Portfolio site of Bay Area sculptor and installation artist Shannon G. Wright.

Wall (After Marfa), 2015

The initial inspiration for this piece was the adobe wall surrounding Donald Judd’s house and studio in Marfa, Texas, which I visited in 2008.  The wall’s adobe bricks have eroded far past the harder mortar. I sought to make a wall in which the bricks had completely eroded away, leaving only a lacework mortar structure.

The piece continues my “Form and Content” series. What constitutes the content of a piece? Can the content be extracted from a form? I appreciate the absurdity of attempting to visualize where an object’s meaning resides. Maybe it’s embedded in each particle of the stuff that a thing is made of—or maybe it hovers like an aura over the entire object.

I’m fascinated by Heidegger’s essay, “The Thing,” in which he considers what I interpret as the responsibilities of things: a jug “gathers” itself to the task of holding (and giving) water, while simultaneously the earth “bears” buildings. Does a brick wall fulfill its responsibilities as a wall once its bricks are gone? This line of questioning parallels my lifelong struggle to comprehend the idea of the egress of a "soul" from a body, or the evaporation of a consciousness.

 

Heroic Measures, 2014

I frequently use modules and grids in my work, largely for their associations with Modernism, utopian failures and economic utility, but also because of the undeniable allure of repetition and my longtime fascination with connective systems. I put forth fictitious "products" that might appear to have been government-issued or sold by Home Depot, and subsequently allowed to fall into a state of ruin. With these objects I mourn the erosion of regional cultural identities– an unfortunate side-effect of globalization– while hoping that my industrial parodies will project a poignant elegance of their own.

In a piece from 2014 entitled Folly (Colosseum of Rome), I used fifty-two galvanized steel pipe arches connected with fence hardware to suggest the iconic Roman structure while blurring the generic forms of bike rack, cattle pen and crowd barrier. In another piece, Flourish (Public Art), I poke fun at the notion that urban blight can be ameliorated through the addition of strategically placed curlicues. I worked with a chain-link fence company in San Jose to render a stock calligraphy flourish in clunky galvanized pipe, with the awkward "feet" and sandbag ballast associated with temporary fences.

In my Historic Preservationist (Heavy Equipment Tires) series, I re-interpreted four decorative traditions from around the globe into the visual language of huge earth-moving equipment tires that may soon facilitate their extinction. This series responds to the vast destruction of villages in contemporary China, and to the loss of the centuries-old traditions that relied on the societal structure of the village.  Wrested from their original context, the historical patterns are reduced to mere logos or brand names.

 

Mechanical Reproduction (damask wallpaper stamp,) 2012

The current series of oversized rubber stamps evolved as a tangent to a long-term project I am engaged in that involves casting black rubber tire treads. For me, this piece is about the tyranny of standardization. Damask wallpaper is a trope which connotes opulence and a bygone romantic era, while rubber stamps are frequently associated with bureaucracy and mindless repetition. These giant rubber stamps are hard to control, and their users will struggle to build up a logically repeating pattern. Perhaps they will quickly abandon all attempts at creating order, and succumb to more impulsive, chaotic overlays. In many cases there will be almost enough room for a stamped unit, but not quite, and the pattern will be forced to abruptly end. I am interested in exploring the many possible narratives that might arise from the use of this rudimentary but highly allusive form of mechanical reproduction. 

 

Chronicle, 2008/ 2009

In my sculptures and drawings, I frequently co-opt the visual language of contemporary industrial design to comment on the potential negative consequences of unchecked technological progress. The common thread in all my work is nostalgia for the tangible and the particular, in opposition to the virtual and the abstract. My current projects are a response to the modernist prioritization of pure economic utility and how this has led to the emergence of non-places or "atopias" disconnected from geography and history.

Chronicle was inspired by the visual similarities between the patterns on big off-road vehicle tires and the patterns in Afghan rugs. The piece was designed to resemble the tread on Hummer tires, and also to reference a genre of hand-knotted rugs known as "war rugs" that were made in Afghanistan during the Afghan-Soviet war. Many of these rugs feature helicopters, machine guns and tanks mixed in with traditional animal and flower motifs. The tire-tread project was intended as an observance of  the innocent lives lost along with intended targets in our foreign wars, including the war in Afghanistan.

 

Statement of Intent, 2008

 I make objects and environments, and vector-based drawings that also turn into objects such as didactic-looking wall charts, enameled metal tiles, or wallpaper. I have also produced some animations with the help of another artist. Most of my work explores our apparent cultural preference for virtual or simulated experiences and things in favour of their "authentic" or "natural" counterparts. 

I intend for most of my projects to appear as awkward, misguided solutions to contemporary problems. For example, when I designed the galvanized and chain-link trees depicted in Surrogate (Modular Outdoor Fixture) after Hurricane Katrina, I imagined a mass shipment of soulless steel trees issued by the government to restore the devastated Louisiana landscape. Another piece, Ride, supposes that we might prefer the predictable, virtual experience of riding a mechanized "bucking bronco" ride rather than the live horse that plods in circles below, powering the contraption. 

Crucial to all of my projects is the choice of materials that will best communicate a given idea. I am most skilled as a woodworker, but I need to learn how to work with a new material for every new project. I approve of sculptor Tony Cragg's attitude towards materials use. He has written: 

 Because of the way and speed in which we produce new materials and objects, we do not have the time to develop a meaningful relationship with these materials. Trying to give these things more meaning, mythology and poetry is the clear predicate of art in this century.

Rather than manipulating a material in order to infuse it with meaning, though, I'm interested in allowing the industrial or commercial connotations of a material to direct the meaning of the artwork. I find it hard to distinguish between materials and products, since most materials I acquire are in no way raw; they are coherent things in themselves, laden with associations. 

I'm fascinated by the notion of style, which I consider an inevitable byproduct of any juxtaposition, accumulation, shaping or connection of materials. Even as I intentionally design dysfunctional solutions to ambiguous problems, I try to do so elegantly, saturating each object with art-historical (and design-historical) references. These range from the aesthetics of museum display and "cabinets of wonder" in my early kinetic pieces, to the Victorian decorative excess in my wallpaper that glorifies vigorously healthy urinary systems. This wallpaper and several upcoming pieces resemble designed products for mass consumption, while also attempting to critique the culture that would encourage their production.