When I saw images of the sculptures made by Christopher Locke — a series entitled Modern Fossils — I was stunned
By Don Ogden
Sometimes we happen upon images so haunting we can’t help but halt all other activity, all other thoughts, and simply let the sight take us where it may. That was my response while reading a piece recently in New York Magazine by David Wallace-Wells titled The Uninhabitable Earth. As someone who has followed news on climate and environmental issues daily for decades (and reports on these issues on radio and online) I’ve become somewhat inured to what could well be a horrific future: the potential catastrophic results of climate chaos on planet Earth. Somewhat is the operable term here: when I saw images of the sculptures made by Christopher Locke — a series entitled Modern Fossils — I was stunned.
What child has not been awed by the sight of dinosaurs or other fossils tens of millions years old seen during visits to the museum? Who isn’t captivated by the remains of human ancestors such as the “Iceman” or Egyptian mummies thousands of years old? Locke has tapped into that sense of wonder by going into the future. But his “fossils” are mere decades into our own uncertain future.
Locke’s disturbing images of devolution are not only of aesthetic value, but will (hopefully) encourage us to address pressing issues of Climate Change. Art, like activism, can be a force for positive change — and that is exactly what we need a lot more of before we become fossils.
Locke has a studio in Austin, Texas. His website “describes much of his work as ‘Figurative Industrial’ [where] he enjoys blurring the lines between man and machine, old and new, as well as science and art. He also creates work that heavily relies on the concepts of waste avoidance and social commentary. Arts Fuse interviewed Locke recently about his Modern Fossils.
Arts Fuse: Was there any particular inspiration that led you to create Modern Fossils?
Locke: These fossils were the perfect culmination of several factors. Much of my work leading up to (and since) the fossils involved combining old and new. I am very interested in the ancient and modern together, because it can illustrate history and its connection to the future. The bigger the difference between the two, the better. I’m also fascinated by the similarities that can be drawn between them, where some detail in a modern item reflects its history. Some skeuomorphs are intentional, but the accidental or unconscious ones are even better.
So, I like old and new. I also collect vintage music (8-tracks, records, etc.) and was really into minidisc, which went extinct almost instantly. Which leads to the issue of over-consumerism. Just in my lifetime, we have gone through records, tapes, minidisc, laserdisc, VHS, Betamax, cd, dvd, hd dvd, blu-ray (which I’ve never owned), rotary phones, touchtone phones, suitcase phones, car phones, flip phones, and don’t get me started on video games and computers! It’s amazing to me that we all sign up for 2-year contracts on phones that become obsolete 6 months after we get them. A lot of this is just advancements in technology, but there’s a huge chunk of pure commercial greed and advertising behind it. Either way, it’s amazing how quickly we are outgrowing the technology.
I have also always been fascinated by fossils, and I have a lot of training and experience making molds and casting. So it all came together one day when I was casting a concrete skull shifter knob for my truck, and I had a little rubber left over. I decided to use it up to make an NES controller fossil. And that’s how it started.
AF: As you know, the New York Magazine article was pretty grim stuff concerning the Climate Crisis. Did you read the article before submitting your work?
Locke: I didn’t read the article beforehand, but I knew basically what it was going to be about. Randy Minor (Art Director) at NY Mag basically told me what he wanted the fossils to be, and I got behind it 100%. I was really glad he had a vision and was able to express it to me clearly, so I could get started right away.
AF: Have climate and other environmental issues been weighing on you for sometime now? If so, how have you been dealing with it other than through your art?
Locke: Climate change (and my own contribution to it) have been on my mind for a long long time, but I don’t think I am alone when I say I’m overwhelmed, and feel like there’s not much I can do as an individual, if the rest of the world doesn’t join in. I’m also lazy about it, so I make lazy decisions. But I have a shorter commute, drive a more efficient vehicle, reuse and recycle, and try to make baby steps toward a better lifestyle.
AF: I was very struck by your piece with the skeleton hand griping a plastic water bottle. What brought that image to you?
Locke: Minor at NY Mag came up with that idea. I think he originally said “a fossilized water bottle” but later mentioned a skeleton hand reaching for it. I’m not sure if he had envisioned the hand actually on the bottle, but that’s how it happened in my mind, like it was the last ever human, drinking the final drops from the dirty bottle, and he was preserved in that moment.
AF: Do you have any plans to expand on the Modern Fossils theme?
Locke: Before NY Mag, I hadn’t really done much with the fossils in a while. They are great, but once other artists started popping up doing similar things, I pretty much moved on. I’ve been doing refurbished brass iPhone amplifiers for several years, and that’s doing pretty well.
AF: What’s been the response to Modern Fossils since the publication of the article?
Locke: I sold every single fossil I had on my website, sold pre-orders for a couple more, and had a lot of emails beyond that. The timing was a little difficult because I wasn’t expecting this response, and was unprepared….I’m sure I missed out on a lot of sales because I had nothing in stock, but the people who are really interested will be persistent.
AF: Tell me about “Heartless Machine”?
Locke: It’s a long story, but it all started with Nick Chopper, the Tin Woodman. We all know him from The Wizard of Oz story as the man who wanted a heart, and (spoiler alert) it turned out he had one all along. Anyway, there was an ongoing joke in college that I was a “heartless machine” which led to me posting a picture of Nick Chopper on my locker at the school. When it was time for me to create a website, I wanted something unique and easy to remember (and spell), so my website became heartlessmachine dot com. I tell people “I have to keep working. If I rest, I rust.”
Don Ogden — producer/co-host of the The Enviro Show, WXOJ & WMCB