Consider Stout's "Lost in the New Landscape," part of a series of insect and small creature dioramas that resemble bell-glass clocks or a stock market ticker. A moth -- Stout uses actual insects -- is shown in what might be considered its "natural" habitat: under a light bulb. The apparent natural history display is skewed, however, by Stout's use of mini-motors on the moth's delicate wings. Every wing beat actuates a digital counter, transforming the construction into a timepiece.
In a phone interview from his home in Utah, Stout explained his interest in exploring the context in which humans view the world: Whereas once we saw things as "clocks, then machines, now we say 'hard-wired'" and employ other computer terms, he says. We discuss how this is reflected in language: a woman's biological "clock ticks," a diligent fellow "works like a machine," babies are "hard-wired" with certain traits.
Humans also anthropomorphize, says Stout: "happy as a clam," "mad as a hornet." His installation entitled "The Thirteen Emotions Expressed by Turkeys" consists of cast-plastic turkey heads coated with bronze powder and mounted taxidermy-style. Imagine a Thanksgiving special with Dr. Phil asking Tom Turkey, "How's this workin' for ya?" (Tom Turkey: more anthropomorphism.)
Stout is also interested in how humans project their desires on the animal world. "A Contrivance To Hunt Deer at Great Distances" includes video, remote controls, a foam deer target and a missile with a big arrow on it. Yeehaw! Git me a beer, honey, I'm huntin' from the La-Z-Boy. Uh, not quite. This is a satire.
So is Stout's work environmental, political, social? "It's not a call to action, per se," he says, "at least not directly." His work, he says, raises more questions than it answers.
The ambiguity and irreverence in Stout's work echoes the assemblages of Dadaist Marcel Duchamp, to whom "The Breath of Life Stripped of Its Breath" pays homage. And Stout, who is an assistant professor of art at the University of Utah, acknowledges how Joseph Cornell's assemblages and the kinetic works of sculptors like Jean Tinguely paved the way for artists like himself.
More recent artistic influences include California artists Allan Rath, an MIT grad who works in robotics and digital video, and Bruce Cannon, an electronics guru. Mostly, says Stout, he's influenced by technology, natural history and culture, building on his fascination with insects, model-making and dioramas.
With its faux backdrop and ant farm-like view of a grassy environment, "Breath of Life" looks like an ecology display. It's hyper-real in two ways: in how museums (and aquariums and zoos) only approximate reality and in how the mechanized grass only "blows" in the "breeze" when it receives the required pulse of computer-driven energy. Science tries to supplant nature, but art reveals the truth.
"I take the institutional language and hijack it," Stout says of museum techniques.
A literal "cutting-edge" example of Stout's wit is "Second Nature," with 11 saw blades protruding from mounds atop elegant black-lacquered cabinets. It emulates "blades" of grass "growing" from dirt out of a contaminated Superfund site in Utah. "Second Nature" was featured at Seattle's Suyama Space in 2005, attracting the attention of Eastern Washington's Lanny DeVuono, who invited Stout to speak as part of the visiting artist lecture series, "Work and Order: Nature and Home."
In his lecture, which is free and public, Stout will show slides of his work, including many described here. He'll discuss past projects and outline plans for future projects, such as the "fringe" pursuits of model-making (trains, historical dioramas, etc.) and the "colonization of space through language." He mused: "There's a whole galaxy out there named for someone's cat." That makes about as much sense as naming a car after a jaguar. Or a computer after a variety of apple.
Yes, we humans like to label things, just as we're insistent about classifying artists. But is Paul Stout a naturalist, environmentalist, expert craftsman, technologist or conceptualist? Perhaps the best classification for him has yet to be invented.
Visiting artist Paul Stout will speak as part of the "Work and Order: Nature and Home" lecture series on Wednesday, Jan. 25, at noon, at the EWU Art Department Auditorium, Cheney, and at 7 pm at the Northwest Museum of Art & amp; Culture, 2316 W. First Ave. Stout will also make a presentation on Thursday, Jan. 26, at 11:30 am at SFCC in the SUB Lounge, 3415 W. Fort George Wright Dr. Call: 359-6996 or 533-3746.