Protecting Myself the Best I Can (Weapons by the Door)

  • Click on image to enlarge

    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
Terra-cotta pipe, golf club, baseball bats, metal pipe, clothespins, tape
35 x 16 x 16 inches
Collection of
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Protecting Myself the Best I Can (Weapons by the Door) and Keeping It from Freezing, while they resemble Holley's assemblages of found materials and consumer goods, are actually "functional" home furnishings Holley rescued from the house of a Mrs. Smith, an elderly woman who once lived in the neighborhood. One of these works is a group of objects she collected to defend herself against frequent intruders; the other is a faucet wrapped with layers of plastic and newspaper to prevent a pipe from exploding during winter cold.

These remarkable artworks codify Holley's approach to the relationship between art and life, for the two are not the same. On the simplest level, we could interpret these two found works as just more formations of "found materials." Doing so, however, would miss the fact that Holley did not alter these constructions at all; he merely named them, helped them make a transition from something "toxic”—they are radioactive with social iniquity—to something beneficial, edifying, transformative of consciousness. They are the "material screams" from which his material songs emerge, as the blues and the spirituals emerged from "field cries," "hollers," and "shouts" of the nineteenth century. He gives these materials, and the histories imprisoned within, a proper "burial" by rechristening them "art." These works posit art as reuse of the already reused. We make art out of suffering because that is what we have to work with.