Room Galleria, Milan, Italy - 04/2009, (room 1), (link here)

Untitled, 2009, copper, 9'' x 22'' x 5''

Untitled, 2009, reclaimed wood, steel,12'' x 5'' x 1 1/2''

Untitled, 2009, cotton, liquid chlorophyll, 72'' x 26'' x 3''

Room Galleria, Milan, Italy - 04/2009, (room 2)

Untitled (woodpile), 2008, wenge, brass, 61'' x 28'' x 11''

Untitled, 2009, loofah, wood, plaster, paint, 13'' x 11'' x 6''


Tatlin’s Woodpile, The Sculpture of Richard Clements - Robin Peck, 2009

“Numen is history petrified, eternalized, trapped, for one finally holds it immobile, chained beneath a prolonged gaze”.  Mythologies, Roland Barthes, 1957

Richard Clements’ Untitled (woodpile), 2009 is an openly piled stack of very brown, stained or charred lumber 1x3s. It is the size of a large campfire, approximately one foot high, two feet wide and five feet long. Lumber is geometry in wood. It evokes construction, and as resurgent atavism, wood construction recalls wood piled for a fire. Constructed wooden architecture anticipates destructive arson.

Untitled (woodpile) also looks like a giant game of pick–up-sticks, a broken Rietveld chair, a trampled fence, or a model of a collapsed freeway overpass, lacking only the crashed scale model motor vehicles. The recumbent diagonals seem to be the elongated shadows of people walking, recalling the dynamic simultaneity of Italian Futurism, or the ribcage of a fallen Talos (1). Yet these images seem to be smoky simulacra that dissipate as soon as they arise.

The nine brown boards apparently thrown down in random disorder are actually fixed in place by short angular cast bronze brackets that resemble model train track switches (2). If the boards are tracks then the brackets are axes, sculptural tropes (3) that recall the bronze tenons of megalithic architecture. Bronze sculpture is always an anachronism. History feasts on the brown and green patina of bronze. History is brown (4) and Clements’ sculpture is steeped in it. 

A bracket on each side of the sculpture fixes a board to the floor, and the remaining eight brackets each hold and align the intersection of two boards. It may be possible to construct other variations using this same set of boards and brackets; nevertheless, the sculpture is now in gridlock, as if incapable of further construction or destruction. This stasis is imposed by Clements’ historic gaze, represented in brown wood and bronze.

The influential book, Hamlet's Mill documents a theme running through world mythology, that of a mill turning on a shaft. In these myths, a major event occurs and the mill is destroyed, causing a revolution. Hamlet’s Mill proposes that the “mill” is an axis mundi (5), representing the Earth turning under the heavens and proposes that mythology is history, an ancient technical language describing astronomical events that occurred in humanity’s remote past.

Consider Soviet Constructivist Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International (1920), a 6-meter wooden model for a proposed 400-meter tower, as a relatively new and historic version of Hamlet’s Mill. Tatlin’s proposed revolutionary Monument was to be a steel skeleton containing geometric glass buildings that would rotate once a year, once a month, once a day, once an hour and contain the meeting halls of the Soviet Comintern. Tatlin attempted to bring the motions of the solar system down to earth and embody them in the architectural body politic (6).

With its diagonal spine, caducean ribs (the diagonal timber bracing of these spiral ramps prefigure Clements’ woodpile) and semi-circular stepping arches, the Monument formed a colossal striding figure, like an architectural version of Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913). Ironically, the Monument also resembled a gigantic fasces, that ancient Roman bundle of reeds or branches tied into a bundle around an axe, with blade projecting, symbolic of strength through unity and a favorite sign of fascist governments. As with wood construction and arson, the very construction of the fasces anticipated its own burning (7).

The model for the Monument to the Third International was a pile (8) of lumber and was lost long ago, likely dismantled for firewood in the cold winters of the Russian revolution and civil war. It originally served as a central icon of that revolution, and later its memory acted as a beacon illuminating the development of modernist and then post-modernist architecture and sculpture. The model is now reincarnated as numerous reconstructions in museums around the world. There is also a new (2006- ) attempt to complete the construction of the full-scale monument from actual steel and glass. Various individuals and organizations will make it in sections at locations around the world until the entire full-scale tower exists, if unassembled (9). Clements’ Untitled (woodpile) looks less like a contribution to this new full-scale Monument and more like a new model that retains some historically charred brown memory of the old.

