Brett Swenson Masters The Elements & Culls Art From The Trash Heap of History

Using found artifacts and experimental chemical processes derived from science and industry, he charts the cultural intersection of past and future.

Found objects, cast replicas of found objects, and a photograph of a midden area at Fort Tilden Beach
Artist’s replica of a meteorite size reference cube

Brett’s art deals with the ravages of time, chemical processes, and the symbolic shifts which inevitably take place in both the natural landscape and manmade objects. For instance, his series Strewn (2014) was created by embedding rusted old spark plugs from the 1940s in gypsum cement.

The spark plugs are sunk into the gypsum bricks to varying degrees and in various orientations, with the bricks installed in an orderly grid, such that the spark plugs appear randomly strewn about, reflecting the way Brett originally found them, partially or completely buried in the sand at Fort Tilden Beach.

“Strewn” (2014), Found objects encased in gypsum cement102” x 38” (259 x 97 cm), installation view and details

What you get here is a tension between the orderly forces of industry and science and the entropic forces of nature and time. But sometimes nature takes too long, so Brett steps in and uses alchemical processes to create the artifacts of his imagination.

One of his signature processes is to heat up obsidian in a kiln, inducing it to expand into unruly, billowing shapes. In his “Standards of Measurement” series, Brett heated obsidian (also known as volcanic glass) inside lab beakers so that the beakers melted and warped to conform to the expanding obsidian. For another project, he suspended obsidian within a spiky iron armature and filmed it expanding to create a video loop in which a black ball of obsidian expands and contracts like a beating heart trapped within an inhuman cage.

More recently, Brett has been experimenting with pinning the expanding material under pylon type structures, with the intention of using the resultant works in site specific installations that combine both built and natural forms.

(Left) Object created in the filming of “…silicovolcanoconiosis (Hypochondria)” (2014). (Center) Experiments with obsidian & pylons. (Right) Installation concept rendering

If you are in New York this month, you can see his work on display in the group exhibition PUSH/STRIKE/RESIST at Equity Gallery on the Lower East Side (running through February 18th) as well as in another group show Dead Horse Bay: The Glass Graveyard of Brooklyn at the Agnes Varis Art Center in Brooklyn (opening February 1st, running through April 1st).

Standards of Measurement, 6 Liters (2014) 6L Erlenmeyer flask, volcanic matter, heat, glass shelf and bracket, 18" x 18" x 9" (46 x 46 x 23cm)