WRECKING THINGS: TIM FOLLAND BREAKS A LEG AND EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE ROOM
By Joe S. Harrington
What is this? Strewn cardboard in hacked-up bits distributed haphazardlyor what appears to be haphazardlyamongst other chunks of debris. It looks like one big bloody mess, but actually it's a methodical process, the very definition of a work in progress. Here in the West Wing of the Johnson Library on the rolling green pasture of Hampshire College a once-innocuous gallery has become a monument to destruction. The strewn bits of debris have become the blood and scars of a year's worth of creationand the artist, Tim Folland, stands proudly over its demise. With "Tools for Destroying Paintings" Folland has encapsulated the complete lifetime of a painting, from its infancy as a thought/idea to its existence as a Kraft paper canvas stretched over a cardboard frame to its physical demise at the hands of its creator and the lingering resonance of the camera's lens to capture it all. This show is about the whole process. With this piece, Folland has found a way to bring together a range of mediums that incorporates everything from painting, sculpture, video and performance.
Throughout there is a disturbing undertow of carnage, personified by the golem-like "Character" who not only appears in most of the drawings, but stalks around destroying them as well, a process captured on camera. The "Character" of course is Folland himself, adorned in a gold rubber mask he crafted to be a combination of Elmer Fudd, Lex Luthor and yes, Richard Nixon (it's all in the nose). He is a grim character, sad almost, in his mookish persistence in destroying everything in the room.
His weapons are various: from a catapult that shoots a bowling ball-sized projectile at one of the drawings, to guns, knives and even a ramp enabling the Character to attack the drawing with a bicycle. The Character, who dons a sheepskin cloak, could be a metaphor for any bad dream you've ever hadfrom an emotionless automaton to a Viking conqueror. He's a loner but in this sense he's Everyman. Thats why Folland sees the Character as a multi-part personality that, as he says, "reflects the psychology of one person turned into a social situation of many."
Folland began building his sculptures out of cardboard, a concept that came about due more to poverty than an innate desire to explore new mediumsbut as often happens in art, necessity turned out to be the mother of invention when Folland realized that the ephemeral quality of cardboardwhich over time will disintegratesuited the message of impermanence. As he says: "Cardboard was a material that was totally instable so I had to find a way to document the work so that other people would be able to see it after it"s gone."
The impermanent nature of cardboard was the key element enabling Folland, adorned with gold head, to hack, chop, saw, shoot and blow up with a cannon the full-sized works that made up this exhibit. The tools in many cases are primitive, such as the dagger that he plunges into the heart of one of the drawings, which, along with the sheepskin, conjures an almost sub-primate image to tie in with the almost futuristic veneer of the imposing gold head. The decision to film this spectacle was only the logical extension of such a cathartic process.
According to Folland: "Once I had finished the cardboard pieces I began working with video and started getting sick of having the cardboard work around so I decided to do a few short films that were about destroying the cardboard work and that"s when the destruction began. The idea to be able to capture multiple images and have motion was something that appealed to me, to be able to "paint" with a camera it's not just about a still image, it's about action."
Folland's complex rationale for the destructiveness of his art goes beyond the notion of mere performance art. According to him: "We put values on creation and destruction, one being good, the other bad, and really both are just transitional parts of life."
"I had more fun destroying them than I had making them, he says, and I had a lot of fun making them. I love what I do in the studio. Everyday when I get up and work in the studio and make something it's an incredible experience but so is destroying it because the process of creation is this slow chugging train where you eventually realize you've arrived somewhere whereas with the destruction aspect of the work, you destroy it and it takes you a while to catch up to what you've destroyed so it's almost like working backwards."
The most interesting aspect of Folland's current exhibit is its unique multi-dimensionality. As curious spectators walk amongst the debris (including the tell-tale gold mask, which lies dormant almost as if the Character's body was vaporized out from under him) the raw film footage of the performancefilmed in the exact same installation a week earlier by cameraman Scott Sutherland and sound man Chris Cumberbatchglimmers relentlessly on a bank of four TV screens arranged on a table with assembly-line precision. This is a "performance" that amounts to watching a film of a performance that occurred in the exact same space we're watching the "performance" in this sense, Folland's art has successfully abolished such notions as time, space and "reality."
Folland credits everyone from Joseph Beuys and Paul McCarthy to painters like Goya and Hogarth as influences on his work. As he says: "I like painters who dealt with real life and people in their everyday lives, the struggles they had and how painters try to create a visual context to the pain and pleasure they experience."
He reserves particular admiration for the Abstract Expressionists like Philip Guston and Jackson Pollock. "Their painting came from the soul," Folland says, "as opposed to the conscious mind. They created a new way to work: it didn't come from intellectual process it came more from a passionate or spiritual center." Just like these painters, with their violent and random splatters, detonated the whole perception of what "painting" constituted, Folland sees himself applying new rules to such mediums as film and sculptureor, as he says: "The idea that action is another way to work the piece."
When I'm working in the space and destroying stuff, I'm not making a conscious decision as much as I am reacting to the space and material. And I see a similarity there between the action painters of the New York scene and what I'm doing."
The signature point of Folland's work is the insolvency of the medium itselfin this case, cardboard, but all art really. Should we be content to sit and stare at a painting and marvel approvingly at is perceived beauty or does some art actually demand a different reaction, perhaps even a physical one? What Folland's trying to do is create a "living" work of art, as personified by the Character who, as Folland's alter-ego, allows the artist to actually stand outside of his art even as he rips it to shreds. "My work is about turning creativity against itself, he says. "To me the destruction of my work is as important a part of the story as its creation."
Joe S. Harrington is the author of Sonic Cool: The Life & Death of Rock N’ Roll, which was published by Hal Leonard in 2002.