Guest Post by Hannah Verrill
Iâ€™d like to use this bit of time-space to introduce a series of posts that will use process as a way of looking at and unpacking a handful of contemporary performance practices.
Each segment exists first as an encounter between an artist and myself. In the space between maker and observer, together we excavate a process, a series of actions that the artist is currently using to create performance material. Each exchange is specific to the work at hand, necessarily time-based, and unfixed in form.
The writing, produced in response to each exchange, seeks to mirror the kind of thinking that happens for a viewer after a performance has ended. The faulty and exuberant process of sifting through, assembling, and organizing the experience of such an ephemeral form.
Why focus on process? Iâ€™ll take my cue from Gertrude Stein: in order to know we always have to go back.Â
I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and it was through my mother and her involvement as a performer with Elise Longâ€™s amorphous dance-theater company Spoke The Hub that I began performing at the age of four. Longâ€™s performance projects were interdisciplinary, using movement as their main component but regularly incorporating visual art and spoken text.
In one of my earliest performance memories I am six years old on a large stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I am hiding behind a set piece waiting for a cue and watching Elise Long, dressed in a magnificent red lobster-gown costume, deliver a monologue to an audience of hundreds.
Two years later I was cast in Meredith Monkâ€™s work The Politics of Quiet; an ensemble piece addressing the Bosnian war for independence and Sarajevo in the 1990â€™s. I recall the intensity of the audition for this piece: my eight-year old body crossing a room slowly, picking up a vessel, feeling its weight and carrying it with me through space, and later being asked to sit as still as possible, my legs folded in front, focusing my attention on the air surrounding me.
In contrast to these kinds of engagements, my experience with performance as a kid was just as often marked by amateur experiments: strange dance-theater pieces thrown together in collaboration with cousins and staged for the family after thanksgiving dinner; solo dance numbers set to Fleetwood Mac and performed for my brothers, my dad, and a video camera; improvised movement by myself and for myself in the attic space of my home.
Three months ago I completed an MFA degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago focusing in performance. From where I stand now in relation to these childhood memories, I am aware not only of the performances themselvesâ€”events characterized by the work meeting an audienceâ€”but also of a much larger and more complex sea of experiences surrounding and generating the work. Time does its thing and I am still standing inside of the processes of those past works: the scaffolding comprised of auditions, rehearsals, trials, notes, periods of waiting, of watching, of thinking, of doing.
Performance theorists assert that in the instant of performance, the work experiences a kind of disappearance. With twenty-two years as a performer, I have felt time and time again the loss that comes with a performanceâ€™s end. My experience of my body as a learning-thinking-moving-performing thing, never fully knowing or comprehending the work that I was just then putting forth towards an audienceâ€”a you. This repeated rehearsal of loss drives my desire to spend time with and examine rigorously the nature of a process that works towards a disappearance.
What remains and what comes next? In a disappearing present, the past and the future takes on considerable weight. Process asserts a present. If we can agree that as a form performance undercuts the value of a static or fixed productâ€”an end resultâ€”the questions of what remains and what comes next persist. How can the weight of the past and future be leveraged, made light and moveable? I can commit to the present just like I can feel the weight of my feet on the floor, just like I can feel my breath as it rises and sinks through the space of my torsoâ€”through a focus of attention. I will practice that attention to the present by way of this series called Process Notes.
Hannah Verrill is an artist living and making work in Chicago, Illinois.
