What moves you? For the Brookfield Craft Center show in 2002, “Moves in Polymer Clay,” (Brookfield, Connecticut) curator Elise Winters invited artists to create something in response to the word, “move.” Dan Cormier’s translation of the request resulted in a work entitled, Looking Back to a Less Complicated Tomorrow, that moves on several levels: literally, emotionally and through time, which is quite an accomplishment for a creation that appears to be a toy.
As Cormier writes, “I had several goals with this piece: I wanted it to be conceptual; I wanted to work larger; I wanted to give myself a hefty technical challenge; I wanted it to move somehow; I wanted to expand on the idea of the inro; and I wanted to wrap all that up in a personal statement.”
The process began with the construction of the inro. Cormier knew that traditional inro often have a theme so he decided to follow that custom. He fused the traditional form with an aesthetic derived from his affection for Japanese “space-age” tin toys made post World War II. This was the origin of the many segmented astronaut figure “inro” at center. Cormier took this to a more personal level by pasting a photo of himself at age 6 onto the surface of the polymer, thereby creating a self- portrait of himself as a young boy. Dividing the body into five segments, the astronaut figure moves apart into separate sections as is the convention with inro vessels and in this case, the figure’s arms move as well from front to back.
This piece is also revolutionary. Continuing with the theme of the future, Cormier envisioned a space ship to contain his astronaut boy vessel. Using a bell jar as the dome, the astronaut could be safely positioned inside in preparation for take-off. Like any well made flying saucer, Cormier’s flying saucer spins. A master craftsman, Cormier describes forming the saucer part by molding polymer over a stock pot lid. Once cured, he had to cut it off leaving a permanent scar that still reminds the family of the flying saucer upon every use. A small electric motor was installed and Cormier relates that “after some troubleshooting, my flying saucer display case was spinning at 2.5 revolutions per minute.”
Mixed into this futuristic representation of Cormier as a boy, were his more adult emotions from the period after September 11, 2001. Cormier recalls, “with daily reminders of the awesome destructive power of our technology (later we would call it “shock and awe”), I think a fatigue had set in. I needed a space to retreat to, and that space was Space itself-or at least to the idea of Space, as a frontier, a place of infinite possibility and using our technology as the means of exploring it. This is an idea that I’m sure took root in me when I was a young boy. I think, as a grown-up, I was looking to recapture a more innocent perspective about the possibilities of our technologies, a more positive one- here in the form of a child’s plaything, an astronaut and a flying saucer toy.” Through this process, Cormier not only moved into his memories and the compelling state of involvement that comes with making art, but he also found a way to create something that was positive and moved towards the future with hope.
This meticulously constructed piece expresses movement in multiple ways, through the components themselves and through its content and context. The astronaut vessel swings its arms and separates, and can be moved in or out of the spinning flying saucer. That is all visible physical movement. Less revealed to the naked eye, Cormier moved emotionally through the process of remembering and then transcending into a place that provided relief and hope after times of great duress and sadness. Even the fact that the astronaut boy vessel opens to reveal hidden reservoirs of interior space, adds to the idea of a private refuge. And finally, as a post script that would have been unknown to him at the time, within a few years of creating this piece, Cormier became the father of a son, whose existence now surely overlays an additional layer of meaning onto this childlike reverie for a hopeful place to explore.
Materials: Astronaut Inro: polymer, aluminum tube, photograph, rubber cord and o-rings, rare-earth magnet. Flying Saucer Display Case: polymer, glass dome, aluminum sheet and tubing, rubber o-rings, electric motor, misc. hardware.