Termite Hills

Taken from a review in Art in America 1998 by Jonathan Goodman, Steve Tobin at Art et Industrie, and O.K. Harris…

“the sculptor Steve Tobin has recently put together a powerful body of bronze works based on termite mounds in Ghana. The casts of the mounds, some as tall as 15 feet, were accomplished in collaboration with an entire Ghanaian village; the molds were transported to the artist’s studio in Pennsylvania, where they were cast in bronze. The sculptures, which Tobin declares are ‘monuments to the insect gods,’ can be seen as found objects of considerable beauty, as scientific documentation of natural processes, and as inspired architecture whose complex function—the mounds, made of termite saliva and excrement, serve as cooling towers for the underground colonies—rivals that of the glass-and-steel towers in our cities. Their craggy contours and richly colored surfaces suggest magical mountains brought into being by forces unknown. Up close, the sculptures reflect the myriad physical intricacies of the mounds—miniature crags and crevices that mimic the larger outline.

Tobin has taken great care with the patinas, which range from a rich reddish brown to moss green, saying that while the hues do not duplicate what he found in the field, they are plausible renditions of nature. In deference to his materials, he has made only the slightest of formal interventions, such as deciding where to terminate the bases of the works. Tobin’s intent is to make us study and compare the consequences of human and nonhuman labor. These works are conceptual in the sense that it took the artist’s eye and effort to make a found structure a work of art. At the same time, Tobin is content to let these striking forms speak for themselves.”