INTERVIEW: Stephen Batura

 spring morning, casein on panel, 984 x 147 in.
 

Stephen Batura is a Colorado artist represented by Robischon Gallery in Denver. His large-scale, monochromatic paintings based on historical photographs from the early 20th century, as well as images from books and the internet, are currently on display at Robischon Gallery in an exhibition titled “Appropriated: The Chronicled West.” Three other artists, Edie Winograde, Jerry Kunkle, and Gary Emrich also have works in this show. “Appropriated: The Chronicled West” is open through May 5, 2012.

Interview by Hayley Richardson

 

You are originally from Colorado, and have lived, worked, and exhibited here throughout your career. It seems like this state has its own distinct “breed” of artist and that the art community here is very tight knit. What do you think it means to be a Colorado artist, and what does the art scene in Denver in particular represent to you?

I can consider myself a Colorado artist because I am a native, I was born here, and that is unusual for the art scene. The art scene I came up in is much different than the one that is available now. In the early 1980s there weren’t a lot of galleries in Denver so a lot of artists started co-ops, and that was the best place to see contemporary art. I went to those places for years before I joined one of them and even before I joined it was a very open and accessible community and there was a lot of enthusiasm for new work and risk taking. I think now I am not as in touch with all the galleries – there are many more venues for fledgling artists and ambitious artists too. That’s a big change, and a very positive one for Denver.

 

Do you think there’s been a strong core group of people involved in the art scene here over the years?

I think it’s become way more developed since then. When we think about “groups” that formed over the course of art history, they are really less connected than we like to think. Certainly they are all contemporary people and I know a lot of current artists, but we are not all in each other’s studios everyday discussing ideas. So the affinities that develop between people and artists are usually very casual. There’s usually one or two people who you align with and who push you and you push them. But the difference, with Denver especially, is the availability of places and opportunities to show. The level of competition is nothing like when I started and everybody encouraged one another, there weren’t people trying to get your “slot.” Everybody wanted to see what you did and they wanted you to see what they did and I am not sure what the atmosphere is like now, if there is a lot of competitive interactions, but it was a great place to start. There was a lot of encouragement and people were interested in what everyone was doing.

 

Your paintings currently on display here at the Robischon Gallery are representative of a very large body of work that you have focused on for about ten years. Can you tell me what is has been like to explore this theme so deeply and intimately? Can you describe how it has evolved over the years?

Well that question is incorrect with this work in this way: the train wrecks, in which there are 5 in this show, are separate from the work I have been doing for the last ten years. The work from the last ten years has focused on the output of a CO photographer who is not very well known named Charles Lillybridge. I’ve been making work based on his photographs for about a decade. So what connects this work with the train wreck work and the earlier work is that I use mostly found photography, historical photographs. That’s something I’ve been doing since the mid-1990s and I continue to do it. I work from some of my own photographs – I’ve been working from this resource of Lillybridge photographs from the Colorado Historical Society Collection for about a decade.

I started the Lillybridge stuff at about the same time as some of my train wreck paintings [points to 2 on display] around 1998. Other paintings in this show are later, like from 2002.

 

Are the paintings that are not based on the Lillybridge photographs still inspired by other historical photographs?

They are still from the same collection of photos donated to the Colorado Historical Society, but are poorly documented as far as when and where they were taken. It is a very odd trove of images, very peculiar, idiosyncratic photographs taken by a guy who lived in a little shack by the river, and wandered around with his camera and took pictures.

 

Many of your paintings in this exhibition depict scenes of destruction and collapse, yet they are set within a historical context in which this region of the country was growing and prosperous. Can you talk a little bit more about why you chose to focus on this time period in your work? What is it about this era, and the photographs you work from in particular, that captivated your imagination for all this time?

I think I like the ambitious nature of what’s happening, whether it’s something being built or something that has failed in the form of a train wreck. They are both big, ambitious projects and sort of overreaching ideas. I like my paintings to reflect that large-scale idea. The way I developed the train wreck pictures – I had been working before that with very simple images that I took photographs of myself. I found figurines in thrift stores and then I photographed them and then made very large-scale paintings of those. They are very simple images without much detail, which was sort of the point. If you blow up a little figurine that’s five inches tall to five feet tall, there is very little content in it except for the shape with a couple little pieces of paint on them. From there I wanted to do dramatically complicated work, so I started to find these pictures of train wrecks which were spectacular, loaded with detail, and had elements of all kinds of painting: people, landscape, some elements of still-life with all this stuff spilled and piled up everywhere, and also a lot of abstract references which is where my interest in painting stems from, the Post-Impressionists and onward, and especially what we call “modern art.”

 

I am curious about your process. How are you able to translate small, antique photos into monumental contemporary paintings? Can you also talk about the physical aspects of your work, how its large compositions are put together with two or three separate panels?

I am very practical. I knew painters who did big work had trouble getting it in and out of spaces. I like wood panels. I like to work on a hard surface. I knew I could put them up next to each other and make paintings that fit together. So that explains my approach. I knew I wanted them big, and it’s still a practical solution that works fine.

As far as the method, I am working almost exclusively from downloads from the internet and sometimes I photograph little pictures I find in books. That’s where a lot of the train wrecks come from. These are, universally, not very clear photographs. They are often just basic journalism. There is not any attempt to do a bold statement or make a work of art. They are more of a record of an occurrence. So I work from these small images that are obviously black and white and what that let me do was allow some of my input, such as the use of color, which let me define these often undefined parts of the painting that were very vague in the photograph.  So I am working from small, not very well composed, not very refined images, and then using my imagination and my instincts to complete that into a large format painting.

 

I read about your exhibition at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art that took place last year, and how you switched gears from works like we see here now at Robischon to doing paintings of collages you had made from fashion and design photography.  What prompted this transition from painting recognizable imagery from the early 20th century to painting highly abstract and conceptual works?

It might be too strong to use the word “boredom”… I had worked for two years on a show here at this gallery [Robischon] in 2009 and had over 60 works in that show. I had worked pretty much non-stop on that, and that was all Lillybridge influenced work. When BMOCA approached me about an exhibition, they had planned to show some of that work, and when they came to do a studio visit, I had just begun doing these very automatic collages from a bunch of fashion magazines someone had gave me. I tore them up and I started just assembling pictures without thinking about them, and I had big stack of them laying on my table when the BMOCA people arrived. They wanted to look through those and they really responded to them. I had a few months before the show, and they said that if I wanted to pursue this stuff then they would show that too. You don’t always have the opportunity like that at a museum to show brand-new work, and I was real excited to try that. So I took these collages and made paintings of them.

 

Are they on the same scale as these works here at Robischon?

Not quite…they are large but not as large as these. They were experiments and it was an interesting break from this hard representation I had been doing for quite a while.

 

Is this something that you would like to continue, or explore other similar avenues?

I think it’s in my head and I’ve been trying to play off some element of that, the collage element in particular. I think I am sort of casting around with the old work and with the newer stuff and see where it goes. There a few paintings in this show that are brand new and we will see what develops.

 

Have you ever worked in collage prior to this exhibition?  What other types of art making do you enjoy?

I don’t think I have really done collage before. The closest I came to collage was when I was doing very simple things to photographs. This would have been around ’95. I did paintings based on costumes and I would find photographs of costumes in books and I would take the picture and maybe make one cut through the image and then push the two pieces together to make the image smaller.  So a big dress would become half the size and have certain contours. They were meant to be a little mysterious about how I arrived at that. They didn’t look contrived but if you look close you could a seam in the picture, a break in the contour and things like that.  So there was a little subtlety to them, but I wouldn’t call them collages because they weren’t multiple images. It was just one image that was cropped and slightly altered.

 

I don’t really have many other artistic pursuits. Painting has always been what I responded to most. I draw a little bit. Drawing was sort of born out of this Lillybridge work because I was trying to figure out what I was looking at.  It was easier to do that with a sharp, pointed instrument to draw with—somehow get a sense to know of what I was trying to deal with. Before that I really didn’t do much drawing. The work that really has developed is pure painting. I’ve never done any sculpture or anything like that, I mostly respond to two-dimensional work.

 

Which artists do you admire? Who has leant the most inspiration to your work?

I would say there are three artists right now who most important to me that I keep going back to. Most recently Gerhard Richter, the range of his work is amazing and he has really launched a lot of different things. When people see a retrospective of his work they will see connections to a lot of different work by a lot of different artists from all over, so he did innovative things before many other people and he continues to make impressive work.

Matisse is somebody that has always intrigued me. I always loved his looseness and his color and his explorations. He doesn’t get enough credit for experimentation. People definitely recognize it, but he was so relentlessly innovative. His works on paper, which is what I was looking at when I was doing the BMOCA collage work, his cut-outs are so brilliant and represent a distillation of everything he ever did.

The third artist would be Max Beckmann. Apart from being the most beautiful painter, he made such great, lush images and was able to do mysterious narratives and somehow get away with it. He wasn’t tied to a narrative tradition that we knew, and he wasn’t doing what other modernist painters were doing by making simplified images from life. He was really telling stories but we didn’t know what those stories were and yet they are evocative and they are still difficult to decipher. So those are my three guys…

I go through phases where I look at different artists and different ones crop up. I was very influenced by Luc Tuymans from Belgium, who I first saw in the early 90s. He was one of the first people to use photographic work that is obviously photographic but still very much his own work. He widely influenced younger artists with that approach. There are a lot of artists that I will tune into while I work on certain problems or work for certain show, but those three I mentioned before are the artists I turn to again and again.

 

What do you see on the horizon of the larger Colorado art community? What is on your plate for the future?

