This week: San Francisco returns! Patricia interviews artist Chris Doyle.
Happy New Year!
Last September,Â DePaul Art MuseumÂ hosted an epic group exhibition, featuring Imagist artist work on the first floor and a contemporary generation of artists on the second. While those contemporaries have in many respects plotted their own independent and respective courses, there was something refreshing about co-curators,â€™ Dahlia Tulett-Gross and Thea Liberty Nichols, ability to highlight the visual and theoretical connection between generations. The resulting exhibition,Â Afterimage,Â illustrated a visual legacy, reinvigorating the past while demonstrating itâ€™s transformation into the present.
Caroline Picard:Â Often collaborative curatorial projects come from on-going conversations â€” how did you two conceive of the Afterimage show?
Thea Liberty Nichols:Â Youâ€™re right on target in thinking that the show evolved through a series of ongoing conversations, but ultimately, Dahlia came up with the idea. Sheâ€™s connected to a lot of local galleries and has built relationships with dozens of artists. Recognizing a renewed interest in the Imagists among contemporary artists who, rather than obscure or reject their connection to them, prized it, she isolated a certain look or feel that many of those artists shared with the Imagists. She approached me about co-curating with her partly because I had written my thesis on the Imagists. Ultimately, our commitment to showcasing the work of every artist as an individual within the larger context of our show led toÂ the publication of an exhibition catalog, which we were so pleased to include you in!
CP:Â What was so important about platforming art with writing in the catalogue?
TLN:Â We were dedicated to creating some enduring historical record since, like Imagism itself, thereâ€™s a lot of historical background noise about art writing in Chicago â€” both its quality and its outlets, or lack there of. In both instances, rather then engage distant and stale debates, we wanted to have a new conversation featuring new voices. We were lucky to work with a whole host of arts writers, including arts journalists, critics, curators and even some visual artists who also write for our publication.Â go here to read more.
This week: The coolest person we know! The lovely, the talented, the amazing Jennifer Reeder!
This weeks show was edited in the bathroom of a Hampton Inn between bouts of my 2 year old vomitting. The fun and off-the-rails conversation managed to keep my spirits light, and as you navigate the holiday fracas I’m sure it will aid you too.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DUNCAN!!
Over the last decade and since her inclusion in the 2000 Whitney Biennial (with her iconic Nevermind, where the artist herself lip-syncs to â€œSmells like Teen Spiritâ€ by the 90s grunge-rock band Nirvana), Jennifer Reeder has steadily built a body of work that explores gender, identity and relationships in an often strange, complicated world. Her works have also gotten progressively longer and more narrative and have been screened in countless film festivals around the world.
Jennifer lives and works in Chicago, Illinois. She received her M.F.A. from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1996. She is currently the chair of the graduate studies department for the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois Chicago, where she is also an associate professor of moving image. She was nominated for the 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2008 Rockefeller Grants for Film/Video/New Media as well as a 2001 Louis Comfort Tiffany Award for visual art and a 2004 Richard H. Dreihaus Foundation Award.
She is currently an Efroymson Family Fund Fellow. Other events include a solo screening at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm Sweden and group screenings and exhibitions at: The New York Video Festival, at The Lincoln Center; Double Heart/Hear the Art, at the Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Vienna, Austria; The 2000 Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art; In the Middle of Nowhere at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco; Generation Z at P.S.1, New York; The 48th International Venice Biennial, Venice, Italy. This is her first exhibition with the gallery. The new film we present here was partially funded by the Media Art Residency Program at the Wexner Center for the Arts and a fellowship from the Emfroyson Family Fund.
Everything I’ve read about Berlin-based painter, James Krone’s, recent exhibitÂ WaterhomeÂ centers Krone’s practice around an empty aquarium. The aquarium in question, however, is not present in the exhibit itself. Instead you’ll find a series of paintings hung on the wall, a folding screen dividing the room that is similarly composed of paintings and a stack of paintings face up on a plinth. These monochrome works seem at first either black or white. At first they appear unpainted, as though they were salvaged from a musty basement and hung as testaments of mold and unforgiving sunlight. The marks on the canvas seem to have grown over pure blankness, or pure darkness â€” like intrusions of time and environment. Slowly, upon closer inspection the range of color becomes apparent, the areas of bleaching and stretch marks conspire to create a cohesive, aesthetic experience. The image of a tank collecting algae is tied in with this work, and I kept asking myself how it â€” with its self-generating, dynamic ecosystem â€” connected to painting, especially when these paintings speak so directly to minimalism, and abstraction. WaterhomeÂ opened this past Saturday and will be up until February 2nd at Kavi Gupta Gallery.Â All images courtesy of the gallery.
