photo by Abby Nardo
I remember the day that I met Christian Karkow. It was February 14th, 2005. It was my first day on the job at Clearscapes, an art and architecture firm in Downtown Raleigh. We were hired on the same day. Karkow was hired by the art side of the firm and I was hired by the architecture side. Over the next five years, we overlapped and collaborated on many projects at the firm, from a pavilion by the water in Edenton, NC, to chandelier designs in the Apex Cultural Arts Center to a piece of digital media art in California.
Over these five years, at work and in our out-of-work friendship, I learned a lot about how his mind works. I watched him fix almost any object set in front of him, electrical, digital or mechanical. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Geology and a Masters in Architecture, but is currently Raleigh artist Thomas Sayre's right-hand-man creating sculptures all across the country. I've always considered Karkow the closest thing I may ever know to a Renaissance Man.
In 2007, I traveled to Durham to see Karkow's show of artwork at the John Hope Franklin Center. In the show was a collection of the cerebral sculptures that were a true window into the mind of a genius. The sculptures were ingenious perpetual machines. There was a wheelchair whose movement was powered by a fish in a tank. Said fish was automatically fed by the machine on a digitally programmed schedule. There was a geared-powered flying rock and a dancing troupe of wool clad tiny men that were like a happily nervous minature stage performance.
photo by New Raleigh
Karkow was also a hoarder of parts. Watch gears, computer mother boards, locks, bike parts and anything you would need to repair anything you owned. Whenever I was stuck in a rut to repair something, I called him and immediately a part was located and the object was fixed. In his studio, a rented space owned by Clearscapes above the current VAE space, Karkow kept all of these parts, neatly, yet compulsively, stacked in boxes up on wall shelves. Long nights spent with beers, Yo La Tengo and advice from close friends fueled a brain that was made to create complex and intricately beautiful artistic creations.
Periodically, Karkow would get an idea and run with it. A large stack of watch parts? A week later, Karkow would have 50 beautiful mechanical birds. An abandoned 1970s pinball machine or pachinko machine need refurbishing? Two weeks later, I was scoring over a million points on Memory Lane. Regardless of the task, Karkow's mind could put it together and make a beautiful project out of the process.
Seven years since I met Christian Karkow and five years since initially seeing his art pieces displayed in an art museum, the two of us meet downstairs from his former studio on a Wednesday morning. I've moved on from Clearscapes, and Karkow has decided to move on from previously mentioned studio. He remains an artist at Clearscapes.
We meet in the back gallery of Visual Art Exchange, where Karkow's latest art piece, Caul, is displayed. Initially a collaboration, on a different scale, with another architect at Clearscapes, Caul has become an individual purge for the artist. After long discussion and brainstorming with Anna Wirth, the collaborator that wrote the description for the art piece, Karkow decided to use the VAE as a final resting place for his compulsive hoarding and loose fragments of his art pieces from his studio.
Yep, that's Christian's tooth - photo by Abby Nardo
Karkow is passionate about all of the work he has created over the years and just as passionate about it all coming together as a seemingly chaotic stack of random objects in the corner of a dark art gallery back room. "I placed everything myself and I come back every few days to rearrange it", he told me in a very animated voice while we snacked on cupcakes that VAE curator Sarah Powers offered us.
Caul is a culmination of these years of Karkow fiddling with every type of object and artifact possible, trying to find a new use for them in the world. To the naked eye, it may look like a stack of junk and maybe that's exactly what it is. But, Caul is much more than that. It's an x-ray of a mad scientist's brain at work and the result of when we move on from a particular phase in our life and look into the future. Karkow isn't changing directions, but rather attempting to cull these memories and objects into a final piece that illustrates this particular phase of his life. We could call it therapy as much as art.
It's an amazing space inside the mind of Christian Karkow. If I had the chance, I'd make a film about it.
I could try to explain more about the piece but hearing Karkow passionately walk you through the art is much more rich. He will speak about Caul and his process at VAE on Friday, October 5th at 6pm. Do yourself a favor and go listen to Karkow explain this piece. It will give you as much of a window as I have after knowing him for this long and slowly building this knowledge and understanding.
Artist Talk: VAE will be hosting a special artist talk with installation artist Christian Karkow on First Friday, October 5th at 6pm. Join us to hear from Christian about his vision and creative process for this work of art. This will be your chance to ask questions and to learn more about the artist! We look forward to seeing you there.
c a u l :
christian karkow &
CAUL IS A NARRATIVE OF FRAGMENTS, A CONJURING OF MEMORIES INTO A WORK OF APOSTOLIC FICTION INTENDED TO EXORCISE THE GHOSTS OF FORCED DISLOCATION. IT IS MY STUDIO – THE GATHERING, THE PARSING, AND THE ASSUMPTION OF DECADES OF COLLECTING AND SHELTERING AND FORGIVING NUMINOUS PARTS THAT NEVER FOUND REPLETION. THE WORK, LIKE A SHRINE IT ITS HEAVENLY HIERARCHY AND EXALTATION OF RELIC, IS BOTH A CELEBRATION AND RESIGNATION. WITHIN THE BOXES AND DIALS AND MACHINERY, THERE IS AN ECSTASY OF ABANDONMENT AND RESURRECTION, BUT THERE IS ALSO THE LOSS OF FAITH AND DISMANTLING OF SUSTAINING MYTHOLOGIES. IT IS PLACE-MAKING FOR BURDEN AND FOR EXPECTATION.
- ANNA WIRTH, 2012