Guest Post by Young Joon Kwak
This edition of salon talk is a conversation with artist and educator Patrick Jackson.Â Jackson was born in Los Angeles, CA, where he also currently resides.Â Working primarily in sculpture, heâ€™s had exhibitions in galleries and institutions internationally, including FranÃ§ois Ghebaly Gallery, and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery in New York, The Soap Factory in Minneapolis, MN, and CAPC Musee dâ€™Art Contemporain in Bordeaux, France.Â His next solo show The Third Floor opens at FranÃ§ois Ghebaly Gallery in November 2013.Â Jackson got his MFA from USC, where he is currently the Sculpture Area Head.Â I first got to know Patrick Jackson through Mutant Salon barber Marvin Astorga, so I thought Iâ€™d ask him to say a few introductory words about Patrick:
Patrick Jackson is a regular visitor of the salon. Apart from making cool stuff, he prefers a #3 clip guard, as he likes a bit more length in the back and sides than most of our clipper-inclined clients. I’ve tried the #1 and #2 guards on him before, and the result was perhaps a bit too flashy. Patrick understands that, while his hair type is very forgiving (it’s thick with a well-behaved curl), it’s important to know what you want out of your hair, your art, and your life.â€”Marvin Astorga
PJ:Â Lately, Iâ€™ve been reading Philip Gustonâ€™s writing and looking at his paintings. Â I think his work is a good example of ideas and forms working off each otherâ€”clashing, in a productive way. Â One can relate to it in a beyond-language kind of way, just thinking of objects like a clock and questioning it, taking it apart, and how it relates to us as an object and as an idea of time.
YJK: Â Do you look at other sculptors or sculptures when youâ€™re starting a project?
PJ: Â I look at a lot of sculpture, I like sculptors, but I feel like I sculpt mainly because thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m good at and I enjoy itâ€”it fits my personality.Â I move slowâ€”itâ€™s a contemplative medium by nature, I think. Â But when it comes to looking at work, Iâ€™m more attracted to films and writing, just idea-wise.Â Sculpture is not a thing where you can explore ideas in a really deep way. Â I think if you wanted to do that, youâ€™d turn to writing.
YJK: Â Whatâ€™s a favorite film of yours?
PJ: Â My favorite film is probably Terrence Malickâ€™s Badlands. Â Thereâ€™s something about it similar to Gustonâ€™s work, in a way. Â They both deal with peopleâ€™s relationships to objects. Â Thatâ€™s how I think about sculpture, as the study of relating to objectsâ€”from a rock, to something bought in a store â€¦
YJK: Â How do you feel about a lot of sculptors today using stuff that they bought from stores, readymades?
PJ: Â Some of itâ€™s too heavy on the â€œpurchase and lay it on the groundâ€ approach, without any alterationâ€”or perspective. Â But itâ€™s an important part of considering objects, I thinkâ€”how we navigate the aisles. Â Iâ€™ve always thought Rachel Harrison is good with that kind of stuff and Iâ€™ve flipped through her books, trying to figure out how to use them in my own work. Â Her show, If I Did it, has been a big influence. Â The title for the show came from OJ Simpsonâ€™s book, by the same name, which I think is him telling how the murders would have gone, if he had done itâ€”something like that. Â But for Harrison, If I did it was the idea of the readymade and making.Â If I buy something and put it in the gallery, am I the one who made it?Â The whole show was really an open consideration of objects, how we relate to them, understand them, our connection to them, how weâ€™re involved with them â€¦
YJK: Â Yeah, I think itâ€™s interesting that you bring up Harrison. Â There are so many different ways to engage with her work, so many entry points, like pop cultural references, a mixture of readymades, and thereâ€™s a sense of play in her process and certainly in the experience of the work.Â Iâ€™m also interested in the formal decisions she makesâ€”her accumulation of material fragments and how she reconfigures to incite different interactions between materials, screwing around with hierarchies of different materials, and then how some of the same sculptures that she made continue to be reconfigured and shown in different ways for different shows, like the piece Green that she showed in the 1993 exhibition at the New Museum.
PJ: Â Yeah, Iâ€™ve heard that she describes the way she makes work as similar to the way someone shops, where itâ€™s sort of like Iâ€™ll try some of this, and try some of that, and like you described, a sort of movement through objects.