Clements’ work is grounded in art history. His rune-like wood “Y” sculpture is an inverted version of Brancusi’s Torso of a Young Man (1917) and there is much of Joseph Beuys (Fond III/3, 1979, and Fond IV/4, 1979.) and Robert Morris (Hearing, 1972) in Clements’s 18''x 9''x 4'' folded sheet copper box packed full of solid copper bars. As Clements’woodpile recalls Tatlin’s lumber pile,  so it also reminds us of the gilded sunrays of Bernini’s St. Teresa in Ecstasy (1652) (10), the plaster sunshine of Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni’s Head+House+Light (1912), and any number of other canonic “wood piles” of seminal modernism, most significantly Marcel Duchamp’s gold and sepia-toned cubist satire, Nude Descending the Staircase (1912).

In 1913, American author Julian Street wrote that Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending the Staircase resembled "an explosion in a shingle factory." (11) Clements’ sculpture is a model of the entire sculpture project since Duchamp and Tatlin, since the initial “explosion (and subsequent fire) in the shingle factory”. Clements’ woodpile is a fragmentary sculptural memory of Duchamp’s Nude Descending the Staircase and Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International, and a numinous still smoldering simulacrum of the whole.

My father’s woodpile was a stack of lumber leftover from barn construction. As a child, I could hide inside its small secret crystalline cavities, homes to ants and bees, illuminated by geometric patterns of sunlight. I would tend them like un-burning fires as they changed shape and moved with the passage of the day. When I grew older and could no longer fit into the crevices the illuminated geometric place became numinous memory (12). The lumber inevitably aged to silver-gray, as if in material decline from a mythical golden age

An untitled 8mm film produced and exhibited at NSCAD in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1970. A 5-minute film, it was painstakingly single-framed to document an entire 8-hour working day. In the film, timbers propped open a window and fanned out onto the floor like a comic book representation of rays of sunshine. The only movement was of geometric swaths of real sunshine that poured through the window and swept across the lumber.


(1)  In Greek mythology, Tálos (Latin Talus) was a giant man of bronze.

(2) A railroad switch, turnout or set of points is a mechanical intersection that enables railway trains to be guided from one track to another at a railway junction.

(3) “Trope” from Greek trep?, "to turn, to direct, to alter, to change".

(4) “I have called brown a historical color” -Oswald Spengler. On the symbolism of patina and the colors brown and green, see Oswald Spengler, "Form and Actuality", The Decline of the West. Vol. 1, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1928 (1992) p. 253-255

(5) The axis mundi (literally the axis of the world, columna cerului) is a central point of connection between sky and earth, where correspondence occurs between higher and lower realms.

(6) In the original model, a small boy hidden in the wood box base turned a crank to animate the internal organs of the architectural body. John Milner, Chapter 8, ‘The Monument to the Third International’, Vladimir Tatlin and the Russian Avant-Garde,  Yale University Press, 1983, pp. 151-180

(7) A fagot is a big bundle of sticks or branches, for use as firewood. It derives through the Italian fagotto from the Latin  fasces, "bundle”. It can refer specifically to wood for funeral pyres and executions.

(8) A “pile” is a colloquial English term for a grand building of any sort, as in “the family pile.”

(9) See, http://www.tatlinstowerandtheworld.net/tt/start.htm It also has recently been “built” full-scale as a virtual project in the Unbuilt Monument series of the Takehiko Nagakura / MIT ARC GROUP.

(10) “I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire.” Teresa of Avila, The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, 1515-1582

(11) Everybody's Magazine, 1913,  Guy Wilson, Dianne H. Pilgrim and Dickran Tashjian, The Machine Age in America: 1918-1941, the Brooklyn Museum and Harry N. Abrams, New York , 1986, p. 211

(12) “Numen is history petrified, eternalized, trapped, for one finally holds it immobile, chained beneath a prolonged gaze”.  Mythologies, Roland Barthes, 1957


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