, it might actually trip up the unconscious gallery-goer and shock him into a proper state of awareness!

The work’s power, surely, lies in part in the deceptive simplicity of its statement, its unequivocal “there”-ness.  But penetrate beyond its physical presence, and you find yourself in a rich tangle of associations.  Given the vulva represented by its interior and the phallus represented by the solid, unyielding handle of the chain, we think of male and female, the yin and the yang, and the snug, if complex relationship between the two: suggested here is the kind of constriction (social, cultural, emotional) against which women have understandably rebelled in the last century of our human history.  The female element, though, calmly evokes the power of the internal, the container ”vessel,” the place of safety.

We may think of the essential lightness of the canoe—a craft that is eminently adapted to the natural environment, speedy and easily maneuverable, propelled across the surface of the water by no more than the natural current and the strength of its occupant; in “Chomsky’s Vessel,” though, it is juxtaposed with and, again, constricted by, the weight of the tomes that give it form, and of the rough chain that binds it.  Our minds turn to the aboriginal intelligence of our species, envisioning through the sheer power of the imagination the potential of a tree (and yes, green reader, the encyclopedia was certainly at one time a tree!), and crafting from its trunk the boat that will transport a man more efficiently than his feet.  We think, in this context, of the labor involved, and the primitive means of making, the hammer and chisel, in relation to the high-tech tools we have at our disposal in our world today.

We think, too, of the great achievements of our species, language, science and technology, the sum of everything peculiarly human that the encyclopedia contains within its covers by way of “information.”  We think of the violence perpetrated on an object in which our culture has invested so much respect: the book, lynchpin of half a millennium of human progress.  We may even speculate further into the future on the questionable persistence of this hitherto esteemed medium of communication… We may question whether knowledge itself is now constricted by our society’s politically willful ignorance—ignorance about, say, our misuse of the planet that we call our home; and wonder whether the binder is one of our own making, or one imposed on us by powers (corporate? governmental?) greater than our own.

We may, finally, wonder about our traditional way of thinking about art itself, how we define it—in this case “sculpture.”  For Gary Lloyd, the artist, “Chomsky’s Vessel” represents “the voyage into the unknown and the compression of ideas into objects”—the essence of the sculptor’s art.  It’s about “the primitive exploration of tools and mechanics, and a break from the plinth”—the pedestal upon which the sculpture and, by extension, art itself has been placed by an overly reverent and consumerist elite, an object of veneration, never to be touched by human hand—nor accidentally tripped over!

Or we may step back, away from all the rationalization of meanings and associations, and allow the poetic metaphor of the piece to do its work, grabbing hold of our imagination with nothing but its stubborn, irreducible presence.  This, of course, is the work of poetry, the work of the poetic object that the artist has created.  And then we may decide to rest there, instead of thinking it all through, in pleasurable contemplation of its mystery.

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