One Artist’s Fascination With a Giant Old Clamp Told by Emily Spivack
In this series for T, the writer and author of “Worn Stories,” Emily Spivack, interviews creative types about their most prized possessions.
In the Los Angeles-based artist Shana Lutker’s work, objects placed in proximity to one another — typically through sculpture, installation, performance and text — create conversations. And yet, for almost 20 years a single object in her posession — an oversize steel C-clamp — has evaded any such conversation thanks to its sheer straightforwardness and heft.
The circumstances under which I found this C-clamp and why I still have it are still surprising to me. I was a freshman in college and my mother and brother had come up from Long Island to visit. It was a long weekend, so we decided to drive to Northampton for the day. As we were heading out of town and back to Providence, I saw this beautiful turquoise blue, ginormous C-clamp just lying on the side of a suburban road. I made my mom stop the car and I told her that I needed this thing. I had my brother help me load the 50-pound clamp into the trunk of her Jeep Cherokee, probably while he rolled his eyes at his weird sister. I brought it back to my dorm room. That was in 1997, and while the paint has been chipping and it’s now half covered in rusty metal, it’s been with me ever since — from Providence to Brooklyn, Chicago and Los Angeles.
I’m an artist and I make things that have some kind of mystery or uncanniness. I find objects and remake them or incorporate them into displays or arrangements. Putting different things next to each other — according to some intuitive logic — together they gain a new meaning. They become a network, a sentence. Or, in my sculpture, a six-foot tall tuning fork or a droopy plate — there’s a funniness to them. But this C-clamp — it’s too literal, it just is what it is. There’s no translating it into anything else. It has always resisted, this lonely C-clamp.
It’s also become a symbol of making a decision and committing to it. You could say I have commitment issues, but I have committed to this and I feel responsible for it. It’s like the 20-year-old cat I found in Northampton. It remains on the mantel of the fireplace or under the bed. Right now, though, it’s leaning on the wall beside the couch in the living room.
When people see the C-clamp in my house, even though they know exactly what it is, they say, “What is that?” It throws them off because it’s ordinary but giant. It’d be like if I were holding a giant banana.
My mom has a lot of empathy for my impulses to collect things and hold onto them. I think she feels genetically responsible. She used to obsessively pick up shells, pebbles and sea glass, and I imagine her guilt about accumulating this rubbish led her to be really crafty with these things. She made jewelry and Christmas ornaments. I’ve never told my mom that the C-clamp hasn’t transcended from the thing we picked up off the side of the road. I think she might be disappointed. But, there’s still time.