I am very impressed by the work by young artists that I see around town and in the galleries and museums. It’s a problematic opportunity to show young people who are not defined yet and I worry about them having the opportunity to show so early because that can lock you into a style or a format or a way of working that you might abandon if you don’t have early success. But with that said, I am really happy to see really high-quality work from young people, to see them have opportunities to show, and to have a great institution like the MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) have a much more involved presence in contemporary art in the form of their new Director. The gallery system has greatly expanded from just co-ops to more professional galleries that are helping the artist in a lot of different ways. When I started, it was really on the backs on the artist to do every aspect of the job.

Right now I am pursuing whatever I feel like pursuing. As far as what I am doing at the moment, I don’t really have a particular show lined up but I have some ideas for things I want to do. So I am working with this new format, working through some of these collage aspects. Otherwise I don’t know what the future has in store. I guess we will just have to wait and see.

 

INTERVIEW: Charles McGill

 

Red Menace, 2011

 

With a background in painting, Charles McGill has branched out across media: found objects, graphic design, performance, essays, photograpy, appropriation, digital arts, and more.  His latest exhibition, “ Trapped,” at The Phatory, features golf objects re-processed through the social-political “Black” experience.  On the walls are vintage golf bags that have been gutted, stretched, and arranged into figures on 4’ x 4’ squares. The subjects are creepy, provoking numerous associations, both perpetrator and victim, powerful and disempowered.   Reminiscent of John Chamberlin and Philip Guston, these works must be seen in person for full effect.  “Trapped” runs through May 26, 2012.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

The majority of works in this exhibition are composed of an unconventional material – de/reconstructed golf bags.  What first drew you to work with them?

Actually, I worked at a golf pro shop on 49th and Madison back in 1996 and one day, while straightening up golf bags on the floor I thought it would be cool if I could combine a vintage recording of Malcolm X with one of the very opulent and durable looking golf bags. The bigger, the better, and the more opulent, the better. I thought the contrast would be interesting. That was the very first thought of the possibility of using a golf bag as an object or subject in my art.

Sometime later, maybe a few months or more, I was working in the studio one day on a body of work that had come to its end. I was at the point where I couldn’t make another one of ‘those’ whatever it was at the time. I looked into the corner of my space and I saw an old golf bag that I hadn’t used in a while and probably wasn’t going to use any time soon and I said to myself, I’m going to collage lynching imagery onto that bag. It seemed consistent with the essential motivation for most of my work, which is, to seem to combine opposites so that some similarities can be arrived at eventually – if only via their propinquity. So this lynching imagery and the golf bag had some similarities but they weren’t directly related.  I made the Lynch Bag and a collector bought so I thought to myself, I should probably make another one…

 

Golf is a game traditionally practiced at country clubs – romping grounds of wealthy, powerful white males – known to exclude other genders and races.  As an African-American, artist, and golfer, what are your feelings on the sport?

I love golf. I love to play it and watch it on television. I’ve been to several PGA Tour events to watch the pros hit the ball and they truly play a different game than the one I play—that’s for sure!  I’ve worked in golf from midtown pro shops to green grass country clubs.  I was even thinking about getting my PGA pro status at one point so that I could be a teaching pro, but couldn’t devote the amount of time and focus that it required to get as good as I needed to be in order to pass the playing ability test. So after three and a half years of working hand-on and teaching juniors how to swing the club, I decided that what I really should be focusing on, and the real reason for exploring this career opportunity, was to further examine my relationship to the subject matter. It was a great experience working at a real country club, seeing how things really functioned and how the members really were as people as opposed to what I imagined or assumed rich country club members to be and how they might act. I think a lot of people think that rich members of country clubs are snooty with an aversion to anyone who isn’t white or rich or privileged.  That wasn’t my experience at all. I met some of the nicest and most generous people I’ve ever encountered. And they were consistently pleasant. They were often grounded in faith and lived by it.  I’m sure there are plenty of country clubs where racial or ethnic of intolerance is welcome, but it wasn’t my experience.

The other country club experience I have is at a place called The Bridge in Bridgehampton.  The owner’s name is Robert Rubin and he is an avid collector of contemporary art. Needless to say, he came across my work one day and it was a match made in artist/patron heaven. Bob always likes to think and move to the beat of his own drum. So when he built this golf course and clubhouse he made the entire concept kind of funky. It cost $600k to join the club, but if you want to wear a t-shirt to golf, hey what’s the big deal?  I’m an honorary member—I don’t have that kind of cabbage!

Bob has featured some of my work in the clubhouse and it has seen by some pretty influential people. I’m grateful for that. He actually installed my first life-sized sculpture of Arthur Negro, The Head of the Former Black Militant Golf and Country Club. It happens to be a self-portrait. It’s an impressive piece and he installed it out there, Black Power gloves, Uzi, black beret and all. What better place to have that piece on permanent display? Talk about combining opposites – it’s perfect! If you call the club, the outgoing message is a recording of James Brown singingShould I take’em to the bridge? Take’em to the bridge?” from Sex Machine.  It’s a perfect setting for some of my work.

Here’s a link to the NY Times piece on the club.

 

These works are very archetypal. They are figures, but assume no form in particular yet are loaded with references to power dynamics. KKK, S&M, Abu Gharib, secret societies, the gallows. All things referring to relationships of dominance and subservience. Did you intend for the works to be veiled and open-ended, or were you seeking specific associations?

I never have any specific associations or ideas. To be honest, I try to stay away from “good ideas” and work primarily on instinct and intuition. One day in the studio after spending time tearing these things apart and constructing abstract compositions on board, I cut one bag open as it lay on my work table. In doing so it began to have the eerie feeling of an autopsy – like I was beginning to perform an examination within the chest cavity of this thing. I pulled the bag open much like a coroner might do in cracking the chest cavity of a human corpse. I’ve never done anything like that before, so I’m only guessing on how it might feel. Anyway, that’s how it felt and I kept working and attaching this bag to the board, gluing and stapling and cutting and sawing these bags apart. It’s a very intense and frustrating process because the bags are not made to come apart. They are very well-made and are meant to stay that way. So I can get pretty angry making these things which might account for the emotional content of the pieces more than any direct association with another entity.

During this one particular piece, I took the hood that comes with bags like these and snapped it on to the top where it belongs (it’s a rain hood essentially), and there it was—a sinister figure, hidden and disguised beneath this dark hood.  I kept working and made one of the best pieces of art I’ve ever made.  That piece is called Four Men in Formal Attire, was sold and is in a collection of Bill and Pamela Royall in Richmond, VA. In the cradle of the confederacy! How cool is that!?

 

At the gallery we discussed the timely political relevance of this exhibition as racism gains social acceptance under the guise of politics, especially during the Obama presidency.  Could you explain in more detail how the current political environment relates to this body of work?

Well I never look at anything in current events to inspire me or what I do in the studio. Actually, I made one piece some years ago that was a specific reaction to Amadou Diallo being shot by the NYPD, but other than that, I rarely do.

Having said that, I do think the wave of apparent and acceptable racism that seems to be affecting and influencing the tone of political dialogue is rather disturbing. I do think that the work is beginning to reflect this resurgent supremacy-minded activity. There seems to be a total disregard for respecting the office of the presidency simply because the office was occupied by a black man.

Early in Obama’s presidency there was an active campaign if you will, to discourage young kids to all of a sudden NOT aspire to be president when they grow up.

This whole feeling that Obama was something other, was “not one of us,” didn’t love “our” country, that this angered segment of society was going to “take our country back!”  From whom? The black guy?

The Tea Party, O’Reilly, Hannity, Beck, Rush, Bachman, etc… they all stirred a pretty nasty pot of racial protagonist soup that comes dangerously close to inciting people to act a certain way. It’s like they are giving stamps of approval for behavior that is reckless, separatist, and backward.  It paves the way for the president to be told “You Lie!” during his State of the Union and in the aftermath, talking heads rally their base of troops to support this very un-American behavior.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the golf bag is a very inherently political object. I use it to make art and in doing so, it very easily lends itself to interpretation on many levels and it is just pure serendipity that it has relevance within the current political landscape.

 

INTERVIEW: Zach Reini

 
Untited (Robin Hood)

 

I tried numerous times to sit down with Denver’s own Zach Reini to catch up and talk about art and music. But the more we tried to sit down to interview, the more we were distracted by Goldeneye for Nintendo 64, skate videos, or eating Chipotle. Finally we hunkered down and let it rip. For those who don’t know Zach Reini, he is one of the few young Denver artists gaining attention while still in college. Known for his large black on black paintings, Reini attends Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design where he will be receiving his Bachelor’s degree in a few months.  Reini is represented by Rule Gallery in Denver.

Interview by Michael Bhichitkul

 

Why do you use such iconic imagery in your work?  Why blur the imagery to extent where it nearly unrecognizable?

The iconic imagery is attractive—it seduces people. I fell for it as well. It’s something that I know and am familiar with. Since imagery of such pedigree is so readily available, everyone has interacted and constructed their own histories with it at some point. I abstract these forms to place them outside of their recognizable context, stripping them of their pictorial power, allowing the viewer to reconnect with their histories from a new tilt. This delay of decoding, finding out what information is there and what it represents, is of great interest to me—especially with the instant satisfaction induced by the Internet and other popular media.

 

Black is a dominant color in your work.  Why?

In my work, I’ve tried to maintain focus on the visual information that is important and trim off all of the remaining fat. With black, there are fewer allusions to things outside of itself that other colors tend to reference; i.e. blue, sadness; red, passion; yellow, happiness. I don’t want an easy of a trigger in my work, but rather the essential elements in the piece to engage that emotional read, not the color. I’ve found black to be as far reduced as something can be while still possessing a particular visual weight about it.

 

You mostly work with paint, but you also use ready-mades as sculptural pieces. What draws you to sculptural work?

I wouldn’t label myself as a painter, that’s far too limiting for me. My attraction to sculpture is based on necessity. If a piece needs the physicality that a painting cannot provide, then another form is required. There is no need to make a painting of person when photography can do this much easier, without the romance of the artist laboring over the rendition (unless this is a part of it). It can get a little fuzzy at times, but I like to make work where the content supports its physicality and vice versa.

