Tuesday, March 2, 2010


sometime before my new college days(circa 1978-80), i found an article on this guy in one of the art magazines i'd read at uwf. it seems to me it was art in america. i don't think uwf got artforum at the time. anyway, for some reason this guy's art struck a chord w/me. i may have been thinking that the carastro girls would find it "cute" but i think i was drawn to the entire project: the creation of a mythological space that intruded into & upon "profane" modern space in minute ways. it could have been my lifelong attraction to ruins, the idea that other lives, other ways of life, have existed, could exist & their meaning be wiped away & only barren, mysterious structures remain as ciphers of that meaning.

who knows? i will say that his stuff still impresses me, still actually haunts me. that he gave his art up, so simply, to the savage & ineluctable ravages of time & place just confirms what we know about civilizations in general. each tiny ruin, as it was washed away or stepped on or run over, contained worlds & stories & experiences, pretty much like all of us.

"Charles Simonds has created an entirely imaginary civilization of a race he calls Little People, complete with its own history, belief system, and way of life. The people themselves are never seen; we know them only through the architecture they have left behind. The forms of the architecture are reminiscent of Native-American structures, especially those of the Southwest, which Simonds visited as a child. These references are also appropriate since, like the Native Americans, the Little People’s lives are centered "around belief attitudes towards nature, toward the land." Their buildings are made of clay, which comes from the earth, and other natural elements such as twigs, bones, or sand."

"Simonds has two types of exhibition space for his work: inside galleries and museums and outside in the streets. The indoor pieces, such as this work, are larger and more complex than their ephemeral outdoor counterparts. This particular structure is subtitled "Ritual Furnace." A path leads through an opening in the dilapidated wall to a staircase that ascends to the upper section of the building. One has to imagine the inside configuration and how a person would reach the staircase at the back of the structure, which exits directly onto the roof. On the roof is a hexagonal construction with a circular wall in the center. Inside the circle is black pigment, which implies that something was burned, perhaps a ritual sacrifice of some sort."

"Simonds began his career creating miniature buildings in the streets of New York. Working primarily on the Lower East Side, he built structures out of these tiny clay bricks inside broken segments of wall and other unusual openings. People gathered to watch him work, children were allowed to help, and he soon become well known in the neighborhood. He explained: "At first I was just a crazy man to the people on the Lower East Side….I was a phenomenon, an anonymous vagabond who made visionary things. As time passed, I became a folk hero, then an active member of many community groups." With these groups, he has worked on housing, the development of open space, and other activities designed to promote community awareness. He finds his street creations more satisfying than those in museums because, as he says: "the streets are where my work finds its meaning and direction, in people’s reactions to it. I’ve often sensed the feeling of loss about the brutalization of that fragile fantasy which is emblematic of the lives they themselves lead, that sense of ‘well, every time you try to do something good or beautiful around here, it’s always destroyed.’ It awakens and politicizes that consciousness. The park [that Simonds help to plan and build on the Lower East Side] is gathering those energies and a channeling of them through existing community organizations so they have a positive result. That’s a political act. It’s intended that way."

"Thus, in evoking a past time, Simonds guides viewers to think about the present. The structures of the Little People are not intended as an escape from reality, but as a stimulus to consider our society today: what we create, what we destroy, what we value, what we believe, and what we will leave behind as our ruins."

Mariann Smith and Nancy Spector

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