Dear Mr Sachs,

I never fully appreciated your work until I discovered your ‘Love Letter to Plywood’. As I, too, enjoy working with plywood. Mostly because I’m not skilled enough to be let anywhere near expensive timber. And MDF is outrageously disgusting.

So one day I was bumbling around the internet looking for plywood techniques. It wasn’t long before I happened upon the best short film ever made about a building material. I loved every part of it. Well, except for that stuff about the imperial system. Seriously Tom, what would Le Corbusier say? Exactly. He would be horrified. But everything else? It has changed the way I think about and work with plywood.

Anyway. This letter is not just about our mutual affinity toward plywood. That was just the beginning; the gateway to a deeper appreciation of your work. I needed more. So I watched the rest of the Ten Bullets series, and trawled through pictures of your NUTSY’s show.

It seemed to me that the Ten Bullets series was a further exploration of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc’s work. Taking his meticulous approach to describing processes (like cooking hamburgers), and then applying it to your own techniques? The deliberate attempt at codifying your creative rituals as a repeatable process? That made my flannel clad inner-engineer leap with joy.

Your recent keynote on authenticity clarified some of my own half-baked thoughts. Recently I left full time employment to pursue my own interests. I have a goal of building a project a month for a year, and I’m finding the experience unexpectedly therapeutic. So when you said:

“Understanding and accepting yourself so you can have the courage to make just the right wrong decision. And I don’t think this is specific to art, I think this applies to anyone who is solving a difficult problem.”

Well, I just about fell off my chair. My difficult problem was of Descartes proportions: “Why do I exist?”. And I am discovering that by creating personal projects for no audience or employer is how I am learning to find myself. So, a few moments later, when you mentioned:

“The goal is work, and the reward for good work is more work. Because it is the only way we can realise ourselves. Could you imagine being paid really well for doing a job that you didn’t love. Could you imagine a greater hell than that?”

That was the exact moment I became a fan of your philosophy. I mean you probably had me at your attitude towards making the objects you covet. Not to mention your techniques. Establishing humanity by leaving all the evidence and ‘scars of labour’ behind? Showing the end grain, evidence of your use of plywood? All the screw heads and glue drips? Refreshing.

Tom Sachs self portrait. The sachs family crest

I’m a software engineer by trade and for the last twelve years I was paid to erase and scrub out imperfections as best I could. I’m not yet sure how to showcase evidence of how a human wrote some software, but I’m hoping it is possible. The fact that filmmakers like Van and Casey Neistat are able to illustrate their production labour? In another ‘perfect’ domain; film making? At least gives me hope.

Your work has provided me with optimism. Maybe it is possible to showcase that a human. Me. I toiled here, inside your computer.

Love,

Clinton Freeman.

P.S. If you ever run a graduate course in bending plywood? Could you film it and upload it to the intertubes? Thanks!

Edits:

  • 2015/03/23 - Added reference to Van Neistat.
  • 2015/07/13 - Switched to use Vimeo version of Plywood video.
  • 2015/11/11 - Added link to Van Neistat site.
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