Untitled 2009 is a plinth-based constructed sculpture that resembles an African tribal mask. It is one of a series of works Boyce has made since 1998 where a mask element is derived from a plywood leg splint designed by Charles and Ray Eames (1907–1978, 1912–1988). Charles and Ray Eames are best known for the moulded plywood chair they designed together in 1945, which has since become a modern design classic. However, during the Second World War they were commissioned by the United States Navy to design a lightweight moulded plywood splint for use by injured servicemen, five thousand of which were mass produced. The splint was made from thin plywood steamed into the necessary curving shapes suitable to support and cradle an injured leg. Boyce was attracted to the splint’s highly sculptural yet functional qualities. In Untitled, sections of the Eames leg splint have been reconfigured to give it the appearance of a three-dimensional biomorphic form. The work’s organic forms also directly reference the splint sculptures which Ray Eames made alongside her design work, thus highlighting the connections between the language of art and design. Untitled also alludes to the influence of so-called ‘primitive’ art on modernist artists such as Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). Untitled is displayed on a plinth made from the leg splint’s original brown cardboard packaging with printed graphics.
Untitled is a characteristic example of Boyce’s interest in fashioning something new from something old, a strategy that also enables him to contrast the functional purpose for which the objects were originally made with the cultural role they now fulfill. This is often based on taste and monetary value. Boyce is particularly interested in how the leg splint’s specific purpose and relationship to trauma have been forgotten, so much so that today it can often be found hanging on walls as a design classic or a piece of sculpture. In turning the leg splint into a tribal mask or trophy, Boyce aims to highlight its changed role.
Martin Boyce’s work explores the visual language of modernist architecture and design. Drawing on its iconography and history of production, classic pieces of furniture by Arne Jacobsen, Charles and Ray Eames, Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand, among others, have often been the focus of Boyce’s attention. Boyce’s selected objects engage with the ethos of modernism: democratic and mass-produced, they reflect an ambition for what can be understood as a utopian vision – a re-imagining of society on egalitarian terms. Boyce is also interested in how meanings change over time, in particular how the significance of particular objects alters as society changes. Displaced from their original ideals and context, Boyce’s objects take on an alternative life.
Martin Boyce: For 1959 Capital Avenue, exhibition catalogue, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt 2002.
Martin Boyce Undead Dreams, exhibition catalogue, RomaRomaRoma, Rome 2003.
Martin Boyce, Zürich 2009