31 January 2007

Heading to LA

I'll be in Los Angeles this afternoon, and hopefully will get to see some good stuff. If you are in town, come see my good stuff Saturday night.

28 January 2007

Solid State Change

This project for Middlebury College started looking like a sculpture for the first time today... so I went ahead and took pictures. This is the beginning of the process. All that expanded metal is going to be cement. And probably three-dimensional and not so much like a plank (although I am digging the way it is lifting off the ground right now...). And it's going to be much taller--right now it's only about three feet off the ground. Eventually it's going to be about 9 feet tall...

...I think.

One of the funniest things about this project is the fact that it's a process piece that I made a model and concept drawings for. The difference between the drawings and the thing itself will be very interesting to watch unfold.

The Strategy:

1. Let the tires and whatnot accumulate and deform the expanded metal shape
2. See what shapes result and "lock in" those shapes with a bunch of armature steel.
3. Build a fake curved wall and figure out the best possible relationship between the sculpture and the wall
4. "Lock in" that relationship with more steel.
5. Add cement, cut and cover naked screwheads, and generally finesse it into something that someone would want to keep around for twenty years.

The proposal and concept drawings for Solid State Change can be found here.

24 January 2007

Installation and the Self-Consciousness of Sculpture

Caveat: Unless it’s Rachel Harrison (the woman who is not an art historian) or Franz West (the Austrian), it is almost impossible to figure out who is talking on this podcast. If only Handforth was more invested in his Britishness. If only Ellegood and Burton didn’t sound so similar. The chances of me misattributing a quote or paraphrase are excellent.

EllegoodBurton asked about the difference between installation and sculpture. And she made a distinction that I found intriguing. She categorized installation as viewer-focused, that it wants very much to make the viewer feel this way or that. Sculpture, on the other hand, stands alone. It can’t consider you (I think this is what Burton meant when she said it doesn’t need you) or how you feel, and this creates an antagonistic relationship between sculpture and viewer. I thought that making this distinction was quite insightful.

The artists didn’t really talk about this distinction very well in that moment, with that microphone. And I can understand. It’s hard to extemporaneously throw out a few clever words about how this works, because it’s complicated and subtle. Besides, I don’t know about the panelists, but I have never thought about my own work in these terms before.

But what the heck? I'm always game for a few paragraphs.

Sculpture is bounded--it has an inside and an outside, and you only have access to the outside. So relating to it is a lot like relating to a person. Charles Long went in this direction on the podcast, but digressed into how sculpture kills people. And that’s an interesting topic, but let’s get that original thought--the thought about the sculpture being like a body--back on track.

Both physically and emotionally, we have a tense relationship with the inside/outside dynamic of humans. Who doesn't pore over anatomy books? Intestines are cool. But your intestines? Maybe not so much. It's hard to think of yourself and your friends as fesh, as intestines. Isn’t it? It’s one of those things that we all know. You are not some homogenous sausage that can be sliced into slices that will all look the same. If I cut into you, all your different parts will become apparent. But we can’t seem to walk around with this in mind.

This is one of the most amazing things about being in shock because you’ve been wounded. It's a transcendent state in which your gore is completely acceptable.

Similarly, everyone wants to know about your emotional life and what you are thinking and feeling... except that they don’t. They don’t want to know at all. I find this problematic relationship between one’s emotional inside and outside much more interesting than the no-brainer revelation that your organs are both awful and fascinating.

We love confessions and seek them out because they create intimacy. But at the same time we have no idea what to do with that intimacy once we’ve got it. The only way I can think about this is to tell a story in which I fucked up:

I had a student who was being really disruptive and aggressive in a college class. I didn’t want it to escalate, so I went the intimacy route. I told her I was worried. I asked her to talk to me about what was going on. Let’s just say I got a lot more than I bargained for. She told me everything and I was left having to say that I am her teacher, and that I am concerned about her behavior in my classroom, and that she needs to the student health center. The remainder of the semester that knowledge of this student’s inside life hung over the classroom, made interactions difficult, made her question her grade, made everything all wrong. If only I had honored her fight to keep all that stuff inside and just asked for appropriate behavior!

I erred because we live in a world in which intimacy is supposed to be good (think Oprah and Dr. Phil) when in fact it is often terrifying and inappropriate. Putting your inside life on the outside is a defilement of structure. Your worries and woes, before they are anything else, are unsupported when you put them outside. That’s why we all walk around monitoring those boundaries between our inside and our outside life.

A sculpture is caught up in that kind of inside-outside problem. It’s not that it doesn’t need you, it’s that it has this inside life that may be like my student or it may be like your most cherished lover. And there is something very powerful in making an object that can offer up some, all, or none of that inside/outside relationship. One of the things I love about Tara Donovan’s work is its basic honesty. It is what it is--armatureless and homogenous. In a weird way, just stacking straws or piling toothpicks is a lot like getting away with wearing your heart on your sleeve.

