CHARLES SIMONDS: I’m Charles Simonds. The work that we’ll be speaking about is called Circular People or People Live In a Circle.
What this is, is a model of an idea. And the idea has to do with how people live in time and space, particularly relative to their history and how their architecture can express their beliefs about that. These people live by going around in a circle, and they essentially excavate their past and rebuild it into their present, so they’re constantly going around and around sort of devouring the remains of their past and trying to reconstruct it into a new dwelling. Their center is a kind of dome space in which they yearly enact a kind of procreative ritual.
I had been taken when I was young to the Southwest by my parents with my brother. And at one point ran away there with him. And so certainly I would say probably something of that has influenced the imagery of my work. Though it’s really a fantasy that I’ve invented. I’m very quick to avoid the historical reference.
NARRATOR: In the 1970’s, Simonds began building his dwellings in outdoor spaces in downtown New York City.
CHARLES SIMONDS: I actually went and worked in the street. I had a delivery bicycle with a box in the front where I would put my clay and I would go and find a spot that had a nice ledge and a niche. And I would make a landscape and then start to build.
Then I would spend essentially the whole day -- ‘cause if you left, you had no guarantee that it would be there when you came back -- constructing with my tweezers a little dwelling, a habitation for little people. And normally people came by and, you know, “What’s that?” I mean very quickly and shortly, I was quite well known as this crazy guy who’s doing his dwellings again.
As I make them I am a little person as if I lived in there, what it would feel like and be like to be in there. So it’s a fantasy.
You never see people in the dwellings. I think if there were a person, it would be a depiction of something. And they’re not really depictions of anything. For instance, I often have a very intricate story that envelops or wraps around each dwelling that I make. But I usually am very secretive about that if people ask. And I’m much more inclined towards allowing people to make their own, which they often do.