Jeffersonian Artifact

This is a scaled map of Thomas Jefferson’s Lawn at the University of Virginia. It was made from cast-off machine parts collected from a scrap metal yard. The task was to diagram a place I passed through almost every day in college. In preparation I studied the surroundings of the Lawn and I studied the scrap machine parts I had chosen to work with, and I came up with what I thought would be a straightforward language of symbols using the scrap metal pieces to represent the actual buildings and landforms that I wanted to map.

However the assembled object that resulted from this marriage of scrap metal and world heritage architecture was an unexpected new sort-of-machine that looked strangely Jeffersonian. It had an unintended cohesiveness. I was most interested in the way that this resulting object had become neither a piece of scrap metal nor a particularly useful map of a famous place but rather had become an entirely new thing that was far more intriguing than any of its individual parts. It had congealed itself into existence almost on its own initiative.

I had set out to build a map of some kind with a mapping language of buildings, terraces and site axes represented as cogs, rusty spring coils and wire. It was supposed to be something clearly understandable when looked at from straight ahead and with the proper map legend handy to decode its parts. Instead I ended up with something that had exploded into the third dimension. It had depth. You could look down into it and see chambers of space. It revealed different parts of itself when viewed from different vantage points. It cast shadows. It had atmosphere. It channeled spirits from some unknown place. At the same time it still had all the clunky one-to-one symbolic pieces arranged with map-like accuracy as I had intended it to have, only this map-like accuracy was suddenly not the only agenda going on here. Without my permission another agenda had crept in, an agenda about space.

This unsettled me and it also thrilled me. I had set up a situation that allowed something unpredicted and compelling to appear in the world. Suddenly I didn’t know what this object’s purpose was. I did know that it touched something inside me that thirsted for mystery, for atmosphere, for depth. At the time I thought there might be something slightly unhealthy in this thirst. I couldn’t see any real and useful purpose for the strange thing I had made, and for the desires that it had awakened in me. I only knew that I wanted to explore this process further. Answers would come later.

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