Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chicken Karma Project

A long time ago, on a little farm on the Canadian Prairie, I became part of a killing machine.

We had just moved onto The Farm and there was a nice new barn.  I'm not sure who decided to raise chickens that summer - something about a sibling's scheme to get money to go to University that fall.  

The first batch of 250 chicks was exciting.  The second batch of 250 soon after was surprising - they must have gone on sale.  Too many.  They outgrew the barn quickly - what a mess!

I'm not sure how it happened, but when it came time, my Dad and I were the only ones out at the kill zone.  We got more efficient every time we had another kill.  We'd knock them down and quickly wrap twine around their feet so we could carry as many as we could lift out to the kill zone.  The killing itself was quick and horrible.  As was the rest of the nasty process of plucking and gutting. 


Day after day of it.  We didn't raise chickens again.

Years later, in 2002, I was working at my studio table and noticed that a memory strip and a nearby bit of tin looked like two parts of a bird.  The head was a couple of pieces of scrap tin my Dad used to show me how to use rivets.  I put them together to make "Chicken Gets A Backbone" - shown here overlooking the kill zone (highlighted in red) from The Farm.  It is a sort of emotional self-portrait.

"Chicken Gets a Backbone" on The Farm

People liked "Chicken Gets a Backbone" so I made more and sold or gave away most of them.  I didn't keep good track of what I now call the 1st Flock.  Unlike the first bird, their heads and bodies could be moved and were clumsily adjustable.

I redesigned them so they could be easily locked into various poses and replaced the tin heads with read/write heads from hard drives.  I started to think of them as karmic erasers for all the chickens I killed back on The Farm and the Chicken Karma Project was born.  

That 2010 batch became the 2nd Flock, 19 birds complete with leg band identifiers, adjustable with thumbscrews at three points.  Several flew to friends, a few are in a show at The Harrison in Indianapolis March 2-30, 2012 and the rest are ready to fly to new nests.

Flock 2 Bird 18

I added adjustable head gear and recently finished the 3rd Flock of 10 birds.  The 4th Flock is on the drawing table.

See them all soon at

Thankfully I have had to do only mercy killings since that summer - a wounded bird on the side of the road, pets.  Obviously too soft to be a farmer, but I can make birds that are ever-changing sculptures.  These ones are a lot of fun and, most importantly, don't die.  

I'm not a religious person, but that's still good karma.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Source

I made "My Source" for a Solstice themed art show in 2003.  

"My Source", acrylic, circuit boards, self-lit, 42x42x9 inches, 2003

I had just lost my Dad to cancer and the gray skies were pressing down on me.  The Indianapolis Art Center's call for artists for their Light and Life Solstice show was a chance to focus on something positive - an homage to the sun.

I had selected circuit boards for those with lots of round elements - the red spots - and painted the boards crudely trying to mimic the color variation in the real thing.  I decided to make it self-lit because I was frustrated by how dull it looked, even though it was bright yellow, orange and red. 

I still remember the thrill I felt when I switched it on for the first time! I liked it so much I made a 4 foot square one the next summer - "My Source II" to go with "Blue Moon".  You can see the process at

In April that year, before my Dad was diagnosed, I made some drawings of the sun while my friend drove us to a Florida beach and away from the tiresome gray skies of Indiana winter.   We couldn't wait to see the sun!

Some of the drawings were inspired by the real thing - a deep space telescope image of the sun - I had recently discovered the SOHO telescope project online and was captivated by the chaotic images.  

Handy for those too-short gray winter days when you might begin to wonder whether the sun is even 'up there' anymore.  We are so spoiled - you can click a button on a website and see the source of all energy and life on our planet.  

Now that's a higher power we can all believe in.

See real time images of the sun at:

Geeky side note - in spectroscopic instrument diagrams, the radiation source is represented with a circle with spikes.   Like this one at

Welcome back, Sun! 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"You are Here"

I am often asked how I got the idea to turn dead electronics into works of art like those shown on  

I am a scientist and was working with scientists and engineers to build instruments in pursuit of new medical devices.  I must have had an arrogant day - I thought I could perhaps fix a problem with my video recorder, even though I had no training or knowledge other than the ability to see that something had burned out.  I couldn't fix it but it sure fixed that arrogant feeling.

It must have been a creative day, too, because I experienced a corner-of-the-eye view that made me see electronics as an art medium.  I couldn't ignore the concept so I learned how to paint and construct sculptures using circuit boards, wires and shiny metal bits.

It took a while before I was comfortable sharing and even longer to be comfortable adding artist to my full-grown scientist self-image. 

"You are Here", 1998  2.75" x 4.75" x 0.75", acrylic on circuit board, NFS.
My first ever piece is shown here - titled "You are Here" like the mall maps with a green dot.  There are probably 50 coats of paint (I learned how to prepare the surface soon after) and it is very crude.  

"You are Here" represents a view of the dark spaces within - the bright spots and few colors are floating above the dark field - some even hang out over the edge into empty space.  The green dot was me and I wasn't sure where I was.  

My work has turned to mostly brighter - even lighted - works but I know there is much good to be found exploring in the dark.

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