As an artist I’m often an inventor. In the face of trouble in the people and culture around me (including myself) my thoughts tilt toward solving problems. I make utensils, prostheses, objects to help people consider or navigate experience. These solutions are not practical, rather, I make them to explore why they’re needed.
Like so many I’m preoccupied with environmental stewardship (this ratchets up to acidic alarm under a Trump administration). Recently I’ve been experimenting with ways to catalyze a reconsideration of humans’ relationship to the “natural” world. Specifically, I’ve been inventing objects that push against the construct that humans and nature are separate. Projects have included synthesizing plastic utensils from food, making fake, interactive grass, designing a prosthetic trunk for an amputated tree, and and placing models of ruined Syrian homes on a bough.
I’m also interested in the power of language to create culture. With the Human Nature Dictionary I invite the public to create new language which emphasizes that humans are part of nature, not separate. Language is also at the core of other works whose genesis is a phrase like “tree piercing” or “orchid crutch” or “snow strata”. This is followed by drawings, research, and experimenting with materials. Sometimes finding the right materials turns into an odyssey, but I have the benefit of being part of a diverse community of artists and makers in the greater Boston area. A simple question to colleagues about what kind of plastic will last in a tree for four months prompts long conversations about plastics, aesthetics, biodegredation, vendors, and scavenging.
Theoretical underpinnings for the work derive, in part, from systems theory, and in particular the research of sociologist Niklas Luhmann. Viewing complex subjects as cultural systems can be an effective strategy for artists. Any given system has channels of sensation and agency through which it interacts with its environment, and each system has blind spots which prevent it from sensing what’s happening outside or inside itself. The artist’s role, I feel, is to illuminate those blind spots.
Some of my work is participatory, and the objects I make allow visitors an intimate, tactile engagement with the work and each other. By creating a safe space, providing materials, and offering a set of gentle parameters I let people pause, drop their guard, play and create. I see a hunger for this in the visitors to these works. It motivates me.
– Freedom Baird