A box of “street” that I found
Prior to reading William Gibson’s 1986 science fiction novel Count Zero, my only exposure to the art of assemblage was a shoebox diorama of the Cretaceous period featuring an obligatory triceratops dinosaur, which I made in grade four, using cardboard, paper, white glue, tempera paint and Saran wrap.
Part of Count Zero is a meditation on—and an appreciation of—American artist Joseph Cornell, the man most responsible for making the creation of box assemblages a fit task for fine artists and public school students alike.
An artist famous for thinking inside the box
Joseph Cornell was an eccentric American artist; a painfully shy, introverted man who rarely strayed from his home in New York state and from the 1930s through to the 1960s, expressed his extravagant and passionate nature within the confines of an untold number of amazing glass-fronted, wooden-boxed, assemblages of found objects.
Cornell took what had once been a kind of scrap-booking hobby—the shadow box—and almost single-handedly turned it into a highly respected art form.
To be sure, it took someone special like Cornell to make a box of old bric-a-brac speak so eloquently and meaningfully but the fact is that random objects juxtaposed in a box always conspire with the viewer to write themselves some kind of narrative. Half the secret of art, I think, is creating the conditions for the imagination to be able to leap to its own conclusions.
Consider the battered cardboard box and its contents that I saw early this morning (August 18), sitting where the mouth of an alley opens onto the south side of the 1400 block of West Broadway Avenue.
The few contents of the box—a kitchen knife, two blackened and broken glass smoking tubes, a 2.5-inch SATA laptop harddrive, a green memory circuit board, a tiny and empty Ziploc plastic bag—were random garbage to be sure but all the same they had a story to tell me.
In my mind’s eye I saw someone taking stock after a night spent searching top to bottom through dozens of dumpsters in the Fairview neighbourhood—methodically (or meth-odically) tearing through bags looking for every precious grain of saleable merchandise.
What kind of awesome stuff this hypothetical dumpster diver may have found and kept I cannot say but they left an antiquated 160 GB SATA harddrive, a plate that secured said harddrive and some RAM—all suggesting the pulling apart of a really old laptop.
Maybe they originally ditched the laptop and many other things besides. Who knows how many people picked through the box before I came along. What I saw was surely the sum total of what no one before me had wanted.
Which is to say that no one wanted the tiny harddrive, the RAM, the small kitchen knife, or the two broken glass tubes used to smoke the crack or crystal meth that had almost certainly once been in the empty Ziplok bag.
A homeless person based in the Fairview neighbourhood wouldn’t have felt such a need to lighten their load into a cardboard box on West Broadway Avenue—they could’ve done it in any alley.
But this is just the sort of thing that I’ve seen people do when they’re not from this area. They wait to the last moment to consolidate their dumpster finds into the fewest carrying bags or one or two pieces of rolling luggage, just before they cross the Rubicon of West Broadway Avenue and begin the walk north over the Granville Street Bridge back to the Downtown Eastside.
Anyway, that’s my story, as I got it from the box, and I’m sticking with it. Click the images to enlarge them.