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Bob Trotman: Business as Usual
May 23 - October 12, 2008
Business as Usual is an installation of ten carved and painted wooden sculptures by North Carolina sculptor Bob Trotman. (right: Bob Trotman, Committee Section of Business As Usual, Sculpture)
The sculptures, which represent men and women in corporate business attire, are divided into three subsections. The first, Committee, features larger-than-life portrait busts of three men and two women. Each face has some part, eyes, mouth, or both, carved on wooden blocks which may be removed, reversed, and reinserted (by a curator) to reveal another expression. The second subsection, Chorus, is comprised of four larger-than-life partial figures which rest directly on the floor from their armpits up with arms raised and heads back as if they were in distress. The third subsection is entitled Cover Up. It is a single sculpture five feet in height of four figures under a carved wooden shroud with only their legs and feet showing, but their upper bodies discernable beneath the "cloth".
The works are dramatically lit and presented as a tableau in one of the museum's galleries. They will no doubt elicit widely varying interpretations from viewers.
I like to think of my wooden figurative sculptures as existing in a zone between Edward Hopper and Franz Kafka. Alienation, a sense of outsiderness, is the key feeling I want to convey, so I try to position my figures in ambiguous and awkward poses that often represent a transition between more stable states. I never make figures just standing at rest, especially not projecting authority or affirming any institutional values, even though this is the role that statues have played historically. As a matter of fact, I want to do just the opposite of this. Hence my choice of ironic, off-balance, anti-heroic poses. (left: Bob Trotman, Cover Up, white background, Sculpture)
The tradition of wooden figures comes down to us from three main sources: carvings of the saints, ships' figureheads, and the so-called "show figures" that were used outside shops in the 19th century or in circus displays. These were all a form of popular, rather than high, art. This was art that was supposed to speak directly to a mass audience. I want to keep that populist flavor, but inject something ironic and subversive into it. I want my work to have some of the appearance of folk art, but I want it to go places that folk art doesn't. I want it to ask questions, to have a disturbing edge: Kafkaesque Amerikana, if you will.
I think of myself like a movie director ( I love Alfred Hitchcock) who is making a noir narrative that takes place in a vaguely corporate setting, having corporate people as my everyman actors, in the sort of the way Magritte used his bank clerk in a bowler hat, as an object most likely of both derision and sympathy. If Gabriel Garcia Marquez could invent Magical Realism for his novels like One Hundred Years of Solitude, I thought maybe I could invent Magical Capitalism for my narrative of corporate human relations. The magic simply involves injecting fantasy elements into life at the office, like turning a few people upside down or having others sink into the floor, very much in the spirit of Kakfa's turning the salesman Gregor Samsa into a giant cockroach in his story The Metamorphosis.The magic is there to reveal something about the world my characters inhabit and the hidden disequilibrium they feel as human beings. Maybe you could say they were "show" figures in my own existential circus, my parade of predicaments, my cavalcade of calamities. (right: Bob Trotman, Stu Eyes Closed, Sculpture)
I like to let the cracks in the wood show as if the figures themselves were cracking under the strain of being who -- or whatever they are trying to be. I sometimes even "repair" the cracks with rusty steel mending plates, which gives them both a Frankensteinian and a folk art appearance, and suggests the sort of emotional triage people perform on themselves to keep going every day.
To paraphrase Kafka, art is an ax for the frozen sea within us. Ultimately my story is about rigidity, I think, whether corporate or otherwise, and wood, the very stuff of "woodenness," serves me well to tell the tale.
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