Caroline Picard: I am interested in the relationship between your paintings and this fish tank â€” an object that seems present in everything I’ve read about your work, even while it is absent from the physical exhibition space. Without the fish tank, I experience your paintings as these lovely, subtle color fields that reflect back on a collective/historical painting conversation â€” Â your works strike me as non-painting paintings, almost. They have been crafted in such a way as to seem like canvases left in a damp basement for an extended period of time â€” flecks of paint look like tiny blotches of mold peppering the surface. And yet, by incorporating this fish tank, even as a (non-present) totem of the work, your paintings engage the natural world as well. I have started to fixate on this fish tank â€”What is its relationship to your paintings? Does it function as a muse of some sort? Or does it have a more direct relationship to your painting process?
James Krone: The fish tank was something that I had, was given as a gift at one point because I had wanted a pet lobster. I had some miscommunication with the electrical company at the time and my power kept going off. I was worried that if I put a lobster in the tank and the electrical company turned off the power again, Â the lobster would die. Also, I realized what a lot of work it would be to maintain a salt water tank. Instead of getting rid of the tank I filled it with water and put it on a table in my apartment and decided that that was enough. I couldn’t tell if it was a sculpture or if I was just keeping water as a pet but I found it somewhat fascinating and it didn’t take any effort to have it there. It was visible and transparent, recycling its qualities through an electric filter. It wasn’t very long before algae started to grow in the water, a rather delicate layer of soft velvety chartreuse. I’ve never really thought of the algae as nature, primarily, so much as an inevitable form of production that was filling a void while simultaneously articulating my incapacity to maintain either an illusion of emptiness or a consistent object. I’m often seduced by points where assumed binaries falter and merge back into one another.
The accretion of the algae persisted and would get quite thorough, creating moments of total opacity and then it would die, or do something that appeared to be entropic, and just collapse off the sides of the tank in sheets of fibers. The process would repeat itself. It seems to be a form of decay but in fact its an active, matter subverting an otherwise sterile space. I admired the mindless production of its cycle and the revolutions of transparency and opacity, persistent and hungry yet apparently neither progressive nor resolute. It is difficult to say whether the algae was a subject coming into being, a subject arrived sui generis or something that was destroying the subject. I think that the paintings work in this way, too.
CP: It sounds like you see a process of painting in the aquariumâ€™s inherent, or natural, process â€” can you say more about it? How are those conversations wrapped up in one another for you? Â
JK: I think of the aquarium’s relationship to painting as being about the quotidian and transfiguration, being as a form of continuous maintenance, more than I think about it as nature.Â Or what is natural? A fungus that eats plastics was recently discovered in South America.Â I guess I see nature as the incomprehensible totality of everything and just shy away from the references that get associated with nature or the natural (organic, etc…) as they seem to suggest a necessary idea of the unnatural, that I can’t accept.
Maybe if this idea of the unnatural were really just a prudish stand in for perversion then I’d have an easier time dealing with that.
Painting is a thing a person can do quite easily but it will most likely happen in an empty or undetermined space because it isn’t a solicited activity, if it’s of any value. There is no proper or prepared place to make a painting or art because no one is initially asked to do so. If I wanted to be a nurse or make sandwiches for people, there are rooms for me to go to that would be readymade. To make paintings I have to go get an empty room and bring my things there and the person who rents it to me probably says, “Don’t get it on the floor.”
