“Little Breakthroughs” uses shock value to show heart

Rachel Hoerman

If the name David Holland doesn’t conjure images of hard plastic hangers and pieces of crumpled paper being flung at you from behind a box, chances are you missed the talk he delivered at the Fine Arts Colloquium in Wriston Auditorium last Thursday. A professor of sculpture at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Holland delivered his lecture entitled “Little Breakthroughs” from behind a wall he constructed around the podium, explaining: “This box that I stand behind is a metaphor that has layers of meaning. As a kid I was shy and uncomfortable, and I am sitting behind this wall to illustrate a point.”A construction worker turned sculptor with a degree in civil engineering, Holland’s lecture centered around the evolution of his work, and his conceptualization of himself as an artist.

Citing the works of famous 20th century sculptors like Hess, Deacon, and Craig as his inspiration, Holland began carving in stone, and completed his first work, entitled “Scratch,” in 1987. While attending college in Washington D.C., Holland found employment at a construction site, subsequently finding the materials and motivation that would set the tone for the rest of his works.

Holland’s “Emotional Armor” (1993-94) is a model of an anatomically correct human heart carved entirely from sheet metal, with sculpted references to stethoscopes, veins, and pendulums.

Hearts, which are a recurring theme in much of Holland’s work, appear in his “The Heart We Build” (1996) and “Revelation” (1996) as well. In “The Heart We Build,” Holland constructs a full-room display of a heart using fragments of vacuum cleaners, pumps, wires, and other items. “Revelation,” on the other hand, is a relatively small sculpture of sheet metal being torn away to reveal a heart of stone.

As his knowledge and experience progressed, Holland began experimenting with new methods of sculpture and creation. Much of his later work, such as “Inside Out, On and Above” (1998)—a display of road maps and heart images that dominates an entire room—utilize small motors and electrically charged impulses of light to relay their message.

Taking his technological knowledge one step farther, Holland created “Transmission” (1999), which he describes as “an aluminum heart with still tubes, arteries, and veins that are cold and efficient, frozen yet flowing. It changes the dynamic of the viewer piece because the viewer is surrounded by the piece. A heartbeat sound emanates from behind, and during the opening of the exhibit, I sawed a hole through my own work.”

Holland, who describes his work as being “emotionally and culturally charged,” also possesses a somber, yet playful image of himself as an artist. Dodging the limelight and recognition at the opening of his exhibits, Holland uses his works to promote human interaction, and the shock value of his actions to provoke a reaction to his work.

Holland’s mischievous persona, highly evident throughout his presentation, was spotlighted by such instances as: the incessant drilling and pounding on the wall that took place after a brief explanation of each of his works; the hard plastic hangers he flung into the audience in coalition with one of his slides; the litter from the crumpled-up pieces of his speech he unceremoniously flung from behind the podium; the chunks of wall he eventually succeeded in knocking out by the end of his presentation; and the way in which he dashed, after his speech, away from his wall, his audience, and towards the exit sign.

The intense exit took place after Holland delivered an intriguing explanation for the wall and the title of his speech, “Little Breakthroughs,” in which he said: “This wall enables us to see what is and what could be. In remaining behind the wall I am allowing you to see me as an artist through my work, and reminding you that although you may see the profile, you may never know the artist.”