Charles Wisseman, Mixed Media Artist



Art Urn 2014

Posted on April 18, 2014 at 11:00 AM

My ART URN -- April 2014

This project could seem creepy, but I want to convince you otherwise. The background is a hard winter, sick cat, Sarah’s hip replacement tying me down and reminding us of inevitable decline, my 65th birthday with medicare application pending. Late at night in the basement surveying my boxes of collected art materials, found objects, and remnants of past workshops, projects and experiments. Knowing that much of this will end up in the dump-- my kids won’t have space or interest, and I would also discard this stuff if I were in their place (as I did with much of my parents belongings—the detritus of someone else’s life). I decided to make some of the better art fragments into a box which my kids might want to preserve for a while. I thought first of creating a cubic foot of art, then decided I wanted to include a space for my ashes—so that this box could be used as an urn, surrounded by a personal art retrospective-in-a-box, designed to be a sacred space with a celebration of art and making. I would like to be remembered as a maker of things.

Limitations I set were to only use already-made objects, and to use up as much of my old photographic materials as possible before they deteriorated.

The design evolved into a plain-looking hexagonal box, revealing very little externally, except for a glass bottle lid poking up through the top. Larger art pieces are hidden by flaps inside the six sides. Removing the top and then folding down the sides forms a flower-petal-like platform covered with handmade papers having a graded intensity of reddish speckling. Folding down the outer sides exposes an inner tube, decorated around the side with labels from beers I have consumed. On the top of the tube are insets for four candles, in case anyone wants to contact or worship their ancestor. Between the candles are rows of messages from Chinese fortune cookies I have eaten. This whole tube rotates on a lazy-susan gear, which I imagine as similar to turning a Tibetan prayer wheel.

Lifting off the tube reveals an accordion-folded structure arranged in a star pattern around a smaller central tube. This accordion can be unfolded and pulled out onto the petal platform to view the front and back of the 32 separate panels.

On one side of the accordion panels are solid objects in many of the materials I have experimented with ---- forge-welded steel tiles, copper, wood, ceramic raku eye forms, fused glass, epoxy, containers of objects, found objects, metal castings, sculpey clay, cast paper etc.

On the other side of the accordion panels are flat pieces—photos of textures and street patterns from the years I carried a black and white film camera on lunch-break walks, rorschah patterns, handmade papers, prints, photograms, flowers embedded onto paper, etc.

Inside the central tube is another removable tube. This contains a glass apothecary jar, which can be used as an urn or a flower-holder. An apothecary jar seemed appropriate for a doctor. Some black sand-blasting sand and some Michigan beach sand in the jar could be used as the bottom layer of a sand painting, with white ashes overlaid. I was also thinking of sand in an hour glass, and of my Unitarian church’s summer-end ritual of bringing back stone or water from places we visited to combine in a communal vessel.

Beneath the jar is a plastic medicine bottle, from my age before the ashes. This contains matches and a candle, extra retaining pins for the outer flaps, some Chinese joss papers, a small Buddha, good luck pieces and bits of memorabilia. (My Unitarian impulse is to propitiate all of the spirits.) Wrapped around the bottle is a scroll with a list of all the art pieces in the box, describing their composition and which project or workshop they were left over from (for those I could remember).

I expect to keep adding bits to this project, so that it is never really considered finished. Completing this would be bad luck, I think. This project may also end my religion-inspired series of boxes for now (Luther box, squirrel-saint reliquary, Dante Inferno globe). Using some of my accumulated art fragments helps me to mentally let go of the accumulated mass of art materials in my house, to feel less like a hoarder, and to move on to new directions without feeling owned by all of the unfinished projects and unused material around me.

Hopefully you like the idea of this box as a celebration of the beauty and joy of materials and making.




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