totem table

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Bill Moyers interviewing Joseph Campbell asked, “Well, who in society today is making any heroic myth at all for us? Do movies do this, do movies create hero myths?...Does a movie like Star Wars fill some of that need for the spiritual adventure, for the hero?” Joseph Campbell replies, “Oh, perfect, it does the cycle perfectly. It’s not simple morality play. It has to do with the powers of life and their inflection through the action of man. One of the wonderful things, I think, about this adventure into space, is that the narrator, the artist, the one thinking up the story, is in a field that is not covered by our own knowledge” you know, Though it’s much of the adventure in the old stories is where they go into regions that no one’s been in before. Well, we’ve now conquered the planet, so there are no empty spaces for the imagination to go forth and fight its own war, you know, with the powers, and that was the first thing I felt, there’s a whole new realm for the imagination to open out and live its forms.”

I’m a huge Joseph Campbell fan dating back to my discovery of his book “Hero With a Thousand Faces”. I’m also a huge Star Wars fan. When I first saw heard, read and saw this Bill Moyer’s interview with Joseph Campbell on PBS, I couldn’t help but ask the same question of Architecture & Design, i.e. where are our heroes and where are our stories? The great gothic cathedrals told stories with their sculpture covered facades and stained glass windows. The furniture of the Egyptians, Greeks & Romans was a designed and fabricated conversation about the relationship between man and beast.

Maybe its the closet Post-Modernist in me, but I guess I’ve started to miss the story telling aspects of Architecture and furniture. I found myself visiting Chicago’s Art Institute Museum and Oriental Institute looking through gallery after gallery filled with functional objects telling stories about their creators, people, their world, their time and their mythologies.

Running along Chicago’s north-side lakefront trail, I encountered ever other day, a totem pole between Belmont and Irving. I recognized on that totem pole the stories of America’s native peoples and as I ran I thought about my own stories, my own mythologies.

Well my stories are the stories told in movies and books that were a part of my world past and present. Star Wars was certainly as important a story as there could be for a 14 year old in 1978. Seeing the first Star Wars film really was a new hope, and I understood for perhaps the first time in my life that the story being told can be simultaneously past, present and future. Was I Luke, Obi Wan, Yoda, or Gods forbid Darth Vader?
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As big a deal as Star Wars was, it was nothing in comparison to Spiderman. I inherited my Spider Man obsession from my younger brother. The idea that a super hero could be simultaneously human and super really resonated and nothing resonated more than Spiderman’s famous motto as given to him in Amazing Fantasy #15 “...with great power there must also come great responsibility!”
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My totem table is designed to tell my story or stories, but more importantly it is designed to allow other people to tell their stories. The laser cut (& eventually laser etched) acrylic drawer front allows different users to tell different stories. The threaded rod that runs through the vertical length of the totem table allows for different components to be added based on each owner/users preferences, stories and/or needs.

For this version of my totem table, I decided to play off of the Post-Modernist underpinnings and influences upon my work. I found a plastic bowl that Michael Graves designed for Target at a local thrift store for $1.00. I bought the bowl, drilled a hole into its base and used it as formwork for the Totem Table’s concrete base.
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Wood for the Totem Table’s various components came from locally sourced urban wood. Contrasting wood colors, tones, textures & grain are used to allow the trees to have their own conversation. Aluminum and acrylic are used as “cool” materials to offset the “warmth” of the wood and concrete.
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The current version of my Totem Table tells a story, but not yet my story. A future version of my Totem Table will include the etched drawer front and 3d printed Spiderman referenced in the “polemical” drawing that I used to inspire the table that I have so far. Perhaps someday too I will revisit Star Wars and some of the other stories and mythologies that I know to be a part of who I am as a person, designer and teacher.