Artist Writing: The Elementary Object



The history of the tobacco pipe curls its smoke around the world.

In 1586, Governor Ralph Lane of Virginia gave an aboriginal calumet to Sir Walter Raleigh that set a trend among English courtiers. Over time a nicotine fit spread to every known continent. The Native American signifier of peace was handed into the clutches of a British explorer who had a six year authorization to take possession of “any remote barbarous and heathen lands not possessed by any Christian prince or people,” and who was a leading advocate of assassination to get rid of Irish leaders. With Sir Raleigh’s help, it appears the tobacco plant lost some spiritual ground for “the others,” but gained prominence as a cash crop for “the few.” No doubt it had a part in lining the royal Elizabethan coffers (coughers?) with enough jack to do such things as continue sponsorship of Cambridge and Oxford Universities which Elizabeth had incorporated and reorganized in 1571.

Cut away from Raleigh in prison penning his version of the History of the World

to a present day American university professor, unlit pipe clenched firmly in his mouth, deeply immersed in the contents of Sir Walter’s text, as an anonymous package on his desk explodes, tearing word and body into forensic bits.

to a roof top blasting away in the Corsican night as nationalist terrorists make their point to some small-time tourism developer.

to the docks where greatly desired Corsican briar wood is to be shipped to Germany and France to produce pipe bowls in time for Christmas.

to Germany where parents map out Corsican vacations and kids check out Max and Moritz loading up the poor accountant’s pipe and getting a chuckle out of the (racist?) blackface result.

to an archetypical white, middle-aged, middle-class dude with his slippers and pipe, signifying relaxation and, yes, peace, at home watching one more report on the World Trade Center bombing.

All these scenarios apply to The Elementary Object. Fashioned from European briarwood, loaded with triple F, superfine blasting powder, nestled in a bed of excelsior (shaved wood), surrounded by vermiculite/concrete, and encased in a locked steel attaché case, its fuse unites sardonic humor and the potential for tragic destruction. The Elementary Object utilizes an image that has been reproduced in art and literature, and that has come to signify qualities of power, leisure, pleasure and contemplation. This version loads an actual source for physical harm into the benign pipe in order to bring forward new fodder for explosive contemplations.

This is a pipe: (lit) this is not a pipe.