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  • Plans, Propositions, and Realizations
  • Mel Chin (bio)

This selection of drawings and sketches represents thoughts, visions, and various objects and observations, conveying my diverse spectrum of engagements over a few decades. Consider some of them “best laid plans” that didn’t necessarily come to fruition yet yielded studies and carefully wrought documents that became stand-alone artworks. Others are investigations or connected digressions made during the process of completing large-scale installations or instigations.

Some objects featured here arose from dreams (Shape of a Lie). One project emerged from a deep dive into dark waters and enlightened an entire process that made perfect sense to me at the time but had to be inked in so I could share its vision with others (The Ecology of GALA).

A drawing is sometimes confirmation to me that the shenanigans needed for a complex work are justified, a visual consideration of a much bigger action (Revival Field, SPAWN and SPORE, Sea to See). One drawing here considers the diaspora from a disaster in symbolic form (Portrait of NOLA). And some things are difficult to visualize; I turned to art history and found a study of a fresco that I redrew as a means to exercise empathy (Guantanamo).

I’ve written the captions in first person to offer the reader some insight into my process; for me, these captions ignite memories of the exciting early stages of a concept. For those of us with busy minds, it is easy to become distracted by the onslaught of information in today’s world. I hope this collection emphasizes the importance of committing ideas to a tangible form before they escape. [End Page 117]

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Principle of Polarity: The Orbital Rebus (Study for Mercury: Operation of the Sun through the Cult of the Hand ), 1987. Ink and graphite on vellum, artist-made frame, 23.75 × 23.75 in.

Operation of the Sun through the Cult of the Hand is a mythic, alchemic, scientific investigation into the origins of word, form, and materials, based on references to Greek and Chinese cultures and astronomical information. I set up the research project to upset my subjective creative process. Eventually, the works came to represent the nine planetary bodies of the solar system. Mercury, for example, in alchemy, is an essential ingredient of transmutation; in Greek mythology, a messenger god; and in astronomy, a hot swift planet. All create a complex puzzle. Drawing on Descartes’s theory of vortices, I imagined the interorbital space between Earth and Mercury filled with levitated pine firewood—cut into hexagonal, carbon shapes—that circled the Sun. Cornwall’s megalith Mên-an-Tol, the shape and notchings of a Chinese viewing disc (bi), and chemist August Kekulé’s dream of an ouroboros were also formal and cultural models for this construction. [End Page 118]

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Enlightenment of Thomas of Coventry (Study for Uranus: Operation of the Sun through the Cult of the Hand ), 1987. Paper, graphite, nails, textbook illustration, artist-made frame, 8.75 × 8.75 in.

While working on a larger piece, Uranus: Castration and Concealment, certain studies became stand-alone works. This one relates to the story of Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom. According to legend, after Lady Godiva made multiple attempts to persuade her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, to reduce his peoples’ heavy taxes, Leofric dared his wife to ride naked through the streets of Coventry in exchange. Out of gratitude, villagers agreed to cast their eyes aside; all except Thomas, who looked, earning himself the name “Peeping Tom.” The story goes that he was consequently struck blind. This work represents the optical orgasm of Tom. I was impressed by Lady Godiva’s activism, yet disturbed by the moralism of the story. Not interested in rigid moralism that can limit the vectors of imagination and the possibilities of recreating one’s world, I felt homage was due to Thomas. [End Page 119]

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Ruin, 1995. Erased US currency, five-dollar denomination, 2.61 × 6.14 in.

I hand-erased various denominations of currency to reveal messages beyond “In God We Trust” or...


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pp. 117-133
Launched on MUSE
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