Los Angeles

Unfaithful Copies: Liz Glynn's 'Ancient' Artifacts


Liz Glynn in her studio with her ceramic copy (in progress) of the Salisbury Hoard | Photo: Sharon Mizota.

Liz Glynn would make a terrible forger. Although fascinated with archaeology and artifacts, the Los Angeles artist has used the lowliest of materials to make her own, handmade copies of precious ancient objects. Her version of the Trojan Gold -- a cache of gold jewelry, pots and tools discovered in what is now Turkey -- is made of discarded paper coated with gold acrylic paint. She once built an Egyptian pyramid by stacking battered wooden shipping pallets on a Lincoln Heights hillside. And for her latest exhibition at Redling Fine Art, she has created clay copies of five different "hoards," piles of ancient and bronze-age objects unearthed by treasure hunters throughout Europe and the Middle East. Someone buried them long ago, perhaps in an attempt to keep them safe. They have since found a new haven in museums, and in a way, in Glynn's cluttered, Chinatown studio.

"For me, the sort of lost and found nature is one of the things that's really interesting," says Glynn, as we wend our way through the scattered artifacts of her artistic process, "What was the original intention of the person burying it? Did they ever intend to come back for it?" Although such artifacts have been pored over by scholars and curators, this personal dimension remains largely unknown.

Sculpted by hand from photographs, Glynn's bad replicas are designed not to deceive, but to invoke what has been lost. You don't need to be an archaeologist to see that they're hopelessly imperfect. Her rendering in clay of the Salisbury Hoard--the largest cache of prehistoric metal objects found in the UK -- looks vaguely like a pile of burnt bones. Her duplication of the elegant carvings on the side of a vase is broad and somewhat wobbly. "It's sort of a faithful attempt, but not necessarily a perfect actualization of the thing," she says, "It's reflecting the impossibility of re-creating or ever knowing the full extent of the terms around it."

Liz Glynn's ceramic copy (in progress) of the Salisbury Hoard | Photo: Sharon Mizota.

Still, she is concerned with fidelity in other ways. To re-create a pile of ancient coins, she could have built an armature and covered it with a single layer of clay copies. Instead, she fabricated the exact number of individual pieces. "It's one of those weird truth-value things," she says, "Even when I'm using a material that's less valuable than whatever the original is, I think there is value in having cared enough about it to make it, to remake it and to try to remake it faithfully."

In this sense, Glynn's replicas imbue the hoards with a new emotional value. Her desire to re-create them could be seen as parallel to the original owner's desire to hide and preserve them in the first place. She also sees connections between the hoards and the concerns of our own time. "You see this kind of accumulation particularly in times of economic uncertainty or war, famine, plague," she says, "and I think about it a lot now in relation to, for example, Ron Paul's drive to return to the gold standard and maybe some people's desire to store their money under the mattress when the stock market seems so uncertain."

Test pieces for Liz Glynn's glass copy of a Diebold safe in her studio. The original safe is pictured in the photocopy at right | Photo: Sharon Mizota.

This attachment to physical things as a bulwark against troubled times led Glynn to look more closely at the ways in which we safeguard value. Another piece in the show is a scale replica of an 1871 Diebold safe, cast in glass. Inside the safe is a single diamond. "In order to get to the diamond," she says, "you have to crack the safe, but then if you crack the safe, you have all these shards of glass and a diamond, and it's most likely that you would never find the diamond in the glass." For Glynn, the piece is about the tension inherent in preserving something of value. "It's a representation of our own paranoid desires around these things," she says, "and the desire to keep something perfectly forever and totally secure and the impossibility of that."

Yet economic value and emotional attachment don't always coincide, and Glynn is interested in the point at which one becomes the other: "I was doing a lot of work around pawn shops and the cash-for-gold economy earlier this year and thinking a lot about what it means when you willfully give up that attachment to the thing and sort of say, 'Oh, this was Grandma's but it's not Grandma.'" If hoarders imbue objects with an excess of sentiment, people who pawn their belongings often trade emotion for economic worth.

Plaster casts of safe deposit boxes in Liz Glynn's studio | Photo: Sharon Mizota.

Glynn was also intrigued by news of a 2010 bank robbery in Argentina in which the thieves made off with the contents of 134 safe deposit boxes. She notes that that contents of such boxes are secret and not necessarily of universal value: "Sometimes it's also very sentimental things, while sometimes it's things that are maybe illegal to keep," she says, "That loss of the value of the object becomes specific and personal."

In a kind of homage, the current show includes a row of 134 safe deposit boxes, cast in plaster. Bone white, each one is damaged in some way: cracked, full of holes, or nearly broken in two. The effect is eerie, almost ghost-like, with each boxes' battered condition standing in for an unknowable loss. In this way, they're not unlike Glynn's copied, bronze-age hoards -- unfaithful replicas that speak more of what is missing than what has survived.

Her work suggests that the emotional weight we invest in our most treasured belongings is actually an attachment to the past, to others, to our own humanity. That's the stuff that gets sloughed off as these more durable objects move through history. It's only visible in the ways we have tried to safeguard them, from a hole in the ground to a safe deposit box. The loss of that attachment is cause for melancholy, certainly, but it's also an occasion for creative reimagining.

Plaster casts of safe deposit boxes in Liz Glynn's studio | Photo: Sharon Mizota.<br />

Glynn took some of her copies of the Trojan Gold to the site in Turkey where the originals were first discovered. She "re-buried" them there, repatriating (sort of) artifacts that were spirited off to Germany in the 1930s, then seized by the Soviets in 1945. (The originals still reside in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow; a set of "official" replicas is on display at the Neues Museum in Berlin.) Another project, still only a proposal, involves installing copies of twenty-nine Egyptian obelisks currently scattered around the world at their original sites. In a way, the potentially endless act of copying allows these artifacts to be in several places at once, creating a physical echo of their travels through history.

However far-flung, for Glynn, such projects have roots in Los Angeles. "I moved here from the East Coast and I was sort of dismayed because I'd been using these gorgeous old architectural boards with peeling paint and things like that and I couldn't find any of it," she says, "Well, what do you do? I mean, look at Hearst Castle or the Getty Villa, and it's like, you make it up...I'm interested in this willful fabrication of history even in a lot of cases when it's myth."

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Top image: Liz Glynn in her studio with her ceramic copy (in progress) of the Salisbury Hoard | Photo: Sharon Mizota.

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