Perambulating the Bounds

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Will ClenDening

Will ClenDening died in a motorcycle accident last week. This is a terrible loss. For his family and anyone who knew him, it goes without saying that they are suffering, but Will’s death tears away a piece of the entire Nashville art community. He was an incredibly gifted artist, and there was never more of a case of a young man who had an entire life of living and making art stretching in front of him which was snuffed out too early. You never know where someone will go with art, but Will looked like he was going to take things to the highest levels possible.

Will’s work has been some of the most consistently stimulating stuff I have seen in Nashville in the last couple of years. He had that rare combination of a good eye and a sharp mind, making pieces that were strong formally and conceptually.

  • In one Watkins show he made a column out of unwound videotape. It worked as a simple sculpture, running from ceiling to floor with a clear form and the texture of the curling videotape, forming a presence in the gallery, but there was also a subtext about looking at the unseeable.
  • I saw several pieces from him which involved really great experiments with sound and video feed, sometimes just minimal signals. I find it very useful to think about the quality of those signals in focusing my own music.
  • He did a series of sculptures that involved pouring molten metal into molds containing books, the metal partially burning the paper and then cooling in jagged, surreal forms (these were at a show at Ruby Green).
  • And there were his machines, which converted signals from the worlds of sound or motion into automated mark-making activity. I wrote a post about them a year ago.

He created an impressive variety and quality of work at a young age. Anyone who looks at art has lost something with his death.

This death will be felt especially hard by everyone in the Watkins family, Will's teachers and fellow students. They have such an intense bond, I can barely imagine how they feel right now. And all of them are so important to our community, and Nashville is so small and interconnected, that none of us is unaffected by their grief. And the grieving goes way past Watkins, since Will made a lot of friends with other artists in town. This ploughs right through the middle of us.

The Secret Show has a page with a couple of Will’s pieces from Secret Shows.

Visitation and Will’s funeral are this week, Tuesday and Wednesday. I don’t have more details yet. [Monday: Heather posted a comment with the details on visitation and the service.]

More updates, Monday PM: visitation is Tuesday from 4-8 at Woodlawn Funeral Home, which is in Woodlawn Cemetery on Thompson in Berry Hill. The service is 2:00 Wednesday at St. Mark's Episcopal, 3100 Murfreesboro Road in Antioch, pretty close to the intersection with Bell Road.

Finally, the family has set up a memorial scholarship fund in Will's memory at Watkins. An email from Melissa Means at Watkins said "A scholarship has been established by the family in Will's memory.Donations can be sent directly to the Development Office at Watkins College of Art and Design." Their address is Watkins College of Art and Design, 2298 Metrocenter Boulevard, Nashville 37228.

More additions: Melissa Means posted this URL for Will’s student page with images of his work:

Also, I hear that Watkins is considering creating an artwork or sculpture in his memory. I’m sure they’ll be working out details on that over some period of time.


  • Fuck.

    By Blogger Sara, at 7:42 AM  

  • visitation is Tuesday at 4-8pm at Woodlawn Funeral Home on Thompson Ln and the service is at St Marks Episcopal, Murfreesboro Rd at 2pm on Wednesday

    By Anonymous Heather Spriggs Thompson, at 7:45 AM  

  • Here's Will's web site to view his work:

    Melissa Means

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:27 AM  

  • David, Thank you for this beautiful tribute to Will and thanks to Melissa for posting the Watkins website on his work. Those of us who worked with Will doing art installation over the years know the care and dedication (and finely attuned sense of humor) that he brought to everything he did. Finding ways to honor his memory and his art will be important for all of us in this community as we struggle to accept the fact that he is gone.

    By Anonymous Susan Knowles, at 10:58 AM  

  • Thanks for this..

    By Anonymous Chris Wage, at 7:37 AM  

  • Thank you for your summary of Will's work. I want to pass the following on. If its too long, feel free to delete it.

