Real and Virtual Sculpture
FC: How did the more complicated geometric volumes that you began to make in the '80s evolve from the planks?
JM: Can I backtrack a bit? Compared to my earlier, mostly rectangular sculptures, which emphasize simply, "Here I am," the planks are more active because of their leaning stance. At first I found the planks to be a little disquieting, and I puzzled about them for a long time, trying to figure out what they were "saying." They kind of screw a space up because they lean. They are usually one of the few things around presenting that angle. If you put one straight up and down and balance it there, it will fit with the room and just groove right in, but then it's not so active. Leaned at an angle, it changes the space fairly radically. Then you realize that the form is touching the surface you walk on, and also it's touching the surface that, when you think in terms of painting, is the space you mentally look into. So it's touching two worlds—the physical and the mental. To me, that's where the plank has relevance or importance: it alters space and it's a bridge between the two worlds.
The more complex forms, some of which have crystal-like angles, are attempts to give different "personalities" to sculptural form. They're almost representations of individuals within a species. As a matter of fact, all my sculptures are to an extent figurative. Some of the "characters" are fat and wide, some are thin and tall, some are blocky, some incline this way or that way. It's part of an attempt to make them more animate, allow them to gesture or "say" things.
There's also the issue of singularity. Minimalism emphasized that quality, and I try specifically to get it, too: to have a piece, no matter how complicated, be one unitary thing. By implication, that suggests the importance of personal individuality. It also suggests a law that I regard as universal (and life-saving, and world-saving, when we pay attention to it): everything, the whole shootin' match, is one.
I want to do work, and always have, that changes the world, that is active in the world, that amounts to specific "speaking." As an example, crystals can do odd things. You hear them described as psychoactive. They were used in radios, and they may even be used in weapons and such esoteric things as time machines (which do, I submit, exist, even on earth). They're also used in contemplation or attaining certain realizations.
It seems to me that if forms can bring these concepts more into reality, that's a very cool thing to attempt to do. It's what I'm trying to do as a sculptor.
FC: For a long time you've been working with the computer on the design of your works. What is the contribution of the computer?
JM: My original reason for using the computer was that it had a capacity for three-dimensional drawing, the ability to give complete form to, say, a complicated, faceted shape that you couldn't adequately draw on a sheet of paper. If you draw a complex, crystal-like shape on a sheet of paper, you have a partial visualization, but you're a long way away from having construction plans for it, with information about every side. The computer lets you see the whole thing and turn it around in space, no matter what the shape, and gives you all the information you need not only to see what you have but also to build it.
When I had gotten into using the computer, I realized to my mild surprise that in a way I was sculpting in a traditional sense more than I ever had before—as opposed, that is, to constructing. That's because using the 3-D drawing program, I would most often start with a rectangular block, which I then "sliced" down to the shape I was after. Although you can, of course, add to a form or stretch a form, it's basically a lot like carving-à la Michelangelo, almost-a block of marble, albeit virtual marble.
FC: Have you thought about working in virtual space?
JM: I've thought of not only making sculptures in virtual space, but of leaving them there, having them exist primarily there. Then my materialistic side comes out, and I want to make them physically real in the world as well.
I would like to make something our of a really heavy mass of stone and have it be transcendental at the same time, like a human being with all his or her physicality who is at the same time a spiritual being. A sculpture I have in mind that does that is an ancient Egyptian one, a seated portrait of Cephren, in black diorite. It's both terrifically physical and absolutely transcendental at the same time—a very rare feat. I think some of the Egyptians were into what would now be thought of as science fiction.
I see the purpose of art as the achievement of that kind of reality: the sort of thing that communicates largely by suggestion. As an extreme example, if you were to see someone actually levitate, float in the air, it would make levitation easier for you, so that you might even do it yourself. Do you remember the first Superman movie, when Superman takes his girlfriend's hand and they go flying? She stays in the air as long as they're touching-as long as she's in contact with the idea. In a similar way, if I can make a sculpture that presents a sort of transcendent possibility, it may make it easier for someone who sees it to achieve it. If you, say, perceive a sculpture as something transparent, maybe you could more easily be transparent momentarily, too. I'm trying to make sculptures that operate kind of like shamans, making demonstrations in the world. That's my ideal.