CP: You directly speak to the idea of entropy in theÂ WaterhomeÂ exhibit description. I want to say this connects somehow to the blank canvas, or the empty fish tank. That these blank spaces inevitably fill up and get dirty. Is this where you are locating entropy? i.e. the fact that “the purity of the void” will be compromised marks a sign of failure? I’m interested in this idea because I feel like it’s somehow based on a philosophical premise of your own, namely that something clean and clear and empty is an idealized state; the addition of mold/small flecks of green color, scuff marks, the apparent bleach of the sun, or errant stretch marks is the function of dilapidation. But you could also think of mold is an additive growth, a positive, productive transformation. And the signs of age and dilapidation on your canvases are fabricated by you â€” which also seems additive. That’s a rambling way of arriving at my question: How do you think about entropy as a painter?Â
JK: I think it does speak of entropy. Maybe it’s also a rejection of the notion of entropy. Is entropy anything more than an effect that articulates… what?Â A disappointment with the impossibility of nothingness?Â Of permanence?
I don’t knowÂ but I don’t like to think of painting on a canvas as going somewhere so much as doing something.
Each painting does end, though, and working on a single painting forever would make it seem far too important.
This thing of dirty is interesting to me because on one hand I do feel at the moment I first touch a blank canvas that I’m somehow soiling it… but claiming a blank canvas is even worse than ruining one.
The term “purity of void” has more to do with a criticality of the notion of purity than it does with championing the fantasy of the void. It’s exposing that there would be this idea of a void or an anti-space and that in the totality of this emptiness, a certain purity would be attained. I see the void as the imaginary friend of the puritanical; some evidence that the desire for the pure is motivated by death drive.
There is a promise of clarity in a glass box and that is probably just an illusion.Â It’s cruel because we know how to yearn for that illusion.Â It performs a job until something else arrives and that arrival ruins the illusion.Â This is both a relief, as it cancels this yearning, and a disappointment, as it cancels this yearning.
The death of a false promise is still a loss.
CP: I am also interested in this idea of choreography and exposure â€” as I understand it, you apply layers and layers of washes to the canvas and the washes respond to a laid rabbit glue surface, settling permanently in some places as they wash away in others. Is that process where you locate this idea of dance?
JK: The canvases are sized with several layers of rabbit skin glue and then I paint a single wash of paint on them daily. The colors I use are based on the colors produced in the aquarium; viridian, sap green, alizarin crimson and lemon yellow.
This accretion of the layers of paint negates the color of those preceding and the canvas builds towards an ostensible black. Eventually, a section of the sizing on the canvas wears down and begins to resist saturation and even degrades back towards a lightness. I take either occurrence as a signal to stop. It’s an exposure of the painting in that it destroys the paintingâ€™s potential to be a monochrome. I either leave the canvas like that or I unstretch it and reverse it.Â The paintings that get reversed seem to have something more like a personality because of the moments where the support has faltered and paint has bled through. But as much as you see the points where the color has come through you are also seeing the places where it has not.
It isn’t a terribly complicated process, rather deskilled, if peculiar and specific.
The choreography is knowing what I will do beforehand and remaining more or less consistent to that, intending that the repetition of the behavior avoids a narrative of progress.
I’d hope that the paintings are anachronistic, not in the sense of timelessness but in that they might deny tense.
CP: Â One of my favorite pieces in your exhibit at Kavi Gupta is the stack of canvases â€” I loved the way you transform the painting into a sculpture and by stacking them emphasize the painted side or edge â€” a typically marginalized space where accidental drips and stains exist like a dirty closet in a house or dorm room. But you emphasize that side and cover the faces of many paintings. Can you talk a bit about how you decided to stack these works? And did your process of painting change when you anticipated stacking them?
JK:Â The sides of these paintings were always attractive to me because they look the same regardless of which side of the painting has been stretched. Last February in Berlin I made a different exhibition with this work that included a coffee table consisting of a stack of square Waterhome paintings elevated on rather feeble legs. The dressing screen in this show made that option seem too much like a literal conversation between painting and furniture but I wanted to retain some kind of focus on what is usually, as you said, a typically marginalized space.
There was some playing around with that piece for a while, verticality, horizontality, what a pedestal does or does not do or infer, etc… I felt that it had to be a piece in itself more than just an apparatus to describe the other work. I think it becomes a grammatical elongation of those margins by collapsing the physical space between them.
The process of the painting really doesn’t ever change but different consequences seem to arise as I continue to make them, whether or not I want them to.
