Allen Christian's sculptures belie a keen sense of humor and an equally sharp feel for the human condition. Spend a bit of time examining his work closely, touching it and manipulating it as the artist intends you to, and you'll begin to get a feel for the depths underneath his fertile imagination. Below, Christian offers a bit by way of explanation about his work, in in his own words.
I am not a particularly religious man, but I do believe in animism: the notion that non-living objects possess something like the human soul. I believe that the non-living thing acquires soul from contact with the living so that with repeated use, a scythe takes on the spirit of the arm swinging it, the highway hungrily swallows the restlessness of those who traverse it, and a fence post longs for the wings of the crow that sits atop it. Since my sculptures are primarily constructed from found materials, I am very aware that each item comes already invested with its own unique history--what I call its "fingerprint" because no two objects, like no two people, experience their time on the planet in the same way. This unique experience is indelibly tied in to what the finished sculpture will look and feel like. For example, when a bowling ball was given to me with the name "Dottie" engraved on it, "Dottie" became an integral part of the finished sculpture.
My sculptures are largely figurative and in this, too, I aim to present my philosophy that the inanimate world is integrally connected to living beings. In the figures I assemble I attempt to merge iconic images that evoke the universal and time-transcendent nature of humanity with "low-brow" objects--such as bowling balls, plumbing parts, pistons, and false teeth which would seem to have no place in classic images of humankind. But by using common items, I invite viewers to find themselves in each piece, to search each sculpture's components for some item from their own past or present.
In doing this I aim to free art from its present unhealthy aura of "Do Not Touch" and separatist politics; the living world is not separate from the material world.
For example, when a bowling ball was given to me with the name "Dottie" engraved on it, "Dottie" became an integral part of the finished sculpture.
For the past 17 years my studio, The House of Balls, has been in a first floor storefront and has had an open-door policy. Viewers are welcome inside and encouraged to touch the sculptures and offer remarks, advice and criticism and if I'm not present, there is a viewer-operated tape recorder outside the door. My sculptures often include interactive parts, push buttons, mirrors, and motion detectors that set them in motion and I encourage the handling of my sculptures.
The interaction itself becomes part of the artwork and viewer merges with object for a momentary exchange of soul, each gleaning something from the other.
Untouchable sculpture is to my mind a horrifying concept--as unnatural a notion as believing any one of us could walk the earth without leaving fingerprints, impressions, little pieces of soul spinning like discarded love letters caught in time's whirlwind.
In the warehouse district of Minneapolis, John and Jane Doe have an opportunity to become part of my art. For eighteen years I have kept an open window to my life. It's called the House of Balls. Anyone can come, anytime, and push buttons at the glass portal.
That push gives life to figures on the other side. The voices you hear are not a sign of schizophrenia, but a means for you to share your thoughts with the rest of the world. Press the lever at the door, speak into the microphone and leave your treatise. I answer questions. But I also raise them. "What do you do with the tears?" "Where is the oddest place you've made love?" "What is the meaning of strife?" A blackboard on the front door has posed each of these queries to passers by. When I am sculpting inside, turn the doorknob, cross the threshold and wonder. You have now entered my world. Pressure cookers are plasma cut. Crankshafts are braised. Chicken feet are epoxied. They all become images of the human figure. But carved bowling balls are my distinction. I subtract the resin, revealing a face or full body within and sometimes feel as if I am removing the layers of my own psyche. This is the origin of the name House of Balls. I think it's come to mean something more as well; the idea that we all possess the creative impulse and owe ourselves the balls to express it.
CLICK HERE to read "History In Your Hands," the essay and artist profile written by Sam Osterhout for access+ENGAGE.
What: Midwestern Dandies: The Whimsy and Wit of Tom Stack, Chris Kerr, and Allen Christian
Where: The Fox Tax Gallery, Minneapolis, MN
When: Exhibition runs through April 30
Visit the website for gallery hours and detailed show information.
Midwestern Dandies: The Whimsy and Wit of Tom Stack, Chris Kerr, and Allen Christian
Visit the exhibition page on the Fox Tax Gallery website for full information about this show, closing April 30, 2008.
History in Your Hands: Allen Christian's House of Balls
Read Sam Osterhout's funny, engaging essay written in response to the inventive work springing from the fertile imagination of Allen Christian.
Midwestern Dandies exhibition listing in the mnartists.org arts calendar
Find out more about this exhibition in the self-posting, member-driven arts calendar on mnartists.org.