Finding Nemo

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Shirin Ghaffary/Photo



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Finding Nemo
Jennafer McCabe takes a look at more of Nemo Gould...





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Buzzing power tools, intermittent train whistles and scratchy tunes from a dusty boom box suffuse the interior of Nemo Gould's unlikely studio. An elevated tier above the workspace houses a reservoir of categorized metal parts and myriad "found" materials that Gould will one day revivify in one of his creations, while a side room serves as a makeshift gallery. Nestled between repair shops and auto salvage yards, one would expect a to find a carpenter's workshop rather than a sculptor's atelier-but after interviewing Nemo Gould in his studio, it became evident that he is not your average artist.

Gould's sculptures utilize nearly all "found" articles, synthesizing discarded objects and forgotten antiques with mechanical movement. Bringing art and technology together in whimsical sculptures, Gould pulls from science fiction and comic book mythology from when he was a little boy. For all his professional, eloquent articulation of what his work represents, Nemo Gould is at play in his studio-infusing his anthropomorphic figures with child-like imagination. With sincerity and a smirk, Gould declares, "I take silly very seriously."

Gould's whimsical robots, cartoonish creatures and magical microcosmic dioramas could all be appreciated for their playful, nostalgic aesthetics alone. Yet to ignore the underlying ideology behind the sculptor's sensitive appreciation for obsolete objects is to trivialize Nemo Gould's artistry. A list of any piece's components reads like an abstract poem encapsulating the rapidity of innovation and antiquation of technology in the contemporary consumerist world.

For "Under the Sea", a vintage television cabinet and sewing machine cover encases a submarine interior. Created by a clock, change sorter, tobacco pipe, a preserved squid, a sound recording module, LEDs, a water valve and a runner's trophy, a majority of the magic arises from Gould's ability to turn the commonplace into something exotic.

Characteristic of every "Nemomatic" synthesis, the inner world simultaneously evokes Jules Verne's mythical conception of ocean-exploration in "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" with the jovial flavor of Wes Anderson's film "The Life Aquatic." For full effect, the viewer must peer into the porthole to witness the aquanaut as he rises and descends from the bottom of the vessel.

Just to the side of the miniature "Under the Sea" world, the six-foot robotic installation "Nowhere Fast" dwarfs anyone in the display room. The monolithic tin man-contrived from a rocking chair, wagon wheel, ship's steering wheel, a vacuum cleaner and its various parts-peddles on a stationary bike toward an unseen destination.

Describing himself as a child, Gould says, "I had an irrepressible tendency to dismantle anything with moving parts." When asked about his adult mastery of engineering, Gould modestly claims, "I'm not so much a technologically minded person. I'm sort of just fumbling around." His abundant portfolio of kinetic and audible orchestrations proves otherwise.

After graduating in 2000 with an MFA from UC Berkeley, Gould says he discovered that, "the Bay Area has a very odd idea of its own contemporary art community. There is no real place for sculptors around here ... or at least not my type of sculpture."

Ironcially, every skill he needed to learn in order to make his complex moving structures has been acquired since leaving school. Gould explains, "When I finished school, the only space I could afford was a small warehouse in a crappy neighborhood. All my neighbors were busy working on motorcycles, cars or making cabinets and they really didn't know about nor care about art. But each person had a particular skill set, and people like it when you care about what they know." Quickly, Gould became the apprentice to these craftsmen.

Ten years later, with success and international supporters, Gould thinks of himself as a "craftsman" more than an "artist" and smiles while explaining the serendipitous failure to break into the Bay Area art scene.

Nemo says, "When I realized how problematic it was for me, I just decided that I was going to act like a garage band rather than an artist and figured, 'If I act like I'm famous, and I tell people about the work I'm doing all the time, maybe they'll forget that I'm the one feeding them this information.' And with the Internet, I found myself backing up into support from people across the world. Without the approval of the art establishment, I'm able to make a living as an artist, which is confusing, because there's a lot of people who will tell you that this is not art, and they want to make a point of that."

As Nemo Gould points out, the robots in existence today do "uninteresting things, like bottle soda or sheer sheep and perform industrial tasks." His figures are an attempt to capture the past promise of what a "better version of ourselves" might look like. With paternal care, Gould allows each character's distinct personality to develop on its own. He lovingly claims, "They are each my babies."


Jennafer McCabe is the lead visual arts critic. Contact her at [email protected]



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