“Strange Weather, Vague Suspicions”: Karsten Lund at Peregrine Projects

January 20, 2012 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Monica Westin 

The first time I saw Karsten Lund’s project, currently exhibiting at Peregrine Program, while still evolving in the workspace in his apartment, I immediately thought of Difference and Repetition, Gilles Deleuze’s exploration of what difference and repetition would look like simply as functions, as opposed to functions premised on recreations of an original object. In other words, giving the act of repeating primacy rather than the original thing being repeated.


For one of the bodies of work in “Strange Weather, Vague Suspicions,” Karsten (full disclosure: he is a friend of mine, and I cannot call him by his last name) uses a strikingly similar logic, with black geometric shapes, painters tape, and luminescent green watercolor forming fractals and patterns in endless formations of postcard/snapshot-sized drawings. The other grouping uses found pages from old Life magazines (right before it shut down as a weekly publication, hence the title A Few Scraps from the Void, or The Last Days of Life), affixed to another surface and then torn away on a woven sheet of masking tape, leaving behind soft white textures of paper and accidental images.


Seeing the show is a bit like talking with Karsten: ideas spin off constantly, with tangents and trajectories that seem to be pointing off into the stratosphere but which are carefully looping back into a holistic weave. It’s also like talking with Karsten in that the project is sometimes almost maddeningly open-ended; the curator, artist, writer, and general surveyor and careful comber of ideas purposely keeps the potential of the show quivering with signification without spelling anything out too easily– though “generating ideas in its wake,” as the press release accurately describes.

Karsten will be giving a talk of “afterthoughts” talk this Sunday at 1:30, which combines his thoughts with texts lifted from various sources, in a kind of verbal analogue to the show. I emailed with Karsten between when I saw the show and this talk to compare my impressions with his. 

Let the conversation begin! It was exciting and sometimes discombobulating to see the show in its finished form after watching the projects progress along various forking logical and associative paths over the last year, with these ever-shifting images and texts on the walls of your second bedroom every time I would come over (there were those zip-reminiscent pieces using the blue tape that dominates the show, the larger and much-larger versions of the smaller pieces). By the end, you had a really quite large body of work, from the small rectangular “aeriel view” drawings as I call them (Edmund Chia of Peregrine says they remind him of car windows looking out onto landscapes), to medium-sized and very large versions using the same logic. The edited body of work at Peregrine does gesture toward the evolution of the process, but it’s somehow extremely restrained, resulting in a more ephemeral experience. The work has room to breathe. 

Also, maybe it’s because I have this perspective of the sheer amount of work that was a part of this project, but the grouping at Peregrine was most striking for the way it was almost more about framing as an act than anything else… and not only framing your project, but also physically and literally playing with notions of the frame: the giant paper remainders from your smaller cutout shapes on one wall, the pieces involving cut-outs from life magazine, the sense that you were severely limiting your own activity (which played out in the proportions of tape and paintbrush, palette and form in the smaller pieces) even as you left a lot up to chance with the torn tape pieces. 

As your note about forking paths suggests, the larger process behind all these works (collectively) has a very different logic: it’s much more expansive, almost opposite to the narrowing effect that framing implies. Over time a web begins spreading outward as little accidents in the process open up new directions or the strange results of working with these precarious materials (whether masking tape or magazine pages) spin off new ideas.

But at the same time I think your observations about framing are interesting and sound. The small drawings here, for example, all begin from much, much larger sheets that are just a chaos of marks in watercolor. I start looking for potential compositions, latent within that field, and cut them out, so there’s an almost “photographic” process in there. Then drawing takes over again and I augment each of the excised compositions with other elements.

And on a larger level, to present a modestly scaled exhibition like this one you have to make selections; this particular configuration accentuates certain aspects in the work (while others momentarily shift into the background). Maybe the notion of framing is one way to think about that…. The next time the picture might change and certain other works you mentioned might be presented instead, or in addition, whether it’s the more sculptural iterations or scaled up versions of drawings made using similar processes and wider blue tape. 