Midway through our studio visit, MK Guth told me about a compassâ€”her fatherâ€™s compass to be preciseâ€”that, throughout her childhood, was contained in the tackle box on her familyâ€™s boat. After countless summers of relying on this particular compass to navigate the waterways of the Canadian Great Lakes, it became a talisman of sorts, and it was this heirloom that sent the artist running to Midwest following the sale of the entire rig a few years ago. Out of this experience, Guth began to reconsider objects: how they transition between function and fetish; how they shift and shape social interaction; and how their relation to us and to each other organizes our surroundings and appropriates our actions.
Despite her attachment to the compass, Guth never learned to read it. It wasnâ€™t until she was the sole owner of the object that she fulfilled its agency as a wayfinder, using it to navigate hikes through the Cascades. This notion of object lying in wait, anticipating the grasp of the human hand to become activated as an extension and mediation of human experience in the world, is a theme resonant throughout Guthâ€™s art practice. Her most recent project, When Nothing Else Subsists, Smell and Taste Remain, (2012), is a multi-sensory exploration of the meaning that can evolve from the intersection of subject, object, and context. The exhibition is composed of a series of vignettesâ€”or still lives as the artist calls themâ€”composed of everyday readymades interspersed with one-of-a-kind handcraft and modified found objects. Guth meticulously curated a range of texture in each display. The all too appealing interplay of lustrous forged bronze, hand-blown glass, and polished woodgrain cannot help being touched. Guth intentionally solicits this interaction from her audience, tempting visitors to sit at her handcrafted table, thumb through original artist books, and take various tools for dining in hand.
As a secondary, perhaps richer engagement, viewers are invited to enact dinnersâ€” elaborate rituals explicitly outlined in Guthâ€™s one-of-a-kind books: Dinner for John Cage,Â Dinner for Crying, Dinner for the Woods, Dinner for a Funeral, Dinner for Getting Lost, and others. In this iteration of When Nothing Else Subsists, the social becomes both medium and content of the project. Setting the stage upon familiar platform of table, flatware, and food, Guth subverts the everydayness of dining, directing attention to the ritual itselfâ€”its structure, its narrative, and its social interplayâ€”as a subtle reminder of the small, ephemeral gestures that contribute to grand, long-lasting accumulations.
Guth’s previous work similarly embraced participation as fodder for art practice. Her recent series of braid projects including: Best Wishes, (2011); This Fable is Intended for You: A Work-Energy Principle, (2010);Â Ties of Protection and Safe Keeping, (2008); solicited physical materialâ€”swatches of fiberâ€”as well as text commenting on issues ranging from desire to security. The material was then woven into yards upon yards of braids to create a generative social work that, in the gallery, was translated into an equally compelling sculpture, installation, or lens-based project, that visitors uninvolved with the initial performance could engage and appreciate. Braids from these previous projects festoon the artist’s studio currently. They are in the process of being woven into vesselsâ€”clever plays on the idea of a repositoryâ€” where hopes and wishes are bound-up in the objectness of the container itself.
Guth is the maestra of the send-off. At the root of her work is a central line of inquiryâ€”a rhizome-like thread that binds individual, to object, to universeâ€”generating meaning from what is unacknowledged, unarticulated, or unknown. I spoke to Guth in her southeast Portland studio.
Sarah Margolis-Pineo: Iâ€™d love to start with a quote that came up in a previous conversation with you: â€œArt is what makes life more interesting than art.â€ (Robert Filliou, n.d.) Why did that statement resonate?
MK Guth: What I find important about that quote is that it reminds us that art has a job to do. In the case of my work, I tend to use the concept of the everydayâ€”reflecting on the everyday in the content, materials, and processes of art makingâ€”to refocus attention on analyzing and addressing everyday acts, rituals, and processes with new appreciation and understanding. My recent work at Marylhurst [Universityâ€™s Art Gym], When Nothing Else Subsists, Smell and Taste Remain, the project places the ritual of dining within the context of art to attune the viewer to an act that is so familiar that we take it for granted. For example, in the case of the Dinner for John Cage, you perform a composition at the dinner, but you are also enacting a ritual that we do all the time: eating. Itâ€™s this combination of producing something collectively as part of a mundane action within the context of an art experience that forces us to reexamine what we already know.
