Sunday, February 10, 2008

Recovered Crafts of Childhood: Let’s Call it a Draw

“We have suggested that within the apparent unity of the theological code, the fundamental difference of antagonistic class positions can be made to emerge. In that case, the inverse move is also possible, and such concrete semantic differences can on the contrary be focused in such a way that what emerges is rather that all-embracing unity of a single code which they must share and which thus characterizes the larger unity of the social system. This new object – code, sign system, or system of the production of signs and codes – thus becomes an index of an entity of study which greatly transcends those earlier ones of the narrowly political (the symbolic act), and the social (class discourse and the ideologeme), and which we have proposed to term the historical in the larger sense of this word. Here the organizing unity will be what the Marxian tradition designates as a mode of production.”
- Frederick Jameson, The Political Unconscious

“By the beginning of the ‘50s, the very nature of the sport was changing – and not for the better. Boxing had planted the seeds of its own destruction by televising boxing matches…fans were content to stay at home and watch the bouts for free – which is something like eating a ham sandwich with the waxed paper on as far as I’m concerned.”
- Angelo Dundee with Bert Randolph Sugar, My View from the Corner: A Life in Boxing

This circular drawing could have become a serviceable vehicle for the preparation and consumption of such a ham sandwich. Originally destined to be immortalized in plastic as a functional dinner plate, this round of paper was either forgotten or deemed unworthy by my parents. It was never forwarded on to the fabrication stage. Like Angelo Dundee’s ham sandwich, its use value is solely hypothetical.

To this day my family only eats off of a collection of about thirty plates that I made. The early works are largely studies of color – erratic rainbow scribbles that occasionally make it difficult to see what food, if any, is left on your plate. The later works are mostly paeans to my favorite shows, action figures, and athletes such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Inspector Gadget, and Will Clark. This boxing promotion was the last plate drawing I ever did.

My love for boxing was reared in the tradition of the Rocky movies: Crisp, clean blows traded swiftly, landed directly, articulated in a soundtrack of automobile accidents. This piece is therefore a tribute to the rigid organizational scaffolding that houses what is actually a messy and indeterminate sport. This drawing is basically a series of shout-outs to the delightful assortment of empirical outcomes (KO, TKO, Unanimous Decision, Split Decision, Draw) and rigid weight classifications (Heavy weight, Cruiser weight) of a brutal sport dependent on fallible human judgment and entirely inaccessible to statistical assignment or analysis.

In keeping with most of my childhood art objects, and what has become my favored interpretive stance on these relics, an orderly presentation belies a swirling set of contradictions lurking beneath. I am particularly curious about my decision to include that most unsexy of boxing outcomes, “Draw.” Unworthy of an exclamation point; bearing promise of nothing but a distant rematch. A humble declaration: “Draw.” Give me my money back.

As an imperative, this “draw” casts a new and revealing light on the social dynamics behind the production of this potential plate. I was literally being instructed to draw, to create, and it’s no surprise I buckled under this constant pressure to transfer my youthful creativity to the round page. Further evidence: the sloppy corrective lengthening pen strokes on the right side of the ring of emphasis lines emanating from “BOXING!”

The mode of production at work behind this drawing manifests itself in other striking ways that are less obvious. At first glance, the red mitten appears to be a poor rendering of a boxing glove. The oddly opposable thumb, however, leads me to believe it may be an unconscious rendering of an oven mitt. This oven mitt stands as an open acknowledgment of the purely functional value of the piece as dishware. Knowing that my work was destined to be a plate, this knowledge came to dominate what was now a self-aware artistic process. I was getting too old for this, and my mounting frustration with the limitations of the medium seeped into and corrupted my work. It’s no surprise that this round of paper was never shipped off to the processing plant.

I am proud, however, that this boxing promotion bares an uncanny and entirely coincidental resemblance to Kevin C’s glorious “Timeless Raps” graphic, which was created in MS Paint.

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