Thursday, December 07, 2006

Found Sculpture In America, or: Don't Call Me Squirrelly

I remember that the artist/director David Lynch, long interested in the ways that the organic world changes shape, once took a small ball of meat and sculpted a cheese head around it, poking holes in it for eyes, nose and mouth.

He then let some ants loose on the milk-based mini-bust and watched as the ants slowly retrieved the meat from inside it, eventually leaving the husk of the cheese head. Here was an example of nature, with a little encouragement, creating its own art.

Well, an interesting thing like it has been happening here of late.

To dispose of leaves and shrubbery, the local township hands out these very sturdy long bags into which one is supposed to place the errant greenery.

One day, fired up with an unusual amount of energy, I found myself cramming a great deal of loose branches into one of these bags, twisting and turning them so that they fit. This bag, only partway filled, then stayed by the side of the house for many months, silently awaiting the day when I would be visited by a similar burst of inspiration.

This meant that the bag then went on to face the elements: many sessions of strong rain and heat and cold, pummeling it into a strange clay that awaited an artist’s hand.

Eventually, I noticed that something strange was going on. As the weeks ticked by towards winter, more and more of the bag seemed to disappear, revealing the delicate branches within. The wood had, over time, come to assume the shape of the bag, and now the branches had assumed a cylindrical shape about a foot and a half high. It looked for all the world as if it had been quite intentional and, moreover, resembled something you might see for sale in a local artist’s shop.

But where had the bag gone? We finally caught the culprit red-handed one day as we saw a squirrel making off with yet another large piece of the bag and trying to make his way across the street with it.

It was far too large for him to carry and we watched, fascinated, as he attempted to collapse its size, over and over again, until it became small enough to manage. He then ran up a neighbor’s tree with it and, we assume, added it to a work-in-progress.

My god, we thought. We’ve become a sort of Home Depot for the local wildlife. Providing one-stop shopping for all of your winter nest needs.

Apparently, though, this squirrel, let’s call him Andy Squirrelhol, was not the only one with an eye towards establishing an artist’s colony here. For weeks, we had been mystified by the muffled sounds of scampering on our roof, which were only explained when I found that another squirrel had managed to push up a section of our aluminum siding and crawl in. The only way to do this seemed to be a tall tree near the entrance, so I cut it down a few feet, figuring that would put an end to it.

I was shocked, then, when the late-night scampering continued and found that, in a nimble bit of acrobatics that I witnessed myself, the squirrel had discovered a way to climb down the roof, flip himself upside-down and around, like the star of some Squirrel du Soleil, and pull himself up into the hole!

He’d also established a front entrance around the front of the house, pried apart by, one supposes, the inner fire of artistic necessity. We supposed this entrance was for pick-ups and deliveries.

The best we can figure now is that he’s got a loft space up there where he busies himself, Jackson Pollock-like, creating action paintings with the juices of berries or collages that utilize various nut meats.

I believe in subsidizing the arts, but the temptation to raise their rents and sell the spaces to some yuppie squirrels is very tempting.

I’m doing my best to keep it from going that far, but if one of them comes up to me and asks me what aisle we keep the power tools in…


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