 

You’re close to earning your BFA from Rocky Mountain College Art and Design, but you are already represented by one of the most respected galleries in Denver, Rule Gallery. This distinction would be considered a major milestone for an artist post-BFA, but you happened to reach this milestone early. Can you talk about your relationship with Rule Gallery?

I’ve been affiliated with the gallery for about a year now. It all came about pretty suddenly and spontaneously. A friend of mine, Joseph Coniff, was interning at the time Robin was putting together a group show of emerging artists at her old space. He called me up and asked if I had any pieces to bring down and show her. Understandably, I jumped at the opportunity.  It turned out that she liked my work and even sold a piece. The relationship built pretty naturally from there and I was then featured on her website which is where we stand now. I’m really appreciative of the opportunities she’s given me and can’t wait to see where it goes in the future.

 

Another big achievement is a solo show titled Suburban Lawns at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, which just recently closed. As a BFA student, what did you take away from this experience?

It definitely opened up my awareness of the opportunities available for a young artist, as well as the difficulties of gaining exposure at this stage. It has helped me take a more professional stance with my work, and realize that confidence paired with the right people, work, and presentation can go a long way. It is 100% different than showing in an academic environment, because when you show in the academic space it immediately gets categorized as “student” work. I urge my fellow emerging artists to branch out as much as they can, to open themselves up to the available opportunities. But, then again, the school environment is great when people are still experimenting and trying to solidify their ideas.

 

Some people might not know that you have multiple music projects. Can you give us a teaser of what these musical projects are and what genre they fall into?

I’m involved in several projects primarily centered around Hardcore Punk, Noise, and all of its subsequent sub-genres. Two of the projects, Civilized and Cadaver Dog, have tapes coming out soon on Youth Attack, both of which I am very pleased with. Another, Polyurethane, which started as a solo project, is more on the Noise side of things with definite cues to Hardcore. Hopefully a release will be coming with that project soon too.

 

You also make small zines, which link back to the punk/hardcore sub culture.  Is there a way to get a hold of any of them?

I post all my zines for sale on my webstore: http://shop.zachreini.com

 

What other influences outside the art/punk DIY realms help you develop new work?

The Internet, chance observations, people interacting, pretty much everything. This question is assuming I attempt to pigeon-hole myself with my influences, I gain something from everything I experience. Similar to everyone else, I assume.

 

Along with being a visual artist, and a musician, you’re a man of many stories. Do you have any that come to mind in particular?

I heard a quote about Chris Farley saying that he only had one character, but he did it at different volumes. I think I have one really great story that I try and tell differently each time for a new effect. What I’ll say about this one (without getting too graphic) involves the following in semi-specific order: half a vegan pizza, bad beer, breakfast burrito from Viva, garbanzo bean salad, a pair of unsuspecting shorts, the light rail, an unfortunate bowel mishap, and a good friend and an unknown old lady to witness an awkward run home. I think you can piece it together from there.

 

2011 was a great year for you: multiple gallery shows, Surburban Lawns at BMOCA, voted best artist of 2011 in Denver’s 303 Magazine, and a feature in New American Paintings. What do you have in store next for 2012?

I’ll take what I can get and what I can make for myself. I plan on continuing to move forward and see what happens from there. I don’t want to become stagnant or regressive just yet. Keeping busy is the key.          

  

 

INTERVIEW: Telephone

Rossana Martinez, See the World in Orange and Blue, 2011

 

“Telefone Sem Fio: Word-Things of Augusto de Campos Revisited” was a 2011 exhibition at The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts organized by Telephone, a journal of translation edited by Sharmila Cohen and Paul Legault.  The exhibition used Brazilian concrete poet Augusto de Campos as a point of departure for a group of poets, translators, and artists to “translate” across mediums using text, sound, and visuals.  The exhibition featured exquisite original works by de Campos and a plethora of new work including highlights by Tom Moody, Rossana Martinez, Steve Savage & Jean-Sebastien Baillat, Macgregor Card, Angela Detanico & Rafael Lain, and Kenneth Goldsmith.  A limited edition catalog produced by Ugly Duckling Presse became Telephone #3.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

Is this Telephone’s first exhibition?

Yes, this is Telephone’s first art gallery exhibition.  When Michelle Levy approached us, we were very excited by the notion of working with the EFA and expanding Telephone into a venue where all different forms of media could be present.  In general, we have always been interested in the broadness of the umbrella under which poetry translation lies—this gave us even more room to explore.

 

How did you first learn about Augusto de Campos? Why base an exhibition on his work?

Actually, I’m not really sure.  I think I’ve had a vague idea of his work for a while, but it was during the formation of this project that I really became familiar with him and his history.  The more we researched him, the more he seemed like the perfect choice for the exhibition.  Augusto de Campos is considered one of the founding fathers of the Brazilian concrete poetry movement—his work and ideas have been an influence on poetry, design, and art even up through today.  Who better to pay homage to than a poet, translator, and pioneer of visual (and sound, shape, etc.) poetry?

Being that his work features such a wide range of media—written poems on paper to sound recordings to videos to websites and so on—it really suited our goals of creating an exhibition that featured poetry in translation while simultaneously fitting within a gallery setting.  We really wanted all of our translators to branch out/feel free to vary their form and medium – de Campos’s poetry really seems to promote that.

His website with examples of his work and concrete poetry manifesto can be found here .

 

How did you decide on whom to curate into the show?  It seems like a very
specific niche.

We always look for a mixed group of “translators” in order to get at as many variables, or differing interpretations as possible.  Michelle Levy was in charge of bringing in artists and Telephone curated a group of writers.  Of course, there is some overlap in these groups.  On our end, we tried to get writers who seemed open to the idea of extending their work beyond the standard words on a page, or who were particularly interested in de Campos’s work, concrete, and Brazilian poetry.  No matter what they all share in common, it was clear to us in advance that the execution would differ greatly.

 

I see that original Augusto de Campos books and prints were lent for exhibition by the Sackner Archive for Concrete and Visual Poetry.  Can you tell me more about this organization? Is it open to the public?

After our co-curator Michelle Levy visited the Sackner Archive in Miami, she was convinced it was essential to have the original works in the show. This is the typical effect the archive has on its 'public'—which is any interested party really who gets in touch with them to schedule a visit. There's also a documentary available that outlines their holdings/mission. They maintain the largest private collection of concrete and visual poetry materials and were a generous resource for our show. 

As these works become increasingly difficult to come by, and somewhat overlooked by Academic holdings, collectors like the Sackners form an essential link between concrete poetry and the contemporary artwork inspired/translated over from it—in our case, quite literally.

Their website can be found here.

 

Telephone is about translation. This exhibition is obviously highly interpretive.  There’s often a dichotomy in literary translation of staying faithful to the original versus taking a more interpretive approach.  Do you have position, either within or outside of, this argument?

Being a translation journal that predominantly features highly interpretive work, I think it necessary to point out that it is no argument against faithful translation, but rather an argument for the many different modes of “translating” poetry.  Rather than saying our position is by a particular type of translation, we are saying that there are so many ways to translate poetry and we find all of them valid and interesting.  We always push our “translators” to approach the work in any way they see fit—our focus is to show that variety side by side, to look at the original poems from many different angles.  I know that I’m arguing semantics here, but why shouldn’t, say, a homophonic or interpretive or visual translation be considered faithful, as it likely pays very close attention to reproducing specific aspects of the work. 

 

Any more exhibitions/events in the works?  What can we look forward to
from Telephone?

We don't have an exhibition planned at the moment, though we would love to continue curating and working with galleries.   Outside of that, we do have a lot of exciting new things on deck.  In the near future, we plan on pulling together a sound poetry issue that will likely be recorded on vinyl and provided with a sleeve insert that has scores, notes, texts, etc.  We are currently in the process of becoming a press, Telephone Books.  Our first project as that incarnation, which we are making as an imprint of Nightboat Books, is a collection of English to English "translations" of all 154 of Shakespeare's sonnets, each reworked by a different poet/translator (due out Fall 2012).  That project is particularly exciting because we get to work with so many wonderful writers and they bring out so many varied interpretations of Shakespeare, texts most of us are already relatively familiar with.  In the bigger picture, we also want to expand our press and start making things like art books, handmade objects, and so on.  In general, we are always on the look out for new projects that expand the definition of what is considered translation and working with all different venues and types of media is always a part of the discussion. 

 

INTERVIEW: Natalie Goodnow

 

Eagle Woman Poems, Co-Lab Project Space, July 2011

Photo by Alberto Jimenez

Natalie Goodnow is a nationally recognized teatrista, teaching artist, and cultural activist from Austin, Texas. She performs, directs, and writes; she's been practicing some combination of these forms for seventeen years, and began teaching about and through them 8 years ago. She specializes in the creation of original works of performance, as a solo artist and also in collaboration with other performers and writers, both youth and adults.  Goodnow explores the relationships between people and places, in terms of relationships to community, to the Earth, and to our own bodies. Her work asks tricky questions, and probes tough contradictions. Natalie's solo play "Mud Offerings" is the 2011 winner of the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award, and has been presented nationally at festivals and conferences in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., and throughout Texas.  She is an Artistic Associate of Theatre Action Project and a member of The Austin Project.  See her website and/or blog for more: www.nataliegoodnow.com, makinggoodnow.blogspot.com

Interview by Josh T Franco


Your work brings up questions of tradition in contemporary settings. But even stating it like that, I’ve already fallen into one of the traps I think you’re trying to avoid: tradition isn’t “back there”, but neither is it the same today, for most, as it was a hundred years ago, or a thousand for that matter. I should say the traditions I’m talking about are both pre-colonial indigenous American ones and post-colonial Catholic ones. And in your work, all of them are radically questioned through Chicana and Women of Color feminist frameworks. At the same time, there’s clearly a deep reverence. But what exactly is the nature of this reverence, as it is far from typical?

