At the Mercy of the Gate
Jim Toia had just spent two exhausting, brutally hot weeks in the Rio Grande Valley. He and assistant Anna Raupp, were casting ant colonies using a portable, home made foundry to melt and pour pewter into ant holes in the loamy, hard scrabble soil of south Texas. Toward the end of this extraordinary adventure in art making, he found himself in rural Mexico, unexpectedly trapped behind a locked gate and being menaced by a drunken local who threatened to cut his throat. Toia remembers, "I was struck by my response. Instead of fear, a rage unlike any I had ever had overcame me. This man was threatening my life and my response was a stark willingness to kill rather than be killed."
The recanting above is not your usual introduction to a new body of work. However, it does evoke the raw, unpredictable quality often encountered by those of us who seek to expose nature's underlying processes and structures especially on its own terms. Indeed, Toia might be found pouring pewter into an ant hole, staining a spider's web for the taking, plucking jellyfish from the breaking surf, or positioning mushrooms on toothy paper while waiting for spores to drop. His process of art making is replete with a closeness to "le corps physique" of nature and reminds us continually that volition starts in the body and emotional reactions are instantaneous and automatic.
So it might sound odd when Toia says that he chooses to remove himself from the art making process as much as possible. That is, he lets chance mitigate outcome by leaving a great deal up to fate and circumstance. "By relinquishing control, one establishes a different type of relationship with art, and in this case with nature, or, at least the laws that govern it." The result is a body of work that mimics nature and the human condition.
Such practice strips the process bare and leaves both the artist and the viewer vulnerable - at times daunted, but at other times elated. Ironically, while our witness urges emotional response, nature goes about its business with an implacable lack of sympathy. It withholds judgment and takes action out of necessity while we, the doe-eyed bystander, simply stand in the gutter knee deep in all its brilliance and fecundity.