EAF16 Artist Profile: Andrew Brehm

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“Ultimately, I decided I wanted a piece that was interactive with the park’s visitors but would blend into the landscape, almost be overlooked as a sculpture,” artist Andrew Brehm notes about his 2016 Emerging Artist Fellowship project titled AMAMML. The piece is built into a tan 1989 Jeep Comanche truck that does not immediately announce itself as artwork.

Close observation of the tires reveals two concentric circles each inscribed with the alphabet. The license plate enigmatically reads AMAMML—almost a word. On the truck’s driver-side door are seven keys, snug in locks, with a variety of key chains—strawberry, panda, cocoon, plane, and surfboard, among others—hanging down. Peer inside to see the kaleidoscope of butterflies sitting inside.

It’s a puzzle. The tires’ circles are a Caesar cipher, a simple encryption technique in which each letter is substituted for another letter a fixed N-number of positions down the alphabet. The artist hopes that these hints will arouse curiosity and encourage park goes to solve the riddle by turning the right key. “The clues are integrated into the access points of a car, meaning, if you understand the basic parts of a car, then you can activate this piece.”

AMAMML, like much of his other work, performs. Brehm was trained as a furniture maker and from the beginning has associated objects with function. “I see that an object is only completed once it has been activated, like sitting in a chair.” Whether props in his videos or sculptures, Brehm’s objects are playful, quirky, and kinetic.

Yet, this piece also has layers that explore the difficult terrain of American history and identity. “The project evolved from my interest in the Native American nomenclature that Jeep borrows for naming its line of SUVs.” The Comanche model takes its name from the Comanche Nation based in Oklahoma. In researching more about the Comanche people, the artist became interested in the Comanche’s role in the “Code Talkers” program during WWII. Enlisted by the Allied forces to use their native language in the creation of code unbreakable by the Axis powers.

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