One Man's Trash...The Shadow Sculptures of Diet Wiegman
As trends in creativity have changed over the decades and the boundaries of what consitutes "Art" have all but disappeared, conflicting opinions have been shouted from both warring camps. There are plenty of old-school art critics who believe that many examples of modern art belong in the garbage, and on the other side of the battlefield, there are those artists who believe that things should be taken out of the garbage and be made into modern art.
A proponent of that exact type of inspired dumpster diving is Diet Wiegman, a Dutch artist who manipulates piles of debris, scrap metal, and trash into inexplicably shaped forms. When seen from most angles, they look...well...like he piled a heap of garbage together and put a title on it. But when seen from the right angle, with the right lighting, something truly spectacular can be seen...
We have been trained to see visual art as a tangible thing, even though we are not usually allowed to touch it in a museum, just as we have learned to hear music and taste food. The initial impulse will always be to pay attention to the object, rather than the shadow that it casts on the wall behind it, but that is where Wiegman's genius lies. His images are simple and distinctive, usually recognized in a single glance, yet that detailed shadow is created through a tangled amalgamation of wires, coins, glass, linen, bolts, and even mysterious, decayed elements that have no discernible designation besides "trash".
Wiegman's interpretation of Venus de Milo (below) maintains the sculpture's iconic severed arms, but adds a flaming section of red to her chest, a slight tweak to the source material from Alexander of Antioch. Similarly, in "Off Balance" (above), Atlas appears to be losing his grip on the world, or is unable to stand the weight of it any longer. Wiegman keeps the images recognizable, but adds his two cents as minor alterations, while leaving his intentions and meaning behind those artistic asides for the viewer to decide.
Diet Wiegman is not some hot, young artist on the gallery circuit of London and New York, and many of these images come from his earlier work in the 1980's. What makes it interesting is that he was the first to manipulate objects to capture and display light as art. He inspired numerous artists since then, but Wiegman was the first to develop any public acclaim or following for this form of shadowy sculpture art.
He remains contemporary for another reason, besides being the godfather to a somewhat obscure genre; some of his work seems to comment on society, consumption, the environment, and social issues. Art has always been linked to social activism in various ways due to the universality of images over words, and the form of Wiegman's art follows the same theory of accessibility, and perhaps exemplifies it.
His work is literally made from rubbish and a light source, two of the most universal concepts and socially equalizing components imaginable. There is no elitism in his symbolism, yet the simplicity of his images combined with the complexity of their construction makes for a powerful impact even today.
"Greedy Consumption" (right) is an image of a black and white globe, reflected off of a silver dinner plate with a small amount of, what looks like, rotten food. Even back in the 1980's, artists were aware of the rampant hunger and starvation in poor countries of the world that was infuriatingly dismissed or overlooked by corporate and governmental interests in exchange for more profitable ventures.
In "Misty Eyes" (below), the sparkling necklace does little else but reflect dollar signs, as the diamond industry has long been known for promoting the blatant demonstration of wealth, decadent superficiality, and conspicuous consumption. Also, the blood spilled in poor countries every year to obtain these diamonds is something that Wiegman was sure to be keenly conscious of before the creation of this piece.
Social commentary aside, Wiegman has the vision and patience to create these unbelievably realistic shadows that communicate a message or connote a work of art instantaneously. The ability to duplicate Rembrandt with some bits of paint-covered trash cleverly placed on a palette seems impossible, but thanks to the strict dichotomy of light and darkness, figures from the greatest Dutch Master emerge. The same can be said of Wiegman's homage to Michaelangelo's "David", unmistakably projected on a wall fifteen feet from the pile of scraps from which it was born.
While Wiegman pays his respects to the past, he also understands the modernity of his style, so Wacko Jacko was a sensible choice for one of his most popular and intricate sculptures to date. If you haven't been properly impressed by the skill set that is required to pull of this type of art, perhaps the images below will show you just how much precision it actually takes. This is the difference of a few inches, the difference between chaos and beauty - between madness and Art.
I won't speak for your tastes, but I personally prefer the latter.
Diet Wiegman works in a number of different alternative media and genres, and you can check out all of his artistic offerings over the recent decades at his website.
All images are subject to copyright by the artist.