SMP: So, youâ€™re making the familiar strange, or the ordinary extraordinaryâ€¦
MKG: Itâ€™s more about bringing our attention back to the ordinary so we look at it again. For example, when you walk the few blocks to work every day, you notice certain things, but then you take that walk with someone else and they point out a different building or some detail or whatever, all of a sudden, the walk becomes new againâ€”you see it in a different way. So, Iâ€™m not even sure itâ€™s about making it special as much as it is about realigning our sight.
SMP: Food has become such an enormous part of contemporary art and exhibition practice, but in viewing your work, I was brought back to those seminal figures in food and performance, Gordon Matta Clark, Alison Knowles, and to some extent, Rikert Tiravanija. Do you have a relationship to these artists, and how did the contemporary contextâ€”cultural and social lifeâ€”set the stage for this project?
MKG: Iâ€™m a bit of a researcher bug. I roll that way anyway. My undergraduate degree is in sociology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and that department is very research oriented and it really influenced the way that I work. In the process of developing [When Nothing Else Subsists], sure, I was looking at all of these different people who engaged food in one way or another; that being said, I donâ€™t want to make the assumption that everyone who works with food shares some sort of similarity. Tiravanijaâ€™s way of engaging food and the meaning behind it is very different than somebody like Daniel Spoerri, even though both of these artists are cooking. Both are very different than Gordon Matta Clark and the project Food, or Alison Knowles, who, in a very Fluxus-Happening spirit, highlights our relationship with tools and implements. But sure, I became interested in how art addressed food and eating beginning with very early artworks as a material of life itself that is essential to existence. No matter the moment or context, food makes its way into the artistic realm, from pre-antiquity to presentâ€¦ food is part of what we need and often part of significant rituals that imbue out lives, for example, weddings, births and birthdays all have particular food and food rituals. Â It doesnâ€™t surprise me that artists are interested in using it to create meaning.
SMP: Many of your previous projects including Best Wishes and This Fable is Intended for You are about engagement through the accumulation of matterâ€”generating fiber and textâ€”whereas your more recent work around food and dining is more about ritualâ€”generative through discursive and performative engagement. What drew you away from one form of participation to another?
MKG: In the 1970s, Gordon Matta-Clark coined the term â€œfood theater.â€ I actually began conceiving [When Nothing Else Subsists] several years ago when I was in the process of doing all the weaving and braiding projects, and that termâ€”food theaterâ€”helped develop my most recent work by focusing my attention on what it meant when I was eating with friends and how it is this theatrical event. Everybody is a performer at the table and there are always expectations as the guest, as the server, as the person whoâ€™s cooking the meal, or as the person who is directing the conversation. That notion of performance in relation to something that we do together everyday started to inform where I wanted this work, When Nothing Else Subsists, to go.
I suppose this project is the absolute opposite of my previous work in terms of process. These last several years, perhaps starting with Red Shoe Delivery Service, (2002-2006), and continuing through the woven works, the interaction with the public played out in one field, and the accumulated ephemera then went on to form works of art that could be then reflected on in an institutional settingâ€”a gallery, museum, or what have you. In essence, the interactivity was one experience and the viewing of the object that came out of it was a different experience. What was important to me is that residual work wasnâ€™t functioning as a direct document; meaning, that the secondary object was created to offer up a wholly new viewing experience that has different meaning attached.
I know that my work could easily be defined as â€œsocial practice,â€ but in part because I choose not to show direct documentation of the interactive elements of the work in a gallery context and because my work does not exist as documentation of an experience but instead as an object produced from that experience, I feel that my work is set apart. Honestly, I understand why social practice, or any sort of event-oriented project, relies on documentationâ€”thereâ€™s an art economy there, and a manner of communicating something that would be otherwise lost.Â However, I also feel that showing ephemera can be a fuck you to the audience. Itâ€™s like saying: â€œhereâ€™s the event that you all were not involved with. It was great, but you werenâ€™t there.â€ Also, a photograph or video can never accomplish translating what the original experience wasâ€”the related discomforts, smells, sounds, and all the many other things are absent from documentation. An important part of what I do is creating something else that might connect to that initial experience but it isnâ€™t trying to document it in a direct way. I am interested in creating work that offers up multiple experiences and, as a result, the whole project becomes generative.
