It takes a special kind of person to spend an afternoon contemplating the intellectual qualities of a crumpled piece of paper. What is trash (or recyclable scrap) to one person might just be a treasure to another.
Found Art has historically been a divisive subject. But an undeniable truth, regardless of taste, is that the ability to perceive objects outside of their schema is a fundamental aspect of creativity. Dismantling old ideas is how new ideas are born.
"The past is not gone. It is around us embedded in the basements and attics and storage spaces, and if we don't look at it or consider it and live in this modernized sterilized world we are missing out on learning about what it's like to be human," says artist Kipp Normand.
I remember visiting the Indiana University Museum of Art in Bloomington and seeing (one of the 17 replicas of) Marcel Duchamp's Fountain. There it stood in all its glory, a urinal never meant to be urinated in; a urinal tasked with shifting the focus of art from the physical craft to the intellectual qualities. Since its time in the spotlight, Found Art has moved on to not only being an art form but a medium. With varying results, artists have both popularized and elevated the incorporation of objects removed of their intended purpose.
I had a brief chat with artist and friend extraordinaire, Kipp Normand, who has rightly become famous in our city. For the unfamiliar, there have been several journalists who have written about him in recent years. He is the subject of a documentary, and there was an art show in his honor for his 50th birthday -- an art show that funded his trip to Paris.
Normand's work has also appeared in various public spaces, such as the Indianapolis International Airport, the display windows of Calvin and Fletcher's Coffee Company and coming soon in a top-secret location that he was not allowed to share with me yet.
Being in any space where this exceptional Detroit native takes residence means being lost in a sea of things; books, boxes, paintings, statues, sculptures, tools, assorted materials such as wood and glass. He just falls in love with particular stuff. He told me he has for as long as he can remember. For instance, he demanded that his mother not dress him in any synthetic fibers as a boy (which was no small request in the 1970s, at the height of the polyester-era). His especial tastes were refined further by the study of American Material Culture at the University of Notre Dame.
He says, "I love 19th-century graphic design, I love the labels of crates. I like things that suggest certain darkness -- maybe perversity in life? I love lots of posters and toy guns and religious kitsch." He is surrounded by over a dozen versions of every single object he listed.
But aside from the charming personality, the quirks and eccentric edges of our favorite neighbor, at the heart of the matter is a man who lives for the found object. Hundreds, possibly thousands of objects that were once discarded trash are now living a cushy second life as art in the studio of a man with a special place in his heart for old beautiful things with a story.
Kipp describes the origins of his hunting and gathering as starting with objects given to him by the beloved characters in his life.
"As I got older and realized that people die and things change, I started to develop a sentimental attachment to these objects," he says. His recent work focuses on the narrative properties of found objects. He juxtaposed a chair that used to be in his grandmother's kitchen to an image of Christ that reminded him of one that his grandmother had, in an effort to re-create a memory.
Various objects were also used to convey other personal memories by collaging them and pairing them up with other visually associative images to his past."Things remind you of people and faces -- and so I am a sentimental pack rat," says Kipp.
My time with Kipp left me thinking about how art that incorporates found objects can be resourceful.
In a time where environmental matters need to be considered in all aspects of human life -- including how we express ourselves -- it is good to consider the politics of how we are creating art, as it all ultimately plays a role in how cohesive the art we are making and consuming is. We have an infinite supply of found assemblage material to explore after all.