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Toothpicks, buttons and cups: re-purposing as an art form

Posted in Things We Love

Can you tell what this is made of?
Can you tell what this is made of?

When my friend Marie first put New York artist Tara Donovan on my radar, telling me in glowing words about an exhibition she had visited in Denmark, I looked at the photos and yes, I could see what the fuss might be about, but, visually, it all seemed a bit bland.
“You really have to see it close up – the photos don’t do the pieces justice” Marie said.

As you (or I for that matter), couldn’t be expected to travel to Denmark en masse to see the exhibition, I passed on posting it. That is until Marie, ever persevering, sent me a video of Tara Donovan’s work and I was compelled to change my mind.

Tara Donovan
Look closer – it’s buttons. The piece is called Bluffs

I am always intrigued by the re-purposing of utilitarian objects, and by the ability of looking at things out of context to imagine a different use. Tara Donovan elevates this ability to an art form – she is not precious about the materials she uses for her sculptures and installations. In fact, she has made a name for herself by using objects like toothpicks, styrofoam cups, paper plates and even scotch tape.

Surprisingly, the materials come before the ideas. As Ms Donovan declared in an interview to W Magazine:
It’s a matter of deciding, Okay, I’m going to buy those cups. I don’t need plastic cups, but I’m going to get ’em and then mess around with them until I get an answer,” she says. “It’s a very organic, intuitive and observant process. I see where I wind up.” She doesn’t care that they’re cups—what interests her is “exploiting the physical characteristics of the thing that have nothing to do with what it’s used for.”

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The end results veer from the ethereal to the other worldly. Only after closer inspection, the objects at the core of the installations become apparent.

The video is only 4 minutes long and is a collage of close ups of Ms. Donovan’s intriguing and bewitching work. Narrated by the artist herself, it also has wise words on creativity (apparently it doesn’t fall from the sky while we wait around to be struck) and on the personal experience of witnessing art.

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11 Comments

  1. silvia
    silvia

    Great work, artist and video.
    I love her words ” I think inspiration is a joke, I think real artists sit down and get to work. People think it just comes from the sky…”. This sounds to me somehow linked to the central point of your recent piece Taking the negative out of “no”.

    November 15, 2013
    |Reply
    • Besides the beautiful close-ups, those words were the main reason I posted the video

      November 15, 2013
      |Reply
  2. Love it. I know a few glass artists that would probably love her work. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    November 15, 2013
    |Reply
    • You are so very welcome. It only took me three months to decide to post it!

      November 15, 2013
      |Reply
  3. Brilliant. Even more so after you hear the artist speak.

    November 15, 2013
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    • I totally agree, the video is extremely interesting, and you view her work with a more informed eye once you have heard her. I’ve just sent a link to her/it to an artist friend who lives in Cornwall.

      November 15, 2013
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    • I looked for current exhibitons around the world because I think it must fabulous to see close up but there are none. They just took down the one in Denmark. While researching her, I read that taking the pieces apart and reinstalling is a bit of a nightmare!

      November 15, 2013
      |Reply
  4. Her work is fabulous – thank you so much for introducing her in this post, I’d never come across her before.

    November 15, 2013
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  5. As a person who installs found rusted metal in old wooden windows, I totally get this! Awesome.

    November 15, 2013
    |Reply
    • Have you ever posted about that? Did I miss it? would love to see that. I have a thing for old windows.

      November 15, 2013
      |Reply

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