Studio Visit: Cynthia Minet, Repurposed Aesthetics
“As crude a weapon as the cave man’s club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life – a fabric on the one hand delicate and destructible, on the other miraculously tough and resilient, and capable of striking back in unexpected ways.” ~ Rachel Carson
By Gary Brewer
We live in a world filled with the remains of the past. Some can have a haunting melancholy: the ruins of a floor from an old store on a roadside in the desert; the patterns of the floor design fractured and cracked, plants growing through the fissures. Others can be tragic and apocalyptic: the plastic gyres in the Mid-Pacific finding its ways into the fish we eat and causing the death of countless animals. It was not that long ago that those fateful words were spoken to Dustin Hoffman in the film “The Graduate”. “I want to say one word to you. Just one word… Plastics.” It was a comedic aside in the film but the word was resonant with the light of possibility and opportunity a mere 50 years ago. A path to fortune and all of the benefits that science had to offer to society; today half a century later the consequences of petro-chemicals to civilization is a life threatening force.
Cynthia Minet creates sculptures of animals made from plastic. She finds and recycles plastic from dumpsters and thrift stores; friends also give her plastic that they are discarding, or that they have found. She uses her sculptural eye, finding products whose shapes are akin to the necessity of her sculptural impulse; the handle of a detergent bottle, or a plastic basin, in whose forms she finds the needed contour and functionality to create the beautifully articulated shape of an animal. Baby washtubs and other items are a part of her formal vocabulary used to create these wondrous sculptures.
Though her works address the issues of our time: the environment, the impact of petrochemicals and what to do with the plastic filling our seas; she is a sculptor first, thinking through form and materials to achieve results whose articulated constructions delight the mind and eye in the playful and inventive repurposing of common objects we see daily. The shopworn pedestrian world of functionality elevated to formally elegant representations of a camel, a horse, or the Roseate Spoonbill she was working on when I visited her in her studio.
She said of her work and process, “While in graduate school I was creating figurative works in metal. For one of my final projects I built a box-like form. I cut sections out of it and from those fragments I fashioned them into two figures, which I then placed inside the box. Before I began my current work, the aesthetic inclination of working with fragments to create wholes and to re-purpose cast-offs into something new, was deeply embedded in my work.”
As we spoke she said that she wanted to win a person over with the sculptural form first. Then to have them become aware and engaged by the materials; of the inventiveness of her use of recognizable, common elements to create exquisitely realized depictions of animals with. Lastly the narrative: that the consequences of our creations and behavior are threatening our world. “When I began the ‘Unsustainable Creatures’ project, I was using domesticated animals; dogs oxen, elephants, horses, camels and pigs. Animals that through animal husbandry have become dependent on us; they need us to survive; their natural instincts have been bred out of them. I saw this as a mirror to our dependence on technology and the products we create; taking us further and further away from a natural state of being. The two narratives are intertwined darkly; our two fates mirroring each other.”
After graduate school Cynthia had to switch to another material, as the cost of working in metal and not having a studio equipped with the tools to create metal sculpture forced her to find other mediums. She worked in ceramics, wood and resin, finding her way while still developing the idea of using fragments to create wholes. While on a trip to Padua, Italy, to visit family, she was asked by a nightclub that exhibited art, if she would be interested in creating some works to display. “When I mentioned my ceramic sculptures they said that it would be too small and fragile. It needed to be large to create a spectacle. The owner told me that there was a large recycling facility next door and that prior artists had used recycled materials to create works for the nightclub. It set my mind to work – thinking about the repurposing of cast off elements reconstructed into sculptural forms – and I also imagined including the use of lights. Though I never realized the sculpture in Italy, it triggered something in my mind, and a new mode of sculptural possibility became available to me.”
When she returned to the states she made her first piece using the ideas that were formed in Italy and continued finding new materials to explore the possibilities of sculptural form. Years earlier Cynthia had created a series of works using hair gel products with lights – it took her several years to realize that this was a direction she wanted to go in, afterwards lighting became a critical part of her vocabulary. In it she simultaneously creates an illuminating element that adds color to her work and reveals the intrinsic beauty of the common materials she employs. It also touches upon our need and reliance on electricity/energy; yet another straw piling onto the camels back, our dependence on technology putting more stress on the environment.
Her current sculptures are headed for an exhibit at the Museum of Art and Science in McAllen, Texas where she was invited to create a new body of work. The museum is located on one of the flyways that birds migrating from North to South follow. She chose the Roseate Spoonbill because they are one of the many birds whose existence is threatened by habitat loss and the impact of pollution. As we sat in her studio the sculptures were aloft, hanging from the ceiling, the elegance of her forms contrasting with the commonality of the materials. The lighting creates a beautiful glowing presence, a magical fairytale quality of innocence and fragility: the plastic materials a stark reminder of our human folly and of the consequences of our dependence on petrochemicals and plastics.
As we spoke she mentioned that her father was a chemical engineer involved in the development of many of the products that have found their way into her works. The inexplicable balance of forces; the inversion of narrative; what was once seen as good and the hope for the future: science, industry, chemistry have become like the monkeys paw, reminding us that unintended consequences often accompany the best intentions.
Cynthia Minet’s work addresses important issues in our world; they do so through the poetry of art. They find elegant solutions, fusing a material/constructivist aesthetic to their subject. Each piece employs an intelligence in conception and design that expresses human imagination’s ability to invent and problem solve. These human traits are what are needed now to change the course of our relationship to the environment.
But good intentions alone cannot change behavior and attitudes. Artists are storytellers and mythmakers. We need to create new ways to engender a love for the living world which is our home. Each living thing is connected to us and is a part of the family from which we arose. Our ingenuity and imagination are luminous; but the power is one that needs to be used in an enlightened way.
If we are to survive we need another form of enlightenment, one in which our natural relationship to the earth is embraced. As we domesticate ourselves in mindless addiction to convenience and artificial ideas of value, we lose the way. Deep in our body/mind/soul is the migratory pathway of wisdom; we need artists, scientists, and philosophers to illuminate the path and bring us back to the garden.
“Migrations” opens at International Museum of Art and Science (IMAS) April 14th to September 2nd, 2018 with a Public reception April 14th 3-5pm