One Man's Museum
Susan kae Grant - 1993
Reproduced with permission from the author, from "For A Burning World Is Come To Dance Inane:" "Essays by and About Jim Pomeroy", Edited by Timothy Druckery and Nadine Lemmon, Critical Press Inc., 1993
Jim Pomeroy's knowledge was intoxicating. He was the quintessential walking encyclopedia, a collector of data and gizmos, obsessed with new technologies. He was a giver of information, a true tinkerer, who continuously crossed and questioned the boundaries between science and art. He was obsessed with art-world hierarchy, scientific progress, and popular culture. Jim referred to himself as a "general practitioner," and could be in indignant when people labeled him otherwise. He did not classify himself as a "sculptor," "video artist," "photographer," "professor," or "performance artist," although he worked successfully in all of these areas simultaneously.
To the objective viewer, drawing a distinction between Jim's "creative work" and his "life" would be an impossibility. His life's-work consisted of fragments collected from all mediums and segments of life/culture with an emphasis on parody, ironic observations, multiple references, and flirtatious puns. By juxtaposing science, invention, and play, he strove (in his words) "to empower the otherwise un-conceivable."
Jim lived in a museum of sorts that he concocted from the world around him. Every nook and cranny of his physical space was filled with references that often made their way as icons into his own work or, through his generosity, into his friends' works. His address in Texas, which for many reasons he never really considered "home," consisted of floor-to-ceiling shelves of books and articles intermingled with an odd assortment of everything from wind-up toys to electronic circuit boards; from nameless contraptions wired with music boxes to a variety of digital devices that were "rigged" and used in his never-ending, passionate search into new technologies. Every inch of his surroundings became a mesh of "life" and "art. " Occasionally there were signs of domestic residency hidden under the icons that were piled to the ceiling—eventually a bed, a kitchen table, or other signs of traditional domesticity became visible. But this man's whole life was work—a traditional space was irrelevant. Not only to the innocent viewer, but to those close to Jim, it was a world that reeked of total, yet somehow controlled, chaos. After close scrutiny and diligent inspection, an obsessively intricate methodology and impeccable sense of order was apparent. There was not a vacant space to be found in Jim's environment, nor a spare moment in his life for rest or relaxation.
Jim was not happy in Texas. He felt stranded and isolated in what he called a "culturally vacant" metroplex. Consequently, as his family and friends attest, he spent many sleepless nights on the phone lines as well as on digital networks, discussing everything from art to politics with friends all over the world. By broadening these relationships, Jim satisfied his need to contribute to and interact with others, and also cultivated an intellectual ferment, which in turn fueled his own research and creativity. Many came to rely on him for his knowledge of a diversity of source materials and technological breakthroughs, for his ideas and encouragement. He tirelessly contributed to so many people's lives and "artist spaces" it's a wonder he found the time to produce his own work.
The production of his creative work, however, was a satisfying obsession that seemed to keep Jim sane. At the time of the staff he had amassed an expanse of personal work that traversed many disciplines. His work could be ruthlessly sarcastic, and often took aim at political investigations, through the use of stereoscopy, digital imaging, video technologies, and performance.
In his house, amongst his works, papers, and paraphernalia, we uncovered a box of personal journals filled with thoughts and sketches dating back many decades. Most of these journals were small enough to fit into his shirt pocket, accessible for quick recordings and instantaneous retrieval. The references in them reveal a prolific thinker and complex man who never understood concept of rest. The format usually consisted of one or two entries on a page. Though they are dateless and at times a fragmented, I found his thoughts profound and easy to follow, reminiscent of historical "travelogues. " Through endless notations, these journals lead one on a journey through the inner workings of Jim's multifaceted mind, signifying and referencing a wealth of ideas that would have taken a century to realize and will sadly never come to fruition.
