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New York based artist/designer Frederick McSwain created his installation Cells — which was included in the exhibition Love it or Leave it at Gallery R’ Pure for NY Design Week 2012 — based on a memory from his childhood of a visit to his mother’s job as a bail bondsman in a county jail. The story is key to the installation as well as to the title of the piece and its many meanings:
One day after school, I was taken to the county jail. Escorted in, faded institutional colors and grimy furnishings painted the picture of another time. I sat down on a plastic dairy crate while fishing through my pockets for loose change. Shit out of luck, the fiery glow of a nearby vending machine taunted me as a feeling of anxiety began to creep in. Waiting impatiently, monotone hums from the fluorescent lighting composed a minimalist soundtrack, rapid heartbeats kept the time. My mother, barely visible through the glass window of a partitioned wall, was busy signing documents in the booking room next door. After what seemed like hours, she finally concluded her business and signaled over with the universal hand gesture for “Let’s go”. As we took our twenty paces to the car parked outside, she handed me a freshly snapped Polaroid. Still unclear, the image developed over the course of our drive home (a matter of minutes). Without revealing too much at once, the shadows slowly burned in, then the colors and highlights emerged, until eventually, a vivid portrait of a shirtless man came to life. It’s been with me ever since.
While the word “Cells” commonly refers to the smallest unit of living matter, it’s also synonymous with subjects ranging from statistical spreadsheets to terrorist organizations. In language, as in life, environmental factors play a vital role in shaping one’s self-identity and perception of the world. From the moment of birth, each of us is exposed to a continuous stream of information. Collectively, these people, places, and things guide not only our emotions but also our practical decision-making. Meticulously organized, the human brain has the incredible ability to decipher and store these real-world snapshots for retrieval at a later time. At the end of the day, we’re all simply the sum of our parts.
You may be familiar with McSwain’s tribute, last year, to the memory of his friend designer Tobias Wong made with over 13,000 dice, but if you’re not, you should definitely check it out here on Colossal.
Photos: Miller Taylor