A lot of the exciting tension I feel in the show is regarding control… first you have a strong formal emphasis on control, with the explorations of the frame you’re making, but on the other hand, much of the “content” of the Life series are discovered or accidental rather than made. This seems exciting but also potentially sort of frightening. How do you see your relationship to these texts that poke their heads out of the work– and the accidental as part of the process? Is it a system for invention, or as you’ve said for generating ideas, perhaps a way of breaking free of a certain way of thinking? These kind of images make me think about a kind of resisting of their own representation (along with your decontextualized quotations,which I want to bring up later), but which find their own logic and of course their own way of representing themselves… and which involves giving up an enormous sense of authorial control. 

Well, one thing that shapes these works are various processes that involve some kind of pseudo-system — but one that tends to have these pockets where productive accidents can happen, or which allow for discovery within the bounds of set procedures. If it’s a system for invention, it’s one that works just as well when the system is going slightly haywire. It does become a different way of thinking that can be pleasantly unfamiliar at times.

There is something open ended about it in that way. And maybe not only in the sense of not knowing exactly what’s going to happen in any given case but also in that these works could almost seem to keep on replicating in endless permutations — all the while bearing traces of how they’re extracts from a more expansive world (let’s say) of related visual material. I like the idea of discovered content though, and I think that element makes things pleasantly more complicated. When that’s paired with these kinds of processes, meaning also appears and sometimes congeals in unexpected ways.

The work has evolved over time, as you noted before, but I’m not sure in the linear sense the word evolution implies. To go back to the metaphor of the web I mentioned before, David Shields offers an analogy in his book Reality Hunger. He’s talking about forms of writing specifically, but it might easily apply elsewhere, too, in relation to art or artists’ practices:

“When plot shapes a narrative, it’s like knitting a scarf. You have this long piece of string and many choices about how to knit, but we understand a sequence is involved, a beginning and an end, with one part connected to the next. You can figure out where the beginning is and where the last stitch is cast off. Webs look orderly, too, but unless you watch the spider weaving, you’ll never know where it started. It could be attached to branches or table legs or eaves in six or eight places. You won’t know the sequence in which the different cells were spun and attached to another. You have to decide for yourself how to read its patterning, but if you pluck it at any point, the entire web will vibrate.”

This quotation reminds me that I want to ask about your use of found text in the process of this project as well as the forthcoming talk. I was always struck by the typewritten notecards in your studio with what I thought of as “foundling” quotations, often very provocative or funny or sad. They formally matched some of the work through their rigid lack of context. I remember also you showing me a selection of them that you had written up into a longer document, and reading it felt like a tornado– a maelstrom– of ideas. That feeling is borne out in the show, at least for me. How will you be incorporating the found text (which is also in the press release) into your “afterthoughts” talk? What prompted you to use this format? What can we expect from this talk? 

So as you describe, for a while I’ve had a wall full of post-it notes, which I’ve added to one by one. (Since then this material has taken other forms, too, whether a deluge-like flow on a sheet of paper or a stack of uniform notecards like Mel Bochner might do.) At first this was a way to let my own thoughts trail after the work. Gradually I became fascinated with things I read elsewhere — either encountered randomly or while doing focused research for other essays I was writing at the time — and how they seemed to say something about the work at hand. So I began to collect and compile them; people like John Ashbery, Anne Carson, Susan Sontag, Italo Calvino, Robert Smithson, Perec, Adorno, Borges, and a hundred others start to mingle side by side.

I like your phrase “foundling quotes”; it suggests these little lost things trying to find a good home for themselves. But the works, and not just the words, could be a band of foundlings, too, in a way, pushed out into the world of ideas to find their own way. This manner of bringing language in contact with the work isn’t about applying critical methods or opening up your theoretical toolbox and digging for the right wrench; it’s more like letting outside thoughts, other people’s writings, poetic fragments, even errant ideas, gravitate to the work (though at some point who can say how they in turn effect the work as they glom on).

So the talk I’m titling “Afterthoughts” brings my show at Peregrine Program to a close, this coming Sunday. I won’t tip my hand too much, but I’m not really interested in doing a standard artist talk. Instead it takes this growing accumulation of written material, these foundlings as you call them, as its starting point. Rather than making a case for the work or telling you what you need to know, it’s more like looking back at it from a speculative distance, and then opening it up even further, letting it spin outwards even more.

Monica Westin is a writer, editor, and PhD student in rhetoric. She teaches arts writing and media theory classes at DePaul. 

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