Hmmm... ok.  Well.  I’ve been thinking about what it means to be indigenous.  And what indigeneity means, or could mean.  And although one response might be to reproduce everything that was a thousand years ago, in the here and now, or to try to do so (because of course it isn’t quite possible to really reproduce what was, nor would we necessarily want to), I’d like to try another definition of indigeneity on for size.  Let’s say it’s this: to live in relationship with the land, in the here and now.  That means that, as a Chicana in central Texas, although I believe that the lessons of the Mexica (what the Aztec called themselves) are incredibly important, it’s a little silly for me to really and truly try and apply them directly to my life, without any critical examinations or alterations.  And this is partly because there are lots of ways in which the Mexica society was just as flawed as any other (patriarchal, militaristic, imperialistic), and also because the Mexica weren’t really living in relationship with the land that I’m at now.  They were nearby, if we consider this on a global scale, but still not quite here.  

However, all that being said (and I think this is where I start to actually answer your question), I still think that there is wisdom in tradition.  Especially in the traditions of folks who, at one point in time, knew how to live with the land.  We don’t know how to do that now.  I’m not sure I even really need to explain why...  The “go green” movement is so huge... “Avatar” was such a hit... it’s in the zeitgeist.  Something has to change.  The way we’re treating the earth isn’t working. It’s not working at all.  And yet, in our histories, we find peoples and communities who were better at this than we are now.  And it’s not just about reducing/reusing/recycling... it’s about the way we treat each other, the way we talk to one another... we create systems that abuse and misuse the Earth’s resources when we feel entitled, when we believe we have no obligation to share what we have.  

So, I take the things that I’ve learned with my contact with indigenous spiritual traditions seriously; reciprocity - no one should take without also giving.  And, it sounds so simple, but, sharing - you don’t show up to an event with a bag full of snacks, or a thermos full of tea, and not offer some to everyone, even if all you’ve got is a little bit.  And, you don’t assume that you have the right to speak whenever you want, whatever you want, or even to know whatever you want, whenever you want.  You must ask permission.  You must acknowledge the knowledge of those who have come before you.  That all may seem very distinct from “environmental” concerns, but I don’t think it is.  Our elders have been here.  They know how to live in harmony with all that has also been here.  I think if we had all adopted, or, remembered to honor these sorts of values a long time ago, we wouldn’t be in the pickle we’re in now.  And, all that being said, let me just acknowledge out loud/in print, that everything I’ve just said is very hard to do, and I struggle with it constantly in my everyday life.

 

Seeing past the “go green” mentality to a systematic overhaul of the ways we engage one another; this is really interesting. It brings to mind a couple of things: one, Alice Waters and the slow food movement in general. It prioritizes caring for the earth, and even caring for peoples’ bodies, but a repeated criticism from Women of Color is that it does not take into consideration contemporary conditions, especially for mostly person of color sections of the population that are poor, have no access to land to grow their own food, and much less the time or energy to spare after working minimum wage jobs all day. Like I said, your response brings up a couple of questions for me, but what do you think of this one first? Perhaps you thought through this, or can, through Eagle Woman Poems, your recent performance at Co-Lab in Austin?

Yep, yep, yep.  The system is so, so broken.  The communities whose ancestors were guardians of this knowledge, of how to live in relationship with the land, are often the ones most devastated by the rupturing of such relationships, and least capable of doing much about it.  I’m talking about, for instance, the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica who once knew how to grow corn, squash, and beans all in one field, in the milpa.  Indulge me while I talk about this a bit - I think it’s just so amazing.  These plants complement each other; the corn stalks provide a trellis for bean vines, their leaves provide shade for the squash, and while each takes certain nutrients for the soil, its companions give those back, so that there were fields in which this mixture of crops was cultivated continuously for thousands of years, without ever laying fallow or needing to be fertilized.  What’s more, eaten in combination, these three crops provide all the nutrients a human body needs for a complete and healthy meal.  Brilliant!  

Yet, here and now, the descendants of these very same people find themselves, like you said, with little access to land to grow their own food, and even less time and energy to spare to do so.  There’s a line in Eagle Woman Poems that this reminds me of... “How can I clean up an oil spill when there are dishes in the sink?”  A lot of that piece comes from the frustrations and contradictions of trying to live in relationship with the land in a world order that doesn’t quite allow it.  

So, we’ve got to change the system.  Change it completely.  I think some answers can be found in collective action; does any one working class family have access to enough land to grown all their own food?  Or time to do so?  Perhaps not.  But what if many were to work together to tend a community garden?  And then cook together?  There are oppressed communities across the globe trying such solutions on for size.  As an artist (and as a teaching artist), I’m also inspired by Una Chaudhuri, a pioneer in the field of Ecocriticism:

“[I]f one thing has become clear from a century of ecological thought and effort, it is that the earth cannot now be saved by half-measures, by tinkering and puttering and fiddling around with rules and regulations and practices and customs; whether we like it or not, the ecological crisis is a crisis of values.  Ecological victory will require a transvaluation so profound as to be nearly unimaginable at present.  And in this the arts and humanities - including the theater - must play a role.”#


That’s where I see my performance work living.  In this transvaluation.  A remaking of the old cultural symbols and stories and yes, values, towards something new.  Something new which draws upon the forgotten wisdom of the past, but is refashioned to function in the here and now.  In Eagle Woman Poems, for instance, I’m confronting not only the systems we’ve inherited, but its values as well.

 

So the stakes in your work are particular, and particularly high. The way you present your own work--it’s tough to call you an artist. Or simply artist, I mean. And I wonder about how you consider art; is it functional? A tool? Necessary? Could you do what you want to do in the world any other way? Obviously, these questions have been hashed over by many, but what do you think? For instance, do you take to the term “cultural worker”? How important is naming your activity anyway? I’m also thinking about your performance of Muntu at Space12, with the invited Austin city council members. Maybe you can respond to these questions by talking about that work, the East Side, Space12, and so on.

I do believe that art is absolutely necessary.  I also believe that thinking of art as only functional, only a tool, is a trap, though.  And it’s a trap that I’ve fallen into myself.  When I first became politicized, I wanted, needed to see that theatre could DO things, make things happen.  I needed the link between art and action to be explicit and concrete. Muntu, and the accompanying exhibit, “Muntu: Reflections in East Austin,” came from that place.  I was figuring a lot of things out.  I was finding my voice as a solo playwright (this was the first piece I wrote all on my own, not ensemble-based or devised), discovering/developing my processes as a solo performer, and also learning how to fund, produce, and market/publicize my own work out in the “real” world!  On top of all that, I was figuring out where all my ideas about community engaged art, etc., fit in to the puzzle.

So, what I ended up doing was writing this solo play (I’d have called it autoethnographic if I’d known that term/genre, then) about the lessons that trees had taught me, or, the lessons that looking at trees in a mindful way had taught me.  And these lessons had a lot to do with Austin, about my relationships with different communities in Austin, so I performed the piece in as many of those different communities in the city as I could, doing a mini-tour with musicians Travis Jeffords and Josh Casiano (Travis composed some brilliant music/instrumentation for cello and percussion that accompanied the play), mostly over the course of about 12 weeks.  Which I learned is really not very long!  

At each performance, I asked the audience to respond by writing or drawing their own muntu stories (Muntu is a Kikongo word that means both tree and person - I don’t know a lot about East African culture, but I found this insight inspiring).  The mini-tour culminated in a multimedia exhibit called Muntu: Reflections in East Austin, held at community center Space12.  My play mentions East Austin specifically, so it made sense that the exhibit was held at a community center in East Austin, too.  Space12 was a brand new community center at the time, with a mission very similar to mine in that piece, to bring diverse communities together in shared conversation/reflection.  

The exhibit consisted of a display of my audiences’ responses to Muntu, plus portraits of East Austin residents old and new (East Austin is a historically poor community of people of color, now facing massive waves of gentrification) by photographer Rama Tiru, plus imaginatively decorated tree sculptures by students in Theatre Action Project’s afterschool classes, mostly from East Austin as well, plus a bit of information contextualizing the exhibit - about the neighborhood’s past and present.  Whoo!  How on earth did I get that all together?!  

At the opening, I performed, and Rama spoke; on another evening, my fellow exhibit organizers and I invited PODER, an organization of grassroots organizers, to host their City Council Candidates’ Forum at Space12 as part of the exhibit.

My goal in the exhibit was to bring together as many folks as possible from Austin’s diverse communities together in reflection upon, and hopefully conversation about, the issues that my play addressed, and to do so in multiple ways.  I hoped that the issues affecting East Austin, discussed in the candidates’ forum, might take on greater potency if this conversation took place amidst the names, faces, and stories of the neighborhood.

All in all, this was a successful experiment.  We had a wonderful turnout at the exhibit, and to this day I still love looking at the photos of city council members leaning in to peer at Rama’s photography, of the beautiful and thoughtful audience responses I received to the piece, and of the playful exhibit I curated, which turned out quite nicely considering I had never done anything quite like that before... but I was a wreck!  It was an awful lot of work to coordinate all that, and to find the energy it took to perform... and forget writing!  My creation of new work came to an absolute standstill, and I wasn’t very happy.

I’ve slowed down a bit since then, giving myself more time to both create and produce/tour my work.  This is funny considering that this is the exact same advice I was giving to myself within the text of Muntu... slow down, slow down, slow down...  Also, as I continued working, I found my drive to engage communities in direct conversation through art was satisfied more and more through my work as a teaching artist (in that work, my classes often culminate in some sort of service-learning project with the youth; one of my favorites is documented here), so my solo work became more about just trying to piece together some really interesting words and moments.  

