Artist: Tim Curtis, American
Title: Future Perfect, 1995
Media: Wood, gold leaf, netting
Dimensions: 12’ h. x 15’ w. x 12’ d.
Location: Westbound Convention Center MetroLink station
As people scramble onto the escalator that descends toward the MetroLink tracks at the Convention Center station, a glowing metallic gold dugout canoe suspended among the branches of skeletal trees appears to float before their eyes. Located in the station’s escalator well, Tim Curtis’ installation, Future Perfect consists of a suspended thicket of slender trees and a golden vessel that floats among the branches in stark contrast to the station environment.
The canoe was carved with a chain saw and a wood-shaping tool called an adz; the artist used a traditional method of burning out the tree’s inside. Reflecting on this process, Curtis emphasizes his fascination with integrating labor and art, stating, “These methods often require monotonous toil, which then becomes a ritual in itself.”
Before Europeans settled St. Louis, the Mississippi River was the main thoroughfare for Native Americans who made their homes along its banks. The land now occupied by Laclede’s Landing, only two miles from the station, was once woodland where native tribes buried their dead in sacred earthen mounds. Later, fur trappers and explorers plied the river in their canoes using it as a major highway through the nation’s heartland. By placing Future Perfect in the Convention Center station, where today’s travelers experience its presence on a daily basis, the artist reminds us of our complex cultural history and ties to the natural landscape.
Curtis received undergraduate and graduate degrees in sculpture from San Diego State University as well as an additional MFA from the University of California at Berkeley. His work has been exhibited in the United States as well as Austria, Korea, Germany and Kenya. He is the recipient of numerous awards including a MacDowell Colony Fellowship and currently heads the sculpture department at the University of Miami in Florida.
LOOKING AT ART
- Write down five words that describe the mood of this piece. Why do you think the artist chose this location high above commuters’ heads for the site of his installation?
- How would the affect of Future Perfect change if it were located at eye level?
- Research the origin of the canoe and compare canoe styles and methods of construction between various Native American tribes.
- How did the use of the river affect the local economy in 1800 and in 2008?
- Research Native American ceremonies where a canoe is used as a part of the ritual.
- Why do you think the artist chose the title Future Perfect for this artwork?
- Research and write a story about a Native American teenager coming of age along the Mississippi River at the time the first Europeans arrived to settle St. Louis. Write about coming of age in 2008.
SCIENCE, MATH AND TECHNOLOGY
- Each member of the class designs and constructs a canoe that will float in a small child’s wading pool and be able to hold a 32 oz. weight without sinking. Any type of material can be used.
- Research the technology and materials used in the construction of canoes 150 years ago (including the use of an adz) and in 2008.
- Set three chairs up, one behind the other, as if seated in a canoe. Three people take the seats and perform an improvisational piece titled “Future Perfect” while paddling their imaginary canoe in the Mississippi River in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
- Design a sculpture using organic materials for a site in or around your school.
- Design a canoe of the future that will be used in the event that the effects of global warming put the lowest levels of St. Louis underwater and require that houses be built on cement piers.