Dustin Farnsworth’s studio is stage-bright when we walk in. He’s working on three headdresses, and brings our attention to one: three coopered towers to be mounted on the head. To see the expression on the figure’s face is to know something about where this is all going: not only to the world of “players and painted stage” but somewhere much darker and much more strange.
Ah, the “dark” and “strange”–all of it has been commodified in clever ways (Tim Burton, anyone?)–and Dustin’s work nods–and then brilliantly subverts any pop-culture context, favoring more risky considerations of poverty, angst, race. The souls in his headdresses are inexpressibly clear and burdened by what they have to wear (twenty-seven essays could be written about the faces alone), and what they wear is a profound architecture.
As we look at the headdress-in-process, Dustin tells us he’s been inspired by Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse–the three headdress sections evoke water towers: signifiers of how we once handled water, and possible indicators of our future demise. As Dustin talks with us about his Michigan roots–“the burn’t out” feeling of Detroit arriving in his hometown of Lansing, Michigan– it’s hard not to see disaster abiding in all his work.
But the apocalypse hasn’t happened yet. There’s a lot to do. This, too, is part of Dustin’s sensibility. He shows us a system of walkways that will cross the towers in the headdress, a kind of back-and-forth plank-work. As he talks us through how it will go, the work immediately shifts. There will be an imagined cross-way, the kind that invites a child in. A little Borges in the gloom. A smile in the wince. On a side wall of Farnsworth’s bright studio, behind a door, he’s left a book open. The heading is: “The End Which is the Beginning.”
Photographs by Robin Dreyer; writing by Elaine Bleakney