Though it was fun to bring together so many different kinds of reflection and conversation in one place, I realized I could also ease up a bit and just trust the universe to provide my audiences some spaces like that, too; I didn’t have to do it all.  I could contribute my little bit and then send the people on their way to let what they experienced with me bounce around against their many other experiences, and trust that, if I’ve done my job, they will go home talking about what I’ve shared with them.  If I’ve really done my job, they won’t be able to help it!

And I’m kind of a busybody.  I’m pretty good at organizing and coordinating, and sometimes gravitate towards that kind of work as an escape from my creative writing when the writing gets tough.  I crave the satisfaction of checking off items on to-do lists, so it’s easy for me to create items to-do just so I can check them off, rather than revising that rough draft, or telling that story that’s too scary to think about.

All that is to say that yes, art is necessary.  And it can be functional, it can be a tool to get us talking explicitly about matters of direct and practical importance, but that’s not the only reason it’s necessary.  

Art is how we shape the story of who we are.  Sometimes that’s a bigger, slower conversation than who to vote for in the City Council election tomorrow, and that’s ok.  Those “who are we, who will we become” questions are important, and I want to participate in formulating some answers.  I see it as part of my mission as an artist, my responsibility, even.  In that sense, I guess I am a cultural worker, though I’ve tended to use the word “cultural activist” to reflect my political commitments.  (That’s a term I first heard from Adelina Anthony; thank you, Adelina!)  I’m not too stressed about the label, though.  If somebody wanted to call me a cultural worker, that’d make a lot of sense and I wouldn’t really mind.

Perhaps most importantly, though, art is sacred.  The activism can and is indeed achieved in other ways... but that sacred something that speaks directly to the heart of our humanity, that’s what art provides.  And that is necessary.

 

 

Josh T Franco is a graduate student in Art History at Binghamton University.  He writes on contemporary Chican@ art, art of the 1960's, and the possibilities of decolonial aesthetics.

INTERVIEW: Lucky DeBellevue

 

 

Lucky DeBellevue is a Louisiana-born, New York-based artist most well known for his voluminous yet delicate, textured sculptures made of colored chenille stems (aka pipe-cleaners).  Lucky has exhibited widely, including many one-person shows – most recently at John Tevis Gallery in Paris. Lately, Lucky has been focused on 2-D work, such as his collaboration with John Armleder for DISPATCH.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

We just published a project of yours titled Collaboration in the new issue of zing, #22.  It’s one of the most printophilic projects of the bunch – xerox, collage, black-and-white, hand-cut, typewritten – all the qualities of a low-budget ‘zine.  Do you have a history of ‘zine-making or is this your first go in the aesthetic? 

I definitely wanted to reference zine making, but it was my first actual go at it. However, I have been planning to make a zine named “Choicez” for many, many years. I always had the cover mapped out in my mind, a sad hand-drawn font, a photo of a woman with a pitchfork I found in a book entitled “Weavings you can Wear”, but I never got around to actually making it. Now we live in a world of blogs, maybe I will finally make it that way, but I love zines, so maybe both? Probably never happen. 

 

As you say in your curator’s note, the project involves a reinterpretation of documents from a scrapbook made by women prisoners convicted for murder in the South.  You mix in images of your own work with newspaper articles letters, and forms to create a “forced collaboration.”  Do you feel that there is a degree of affiliation with your work and the documents from the prisoners’ scrapbook or is it a more happenstance juxtaposition?

A little of both. I wanted it to be kind of absurd. After all, this was a record of these peoples’ lives in this amazing scrapbook, and I was being kind of a vampire, just plopping my work on top of it. So there is a bit of subtext about how one’s life can be used for someone else’s purposes, bringing attention to themselves by association. I also identify somewhat with their marginalized status. What could be more outsider than being a lesbian cop killer in the South in the 1970s? I still want to believe somewhat in the outdated romantic idea of the artist as outsider, so that is part of it too.

 

Your work, Otter, was recently installed at the Dikeou Collection in Denver.  It is a large, teepee-esque sculpture made of your signature material, chenille stems.  What first attracted you to this material and why have you continued to use it?

At first, I thought it was a kind of dumb joke. I was at a point when I wanted to clear my head and start from zero as far as my practice. I was thinking of the pop artists and how Lichtenstein drew from comic strips as a platform to explore other things. So I went with something that was very basic and memorable to me as a child, something I assume others had used in their arts and crafts classes as children or had some kind of experience with.

I don’t use chenille stems exclusively as a medium anymore. In the last few years my process has opened up to include other mediums. I still make some work with them, and use them in printing methods, but it isn’t quite as central to what I make as it once was. 

 

You explained to us previously that otter was gay slang – something along the lines of bear. How does the title relate to the piece?  Is sexual identity important to your work on the whole?

Originally this piece was in a show at the Whitney Philip Morris, and the titles of the works in the context of that show were important. But usually my work is untitled. I was interested in what goes on underneath the facade of appearances. The setting of the show was a public space attached to a corporate office, and I wanted the titles to reflect either the machinations of power through alluding to historical figures who grasped for it, or by using coded references that categorize interests within a particular community. So in this exhibition the titles functioned as objects kind of hiding in plain sight.

I was going for the trope of a sub-set within a set, and Otter refers to a kind of body type in the gay bear community, not the hairy/stocky/chubby/football player build that many of the bears fetishize, but a thinner body type that is either hairy and/or is self identified as being part of that community. Anyway, this sculpture entitled Otter is phallic-like, fuzzy, and becomes thinner as it rises in space. I wanted there to be some humor in the title, and the color gets hotter as it rises. While I think we should own what we are, I’m not so into being reductive about it. So usually I want titles to be more suggestive if there is one. I like that quote by Kierkegaard: "To define me is to negate me."

 

In your artist statement, you say you consider Otter sort of as a drawing in 3-D due to its linear quality and gradations of color.  Is this your approach to sculpture – through lines?

Mostly I was just thinking of using materials I hadn’t used before, just exploring. Initially I wanted to create a “thing” in the most economical way, so most of the earlier works were more minimalist, then became progressively more layered as my interests evolved. Part of it was a decision to make objects that were more porous and textured, not just flat massive surfaces that signified strength and stability. 

 

What’s on your horizon?

In December I am in an exhibition entitled “December” curated by Howie Chen at Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery in New York. The artists in the exhibition runs the gamut from me, to Jean Dubuffet, to David Hammons, so I am looking forward to seeing what kind of dialogue is created with all of the different artists in the show.

 

INTERVIEW: Jeffrey Hargrave

 

Nobody drops into the zing office out of the blue anymore.  The late, great Dan Asher used to, but no one since.  Except Jeffrey Hargrave.  I first met Jeffrey when one day he randomly buzzed.  Expecting the mailman or UPS, I must have looked disconcerted because as he walked up the stairs he announced he was just stopping by to pick up a couple copies of zing #21 (in which he has a project).  Since then Jeffrey will stop by occasionally, when least expected, to grab some magazines.  But isn’t that what a magazine office is supposed to be?  People moving in and out, a center for thought, discussion, debate, and sharing?  That’s beside the point.  Jeffrey Hargrave is an African-American artist from Salisbury, North Carolina.  Now based in New York, Hargave deals with representations of African-Americans, often putting them in the context of art history, remaking works by artists such as Matisse to include black figures, with stereotypical imagery.  He currently has an exhibition, “Know Meaning,” up at The Phatory in the East Village.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

Hi Jeffrey.  Good to see you earlier.  We’re going to make this ZINGCHAT quick since your show closes on Saturday.  The title of the show is Know Meaning and the work is pleasingly expressionistic yet deals in the imagery of racist stereotypes.  What are you trying to say with these paintings?

That racism is alive and well, and although humorous, the paintings, drawings and video have an element of the macabre; which is interesting in itself because these Jim Crow-era images were used to degrade African-Americans, but there was a level of vaudeville comedy apparent in the illustrations.


Your first video piece is included.  It’s of you singing a Lil Kim song.  What song is this and what about it attracted you?

I love this rap because of its brazen use of sexuality and materialism.  Kinda like a Warhol reinterpreted into a rap.

 

All of this work is concerned with representation – racist Jim Crow representations of African-Americans, Lil Kim representing herself as a powerful black female (which is then put in your context as a gay black male).  Why is representation important to you?

That's a very good question.  Representation is very important to Lil Kim, African Americans, and myself as a gay black man. Society judges a person by what they represent and put out into the world.  Lil Kim is a black woman talking about her sexual organs.  She's my hero.  As a black gay man rapping the words of a black woman, I'm appealing to everyone: gay/straight, male/female.  As a man having sex with another man, I'm both the husband and the wife.  In all relationships gay/straight, male/female, one is dominate while the other submissive.

 

Your paintings are visually similar to examples of folk or naïve art.  Is this a conscious choice or just your personal style?

Both.  I am very inspired by naive and folk art.  I also love children’s drawings and I'm influenced by them much the same way Debuffet and Twombly were.  Drawing at its most simplistic and honest nature.

 

Paintings by your mentor, James Donaldson, are included in the show.  How has he influenced your work?

He is constantly reminding me that the sky is the limit in regards to your life and artistic endeavors.  He also showed me that nothing is impossible when it comes to art and following your heart.

 

Are there any other artists that have especially influenced you?

There are too many to name, but I will list a few: Gabriel Shuldiner, Noa Charuvi, Shirin Neshat, James Donaldson, Bruce Nauman, Robert Ryman, Cordy Ryman, Kiki Smith, Kara Walker, Bill Traylor, Cindy Sherman, Cy Twombly, and Walt Disney.

 

Interesting that you mention Walt Disney.  At the gallery, you brought up the banned Disney cartoon, Little Black Sambo.  What kind of influence did Disney have on you?

There weren't too many characters of color in Disney movies and if there were they were usually singing songs with animated animals about how great life was or swinging from vines in the jungle.  I was always glued to the TV whenever a Disney movie came on.  My fav was The Sword in the Stone.  The Disney charisma reached out to all.  I have always been into the science of magic.  Merlin was my own personal Houdini.  But Walt was the greatest magician of all, and his magic was the ability to reach us all.  That’s what I strive for in my own work.