After Jim's death, friends struggled to find a way to pay tribute to his life. It seemed logical as a part of his memorial service to construct a collaborative installation project in which people from around the world could participate. Since his influence was felt on an international level, and his research and chief preoccupation was with technology, we chose the fax machine as the method for participation and communication. Working with Jim's extensive mailing list, we contacted his friends to participate in the project. The Media Arts department at the University of Texas at Arlington where he was tenured generously dedicated their fax machine for what we envisioned, entitled "The International Telecommunications Collaborative Project." During the entire week before the service, facsimiles arrived from all around the world, continuously blocking the electronic air waves. On the day of the service, colleagues, friends, and students gathered in the student art gallery to install the project. We chose black thumbtacks to attach the original facsimiles to the walls from floor to ceiling. Interspersed throughout the space were 100 tea candles attached with Velcro to the top of the same tiny stainless steel L-brackets there were so abundant in his home. The physicality and immediacy of the memorial installation amplified and mimicked Jim's obsession with accessible economics by incorporating the affordable everyday consumer materials that so often made their way into his work in the form of homemade gadgets.
The gallery, initially enveloped in darkness, was opened for reception after the memorial service. Visitors quietly paid tribute by ritualistically lighting the tea candles, which emanated a flickering spiritual light upon the facsimiles. Soon the electronic verses became legible, weaving stories, recollections, and emotional messages from afar. They clearly illustrated a concise and descriptive history of Jim's life as a "general practitioner. " Experientially, they created a "virtual-like reality," in which the history of Jim's life actually became his last work of art.
While plans were being made for the memorial, in collaboration with his family, a small group of his friends gathered at his home to begin the Herculean task of dismantling his life. Since Jim did not leave a will, there were many unanswered questions to address. The need to preserve Jim's work for future research and inspiration was immediately recognized and acknowledged. We began by listing, photographing, numbering, and packing everything that would be valuable and necessary to understand his work in establishing an archive. At the same time, a fund was set up at SF Camerawork in San Francisco to assist in the preservation and placement of his archive.
We worked in all areas of his house, although most of the packing began in a large living room (more accurately described as a library or media room). We were surrounded by hundreds of books, tapes, records, and compact disks alongside miles of electrical wires and extension cords attached to everything in sight. Inflatable globes and dinosaurs, assorted vacuum-cleaner parts, collections of odd costumes, boxes of electronic gizmos glued to wind-up toys, and kitchen utensils were layed out on the floor for a future performance. Each space—from the computer room (which a friend described as reminiscent of a scene from Blade Runner in its morass of intricate hook-ups) to the stocked darkroom—contained floor-to-ceiling shelves and piles.
Attempting to set our emotions aside, for weeks we dealt objectively with Jim's carefully constructed environment, which only from the outside resembled a house. The dismantling of each element created a landslide of unanswerable questions that needed to be faced. We were constantly forced to make critical decisions as to what was "art," what was "life," and what was pertinent to the archive. At no time was there a clear distinction. When the decision-making process became too confusing, we gave up and packed everything in desperation. At times, we imagined Jim watching us, no doubt amused as we debated the importance and significance of these constructed objects—remnants of toys adapted with wire circuits, probably used as performance props; or industrial tools that might have been incorporated into musical instruments; or the countless "off the shelf" electronic gadgets that resembled fragments of sculptures or bizarre kinetic science projects.
The familiar writing at the bottom of Jim's letterhead seems like an epigraph about the creative thought process and the many treasures waiting to be uncovered that were stockpiled behind the private doors of his environment. Their significance now lies in the memories and meanings that will be attached to them in the future. His words seem almost obvious in their succinctness:
One man's museum is another man's graveyard
is another's goldmine is another's dung heap
is another's pretension is another's encyclopedia
is another's holy shrine is another's balance sheet. . .
promotional display. . . conqueror's trophy case. . .
cultural atrophy index. . . social registry. . . reliquary. . .
hall of fame. . . wall of frames. . . hollow games. . .
As we move into the 21st century, Jim's archive compiles a goldmine of data, information, and objects that will be of great inspiration to future research. It also exemplifies one of many new nightmares facing future archivists. While it blurs the distinction between artists' "lives" and "creative work" it is representative of an entire genre of work produced in the 70's, 80's, and 90's that has made its way into contemporary history. These kinds of archives will be difficult to classify, not to mention store and maintain, but must somehow be preserved in order to understand their significance in this period of American art and life.
The contents of the more than one hundred boxes and crates, which we define as Jim's "archive," may look peculiar to the unfamiliar eye, yet their expanse and multiplicity clearly illustrate a brilliant man who knew no boundaries. How his work is synthesized in the future will be decided by the institutions that acquire it, and by the intrepid souls who examine it.