08 January 2007

Isamu Noguchi -- I am a Foxhole, 1942

This piece is alternatively known as I am a Foxhole (as it is titled in Noguchi's memoirs A Sculptor's World). The ambivalence regarding its title and its referent is also reflected in its being exhibited both as a wall mounting (like a tragi-comic trophy) and horizontally (like a model for an earthwork).

The mound with a circular depression contains a small, thin abstracted figure. This sort of stripped down image of a person reappears is various works over the years, appearing in guises such as a chess piece, a globular form, a phallic element, or an erect body.

In this particular case, the second title for the piece is sufficient to suggest the existence of an individual (either the author or the viewer) trapped within a depression in the ground (a foxhole) and symbolized by the elongated tall thin element.

That the piece combines the sensibility of a model and suggests modeling of the earth (at least metaphorically) parallels his personal situation at the time. He felt himself isolated and attacked. The U.S. government was suggesting he might be acting as a Japanese spy and the FBI was carrying out extensive surveillance of his mail and activities.

While the piece is perhaps a bit too literal in representing some kind of aerial guided bombardment directed toward the mound of earth and overpowering the fragile figure within, it clearly represents Noguchi's developing vocabulary of materials and forms. Its use of magnesite cement to represent the massiveness of the earth is common to other works of the period. The cork, wire, fabric, and wood are used as contrasting mechanically fabricated elements, not unlike the opposition of organic and manufactured forms in his earlier proposed Musical Weather Vane of 1933.

The tension between the still, heavy mass of the earth is juxtaposed to the light technologically derived elements (cork, wire, fabric, and wood). The form of these elements is clearly dynamic with actual tension evident in the wire, the fabric, and the weight of the cork ball, in addition to the formal dynamism of these elements as they contrast the self-contained, motionless mass of the earth.

These elements representing landscape forms in solid, organic form and lighter instrumental elements carry through many works Noguchi proposed and executed during the 1940s.

Archival image by Rudolph Burkhardt.

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