Volcano Table, 2014
Walnut burl, blue bic pen and Steel
30h x 89w x 39d in
76.20h x 226.06w x 99.06d cm
This table originated as a collaboration of sorts between Denizen and gallerist Jason Jacques, as part of a thematic line of cut, carved, and sculpted burl shelves and tables meant specifically for what has been dubbed “the art collector lifestyle.” Within this broader body of work, the objects are completed only when the collector finally installs artworks on the piece and allows it to function. This is a collaborative process that begins with conception and ends with installation and achieves a number of important goals that dissolve traditional boundaries between producer and consumer, or artist and audience.
Rem Denizen, a Portland Oregon-based artist who co-founded the Bruce High Quality Foundation and works currently with OSAP (Open Source Art Process) projects uses his art to explore the nature of craft and delves deeply into the untapped subconscious for formal inspiration. Rather than traditionally construct a table with a top, legs, and stretchers and assemble it with screws, joints, and tenons, Denizen presents an object which is as much a form as a structure comprised of an undulant, organically shaped tabletop and what might only be called a base. The table top’s flat surface gives way to a rolling, rippling underside which tapers to meet its counterpart: a base of equally knotted wood which widens to form the foot of the table. The lower burl is tinged indigo with a finish of blue Bic pen ink, while the upper maintains its warm, natural tone. It is at once functional and sculptural, both familiar and foreign.
Denizen’s use of materials—specifically, the juxtaposition of walnut burl and a blue ink finish--is a marriage of extremes in every category, from origin to use. The ink from a Bic pen, an exemplar of the mass-produced standardization of consumer goods, stands in a stark contrast to the burl, a one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable accident of nature. Although at first glance this appears no different than the application of a commercial stain or lacquers to enhance the wood’s grain, the process of extracting the ink transforms the use of a benign and easily overlooked commercial product into a meditation on labor. The artist’s meticulous efforts to extract enough ink to cover the surface serves as a reminder of the role of the artist and craftsman in augmenting nature through work. Denizen’s table also subverts the normal hierarchy of materials and claims that ink from a ballpoint pen is as fine a material to work with as a walnut burl. The distinction we create between high and low means of artistic production, the table illustrates, is a false construct.
One of Denizen’s strength is the ability to illicit poignant, and often latent, associations that hover in the symbolic space around his work like ideas in a dream. Subtly, the sight of ballpoint pen on wood elicits thoughts of school desk scribbles and graffiti, of youth, of the natural wear to which objects of utility are subjected. Yet, here too Denizen does not choose a side but creates opportunities for ambiguity and tension, for the ink does not mar the burl’s surface but subsumes and enlivens it. Rather than a fault, or evidence of mindless defacing, the blue tone is a finish. It transforms the relationship between ink and wood with deliberate intentionality.
Inherently asymmetrical, the form of this table emphasizes its nature as a series of oppositions. There is a sense of the surreal in the precarious quasi-cantilever the bilateral halves of the table form as they sit, joined at their tapering points, atop one-another. Viewed from the side, the table is an excellent example of an ongoing themes in Denizen’s work— self-reflexivity, mirroring, and split fields of vision produced via bisection, cross-section, and an endless play on bilateral symmetry and asymmetry. The flow of contrasts, visual, material, and conceptual, continues through to its use and function as a table. Unlike many pieces of furniture, this is an object in which not only form but essential character and use are privileged over function.
This table originated as a collaboration of sorts between Denizen and gallerist Jason Jacques, as part of a thematic line of cut, carved, and sculpted burl shelves and tables meant specifically for what has been dubbed “the art collector lifestyle.” Within this broader body of work, the objects are completed only when the collector finally installs artworks on the piece and allows it to function. This is a collaborative process that begins with conception and ends with installation and achieves a number of important goals that dissolve traditional boundaries between producer and consumer, or artist and audience. In giving the final step of completion to the owner, Denizen literally brings the creative process home by including the collector or interior designer in the process of creation. He obliterates the boundaries that typically separate user from maker and posits that curation is a continuation of the artistic process— a notion supported by the popular view in postmodern critical thought that art is simply the practice of representation.