Summary

This is a composite sculpture made from a number of found objects and materials, including roughly-hewn wooden sticks, bone and a Coca Cola bottle. It takes the form of a strange-looking trolley-cum-machine, the purpose of which is ambiguous. The work has a lengthy French title, Dans plusieurs de ces forêts et de ces bois, il n´y avait pas seulement des villages souterrains groupés autours du terrier du chef mais il y avait encore de véritables hameaux de huttes basses cachés sous les arbres, et si nombreaux que parfois la forêt en était remplie. Souvent les fumées les trahissaient. Deux de ..., which translates as: ‘In many of these forests and woods, not only were there underground villages grouped around the chief’s burrow, but also, one could find true clusters of low-rise hamlets hidden under the trees, often so numerous that the forest could be full of them. Often smoke would betray their presence. Two of ...’. The title is taken from a piece of found text discovered by the artist and is attached to the handle of the trolley on a strip of white fabric. The work was originally titled Untitled but this was changed by Durham in 2009 to the current title, as was his original intention.

In his early works, such as this, Durham consistently incorporated found objects and texts into constructed sculptures. The use of texts points to the artist’s exploration of cultural and political identities. In Dans plusieurs de ces forêts et de ces bois … the text bears no obvious relation to the object to which it is attached. Instead it is connected to Durham’s personal identity as a Native American of Cherokee descent. Durham was a political activist and a member of the American Indian Movement and the text, from an anonymous source, evokes the Native American culture in its description of a typical settlement.

The sculpture was first exhibited in the Whitney Biennial in New York in 1993, alongside two other similar works by the artist, I Forgot What I Was Going to Say 1992 and I Forgot What I Was Going to Say 1992-3. This exhibition looked at art and artists from the early 1990s who were engaged in issues of cultural identity and politics. At this time Durham was living in New York and was part of a burgeoning artistic scene, which included other artists who were then outside the mainstream but who have subsequently played an important role in contemporary practice, such as Lorna Simpson and David Hammons. This biennial was among the first exhibitions to foreground these artists. Discussing the thesis of the exhibition in her accompanying catalogue essay, curator Thelma Golden explained: ‘one is not simply African-American, Native American, Hispanic-American, Euro-American or Asian-American, but also male or female, straight or gay, rich or poor, urban or rural. This exhibition acknowledges the varied personal and aesthetic strategies that inform this unfolding dialogue, this creation of a narrative which acknowledges the post-national, post-essential identity.’ (Sussman 1993, p.35.)

Further reading
Elizabeth Sussman (ed.), 1993 Biennial Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1993, pp.12–24.
Laura Mulvey, Dirk Snauwaert and Mark Alice Durant, Jimmie Durham, London 1995, reproduced p.135.
Laurence Bossé and Julia Garimorth, Jimmie Durham: Rolling Stones, exhibition catalogue, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris/ARC 2009.

Kyla McDonald
November 2010