When Nothing Else Subsists turns my earlier process on its side. The object is similarly the agent of activation, but the activity occurs through an inverse process: object precipitates event.
Certain things cause us to act in specific ways: a book tells us to read it; a table tells us to sit and use it as a surface. We understand that code and structural system, regardless of where the objects are located. Itâ€™s universal. You can put something into a galleryâ€”it doesnâ€™t matter what it isâ€”it could be a clothespin and voila, and itâ€™s art. The thing that I like about the table is that people will go to sit at it because its meaningâ€”its system and codeâ€”is stronger than that of the art context. For example, people are still willing to go sit at a table and eat despite its location in a university art gallery.
As far as the little vignettes that hold these one-of-a-kind dinners, those still lives have materials that I had hoped would encourage people to take materials off the shelves and engage with them; in particular, the books. For example, the Dinner for Getting Lost has a copy of Aristotleâ€™s â€œOn Man in the Universeâ€ and a book of Rebecca Solnit as well as the one-of-a-kind book that encompasses the dinner. I made the books to be hardcover sturdy objects that tell the viewer: â€œIâ€™m not fragile, pick me up.â€ I wanted these still lives to announce that they are meant to be engaged and, in this way, that body of work starts with the sculpture as a way to promote an action. Really, each piece has three different potential experiences that can be engaged: the initial entry to the project is through the still life and contemplative viewing, the second experience is through engaging with the material of the still life, and the third level is to activate the dinner itself.
SMP: Iâ€™m interested in your ability to engage with the unique properties and etiquette for participation within different spaces, fluctuating seemingly easily between white cube and more public venues, as with your recent work in Las Vegas. How do you leverage the different qualities of different spaces for your projects?
MKG: All spaces have a contextâ€”including galleriesâ€”and often, it can be difficult to fight against the associations brought on by site. For the Whitney Biennial, my piece, [Ties of Protection and Safe Keeping, (2008)], was installed in the library of the Park Avenue Armory, a space that has very specific meaning and embedded history. In my mind, simply putting an artwork in that space without considering the relationship to site means that both elementsâ€”the history of the space and the meaning of the artworkâ€”are in this constant battle. In my work, it makes more sense for me to use history and meaning in the construction of the artwork so that the two could come together and create a unique, mutually supported experience for the audience. At Marylhurst, the Art Gym has a very particular feel with its exposed wooden beams and a huge expanse of windowsâ€”a very hallowed hall kind of feel that adds to the sense of ritual. And, of course, you canâ€™t fight Vegas, so it made sense to do a work that connected some of the aspects of the reasons people visit Vegas: the dream, desire, etc. To me, it seems to be a more successful strategy somehow to engage the site, leveraging it to create meaning for the rest of the work.
SMP: The research-based element of your practice is so intensive. Iâ€™m wondering if you could continue this thread and speak to blending more empirical truthâ€”particularly historyâ€”with mythmaking, which strikes me as being very present in many of your projects?
MKG: I start often with mythic narratives and use them as a way to bring people in. Often with interactive work, people do not like to engage, (including me!), so there has to be another way to invite people into the piece. There are narratives that we all recognize, and these provide a way for people to come to the work thatâ€™s familiar. Itâ€™s the shifting that happens in that spaceâ€”engaging audience with familiar narrativeâ€”that creates a new mythic site.
SMP: How did you begin to do participatory work and how do you negotiate the unknowns that come with choreographing this type of performance?