 

What else are you interested in besides painting?

I love theater, modern dance, classical music, and hip-hop.

 

Cool!  Thanks Jeffrey!

 

 

INTERVIEW: Harrison Haynes

Untitled (Drum Rug), 2010, archival pigment print, 62 x 39 inches, installation view

 

Harrison Haynes is a North Carolina-based visual artist, drummer for Les Savy Fav, and contributor to zing #19.  Raised in the rural outskirts of North Carolina Piedmont, he grew up among “DIY redneck-hippies: welders and carpenters that listened to ZZ Top and burned big vanilla scented candles in their outhouses” who “hosted demolition derbies, volleyball parties, big oyster roasts every fall, and homemade fireworks displays on the Fourth of July.”  After spending time in Providence and New York, Haynes returned to North Carolina and cofounded with his wife, Chloe Seymore, the now-closed Branch Gallery in Durham, NC.  He is currently enrolled in the Bard College MFA program.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

My entry point for your work is your watercolor series in zingmagazine #19.  These have a very homey, Southern feel.  Vignettes of Southern life – trucks, woods, beards, wood paneling.  I really enjoyed the TV piece – it creates that quintessential TV light in a memory of warm brown furniture.  Where are these scenes from?

The watercolors are based on my own snapshots. Mostly pictures I took up until about high school. I started using a camera at an early age, like 5 or 6. My dad gave me one of those 110mm little black rectangles. Later he gave me an SX-70 Polaroid Land Camera. It was primarily a social activity for me. I documented the schoolyard, trips I went on and had friends pose. I enjoyed the social aspect of taking pictures. The product, the prints and the sharing or subsequent display of those images, was secondary or even non-existent for me until much later. I wasn't sure what to do with all the shiny pieces of paper once they got picked up from the pharmacy*. (*Isn't the drug-store/amateur photography connection a funny anachronism?) While I was always interested in art, I never identified as a Photographer. I carried the photos around in cardboard boxes and looked at them from time to time. Later on in art school I studied painting. It never occurred to me to use the pictures as subject matter. I drew some imaginary line between the kind of photos I had been taking and what I regarded as 'Art'. But I still had the boxes sitting around and continued to take pictures in the same way, now with a point and shoot 35mm. After finishing at RISD I was living back in North Carolina. I was sharing a house with my best friend since childhood, living next to the exact expanse of woods that we used to run around in as kids. He was working at the Center for Documentary Studies/Doubletake Magazine. Through him and the resource of the CDS, I got exposed to a whole new set of artists, people that hadn't been on my radar at RISD; photographers like William Eggleston, Walker Evans, Mitch Epstein, Thomas Roma and William Christenberry. Naturally, I started to reassess the snapshot, the everyday, banality and the validity of those notions in art, the role they played in my own artistic sensibility. At the time I was working for a married couple that were comic book artists. They had hired me as an assistant colorist. Their process back then (another anachronism) was to fill-in xeroxed copies of the inked pages using watercolor. Then a digital colorist would translate those mockups for print. I had to adapt to a very utilitarian technique with the watercolor and in that way I became quite good at it. I discovered the more nuanced procedures through mistakes. The subtlety that's achievable with watercolor lends itself nicely to transitions of light and shadow, gradual chromatic shifts, a certain evenness of surface. Those were the characteristics that lead me to view it as an appropriate medium for translating the snapshots. There was also a connection in the substrate: paper to paper. The thing started as pretty simple way to carry the photographic images into another state, to see what they meant, to me, to others, having gone through that shift. I selected a dozen or so photos based on impulses not quite articulated at the time. In retrospect I think I gravitated toward pictures that had a certain openness where familiarity could be a point of departure into something more ambiguous. In executing the watercolors I set out to reproduce the images to the best of my ability. But there's a push and pull between reproduction and materiality, the border between photo-realism and more direct applications. Like that blob of moisture on the edge of TV screen in the piece you referenced above. I might have said, 'Ah Fuck!' when my overloaded brush hit the paper there. But that blur contributes to autonomy in the piece. The Southernness wasn't really something that I considered until I had moved to NYC. I realized that I was making something about where I was from, about North Carolina, about the post-hippie scene I had grown up in there. Perhaps the 500 miles allowed a productive kind of cerebral distance. I started thinking about my childhood and the kind of places and people I was around and again I was struck by this idea that there was a good amount of compelling subject matter sitting right under my nose. I wrote a short blurb for the bio section of that zingmagazine which indicates some of those ideas.

 

Lately it seems like you’re focusing more on collage and photography.  In the Disruptive Patterns series you retain some of the Southern subject matter mentioned above, but frame them as clusters of photographed objects or in uncanny, borderline surrealistic, juxtaposition.  Was there a point of transition from painting to this type of work, or have you always worked in multiple mediums?

The transition was the impulse to deal with those same photographs head-on. I had been skirting around the actual photos, working FROM them in a variety of ways. It felt like it was time to physically address them. The first time I cut into one of the prints there was a great relinquishment of preciousness. I just started hacking them all up with scissors, hundreds of photos, culling individual objects and areas from within each photo for later use. I made big piles of the bits and then sorted them according to size, theme, color, light source, etc. I have permanent callouses on my knuckles from all the scissor-use. It wasn't an abandonment of painting, but it was the beginning of an acknowledgment that I can work in multiple mediums at the same time. I think this move also paralleled an impulse to eschew overtly personal subject matter, to move towards a more open or fragmented narrative. Also at this time, I started more actively engaging in photography as a tool for the gleaning of images that would later appear in the collages. I'm also a drummer in a band that travels a lot. For about 5 years I took a Canon Demi 35mm half-frame camera with me on countless tours and shot landscapes, found objects, highways, people, cars, incidental things, peripheral things. I so wasn't interested in documenting the rock 'n roll part of it.

 

In other series, you introduce more layers, complicating the idea of photography and collage further.  One of my favorites is Featuring, where you create these text-based, geometric objects using a section of printed material and a mirrored corner, forming 3D situations from 2D objects.  Where did the idea for this series come from?

In 2009 I was accepted into the Bard College MFA program and I set out to tackle photography more deliberately. Featuring is a series I did in between my first and second year at Bard (I'll finish up at Bard next summer, 2012). They're at the intersection of a few things going on in my head at the time. I was thinking about collage, but looking for ways to execute it sculpturally, or as a still life, and then to make a photograph of that so that the photo would be the final work. I saw the Czech Photographic Avant-Garde exhibition at the Phillips Collection in DC that year and it really floored me. I got excited by the idea that a photo could be a document of another work, even something ephemeral, so that the photo becomes the thing, becomes autonomous. I'm getting another dose of this notion today (almost 80 years after the fact. Ha!) reading Walter Benjamin's 'Little History of Photography'. He's describing the academy's initial reluctance to accept photography as art at the exact same time that photography was beginning to supplant art-viewership through the universal acceptance of graphic reproduction: art-as-photography vs. photography-as-art. Anyway, at the time of this work, I was looking at a lot of records, LPs. Along with 6 other artists, I had been asked to curate a crate of 20 albums for the exhibition, 'The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl'. I was digging through my own collection and spending lots of time online looking for specific albums whose cover art used mirror images, refraction or reflections. I had also used mirrors as still-life elements in an earlier series of photographs. The source material here are those little promotional emblems you'd see on album covers in the 60's and 70's indicating the hit songs included on that LP or some other message of advertisement. I photographed them and then manipulated the images by placing those photos at the intersection of two mirrors creating a cyclical pattern.

 

In your series Practice Space, you’re incorporating another major part of your creative output - music and its ephemera.  Prints of these ephemera – rugs, cymbals, foam - are remade as trompe-l’oeil objects. This exposes a sculptural side of photography – prints acting as an installation of relics.  Can you explain how you arrived here?

Practice Space deals with the objects that are found in a band's rehearsal space. I started delving into the arbitrarily rigid dichotomy between music and art in my life, how divergently I regarded the two practices despite their obvious overlap and mutual influence. I had been in bands as long as I had been making visual art but I wore the hats separately, and seldom identified with one pursuit while in the midst of another. At Bard I was immersed in an interdisciplinary environment and so I began to think about ways to remove the divide. The cymbal occurred to me as an object that I had a very functional but in-depth relationship with. Taking a picture of it and then cutting it out removed it from its everyday context and I suddenly saw it in a very formal way and that was really exciting. Other objects followed: the rug that lies under the drum set, the convoluted foam that gets stapled to the wall to deaden sound. There's an additional play with materiality and even sculpture in the cockeyed analog between the new cut out photo and its parent. The new 'rug', a 40" x 50" archival inkjet print, flopped around just as unwieldily as an actual carpet. For a long while, without a good place to store it, it was slumped over a chair in my studio and was regarded by visitors as an actual rug pending further scrutiny. Tromp-l'oeil was not my first intention although it was an inarguable result. I was more interested in an object that passed through many states of being and had returned as a cockeyed version of itself.

 

You are in an upcoming exhibition at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts called Here based on the role of “place” in art that contests the idea of regionalism. What will you be showing? And in a broader sense, how does North Carolina influence your work? 

For the PAFA show I'll be focusing on a performance work called LRLL RLRR that I started doing in 2008 in which another drummer and I play the same drum beat in unison for 74 minutes. I'm also producing a two-channel video based on the performance which will exhibited for the first time. The performance grew out of the same impulse that lead to Practice Space, drawing on my experience as a musician as subject matter for visual art. But here it's more direct. Each time I've staged the piece it's in cooperation with another drummer, someone from whichever city we're in. So for the PAFA show my collaborator will be a Philadelphian. The collaborative aspect is indicative of the communities that I've come to be a part of through touring. During the mid 1980's, when I was first discovering underground music culture, regionalism was intrinsic. Every city had a scene and group of bands that sprung out of that. On show flyers, each band's name was followed by a parenthetical indication of where they were from. Certain areas had certain sounds, aesthetics. By the time I was playing in a band and touring nationally, regionalism and categorization had begun to dissipate. Bands were bound less by aural similarity and more by an overall DIY methodology. Now of course it's all upside-down.