Just as other people are not thinking about you (rather, they are totally engaged with their own internal dialogue and whether their pants look as bunchy as they feel), a sculpture is not thinking about you. Unlike a service-oriented installation, a sculpture is sitting there like every other asshole, figuring out how to hold itself together, completely engaged with its own relationship between its inside and its outside. Now that I have written a little bit about it... I would call this sculptural trait self-consciousness. And I think, to briefly touch Nick’s latest post, that this self-consciousness makes turning every installation into an Installation unnecessary.

I know this isn’t Rachel Harrison, Mark Handforth and Reality. I still don’t know what to say about Reality that hasn’t already been said last week. I’ll stop promising, and just say that the Next Stop could be:

Buddhism, Paradox and Gil Scot Heron: Why Charles Long Is My New Sculpture Boyfriend.

22 January 2007

Apocalypse Alert

This image comes to you courtesy of Edward Burtynsky

High, Low and In Between is kicking your endtimes ass all over this wasteland.

If you haven't already, I strongly suggest pouring yourself a neat bourbon and settling in for the night.

Defining Sculpture

Hoo! That Graves article is a lot like the podcast--it's confusing and difficult, with technical problems and nothing (relevant) to look at. Of course, the podcast simply suffers its audio-only nature, an Austrian accent and a bad microphone... which leaves Graves with more explaining to do. What's with the goofy masks?

But masks, schmasks. Graves made Johanna Burton sound kinda like a moron. Of course sculpture needs a viewer! Even more so than other mediums, one could argue, because sculpture is static until the viewer walks around it in the flesh. Duh!

And yeah, Burton did say that sculpture doesn't need you, but the Graves article doesn't do the context of this quote justice. Burton was talking about getting to a definition of sculpture that is structural and not material. That is of its own merits and not in relationship or in opposition to other things (ie, it's not architecture). And the "doesn't need you" quip made sense in the original context of sculpture's basic unruliness, in a talk and not in a paper.

Soooooooo, let's dispense with Graves' assesment of the podcast. I think she quickly wrote something that priviledges her existing assumptions about the "post-medium" condition.

I would rather give Johanna Burton props for asking Krauss to step aside. A definition that is not based on other mediums (not painting, not architecture) and that is structural and not materials-based (if it's bronze, then it's sculpture) seems important, and she is right about the character of sculpture--it isn't here to help her. Burton has every right to talk around this problem. She's asking for a verbal solution to an obstinately unverbal situation.

In true blogging style, I am opining when I have not yet read Burton's essay for The Uncertainty of Objects And Ideas. But I have listened to her talk about writing the essay, and so, have thoughts about defining sculpture that seem appropriate to throw out at this point.

A sculpture is a work of art that derives its meaning from sculptural concepts, including but not limited to the following:

*inside and outside space
*mass and weight and how they push against "empty" space
*scale and size
*made-ness (ie, what does this thing mean because I have made it in this specific way? This can mean process.)
*reality (reality was a big hit on the podcast)
*Newtonian Physics (a subset of reality)
*Problem-Solving (the bumpy road from idea to object)
*Relationship to the viewer's body
*Relationship to the world of built things
*Abutments, Joins and Other Similar Structural Concerns


A sculpture has a relationship to its own bounded nature. It's a thing, not a room. Ideally it's a thing that is in terrible conflict with its thingness and is trying desperately to overcome its boundaries, but that's my own bias.

Looking at sculpture this way separates it from many other 3-D practices like installation or assemblage. And it makes Matthew Barney's film work sculpture. Not necessarily good sculpture, but sculpture.

This kind of definition might inadvertently make Frank Gehry into a sculptor. And there may be other problems. There will be more chewing on this issue in future posts. We haven't even gotten to the meat of the podcasts, which is what the artists have to say.

Next Stop: Rachel Harrison, Mark Handforth, and Reality.

19 January 2007

Did Somebody Say "Sculpture?"

This is not really a post--it's more of a promise to post in the future, or proof that I do read.

I have not heard the podcast in question, nor have I comprehended the Graves article, although I do enjoy Tyler's Ass-esment and the discussion over at Winkleman about whether or not Ed is old-fashioned, and whether or not that matters.

Rest assured---this topic cannot and will not be ignored here! The Graves article is a bit convoluted, but it seems to include some totally retarded notions about sculpture... like it doesn't need the viewer, for instance. And this is not a surprise. Sculpture? Who talks about sculpture? If Graves is right about anything, it's her pathetic lead-in about sculpture's moribund state.

Or is she? This conversation will have to wait. I am too busy being a sculptor right now to talk about that tattered old Ho Rosalind Krauss, and whether or not she still gets to have the last word on the subject.

17 January 2007

Go Ahead... Cross The Streams?

Okay, this is a continuation of a conversation that is taking place here.

Nick started by saying that you could reverse the relationship, that you could priviledge monumentality over reality and wind up bending reality. And I said yeah, but doesn't Paris Hilton, who is just famous for being famous, have a corner on that market? Isn't that how popular culture and politics already works?

And so Nick conceded defeat, but I think he did so too soon. Just because Dick Cheney and Paris Hilton wield the power to imagine to bad effect, does that mean that the whole enterprise is inherently fucked up? I don't know.

Here is what I do know:

Donald Judd won, and spawned conceptualism, appropriation, etc. As a result, we visual artists don't tend to talk about transcendence or imagination... we tend to talk about what actually is. I would argue that visual art is increasingly reality-based. And that this can be a Big Wow if you're watching Chris Burden REALLY shooting himself, or it can be a big snooze if you are trying to figure out what a bunch of artifacts in a gallery means.

With that in mind, why wouldn't it be potent to use dreaming to change reality?

Sure, there's an arrogance to thinking this way that is *not* acceptable in academia. And there is this power problem. Who do I think I am (who does Nick think he is?) that I can imagine your world for you? This is what sticks in your craw when thinking about Dick and Paris, isn't it?

Is that nasty selfishness inherent in bending the world around what you imagine and believe?

I don't know the answer to these questions, but they are interesting, no?

09 January 2007

More Studio Shots

08 January 2007

Reality v. Monumentality

I am going to be giving a couple of talks in the next few months, and want to try out a couple of organizing strategies here first, but without boring you with a whole lecture. So these are blurbs that maximize the idea or structure and minimize the slide-chat-about-my-work. Please feel free to ask questions, comment, call bullshit, etc.

I take the fact that all artmaking practices are not the same seriously because I get a lot of information from looking at what sculpture is and what it does, and why it is different from painting or making a video. Sculpture is interesting to me because it has an explicit relationship to reality, or what is actually happening around you, and monumentality, or this public immortalization of a person or thing that becomes a shared idea.

A sculpture is not an illusion, like a painting or a photograph. You can't just do whatever you want--your choices must live up to the shared reality of Newtownian physics.

This is Jennifer Pastor's Untitled (Christmas Flood), and it looks really dynamic because it's jabbing itself out into space, right? The single most interesting thing about it is that it really is that dynamic... she didn't Photoshop this. These big, heavy pieces of material shaped like Christmas trees really do have to sit at this weird angle and not break or make the rest of the sculpture fall over. I think the best sculpture goes and surfs around the outskirts of Newtonian physical reality and tries to bend and shape reality. Tries to get away with stuff. Remember in The Matrix, where Lawrence Fishburne's character is explaining to Neo that once you understand that the Matrix is a program with a set of rules, then you can break or bend the rules? I think really good sculptors do that.

Monumentality is historical. It's about what sculpture has been made for. This is the Lincoln Memorial, and yeah, it's about Lincoln... but it's about so much more than that. Lincoln's (enormous) representation now embodies a war, a side, a cause, a set of shared national beliefs. Lincoln the man winds up becoming immortalized, but more than that he becomes a stand-in for a big-ol' shared public experience. This idea of a sculpture being a shared public experience is still alive today as much public art tends (for better or for worse) to mean the Permanent Public Sculpture. This concept has roots in Greco-Roman culture, that was eventually reborn as Renaissance culture, which became Modernism, which became Beuys' Social Sculpture...

...and on that note, Socrates Sculpture Park manages to be a really fresh spin on this ancient concept. It's an urban park that makes both the act of making and enjoying sculpture public. Socrates is a beautiful place because it is honoring that specific sculptural legacy of the public shared experience, and at the same time is... well... extremely real.

Interesting things happen when you take reality and monumentality and rub them together. For one thing, it becomes obvious that there is no such thing as a permanent sculpture--that it's impossible to immortalize oneself or anything else with a sculpture because a sculpture does nothing but decay. Even bronze and stone are not stable materials. The David was brought inside because acid rain was eating him. In fact, the more you start looking around with this in mind, the more obvious it is that nothing lasts forever. That your house, your car, tools, your own body. It's all falling apart, and humans spend a lot of energy fighting entropy but it's around every corner, in every vacant lot. Your skin cells are falling off your body and settling into every nasty corner of your house. Things change.

Under the harsh light of reality, monumentality becomes a dream, if not necessarily a lie. It's more like some tender wish that arrogantly flies in the face of reality. Reality dictates that it's all going to decay, and monumentality staves off that inevitability, but not forever. And sculpture is cool because you can use it to talk about both the essential state of dynamism and the steps you take to make the dynamic static.

When, as a sculptor, you start looking at things in terms of reality (what is actually happening) and monumentality (the beautiful fiction I create to mask what's happening), the questions just pour out. What on earth am I doing buying all this material? Why am I making anything when the world is full of too much stuff? What's the relationship between my stuff that I make and this state of stuff-fulness that pervades everything I see?

Isn't decay the only verb a sculpture's got? Why take that away?

How can I use sculpture to turn its paradox inside out? Can I use it to talk about mortality instead of immortality? Can I value this beautiful fiction of monumentality without getting suckered into thinking it's real?