Some Assembly Required

Sometimes creating fine art is just a matter of spending quality time at the hardware store.

Jim Calvin, associate professor of art at MU, builds boxes but refuses to be contained in them. He began his career working in figurative bronze, moved to building assemblages and has, more recently, begun staging public performance art. "The marketplace dictates that you have a very narrowly defined style," Calvin says. "I enjoy the fact that working at a university allows me to follow my interests a little more liberally."

Collecting the objects used for his assemblage pieces -- found items joined together to create three-dimensional compositions -- allows those liberal interests a particularly broad range, Calvin says. "Usually I start with an interesting object that I'll leave sitting around in the studio, sometimes for years. As I think about what its potential might be, an organization of some sort eventually comes into focus."

Once an idea forms, he says, these cast-offs from our hyper-consuming society rapidly come together to yield the sorts of curious, and curiously compelling, works detailed on these pages.

"The water cooler assemblage for example," Calvin says. "I had acquired all these little pipettes from rat [drinking] bottles; they were just sitting around in a heap for a long time. One day I walked past them and the phrase ‘rat race' came to mind. I connected ‘rats' to ‘office culture,' and that made me think of the potentially dehumanizing aspects of office work. Then, boink! It all came together. I sketched out the concept." After that, he adds, "it's just a matter of spending quality time at the hardware store."

In performance pieces, such as the "entrenched bureaucrat", Calvin himself becomes the art object, albeit one that can, and often does, talk back to his audience.

"I don't see myself as being aloof from the audience, like so many performance artists who just will not make audience contact," Calvin says. "I was more than willing to talk to the people who came and climbed up on my sandbags. I see works like Entrenched Bureaucrat more as a performed installation, rather than as pure performance. It's work that's very much in the context of the assemblage pieces."

You can experience more of Calvin's creations, both assemblage and performance, via a multimedia slideshow narrated by the artist on Illumination's website: