PC: Do you see your sculpture as exploration and expression?
JB: Well, exploration I relate to a little. Expression I don’t seem connect to as a word because it seems so vague to me. You’re really getting at “Well, what does your work mean to you?” That’s really the question. So let’s see if I can find my own words. First of all, it’s very hard some days to really know what I’m doing partially because I’ve just been doing it since I was eight years old. And it’s not like I had or have a plan.
It’s just unfolding, one thing leads to another. If I did have a plan as a child, it was to make—I don’t know what the correct word is; I was going to say “great” art, but I don’t want to be misinterpreted as competitive in that sense—but just wonderful art for myself and, therefore, hopefully, for other people.
But where it has led and where it still wil lead is a bit of a marvel to me because I can look back and see things that I’ve done in the past and say, “Wow, how did I get to do that? What led me there?” And I’m looking here in my studio as I sit talking to you, and I can say, “Woah, look at this! So different from ten, fifteen, twenty years ago! How did I get here?” And possibly at the end of my life I’ll be able to tie it up into a neat package, hopefully reflecting what I’ve learned, possibly some wisdom of some kind.
But I am very interested in humanity and who we are as people, and why we treat each other the way we treat each other--both good and bad, and what it takes to be more peaceful. And if we’re not peaceful, why is that?
All these thoughts are going through my mind as I make my work, and somehow the work then is a reflection on--or an illustration of--my interests or concerns—or, “wonderment.” Right now, looking at my studio, I’d say, “I’m in my wonderment phase.” You know, as a younger and possibly angrier artist in the seventies and eighties I might have created an installation at the Whitney which reflected on our country’s inability to communicate with our then Russian enemy, our “Godless Russian enemy” as President Reagan referred to them. So like some younger artists I might have expressed more of an anger and frustration with the lack of wisdom shown by our leaders or even just everyday people.
At this stage of my life as my own human consciousness continues to develop, and—regardless of the fact that it’s equally frustrating out there today in terms of the stupidities of war and the lack of wisdom shown by our leaders that we must observe on a daily basis-- I refuse to let my art illustrate these frustrations. At this point in my life I am creating works of art that are like prayers, efforts to send out positive energy.
PC: Would you say a little more about how your art embodies the prayers?
JB: Well, first we could go back to an earlier work. In 1986 I produced a sculpture called Fish with Ruby Eye that was hung from the ceiling of St. John the Divine Cathedral for six months. It was a forty-five foot long fish with spinning LED changing colors tubes and a large brightly lit ruby for an eye. As I’ve mentioned, the ruby originally came from a dream, and immediately became a symbol for my heart. In the dream I was holding this ruby between my two hands, and it was the size of my heart. It was a beautiful glowing red jewel. We each are welcome to interpret our own dreams. As I woke up I just saw it, or felt it as my heart.
I began to use the red ruby symbol in different contexts. So when I did an installation in a corner room of the Gropius Bau in Berlin, the Berlin Wall was still there running just outside along the building, and right next door was the original site of a German torture chamber. I filled the room, which had windows looking out onto these negative symbols of humanities, with many bright red rubies painted on the wall as part of the installation. So there is an early example of using my personal symbols in a prayerful way. I just tried to bring my healthiest, most positive energy to the moment, which was very difficult, to do at that moment because of the negative energy surrounding the site.More recently, the Human Structures series, which includes new indoor and outdoor sculptures illustrates human figures connected to figures, connected to more figures—hand to hand as well as head to foot. These structures become an integrated modular systems that illustrate the infinite connections that bind us all together.
Male/Female (male detail view), 1998, aluminum, Offenburg, Germany
Male/Female (female detail view), 1998, aluminum, Offenburg, Germany
Fish With Ruby Eye, 2 1986, fiber optics, bubble wrap, steel, wood, plexiglass, electric motors, Saint John the Divine Cathedral, New York City
Fish With Ruby Eye, 1986, fiber optics, bubble wrap, steel, wood, plexiglass, electric motors, Saint John the Divine Cathedral, New York City