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Tweaking the familiar 

by Sheri Boggs


Like schoolchildren in the United States, young David Mach remembers being a 13-year-old transfixed by footage of Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon in 1969. Watching with his family in the United Kingdom, Mach's excitement was tempered by his grandfather's irritable skepticism and how his grandfather called it all "a load of rubbish, a pack of lies." It's not surprising that as an adult Mach might funnel his memories of that first moonwalk into an intricate sculptural piece, aptly entitled Spaceman. What is interesting is that Mach, who comes to the Inland Northwest next week as the first speaker in the 2001-2002 Visiting Artist Lecture Series, would use as his medium the humble wire coathanger.


Such adroit constructs are typical of the London artist's work.


"I first came across his work in Los Angeles, at the Ace Contemporary Galleries," says Tom O' Day, director of the SFCC Gallery, and one of the organizers of the series. "He had a phenomenal exhibition up, of all these trophy animal heads juxtaposed with enormous pieces of furniture and other items. Things like a jaguar biting into the back tire of a Kawasaki motorcycle. And all this stuff was totally suspended from the walls. It was just amazing."


If there's one word that consistently comes to mind in examining Mach's collages, sculptures, installations and proposed works, it's the word "tweak." The familiar is often juxtaposed with startling, often hilarious, new elements, or else it is something familiar that finds utterly new form as a sculptural medium. Accumulated objects take on startling new identities.


"I was completely taken by his work. He has this series of columns he did for a museum in Brooklyn, and he fabricated these columns out of stacked magazines. It's bizarre and it works," says O'Day.


Mach's first public work, a Polaris submarine fashioned out of 6,000 old tires, gained notoriety weeks after its unveiling in 1983 when it was torched by an arsonist, who later died from his injuries. Mach veered away from tires until just a few years ago when he used them again in Temple at Tyre, which first appeared in the sculpture park of the Middleheim Museum in Antwerp, Belgium. Once again using thousands of old tires, Mach explored notions of permanence suggested by classical Greek architecture through the intrinsically nomadic medium of the tire.


An intelligent sensitivity inhabits much of Mach's work. Recalling that 1969 broadcast, Mach remembers that there was a strange delay in which ghost images of the astronauts appeared on TV and that the images themselves weren't that clear. Spaceman, made out of hundreds of wire coat-hangers welded together, is sensitive to touch, and the artist points out that if the sculpture's "cilia" are touched, the whole thing vibrates and blurs.


Although Mach often employs wit and playfulness in his work, there is often an element of edginess, or sometimes even aggression. His Don't Give a F-- Bears are the very antithesis of Care Bears; their furry paws grasp electric knives and hair clippers like weapons, and surprisingly sharp teeth are bared in their otherwise teddy bear-esque faces. And some pieces, for instance the trophy heads (including wildcats biting into sofa arms and deer with bicycles caught in their antlers) of his Trophy Room installation, throw down a silent but unmistakable gauntlet to the viewer.


"Most of my work is meant to invite the audience in," he writes. But in Trophy Room, the invitation has its limits. "As you enter, however, there is a suggestion that you might not make membership."





David Mach speaks on Tuesday, Nov. 6, at SFCC's SUB Lounge at 11:30 am, and at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, 1021 W. Main (the basement of the old building), at 7:30 pm. He speaks at EWU's Art Building Auditorium at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 7. Call: 533-3746.

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