All photos by Jane Burns
New York-based conceptual sculptor Marko Remec has created five contemporary totems by adhering ready-made objects such as mops, brooms, and mirrors to utility poles and our iconic water tower. These modern-day totems play with the tensions between the built and natural worlds while hinting at some of the uglier aspects of urban and suburban living.
We spoke with Remec about his work and the process of installing Totally Totem on MASS MoCAâ€™s campus.
Tell us about the conception of Totally Totem.
The Totem series originated from a site visit to MASS MoCA. My departure point was a set of telephone poles left over from a previous installation that I saw in one of the undeveloped buildings on campus. I had for years been fascinated by totem poles and had already gathered several large logs in my studio in anticipation of such a project. In addition, I had recently replaced some rearview mirrors on my Jeep, so I was experimenting with the old ones. When I saw that pile of poles, after having just walked around the museumâ€™s outdoor spaces, the idea for what became Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear (Circle Totem) very quickly gelled. I sketched this out for the museum and was encouraged to develop the work further. Once I had the idea of using mirrors and poles, the other works like Tall Totem and Fat Totem seemed the natural next step.
What are the formal concerns of reflectivity? Scale and iteration seem to be thematic in these works. How does that figure in your practice?
My practice is more on the conceptual level. Reflectivity is what a mirror does, and it provides a very accessible initial layer to a viewer. I am keying off of the attributes of what the mirror does. Safety turns into paranoia through massive iteration of reflection. When up close to so many mirrors, the overpowering opportunity for self-reflection references todayâ€™s rampant narcissism.
Why MASS MoCA?
Aside from it being the largest contemporary art museum in the world? It is kind of a homecoming. I went to college nearby. My first studio art teacher at Williams was very involved in the founding of MASS MoCA. Many artists I respect and follow have shown their work here. And most importantly, Joe [Thompson, MASS MoCAâ€™s Director] is somewhat of a maverick in the museum world who delights in introducing new artists.
Tell us about the installation process of Totally Totem?
I had five works to install that were all constructed on site. First, field work is challenging as you are out of the comfort zone of your studio. Second, you are working outdoors and have to deal with the weather. For the most part, I was able to make the first four pieces with the help of one of the museumâ€™s installation staff. I thought this left plenty of time for the largest and most complicated work, Fat Totem, which covers the museumâ€™s water tower (35 foot high and 45 foot in diameter). This last work was going to be difficult, and I needed the assistance of the installation team. It has almost 24,000 individual components to support and hold the 442 convex mirrors, each almost three feet wide. We used almost a mile of wire! There were some procurement issues, and a critical component we needed to mount the mirrors did not arrive at the museum until four days before the show opened. At this point, my only comfort was Joe telling me late Monday, â€śThis is no problem; if this was Wednesday, then I would be worried.â€ť It is a testament to Richard Criddle MASS MoCA’s Director of Fabrication and Installation, and his crew, that the work got done. We had the entire six-man team working overtime, including a number of walk-ons (Joe and Larry Smallwood [MASS MoCAâ€™s Deputy Director] both put in their time). On top of that, it rained miserably almost that entire week. In the end, it got finished. I guess I shouldnâ€™t have worried.
What is one interesting thing you learned about MASS MoCA?
MASS MoCA is almost like the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark when the government stores the Ark of the Covenant for safekeeping, and then the camera pans back and you see it is in this immense space with all these other presumably amazing objects. There is a lot of intriguing stuff there.