    Will sometimes asked me about computers -- what was possible with them. He expressed an interest in adding computer programming and graphics to his artistic toolchest.

    Will raised a project idea with me. He wanted to somehow visualize the way that a computer processed text, and maybe other things like images too?? Will asked me how text was represented in a computer. I told him about ascii binary codes, where each character (e.g., letter, digit, punctuation) is represented as 8 bits (1's and 0's) or 1 byte. He thought of using a light source to flash on and off, representing 1's and 0's, the ascii representations of the sequence of characters that made up a text -- I think that we talked about doing this for the dictionary and some novel. We talked about this sequencing of flashing light being analogous to Morse code. I showed him a byte of memory from an old, circa-1960 IBM 700-series computer. This REALLY excited him. This one byte was as big as small laptops of today. It had 8 vacuum-tubes along the top, one for each bit. He imagined installing banks of 8-lights each (each light about the size of a Christmas light) in a dark room, and the banks of lights going off in rapid succession, perhaps with some parallelism, each bank representing a character of text. Perhaps visitors could type in text that would be translated to a ascii, byte represenation and displayed. I can't recall all the details of the implementation that he had in mind.

    I think that the basic idea of translating between representations was behind one of his Secret Show projects where bar codes were translated to some kind of audio representation.

    I wish that I better remembered the details of his interest in alternate representations.

    Will had an engineer in him. He was an artist and an engineer. He was some unique and wonderful melding of the two. That seems very clear to me.

    He was a dear friend. Thanks again.

    Doug Fisher

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:10 AM  

  • I am having a very hard time dealing with Will's death. I have read some of the blogs and comments from friend, artists, and Watkins staff and students. Please know that we have been overwhelmed with everyone's response to Will's loss. I always thought that he was a very special person, wise beyond his years,compassionate, brilliant, and extremely talented. It is consoling to know that many others also thought the same. I know he is in a better place, but I/we will miss him terribly. There are no words that can express any of this, though I try.
    I am thankful that his life touched so many others in the short time he was with us. Linda, Parker, Andie, Maryn, Connor, and myself want to thank you for your love and support. Will leaves a huge hole in our hearts with his passing. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

    By Anonymous Bob ClenDening, at 9:28 AM  

  • We all have a unique approach to remembering Will's life based on our individual roles in it. I was the roommate's girlfriend. I would come over and scrape dried spaghetti noodles off a small pot or vaccuum with one hand shielding my face from the dust storm. I would indulge the guys with my war stories from the chores I had accomplished that day, and Will would always get a kick out of them. He was always disappointed, though, that I never tried to tackle his bathroom - I wasn't that domestic. Will and I would often kid around saying that he was my substitute boyfriend - he got most of the benefits of having a girlfriend but didn't have to buy me things or listen to me talk too much. I would occassionally make a home-cooked meal, rent a movie and jokingly call it "family night." Will would just roll his eyes and laugh. We really were like family, though. Will had been there when I had received some painful news from my family. I was so distraught, but I remember hearing him over Trent's consolations asking if everything was okay. It wasn't just curiosity, it was simply genuine and sincere as was he. Will would come home almost everyday and watch the Simpsons and Seinfeld. I would watch with him sometimes, and the scenes he laughed at would always seem funnier to me. Whenever I completed a new piece or thought of an idea for one, I would anticipate his approval. He was so talented and incredibly smart. I held his opinion in high esteem - which worked in my favor when he would comment on something new I had done with my "look." If I dressed up for an opening or some special event, I could always count on hearing Will say, "Wow, you look really nice." That always made me feel special.
    It was beyond heartbreaking to hear the news of his death. It is just now setting in that his soul is really gone, but after seeing how everyone has come together and reached out to one another during these past several days, it is undeniable that Will's spirit is within us all.
    Thank you, Dave, for honoring my friend.

    By Anonymous Abby Whisenant, at 6:04 PM  

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