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In which The Art Assignment visits artist David Brooks in his Brooklyn studio and receives the fascinating assignment of articulating something that you know exists, but that you've never seen and probably never will.

INSTRUCTIONS - Never Seen, Never Will

1. Think of something that exists that you've never seen, and probably never will

2. Articulate it (any medium will do)

3. Upload it using #theartassignment

4. Fame and glory (your work might be in a future episode)

Learn more about David's work through his gallery American Contemporary:

And watch these fantastic videos of him made by Art21:
Sarah: Hi! Today, we're outside the studio of the artist David
John: Are you trying to be as tall as me?
Sarah : I am as tall as you! (laughs)
John: No, you are clearly not, you are cheating!
Sarah: But we are in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City...
John: DUMBO. DUMBO of course stands for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Oh My God Where Am I?

(Sarah laughs)

Sarah: But we're here today to meet with David and to hear about his Art Assignment. David makes extremely interesting work that thinks about how Man relates to his built and natural environment.
John: Oh, only his?
Sarah: His and our.
John: Patriarchy! Before David's studio was his studio, in the 19th century, it was a warehouse that housed hospital equipment, and then it was a dark room for lots of different photographers, and then it was home to the queer arts collective DUMBA.
Sarah: And now, it's home to a lot of taxidermied animals.
John: (laughs) That is true! All right, let's check it out!

David Brooks: I'm David Brooks and this is my Art Assignment.


David Brooks: My father was a graphic designer, my step-mother was a painter, and my brother is a tattoo artist. So there's definitely something in the air. Being from Brazil, Indiana, a very land-locked place, uh, certainly going to a place like South Florida and the Florida Keys, was really mind-bending and opened up a whole new world. I can't think that that didn't have something to do with how to imagine things, beyond one's own space in a sense.

David: I do have things that I've been collecting over the years, and, um, almost every single object has a quite specific significance to it; it's not just random stuff. Certainly, my own work makes relationships between the natural world and, uh, either a cultural history or how we now perceive and utilize the natural world. And so, I'm also just kind of a...a fisherman and swamp kid. 

Sarah: David routinely imagines things beyond his own space and makes realities from them. Like his installation, Preserved Forest, in which he sprayed twenty tons of concrete over a cluster of trees that simulated a patch of Amazonian rain forest inside of a museum. During a run of the show, much of the plant life decayed or died, but then began to regrow and even thrive despite the circumstances. The work was not just an indictment of deforestation, but also an embodiment of the fascinating and complex interrelation between humans and the natural world.

David: I could show you many images of what deforestation looks like. And you're like, yeah, yeah, yeah, I know exactly what that looks like. But you may not have ever even been to a place like South America or to the Amazon, and seen mass deforestation and witnessed it in person. And yet, you know exactly what it is and the fact you know exactly what it is so much that you're kind of tired of hearing about it. (Laughs) We have a desensitization that's happened, because of the inundation of imagery. It almost makes these realities that exist outside of our visibility within our own daily lives seem hypothetical, because they're too big, they're too vast. Therefore, they're too theoretical and must be hypothetical. Perhaps they don't even exist. There's an abstraction that happens to it. There's a, um, a disconnect. I was thinking about, uhh, Albrecht Dürer's woodcut of The Rhinoceros, because Albrecht Dürer never actually saw a rhinoceros, and yet his depiction of the rhinoceros has become one of the most famous and ubiquitous images, or renderings rather, historical renderings, of an animal. And I think there's something about the image that's very telling about how we in general kind of perceive the natural world around us. It's very much again, like a projecting happening. Uh, he drew on there almost like these rivets, holding cladded armour to this animal. It doesn't even--They don't even appear as though they were plates that grew on the animal; they appear almost as though they were attached to the animal. So you have to image, certainly, armour when it's still being used at the time of his life. So, um, it makes sense, that he would just project what he knows and sees around him onto this animal. Uhh, so that was really fascinating in my mind, this idea of depicting something -and depicting it rather sensitively- but with certain notions, relating to one's own immediate environment or how we- he understood the world around him, but never actually saw the rhinoceros. 

So your art assignment is to articulate something that you know exists, but you've never seen it, and you very likely won't see it in your lifetime.

Sarah: I think this assignment is super interesting. It asks you to think about what's going to happen in the scope of your life, and kind of acknowledge that you're only here for short time. And what in the short time, are you likely to see and not see?
John: Yeah, also I like the fact that it makes you wonder about the difference between an image of something and the real thing. In this digitized, image-saturated world, what is the value, if any, of seeing something in real life versus seeing an image of it? And if you've seen an image of something, have you actually seen the thing?
Sarah: And I'm also really glad that Dürer never knew if he got it right or wrong.
John: Right.
Sarah: Like he never actually saw a rhino, so it's kind of nice for him, that he didn't have to sort of face that reality.
John: It's like being a sketch artist or something when you know that you'll never catch the criminal.
Sarah: Right, right. It also reminds me of the story that David told about William Beebe.
John: Oh yeah! I love that story! I can do this one, actually.

John: William Beebe was a renowned naturalistic theologist, ornithologist, also a friend of Teddy Roosevelt's. During World War I, he worked as a journalist documenting battles from a hot air balloon. But he became famous for his pioneering work as a marine biologist. Notably for his record setting deep-sea dive in 1934. In a submersible designed by Otis Barton, called the Bathysphere. From inside the Bathysphere, Beebe descended 3,028 feet, exploring the ocean floor off of Nonsuch Island, Bermuda. He couldn't take a camera down there, so he communicated to the surface via radio, and then based on Beebe's reports, the artist Else Bostelmann and Helen Tee-Van made paintings of the deep-sea creatures that Beebe was describing. They never actually saw the beings, but imagined them in astonishing, thorough detail. These remarkable images were based on a material reality, but they could only be realized through the artists' imagining. Today's world is so super saturated with images of things that we'll never actually see that we rarely pause to consider the strangeness and newness of it all. Well, at least until this assignment.

David Brooks: I don't mean to necessarily depict or articulate something that is fantastical or very exotic, like a narwhal. That doesn't mean that it's something that far-reaching. It can also be something much closer to your own daily life, that has a relationship to your daily life. You haven't seen it, you know it exists, but you most likely may not ever see it. So making a relationship to that I think also deepens your relationship with your own immediate surroundings in a different way.

David Brooks: What I'm doing is, I chose certain mammals off the top 100 most endangered mammals on the planet. In the end though, the weight of the marble or the bronze that makes up the sculpture will be precisely the weight of the average weight of the animal itself. There's a truth content in there, in that there's a verifiable content where the sculpture is utilizing the reality of its weight, something that is verifiable to the actual animal. Even though its depiction is completely subjective. But it is important that at first glance, it appears to be a sculpture. In fact, it might even appear to be a decorative sculpture, which is even better because now it's really playing to really, um, really preconceived ideas of what the art looks like. Or what art looks like. And then in fact, as one delves further into the piece and thinks about it and sees indications about the weight of the piece. Of course, the crates will have the, uh, the animal name on it. And now there's a conflict of what one thing appears to be, but in fact what it is representing in another way.

David Brooks: We have a scorpion, we have a piranha. My brother's a tattoo artist, and this is a painting he made as a gift for me. This is an interesting painting by my friend Brian Booth.