Michael T Rea


Written by James Read
29 Friday 29th January 2010

A Prosthetic Suit For Stephen Hawking w/ Japanese Steel, 2007
"Got wood?" asks Nicola Barnes in our latest poster. Well, Michael T Rea does. The Chicagoan carves space shuttles, time machines, and machine guns from humble timber. His work appears to be an odd mixture of devotion and revulsion towards modern technology, which he interprets in great detail without reference to photos or models. I spoke to him to find out more about his creations.

Why wood? Did you start from a carpentry or sculpting background?

I actually come from a painting background. While painting I learned some basic woodworking skills to build my canvases. As time has gone on my woodworking vocabulary has increased considerably. I have to keep an eye on this skill level in order to avoid pure woodworking and maintain a sculptural aesthetic. I like wood as a metaphor for new beginnings, sort of like the refrigerator in the movie Mosquito Coast.

Brown Thunder, 2006
What tools do you use, and how long does an average piece take? Okay, not an average one, The Time Machine.

I use a couple of things - table saw, band saw, jig saw, cordless drill, pin nailer, brad nailer, angle grinder, chisels, and hand sanders. The Time Machine took two months to make. It was sort of a quick one. A show came up and the piece had to be finished. I enjoy a fast pace. I like my studio to be like one of those scenes in a movie where the hero is preparing for the final battle - like Predator, Lost Boys, and every episode of the A-Team.

Put a monkey in space if Remo Williams can\'t do it, 2005
All this modern tech, recast in wood... Could this be the new steampunk - pinepunk?

I guess, but I'm not sure if it is new or just an extension of those ideas. In my work there is a sense of failure brought into the equation through the material choices. I do love that aesthetic - in the Minority Report there is a wonderful device for telling the future that uses a holographic screen, and a lathe... awesome contradiction.

Ark of the Covenant, 2007
Why did you decide to make the Ark of the Covenant? As a religious relic, it seems to veer away from the rest of your work.

I conceived this piece in tandem with the concept of a time machine. I wanted to bring in the religious side to debate of time travel. The Ark seemed like the perfect vehicle. I also liked the idea of having the power of God in my studio.

Wood Load in, 2004
You only use your memory to put these together? No photos or live objects? How'd you manage the full set of instruments?

I usually start looking around, or I see something that I may be thinking of making, but when it comes to building I sort of like to get in there without regret. I like the distortions that arise through my limits in skill and my own flawed memory. The instruments were easy. My younger brother was a drummer so I grew up with a kit in my house, and when I went to college I lived with musicians, so I was forced to look at piles of equipment all of the time.

Your Lust will Carry You, Float On the Dragon's Breath, 2009
Your latest work (above) is looking great! What are you carving next?

Well, I am working a few things. I am building two decapitated lion heads, a hyper-sleep chamber and I have been trying to make a better suit for going into the abyss.

Michael with “Lysistrata”, 2005

See more of Michael's work at www.mikerea.com

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