What do I do with all these beach balls? You knew when you bought them that you wouldn’t need them, but you did it any way…Let’s make a big hot air balloon machine out of beach balls and rope! And then we can hang a model of a shipping container from it and attach rocket engines to it!!! Yes…Thats what we’ll do. Why does it have to be hanging from a balloon? Because it does, stupid! How else do you suspend a mobile intelligence gathering team without using some kind of levitation machine…Do you have a levitation machine? No. Of course you don’t. You’ve barely figured out how to make the little blue lights in the last one work. And you want to achieve some kind of gravity defying levitation that runs on some kind of solidified hydrogen particulate! Worthless! So throw them out…no, add them to the warehouse archives for the future AiR’s. Done.
This year has been a time-warp. It seems that I was just moving to Spartanburg the other day. It feels like just a couple of weeks ago that Corinne, Kerri, Ron and I piled into the family sedan and drove to the movies to see Toy Story 3 giving me the opportunity to learn so much about my new friends. I learned what made them laugh of course, but I also saw the way in which they communicated when quiet. The way that they all laugh…so interesting. I think hearing someone laugh tells you a lot about them and this was no exception. Just the other day I was driving for the first time to the grocery store to find entire shelves of pimento cheese spread and already-boiled eggs in a bag. These were new to me. There were a lot of firsts here. My first experience living around old architecture and actual ruins of a time lost to the ground. I experienced my first real separation from the person I loved the most. I thought our distance apart wouldn’t affect me but I was greatly mistaken. I consider Spartanburg as the place that baptized me into the world of the biscuit…and Liz Blanchard and her crew at Cakehead, as it’s most dedicated cleric. Spartanburg also became the place in which my work would transition from the dark and menacing and settle into the realm of the witty and disarming thanks to the hard work of eight young rocket and robot engineers.
When you grow up in Texas, West Texas to be specific, you think of yourself as someone who knows the inner workings and features of the southern lifestyle. I know now that Texas is not southern, although it’s inhabitants would think otherwise. The way life is experienced there is nothing like the way it is lived here. I was so wrong and learned carefully all year. This city is old. I thought I knew old spending my summers and holidays with my grandparents in Pennsylvania…this seems older still. There was a great heritage and history that we learned thanks to Brad Steinecke and a handful of other passionate Spartanburgers. We learned about the name and the people that gave it to this town and county.
We learned a lot of things…I learned what a biscuit really looked and tasted like. I thought biscuits were supposed to be tall and it didn’t matter how dry it was as long as it was the typical “biscuit” shape. So wrong. Here the biscuits seemed to contain differing elements the way an artisan bread exhibits different colors, textures, flavors and smells within. I am resigned to the fact that I am leaving biscuit country and Liz’s pimento & cheese biscuits stay here. My only solace being that when I leave the deep south, the boiled peanuts also do not follow…they would surely be confiscated and destroyed at the borders of Missouri.
I have never thought of myself as someone that is affected by the notion of place or my surroundings and until this year I never was. My work is mostly influenced by communications with media or people and what I am playing with in the studio, object and material wise. When we moved here we were all asked how we thought our work would be affected by Spartanburg and I tried my best to explain that mine probably wouldn’t. I will say now, however, that my work has been infiltrated and captured by the subtle influences I encountered day to day. I noticed the bricks that were used to erect the buildings here so many years ago. I had wanted to start working with bricks in the future after grad school and that seemed a sensible next chapter for a ceramic artist and potter with a growing interest in the idea of civilization and an omnipresent love for Lego’s. Here I saw plenty of bricks. Bricks that are falling out of their mortar and bricks that are almost completely lost to erosion that reveal only a corner of themselves to the world. These works are still in their infancy so I wouldn’t want to say too much before I can get them where I want, but this town is saturated with them…and all for the taking. Stay tuned to ianshelly.com for images.
The imagery of rocketry and robotics is fraught with those of signage and advertising and in my last year of grad school, I had no use for that which didn’t illustrate the mechanics of rocket aviation and military and aerospace robotics. Post grad school, however, I was craving imagery that exists in our societal conscience and covers our drawings in the early years of life. Red, white and blue rockets with antenna’s and robots with flexible snake-tubing arms with their clam-pincher hands is what you see when you google rockets and robots and that is exactly what I wanted to see kids make if I gave them a mountain of boxes and paint to work with. Page Davis helped me organize a workshop for a large handful of eight to ten year olds and my sign up sheet filled up quickly with energetic young boys with limitless energy and imagination and enthusiastic mothers eager for a place to drop them off. Our workshop lasted three hours and was the most exhausting event I had done here all year, but from it we created unbelievable renditions of robots and rockets from the fifty’s all capable of concealing their maker within behind numerous control panels and navigation equipment. These kids had an energy and enthusiasm that you can’t pay college students to have. My suggestions were met with interest and diligence where the same would be met with sighing and groans from a 3D Design class. This was an experience I will cherish forever and my only regret from this year is not planning more events like this.
Time to go. Let’s see if you have everything…job application stuff, check…art supplies, check…q-tips that Alix didn’t spill on the floor during the move in, check…hidden jar of money for a lucky future AiR to find…installed. Let’s hit the road. Stereo…broken, just the sounds of the engine and the bumps of the road now. It was a hell of a year. Thank you Celia, Alix, Cheryl, Stephen at Hub-Bub and Betsy, Kari, Erin at the Writer’s Project and thank you Corinne, Kerri and Ron for an amazing year full of triumph and joyous hilarity as well as heartbreak and frustrations alike. It was an honor to have served with you. Fourteen hours left to go. -ian