The Phoinīx Project
"Life Before Time," 37"x28.5", archival pigment print on Hahnemühle 308 gsm 100% cotton fine art paper, 2016, edition of 3, Shawn Saumell
"Time Before Death," 37"x28.5", archival pigment print on Hahnemühle 308 gsm 100% cotton fine art paper, 2016, edition of 3, Shawn Saumell
"Death Before Life," 37"x28.5", archival pigment print on Hahnemühle 308 gsm 100% cotton fine art paper, 2016, edition of 3, Shawn Saumell
What artist would burn his or her own work? After reviewing my personal collection and archives, I have decided to begin blazing my work. This is not an act of destruction through consumption of fire, but rather a reconstruction, a re-composition. This is not a death to my work, but rather a rebirth or resurrection. This process is not about obliteration but rather about metamorphosis. Something new from something old, bringing something into existence from something that had already existed, material-wise. The remains of the photographs become repurposed into sculptures, drawings, paintings, and installations. In the process, the image has completely transformed, the space it occupies has transformed, its form has transformed, and the material composition has chemically transformed.
I am not aiming to explore the limits or definition of art as Robert Rauschenberg’sErased de Kooning Drawing. I am taking existing work that I feel is either flawed or not yet realized, but at its cusp and giving it a second chance. Using existing bodies and individual pieces of work, I am baptizing the materials in flames and illuminating new life…a perfect fragile body. Fire destroys. Fire cleanses. Fire makes new. The two-dimensional becomes three-dimensional. The photograph becomes sculpture. Unlike John Baldessari’sThe Cremation Project(a death to all of his earlier work through the process of cremation),The Phoinix Projectis breathing new life into select chosen pieces. Just as centuries before Baldessari burned his paintings, Michelangelo burned his drawings, and even centuries earlier Virgil ordered hisAeneidto be burned. Artists may choose to ignite their works for different reasons.
I view this in light of the recent seven priceless paintings by Matisse, Picasso, and Monet that were stolen from the Kunsthal Rotterdam and believed to have been burned by the thief's mother. This is a tragedy, but what happens on the few recorded rare occasions when an artist sets flames to his or her own work? This can be seen as a dialog between the artist and his or her creation, but many other dialogs exist. I find the metamorphic process of the work quite beautiful. It can be very cathartic. Each piece appears different due to the nature of different photographic processes and how each responds to the flame.
The spirit from the previous piece possesses a different body. This is perseverance and transcendence to life after death. The sign is changed therefore the signified is changed. The identity of the medium of changed, and so is the subject. It is still about photography and art about art, art about philosophy, art about life and change, art about time…ephemeral eternal art.
These living pieces will continue through their process of metamorphosis by their ephemeral nature. With each vibration, gravitational, purposeful, or accidental movement through time, the composition will change for as long as chance exists.