Sculpture--Other Objects

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Wojnarowicz created masks, costumes, and props for his performances, films, and photography work. For ITSOFOMO, he used papier-mâché to create a large egg and sperm sculpture, and he created a wolf's mask out of an issue of the New York Times. He also created a skeleton costume with a large penis, a monstrous head, and a googly-eyed face attached to the ribcage, which he used for a photo series he shot in 1990 in Normal, IL featuring Patrick McDonnell as a model. The shoot resulted in the photographs Death in the Forest and Death in a Cornfield.

In addition to objects he made or altered, Wojnarowicz also frequently used found or purchased objects as props. For his early installation work, he gathered urban detritus from around the city (for example in the Mnuchin installation). During a trip to Teotihuacan in 1986, he brought along a series of props that he filmed covered in fire ants: a crucifix, a toy soldier, watches, and coins. Some of this footage appears in Fire in My Belly (a work in progress). This imagery also appears in photographs from the Ant Series, such as Untitled from the Ant Series (control), 1988-89, which shows a toy soldier covered in ants.

Some objects in Wojnarpwicz's practice escape the typical definitions of a sculpture, prop, source material, or installation component. Wojnarowicz acquired real human and animal skeletons in Paris in 1985, some of which may have been included in installations like You Killed Me First (1985), Installation #5 (1985), and America: Heads of Family/Heads of State (1990). At least one of these, a child skeleton, Wojnarowicz kept in a handmade coffin with a specific objects arranged inside.[1] Many other objects in the Wojnarowicz Papers, catalogued in Series XIII: Objects and Artifacts, also defy definition—as just two examples, there is a taxidermied alligator and a Muppets doll with a drum tied around its neck and a button that reads “I am the public,” neither of which are readily identified as being part of exhibited works.

One particularly poignant example is a baby elephant skeleton purchased in 1985 that Wojnarowicz kept with him until the time of his death, discussed further below.

Baby elephant skeleton

Among the skeletons Wojnarowicz purchased in Paris in 1985 was a skeleton of a baby elephant. With the others, this was shipped to Keith Davis’ apartment until he could pick it up. For the rest of his life, Wojnarowicz kept this skeleton with him, often displayed prominently in his home. Tom Rauffenbart recalled his apartment at 529 East Thirteenth Street, where he moved in 1987 contained a cluttered by spare set of items: “a couple of hard back chairs, a futon on the floor, paint, clutter, and a baby elephant skeleton” [2] James Romberger recalled that in 1988, Wojnarowicz made him sit down next to the baby elephant skeleton in his apartment to watch an early cut of Fire in My Belly. In Nan Goldin’s 1991 portrait, David Wojnarowicz at Home, New York City, the head of the elephant noses in from the left. In 1992, while he was ill, Wojnarowicz asked Karen Finley to take the elephant skeleton, Finley believes, to ensure its safe keeping. Finley noted “I always saw it as an image really of him, of his totem. He’s an elephant. The elephant never forgets. You know—there’s the ancientness of it.” [3]

Media and techniques

As in other areas of his practice, Wojnarowicz favored the use of readily available materials. As one example, while working with Zoe Leonard on sculptural headstones to use for a die-in demonstration with their ACT-UP affinity group "the Candelabras", Leonard recalls that while she had been planning to construct them out of complex materials, Wojnarowicz insisted “They’re signs. Foamcore and paint.” [4] For the props for ITSOFOMO, the use of papier-mâché, or newspaper stiffened with flour, water, and adhesive, reflects a similar inclination towards rough and ready materials that allowed him to quickly achieve desired forms. [add information about creating these props from Marion Scemama when she answers emailed questions--she may have helped construct the sperm]