 

What are you working on now? Anything to look forward to?

Right now I am really focusing on expanding the LRLL RLRR project for the PAFA show. I shot the video footage last week and now will begin the editing process. It's a new medium for me. The considerations and procedures are related to photography but the chronology of the process is so different. I'm used to photographing inanimate objects and this was dealing with moving, human subjects, so there were all sorts of new imperatives. Time becomes crucial since you can't expect people to sit in under the lights forever and ever. Plus I was dealing with sound recording, mic placement, etc. It's all very energizing, actually.

Also, as an object accompaniment to the video, and to future performances of LRLL RLRR, I'm publishing the musical score: over 2000 measures of the same drum beat written out as notation along with a mirrored accompaniment to indicate the two drum sets. It's a ridiculous kind of 'drawing' of the performance that people can take home with them.

Something to look forward to is this: my band, Les Savy Fav, along with the bands Battles and Caribou, are curating an entire weekend of programming at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in the UK in December. Each Band gets a full day/night to stock with music, DJs, films, whatever. It's a pretty huge honor, to the point where we've sort of done like a Dungeons & Dragons-type fantasy game about in the past. But the selection process ended up being a lot harder than we thought. Not everyone we wanted was available, or alive. And we had some unexpected obstructions of consensus (turns out not all of us were into getting Kris Kross back together). One thing we were pretty quick to agree on was a desire to get Archers of Loaf to play. They had started playing shows again recently and so it ended up being possible. I've been delving back into all their LPs lately and I'm still entranced by their singular mannerism: odd chords, odd structures, odd lyrics that somehow coalesce to form rock music that is often very relatable. I saw them play last week here in NC and they were harnessing the same unselfconscious, ecstatic energy that the songs were first born out of. And they played the most obscure songs with as much fervor as the sing-alongs. Although with the show taking place in the bull's eye of their first wave, every song was a sing-along, a somewhat distracting thing if you happened to be standing next to someone with a loud, bad singing voice.

Anyway, here's the link that tells about ATP: http://www.atpfestival.com/events/nightmare2011/lineup.php

Other than that the future is revolving, counterclockwise, hurricane-like, around my last year at Bard MFA, next summer. I'll be concentrating on my thesis, the actual work and the written part, over the next 9 months. LRLL RLRR along with other work happening now, and some nascent ideas, will funnel into the project, probably get puréed a few times, then congealed, sliced and served up. I have a show at UNC-Greensboro in January where I'll be able to look at how some of these things can relate in one space.

 

INTERVIEW: Kelly Richardson

 

LEVIATHAN, 2011, three-channel high definition video, 20 minute loop.

Originally commissioned by Artpace, San Antonio

 

In the aftermath of a week with both a hurricane and an earthquake on the East Coast of US, and year in which, Japan has been devastated by an earthquake, a tsunami, and its Nuclear aftermath, and with a year of the most devastating oil spill in history, Kelly Richardson’s work has the relevancy and chilly methodology to wreak havoc on the otherwise still perceptions of her subject matter. She embraces a 19th century axiom—“The Apocalyptic Sublime”, with the precision that George Lucas first explored in his “THX 1138” or the clever tautology of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”. Her work captures fear, anxiety, resolution, beauty, mystery, omnipotence, awe, and desolation people feel in the presence of the unknown both in nature and in life. I had the pleasure of sharing a residency with Kelly Richardson at Artpace in San Antonio, curated by Heather Pesanti, and was initiated into the weird and luxurious sensation her video installations evoke. And now I have begun to look at the world through some different viewfinders, and like with all good art, wine, hallucinogens, or sex—after experiencing it—the world seems a little different, a little more fragile, and yet, a little more epic. What follows is our emailed Q&A, or “Come on Irene [Sic]”.

Interview by Devon Dikeou

 

Terra Nullius, landscape work not touched by humans would seem to have a strange relationship to you and your work. You live in the UK—the ultimate non Terra Nullius landscape—it has been centuries being sullied, sculpted, terrorized, or tamed. And yet you try to find landscapes that might have any or all of these qualities in both hidden and obvious ways, and then you digitally create some effect—in effect a super Terra Nullius. Can you speak about this . . .

I’d say it’s increasingly true that the work focuses more and more on locations without signs of human interference. Occasionally, there are works which use manmade structures of some kind, but many of the ideas dictate using the Terra Nullius landscape. Most often, unplanned indicators of civilization inform the work in ways which don’t support what I’m after. If elements of sullied landscapes are present in anything I make, it’s deliberate; either it has been inserted digitally or selectively left in the shot to support the idea.

While majestic and beautiful, the work should also have an eerie, if not terrifying quality. If they function properly, the viewers feel consumed by the landscape, losing themselves in the work. If there are signs of a tamed landscape, the threat of the un-urbanised wild isn’t present which prevents fear of the potentially unknown.  

 

Let’s talk about what Woody Allen calls, “Your early funny work”, and your early work is really funny, literally. Like the “Ferman Drive”, or “The Sequel”, much less the “Wagons Roll” . . . Humor, what are the advantages and disadvantages . . .

I used humor in the past as a way of inviting people into the work. From there I was hoping they would unpack it and end up feeling all sorts of other, often conflicting sensations. At some point though, I guess it was 2006, I decided that humor was far too specific. I’ve always tried to make ambiguous works where the viewer is unsure how to feel about it; it may be beautiful but at the same time unnerving (as above) and while humor is a great entry point, it ran of the risk of overshadowing what I was really after, the conflation of numerous ideas and interests which inspire a kind of contemporary sublime.

 

 

The Erudition, 2010, three-channel high definition video, 20 minute loop

 

This movement that you introduced me to, the “Apocalyptic Sublime”, pretty much sums up Edmund Burke’s idea of the sublime, “fearful joy”. But it really has some fascinating history and amazing relation to your work. Will you say something in relation to this.

The manifestation of apocalyptic art and its popularity came about during a period of domestic unrest, foreign wars and quite significantly–as it pertains to its relation to my work–anxieties towards major societal and environmental upheaval caused by the birth of the Industrial Revolution, which came to fruition around the same time. During the 18th century, interest in the Apocalyptic Sublime was expressed through what would have been ‘popular culture’ for the time: writing, poetry and art. Similarly, with widespread predictions of impending environmental meltdown as a direct result of the Industrial Revolution, during the last decade we’ve witnessed a return to imagery and stories depicting the Apocalypse with the film industry producing an unprecedented 50+ films illustrating various apocalyptic themes, many of which contain scenes which use similar techniques used by the painters in the 18th century to inspire the sublime.  

Artists who were associated with the Apocalyptic Sublime envisioned catastrophic outcomes of this era, looking forward to what may be a result of the Industrial Revolution.  We’re now sitting on the other side, facing its effect on the planet and ourselves. By way of the film industry, the Apocalyptic Sublime, or at least the popularity for consuming imagery depicting a catastrophe-ravaged planet has returned, almost certainly reflecting a like, collective anxiety towards a very uncertain future. My work plays into this, along with a number of other ideas and influences.

 

Ok the Creature From the Black Lagoon . . . it looooms in “Leviathan”. What is your worst nightmare?

I’ll share two actual nightmares that I’ve had which were equally terrifying. The first depicted the end of the world by way of an electrical storm. I was on a space station of some description, with the perfect vantage point to witness our planet being zapped with a wild web of blue electrical currents. The second, along a similar vein, involved the sun which ‘didn’t rise’. It was surprisingly peaceful and calm for a world which understood that it had hours left to live.

 

The Group of Seven. This is a hugely influential Canadian art group from the 1920s created what I imagine is a pretty hard body of work to deal with for a Contemporary Canadian artist working in what is seemingly the “landscape” genre. But you reference them quite naturally, or as a juxtaposition, unnaturally. Give us a clue into your thoughts on this . . .

As a Canadian artist it’s impossible to make work using landscapes without being part of that history. One of the interesting objectives of the Group of Seven was to showcase the beauty of the rugged, untamed Canadian landscape. I feel like I’m approaching things from the other side, after landscape–where I’m fabricating the wild, in a sense, to create a sensation of the sublime, which from my perspective has largely disappeared from the natural world. While I’m representing beautiful vistas like the Group of Seven, I’m also incorporating ideas about our experience and understanding of our highly mediated world where fact and fiction are barely decipherable and how we can no longer view landscape without being aware of how much we’ve drastically altered it, both physically and digitally.  

 

Exiles of the Shattered Star, 2006, single channel high definition video, 30 minute loop

 

As a youngster from Colorado, of course I was privy to some of the most absolutely exquisite views in nature. In fact, one of those views, that of the Maroon Bells is perhaps one of the most downloaded screen savers in the world. So in fact, most people’s view of the famed mountain landscape is not a natural experience of the mountains, but a virtual one, that appears onscreen when activity on a computer has ceased. And according to Baudrillard “Simulacra” in a way means that the virtual experience at least equals, maybe excels, and perhaps exceeds the actual human experience. Do you think of your work as a critique of this or do you embrace it as a way of creating landscape terroristically, with our only tool left, digital manipulation?

I embrace digital manipulation as a tool to allude to the multiple, hybridized and seemingly un-navigable “realities” we now exist in. It’s not so much of a critique as it is acceptance. This is the world we live in; now what?