MKG: Late-summer 2002, Red Shoe Delivery Service made its debut in New York. This was a project with Molly Dilworth and, one year later, with Cris Moss. I had been working on a series of photos that were combining mythic representations into everyday scenarios, and one of them was Dorothyâ€™s Ruby Slippers. I had been doing this kind of work for three years and, at that point, I was frustrated with it. In my mind, I was redesigning these representations to make room for ordinary people in the way that you may not be a superhero but you could still have some sort of remarkable power. That series of work just kind of collapsed into the photograph, object, or video, and never really became an experience outside the realm of image or object; Red Shoe developed out of this point of frustration. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my then roommate Molly Dilworth, and I said: â€œWhat if I just rented a van, filled it with glittery shoes, and drove around giving people free rides? What would happen then?â€ And Molly said: â€œIf you do that, Iâ€™ll drive.â€ Thatâ€™s how Red Shoe was born. We did our first three days in New York with a rented minivan and a bunch of red glittery shoes that I had made, and we literally gave rides to people to wherever they wanted to go. In exchange, they had to give us their shoes for the duration of the ride, and they had to choose a pair of red glittery shoes and click their heels saying: â€œthereâ€™s no place like…â€ the Post Office, work, the neighborhood bar, or wherever they were going. We took video of our passengers at the beginning and end of each ride, and later edited those two moments together to create a video of people magically transported in a spiral of glitter and heart music to their desired location. As the project went on, we became more sophisticated. Molly started curating the van, so the ride itself became this entirely other experience for the riders. Then Chris Moss became involved when we realized we needed a third person. Chris began working on these interactive DVDs that involved recording the stories of our riders and partnering with writers and illustrators to translate them into texts and images. We began creating this multi-layered, almost rhizomatic project that spoked in all these different ways. We began doing virtual travel agencies, dispatch centers, shoe stores, so something that started out as a mobile projectâ€”which we always keptâ€”became all these different ways of communicating notions of risk taking, desire, transformation, and different ideas of home.
When Red Shoe was first developed, it took time for the three of us to understand and evolve the work in such a way that the loss of autonomy that comes with participation was not a problem to be resolved, but rather, something that offered up a range of new possibilities both for the viewers and for us as the artists that made the work more exciting. As time went on, and with the braid projects, I began to weave-in this loss of autonomy into the design of the work. When Sol Lewitt spoke about his instructions-based works, he had an understanding that no one person draws a line the same. So, those works, no matter how well the instructions are composed, will always vary a little bit, and that becomes part of the work. I think that if you pursue a practice that is exchange-based or participatory without that understanding that concept, you are going to be constantly frustrated. Understanding that active audience members will come in and shift the outcome of the work has to be taken into consideration in the design of the piece. This different system of meaning making doesnâ€™t change the authorship of the work however, because the design of that experience is still coming from me.
SMP: So, given that transdiciplinary is the buzzword du jour, Iâ€™m curious if you can articulate a bit more about your approach to art making that draws from research, object making, image making, performance, and choreography. Moreover, artists today function in various roles ranging from sociologist, to journalist, to cabdriver. Given the expansion of the field, how would you define the role of an artist in this context and how do you address the anxiety that comes with pushing and crossing traditional boundaries?
MKG: Iâ€™m not going to define the role of an artistâ€”each artist is going to define that role differently. But I do feel that art has a job to do and, for me now, my job as an artist involves wearing a lot of different hats: choreography, directing, facilitating.
I come from an object making background, and I still believe in the power of the object to make people act or to change their understanding of an image or event. That being said, I would like to approach my practice as one that offers up a multi-level of experiences including more viewer activated experiences. At the end of the day, I feel that in order to communicate, I need to make use of many different skills: some that are very common and everyday ways of making; others are more cerebral, mining my education and research skills; and some that engage new technology, which in many ways is redefining the role of the artist today. What is an artist? Tough question! I guess I choose the job of cultivating an experience for an audience that communicates something about them back to them.Â This is the role I choose.
MK Guth is a multidisciplinary artist residing in Portland, Oregon. Her most recent project, When Nothing Else Subsists, Smell and Taste Remain, was on view at Marylhurst Universityâ€™s Art Gym, Oct. 7 â€“ Dec. 9, 2012. She received her MFA from New York University in 2002, and her work has been featured internationally at numerous museums, galleries, and festivals including: The Whitney Museum of American Art; The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; The Melbourne International Arts Festival; Portland Institute for Contemporary Art; Swiss Institute; White Box Annex; White Columns; Frye Museum; Henry Art Gallery; and others. Guth is currently Chair of the MFA Program at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, (PNCA), and is represented by Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland.