Mike Spencer
Artist Blacksmith

Emergent Horse

Biologists and people who study other complex systems speak of emergence to describe the phenomenon whereby a feature or behavior of a system appears which cannot be attributed to its numerous parts but to the complexity of the interactions between them.

When I stop to look critically at a piece of hot iron I'm forging, I find it difficult to believe that the object, distorted and crusted with firescale, has any destiny but the scrap heap. It is the vision of the final piece combined with the briefly imagined consequences of each hammer blow or chisel cut that I see as the intended form gradually emerges from the raw metal.

[Image of the sculpture] This commonplace notion of emergence seems quite different from that applied to complex systems. But on closer scrutiny they are more similar than first appears. The idea of a horse is an emergent property of the collecteive action of myriad neurons in the brain. The emergence of the metal horse from the steel plate only occurs as a result or tangible map of the physical act of hammering, itself an emergent property of the coordinated interplay of motor and sensory neurons, muscle and bone with the neural substrate that supports the idea of a horse.

This piece was formed from an old scrap piece of high carbon steel plate, the remainder of which serves as a liner in the firebox of my kitchen range. The entire process of emergence remains embodied and frozen in the finished form. The coarse corrosion pitting, acquired while it lay in some scrap heap, remains in the surface texture. The flame-cut edges are intentionally left unrefined. Part of the horse remains as a chisel-incised cartoon. The finished head and foreleg emerge because the upper part of the heavy plate is bent away to release it. Finally, there is a small polished panel for my signature which, in some venues, is necessary to establish its bona fides as art.

The piece sits loose on a stand so that it can be picked up, held, handled and closely explored. The stand is formed from a section of structural I-beam, hot forged and partly polished to suitably accomodate the horse. It serves as a further link to the industrial origins of the medium from which the horse emerges.

Emergent Horse is in the "artists collection" and is currently on loan. Inquiries welcome by email: mspencer at tallships.ca.
Original photo by Peter Barss
Updated 9 May 2000 -- Mike Spencer