Where Secrets Lie, 2006. Surveyor stakes, 120 x 110 x 122 in.

The Great Equalizer: James Florschutz

For three decades, James Florschutz has been a gatherer, primarily collecting organic debris from the woods near his Vermont home. The last couple of years have found him tossing detritus culled from more urban areas into the trunk of his car as well. These days, he rescues tires from highways, rummages through recycling bins for old household items, and drags discarded pipes, wiring, rusting hardware, and rotting lumber from construction sites. All of it ends up in his studio.

Manufactured or natural, trash or treasure, everything that Florschutz discovers serves the dual purpose of material and muse. He embarked on this creative expedition while studying sculpture with Bill Wyman at Florida International University in the early 1970s. Wyman “was the first person I knew who was working out of the box,” says Florschutz. “I reacted to that by doing earthworks.” Coral being plentiful and versatile, he would cut large square or trapezoid recesses into it and use these geometric shapes to explore perspective, while also employing drawing and photography.

Fast forward to the present, and Florschutz is still inventing and investigating interior spaces, though now in the context of evocative, scrupulously designed strata constructed of materials mined from ordinary environments. The recent Beehive rests on the floor, an elongated dome consisting of concentrically placed blocks of wood, chips of slate, and chunks of asphalt. From one side, it appears as solid as a boulder, with the density and meticulous, airtight design of a patiently formed stone wall. Walk around it, however, and a narrow, vertical aperture becomes visible. Darkened by shadow, this deep embrasure possesses the might and mystery of an arrow slit in a castle battlement, further revealing Florschutz’s painstaking methodology and his preoccupation with spatial issues. “It’s all cyclical. I find myself going back to things,” he explains. “I pull a sketchbook out from back then and find the same images.”

Pyramid employs a similar strategy in terms of methodical, low-to-the-floor construction but with more variety of texture, color, and societal iconography interspersed among the carefully placed lumberyard fragments. Crevices are jammed with the familiar: a cell-phone, a cluster of pencil tips, a squashed length of pipe, telephone cords, CDs, and stones; tails of white plastic strapping protrude like bleached veins, completing allusions to a harsh, anatomical model of the earth’s delicate skin. Amid this totem of contemporary consumerism, a rusty spigot juts out incongruously from one face of the peak. On the opposite side, perched along the edge of a two-by-four, lays an elegant, antique woodworker’s file that belonged to Florschutz’s father. Pyramid’s three-dimensional, tightly stacked puzzle, as expected, contains a cavity, this one hidden. For those in the know, the top can be tipped back like a kettle lid, allowing a view into the darkness. During his show’s opening last spring at OK Harris, Florschutz didn’t mind if people peered down into the void. It simply heralded another way to experience the work.

That show also marked the debut of a series of 15 smaller pieces called “Stations,” which Florschutz assembled in response to a disturbing discovery that he made one day last year in a park along Lake Champlain. Plastic-wrapped Bibles had been set atop low cement posts, intentionally left for passersby to take. Florschutz took more than 30: “I knew I was doing it out of anger. Of course, with freedom of thought and religion they have a right to do that, but I have a right to steal them. In terms of the environment, anyone else would be arrested for littering, especially with the plastic. It has so many conflicts, it puts a barrier up immediately.” …see the entire article in the print version of September’s Sculpture magazine.