time and rust … a good place to start

Far too long since last posting, but such is the way of it. Grant writing, project work, field work and travel have all taken me away from this endeavour. But this is a good point in the year to begin afresh, and with a little luck, maintain the momentum once begun.

So … to turn to the thin thread of thought I was initially teasing out of my muddled brain a while back:
Things: and why I obsess about certain of them.

It seems logical to give pride of place to the category of object for which this blog is named.

Rusty Metal Things is a rather broad and rambling category for me in my collecting, but generally, the objects I find most interesting fall into two groups: those that have degraded to such a point that their former life/purpose/entire form is no longer discernible, and those that are newer to the world of oxidation, and can still tell their story of former utility. I collect  – and this is by no means an exhaustive list – tin cans (usually crushed into some interesting shape by vehicle wheels), hinges, bits of wire and wire gridding/mesh, sections of pipe (especially ends bits with joints or connecting frameworks attached), flanges and other round bits that indicate the object’s former existence as part of a structure that opened into (or closed off) something else, bolts, screws, keys (especially rusty skeleton keys!), and of course the previously-mentioned random bits of metal that have so corroded as to be interestingly-shaped abstract artifacts of who-knows-what, as you can see below:

… a bit of wire, and two bits of flat metal, one of which has numbers and letters embossed on it … probably some sort of strapping for identification purposes. All of these objects (and those imaged below) were found on Marginal Road, by the Halifax Seaport.

… a squashed bottle cap, a bit of what appears to be pipe, and some sort of flange or metal gasket.

… an old railway spike, and a rusty bolt. Love rail spikes … one of my favorite things to find – perhaps because the rail system that helped build Canada is a fading memory.

— a bit of extremely fragile metal; this piece is so powdery, and will fall apart in my hands if I am not careful.

What strikes me initially with all of these things is the surface texture. Some are bumpy like coarse-grained leather, some flaking, some sharp even on flat planes. The diversity is quite remarkable, but consistent in the transformation of what was once a smoothe, and oftentimes shiny, thing. It is as though a skin has been shed to reveal a truth lying dormant just below the surface. I am fascinated by the processes of change on and in the metal itself – the slow breakdown and erosion of shape and surface texture, and the eventual decomposition that leaves the original form and meaning of the object entirely in question. I also love the fact that most often, I have absolutely no idea what these objects once were, or what function/meaning/significance they once held in the doing of things in the world. They now have to be taken on their own terms, as they are, not as they were or ‘should’ be.

So at the root of my delight in rusty metal things is the notion of transformation, and its sisters transience and decay. These man-made objects reveal to me the human desire for some sort if permanence in this world – which of course, is the desire for an entirely illusory state. The chemical processes at work on the metal bring it away from the fabricated world of humans, inexorably back to the earth – to the land from which its components were initially extracted. There is such simplicity embodied in the corrosion of these objects, the way they encapsulate the sheer inevitability of this process. I find it both brutal and disarmingly beautiful.

I realize my position here could seem romantic – a nostalgic eye to loss and ‘the better past.’ But while an acknowledgment of loss evident in the pleasure I take in these objects, I feel they serve more as markers of the continued human blindness to the inevitability of decay and change; this is where the delusion and romanticism lie to my mind. I find the obsession in popular culture with the new – the shiny, the (eternally) young – to be exceedingly morbid. As if the world and its contents could be cast in resin, eternally the same … but of course, to do so in reality would be to preempt the consuming machine, the ‘must have more’ imperative inherent in this world view. So instead, new (artificial) obsolescences are created to feed the beast. But I digress somewhat … . Yes, an acknowledgment of loss is part of the attraction, but only insofar as that loss is really not loss at all – merely a state-change.  An example of things as they truly are.