 

Which brings me to my last question. Often times when you make a piece, there is some type of Pilgrimage involved, like the Pilgrimage described in Michael Kimmelman’s Accidental Masterpiece chapter, “The Art of the Pilgrimage” in which the meaning of the Pilgrimage from Colmar to Marfa is elucidated upon. For you, traveling to places like Uncertain, Texas is just the beginning. You share the Pilgrimage with the viewer—a generous move as opposed artists whose work a viewer must/need to physically travel to, to see/view—like Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty”, Di Maria’s “Lighting Field”, or Judd’s “100 Aluminum Boxes”. How do you feel about bringing the Pilgrimage to the viewer as opposed to requiring the viewers’ dedication of time and effort in order to see the artwork/landscape in actuality. . .

That’s an interesting question. Most of the time I seem to be messing with pristine views which physically, I would never want to mess with. Working digitally also means that I can create impossible or improbable scenarios. I couldn’t transform the Lake District in England with raining meteorites, I don’t have the means of installing a vast field of holographic trees and with the most recent piece commissioned by Artpace, Leviathan, the phosphorescent life form in the water doesn’t exist.

Also, by removing location and all of the information associated with it which grounds perspective and understanding means that I can bring viewers into unfamiliar territory. I can transport people to another time, into possible futures or the distant past. In contrast to these strange, alternate spaces, I can ultimately make visible our current environment with some measure of hindsight.

 

Kelly Richardson’s work is currently on view in ‘The Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality and the Moving Image’, Part 1: Dreams at Caixaforum, Barcelona, curated and organised by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (through September 4, 2011) and ‘Videosphere: A New Generation’ at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (through October 9, 2011). Please visit her website at www.kellyrichardson.net for further information on her work and upcoming exhibitions.

 

INTERVIEW: William E. Jones

Still from Tearoom, 16 mm film transferred to video, color, silent, 56 minutes, 1962/2007

 

William E Jones was born and raised in Ohio, but is now one of LA’s leading independent filmmakers. I recently caught up with him about his highly emotive body of work, which predominantly deals with the deconstruction of artifice and façade in found footage; this has included gay pornography from post-Soviet states (The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography), homophobic police training footage (Tearoom), and Cold War propaganda (Berlin Flash Frames). He recently exhibited in The Sculpture Center in Queens, and his work has otherwise been shown at museums and film festivals worldwide – including the Musée de Louvre, MoMA, the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Sundance Film Festival, and was the subject of a retrospective at Tate Modern.

Interview by Ashitha Nagesh

 

Just to begin, I’d like to say that I really love your work; it’s striking, without being explicit. Could you tell us a bit about your influences? What is your particular attraction to old war footage and gay pornography, two things that wouldn’t necessarily usually go together?

In the present era, war and pornography have more in common than may at first appear to be the case.  US military personnel in the current theaters of war spend enormous amounts of time in isolated places where fraternization is very unlikely.  Watching porn is a major pastime, and as the notorious photographs from Abu Ghraib revealed, there is some production of porn going on, too.

Since 1973, the US armed forces have not resorted to conscription, which, while scary for individual men during the Vietnam War, had the virtue of bringing together a range of classes in one social unit.  Now the military is perceived as a vehicle of upward mobility for working class people, a perception that often proves to be illusory, or at best, immensely risky.  This bitter reality seems to trouble those governing the United States (or at least their most hawkish elements) very little.  They behave as though American working people are expendable, though perhaps not as expendable as the foreigners they are sent to bomb.

I suppose there was a time when pornography offered the promise of becoming a star, which is its own peculiar type of upward mobility.  With the recent rise of bareback and amateur porn, and the virtual collapse of profitability of the adult video industry, pornography has become the realm of disposable people.  Their bodies entertain us fleetingly; their fates generally do not concern us.

 

The act of repetition simultaneously fetishises and desensitizes the material for the viewer, and this can be seen in Film Montages (for Peter Roehr), and in Industry. What drew you to repetition? Do you feel that the act of repetition makes the non-explicit footage somehow explicit, in the Freudian sense of uncanny?

Strict repetition is a strategy almost alien to the cinema.  It is absolutely fundamental to music (without it, there would be no rhythm) and rather common in modern art (as in Warhol, minimalism), yet seeing exactly the same thing over and over would never happen in a narrative film, which, we must acknowledge, is the dominant form of cinema.  Peter Roehr appeals to me because he took up repetition with complete consistency, and applied it to his movies without moderating it or “cheating.”  This bracing disregard for the rules of how to make a movie, at the risk of engaging in a kind of sadism, suggests one of the ways that film and art are still distinct as media.  Filmmakers care that their works are watchable, because if spectators don’t stay in the theater for their movies, they won’t get to make any more of them.  Artists tend to take a position of indifference on this question.  Few have seen Empire in its entirety, but this hasn’t harmed Warhol’s status as an artist; it may actually have enhanced it.

 

This idea is especially poignant in your work The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography – given that it seems to be about something far more personal than new capitalism and the commodification of sex. In fact, what I took from The Fall… was that it was particularly haunting, not only because of its recent cultural relevance, but because it evokes that feeling of strangeness, of finding one’s way in a completely new environment, navigating the unknown and being taken advantage of – which I think are feelings that most people can, at least partially, relate to. So, I found it interesting how this work was so personal, whilst also speaking of a wider political context. What was your thought process whilst working on this film?

From my own personal point of view, one poignant aspect of The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography was that I had no money when I made it.  I consider the collapse of state socialism in Eastern Europe the most important political event of our lifetimes.  At the time it happened, I was living thousands of miles away and was not capable of recording anything directly.  Yet the transformation of the way people lived was so profound that evidence was everywhere (as it still is, I would argue).  It was just a matter of me finding this evidence and placing it in the proper context.  Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to realize that I needed to look no further than the neighborhood video store.

Despite the efforts of a century of narrative cinema to make us believe otherwise, individuals rarely make history.  We generally experience historical change as dislocation and confusion.  This is the pathos of modernity: no matter how smart or secure we feel ourselves to be, our consciousness has trouble reckoning with new forms of domination and the latest crimes committed by managers of capital.  At certain moments, the rules of the game are laid bare.  I think The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography contains a few of them.

 

In your recent work, Eyelines, you present found film footage of advertisements from the 60s and 70s and compile them, in order to distort and confuse the original intention of the images. The footage has naturally faded to various shades of red, and your contribution to this is mostly in the act of compilation. Similarly, when discussing Tearoom you have said that you ‘didn’t want to obscure the actions of the police by imposing your own decisions on the material’; how do you explain this move towards less-appropriated and more found footage?

Eyelines dismantles one of the fundamental figures of narrative filmmaking (a holdover from figurative painting), the eyeline, by looping very brief shots and alternating them in intervals so quick that the effect is stroboscopic.  The work is reminiscent of the “structural” avant-garde films that analyzed the formal aspects of cinema, often at a microscopic level.  Eyelines also has a mathematical, or perhaps musical, structure, as many of my works do, though this is rarely obvious.  Every single permutation, that is to say every combination of individual frames, is exhausted over the course of Eyelines’ 1 hour and 51 minute length.  Though the frames are not altered at all, I wouldn’t exactly call Eyelines a “found footage film.”  For one thing, the total length of the source material is only approximately 30 seconds.  The visual effects are achieved through montage, and as the piece plays out, the multitude of combinations invite spectators’ eyes to play tricks on them.

           

I had the pleasure of seeing Berlin Flash Frames at The Sculpture Center’s (NYC) recent exhibition ‘Time Again’. At the beginning of the film, the images are fast and obscure, before eventually slowing down to show more clearly the collapse of the actors’ and civilians’ assumed ‘camera face’ identities. What interests you about this? Why did you choose a slow revelation over an immediate one?

Immediate revelations are better suited to billboards and abstract paintings than to moving image works, which must unfold in time and have the possibility of justifying their duration.

 

There’s also a theme of disguise and acting, and the undoing of this, in your works that is prominent in The Fall…, Berlin Flash Frames, and even Tearoom. You seem to be fascinated by this idea of letting one’s guard down, captured in accidental footage of people caught in deeply intimate, unstaged and personal moments – it was therefore fitting to see you refer to Tearoom as ‘an historical artifact’. So, in light of this and of your work with old wartime footage, such as with Berlin Flash Frames and War Planes, is the preservation and, perhaps, redefinition of history important to you? How do you view the relationship between documentary and propaganda - what in particular draws you to working with, and the deconstructing of, docustyle propaganda film footage, such as Berlin Flash Frames or Tearoom?

Propaganda films exploit the rhetoric of traditional documentary forms in order to commit a fraud.  Documentary is not a style, but an ethical position the person representing takes toward the represented.  In propaganda, ethics are of little concern.

The original material of Berlin Flash Frames interests me because it exhibits a diversity of approaches to filmmaking.  Outright falsification employing actors on sets exists side by side with surveillance footage of the construction of the Berlin Wall, and there are other sequences that appear to be documentary footage, though they are not exactly that.  An actor from the fictional scenes circulates among crowds of people waiting in line at government offices in West Berlin.  Most of them were aware that they were being filmed, but there wasn’t much they could do about it, besides looking away (which preserved their anonymity) or looking directly into the camera (which ruined the take).  I can extrapolate from this footage that every resident of West Berlin was a (willing or unwilling) extra in one giant Cold War movie.

Tearoom presents a different range of contradictions.  The police force of Mansfield, Ohio (and the vigilantes that supported them) deemed it necessary to record surveillance footage of men having sex in the center of their city.  The film was not shot automatically by a machine alone.  A police officer had to stand for hours in a closet behind a two-way mirror watching men go in and out of a public toilet.  He chose what to shoot: he turned the camera on and off, and within certain physical restrictions, he moved the camera.  What was intended as an “objective” document of deviant sexual activity has come to seem transparently subjective.  When an attractive young man enters the space, the camera moves frenetically, as though it cannot get enough of him.  In the early 1960s, public opinion held the men in the film to be perverts and those who commissioned, shot, and used the film as evidence in court to be fine, upstanding citizens.  Today, spectators are likely to form another opinion.  Tearoom allows an audience to reflect upon this historical transformation.