Elias Sime: Tightrope Complex tableaus made with nontraditional materials

Elias Sime: Tightrope, the first major traveling survey dedicated to the Ethiopian artist’s work, is on display at the Akron Art Museum through May 24. Sime’s March 29 artist talk has been canceled as part of public health efforts, but you can take a close look at his large-scale tableaus made of reclaimed electronic components and learn more about the artist’s work in his own words through this virtual tour on all AAM’s social platforms. Enjoy the #MuseumatHome.

Elias Sime: Tightrope is organized by the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, Clinton, New York.

Its presentation in Akron is made possible through the generous support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Ohio Arts Council; The Tom and Marilyn Merryweather Fund; the Kenneth L. Calhoun Charitable Trust, KeyBank, Trustee; Katie and Mark Smucker; and Mr. and Mrs. Joseph S. Kanfer.

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Elias Sime, Tightrope: (9) While Observing . . . (detail), 2018, Reclaimed electronic components and insulated wire on panel, 94 3/8 x 63 3/8 in., Collection of Robert and Karen Duncan, Lincoln, NE. Photo by Mike Crupi.

Each material I collect has its own story. It has its own language. Every story has a beginning. I think about the first person who thought or dreamed of it and all the people who transformed that dream into a material. I also think about the various people who used and reused the material before it landed in my hands. I never worry about how old or new the material is. My art is not about recycling or repurposing material but about expressing my ideas. For instance, when I first saw a motherboard, it reminded me of a city, of landscapes, as well as of the people in the factory who assembled it.

— Elias Sime

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Elias Sime, Tightrope: Surface and Shadow 2 (detail), 2016, Reclaimed electronic components and buttons on panel, 9 ft. 5/8 in. x 17 ft. 5/8 in., Pizzuti Collection, Columbus, OH. Photo by Mike Crupi.

I have done a lot of work using clothes buttons. When you wake up in the morning, you open your button or button-up, and you do that with care. It is an expression of love. It puts you in contact with your body… [Buttons] tell the stories of the persons who used them; the human traces they hold are expressions of love.

— Elias Sime

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Elias Sime, Tightrope: Silent 1 (detail), 2019, Reclaimed electronic components on panel, 72 1/2 in. x 10 ft. 6 in., Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan, New York. Photo by Mike Crupi.

It took me a great deal of time to collect the keyboards. Keyboards have evolved very quickly — the ones today use a completely different technology from a couple of decades ago, but their colors are monochromatic, which gives an impression of silence. Sometimes, thoughts are expressed through noise, and other times, through silence. The keyboard is not loud, but it is full of symbols.

— Elias Sime

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Elias Sime, Tightrope: Hands and Feet (detail), 2009–14, Reclaimed electronic components and insulated wire on panel, 71 in. x 10 ft. 10 1/4 in., Collection of Nancy and Joseph Chetrit, New York. Photo by Mike Crupi.

The only thing I think about when I pick the cellular phone motherboard, for instance, is the excitement of the person who owned it the first time they got it. The hope they felt about the future, the eagerness to use it. That, for me, is what love is all about. To realize that we are all connected and that human contact, that touch, is created in every object we take for granted.
— Elias Sime

Elias Sime, Tightrope: (8) While Observing . . . (detail), 2018, Reclaimed electronic components and insulated wire on panel, 86 3/4 x 46 5/8 in., Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan, New York. Photo by Mike Crupi.

The materials I select, by the time they get into my hands, they’ve been touched by so many people, and now they’re in my hands. Even though it may not be visible, when you’re working on your personal computer, you leave a part of you on that. Then, when it breaks, there is somebody else who goes inside it and touches it: there’s that fingerprint, that connection that you can even have with the machine. Technology is very tactile. It’s connected to us. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be beneficial for us, 100 percent. It actually made us lose a lot of things, too. It gave us speed. But we have also lost that calmness, tranquility, and quiet.

— Elias Sime

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