YJK: Â Someone told me that John Kelsey thought of her sculptures as drag objects. Â Iâ€™m also interested in your use of materials, and how you animate them, imbuing them with a sense of the body, but a sort of traumatized body or a precarious body, such as with your tchotchke stacks, and certainly the show where you had a body leaning against a wall, or the one with two bodies lying on the floor, or just kind of how theyâ€™re positioned with their eyes closedâ€”they do seem like theyâ€™ve been inflicted, like itâ€™s the aftermath of some sort of violence or disease or something like that. And then I thought that it was funny that one of the sculpturesâ€”I think thereâ€™s a stocking pulled over the faceâ€¦
PJ: That was from a body cast and the cast was made for the project in the apartment, House of Double, the one with the two figures lying down. Â The one that has the stocking over its head is the same body, itâ€™s from the same molds, but itâ€™s made up of leftover pieces. Â I sawed the body in half, so it could sit against the wall â€¦ ended up looking more like itâ€™s folded in half and crammed against the wall.
YJK: So was it a cast of your body?
PJ: Yeah. Â When I first started working on House of Double I knew that I wanted to make a body, because other sculptures Iâ€™d made were more in relationship to the viewerâ€™s body, so I wanted to make a sculpture where this body would actually be the piece and then the viewer would have a relationship to this body, as opposed to their own. Â I wanted to make it lying down, on the one hand because I felt like thatâ€™s what would make it feel between object and person … then thereâ€™s also this idea of violence. Â Again, I was thinking a lot about Badlands, and thereâ€™s this idea that goes through that film, a classic philosophical consideration, of oneâ€™s relationship to the worldâ€”about whatâ€™s an object and whatâ€™s a subject. Â The movie is based on the true story of Charles Starkweather, an American serial killer. Â This character is continually considering what is worthy of living, and whatâ€™s not, and then it gets applied to objects too, where heâ€™s sort of, â€œWell, what object is useful to me and which one is not?â€ And thatâ€™s something all of us can enter into, like a more benign consideration of use, with animals, or the coffee cup you throw away.
YJK: Iâ€™m interested in knowing more about this sense of masochism I get from the work, I mean itâ€™s cast from your body, like youâ€™re enacting violence on yourself, or a projected self, or a surrogate self?
PJ: In the House of Double, thereâ€™s a body in each bedroom, and the idea was theyâ€™re supposed to be relatively identical, but in the experience of being in there, you can never see both of them at the same time, so itâ€™s sort of a memory comparison, or the idea that they existed somewhat in your head. Â Of course when you look at them online you see both of those images at the same time, though â€¦ I guess that doesnâ€™t answer your question.
Installation view from House of Double, 2011
Â YJK: I was thinking a lot about the relationship of yourself or your body, this body that youâ€™re creating in relationship to the viewer looking down at it, and there being this sort of hierarchy thatâ€™s established between yourself and the viewer, so I was curious about your perspective of this body or your body or a more general idea of the self.
PJ: Â A lot of ideas went into it: research, reading, movies, TV, and a lot of stuff I was going through in my own life. Â It was a mix of a lot of things, and then it felt like it clicked in the end â€˜cause it took on a life of its own, it became something separate from my own ideas, but it was born from those. So what youâ€™re describing is really interesting and kind of true, but thatâ€™s not the only thing that this piece is about.
YJK: Â I think itâ€™s interesting that in relation to the work where youâ€™ve created more representational bodiesâ€”you then have your Tchotchke Stacks, which are literally stacks of all these different kinds of statues and figurines, with their own histories, and the residue of their ownersâ€”Theyâ€™re also almost body height, but a bit taller maybe, more imposing, like a body that comprises a collectivity of varied parts. Itâ€™s interesting to think about this collective body being composed of all these different little tchotchkes, and how that leads to questions of subjecthood and collective subjectivity, how we all relate to each other through objects, through tchotchkes.
Detail view of one of Jacksonâ€™s tchotchke stacks, 2010
PJ: Â Thereâ€™s also just the fact that our relationship to our body is changing, it seems to me. Â Â Iâ€™m a big Cronenberg fan, and heâ€™s someone whoâ€™s thinking about our relationship to our own bodies and other bodies, all through changing media, from Videodrome to the availability of something on video, or through cable television, to eXistenZ and the internet.
YJK: Â With each project, does your conception of the body change or transform?
PJ: Â I try to make individual projects, but as you start to make more work, it starts to add up and to turn into something on its own, like where theyâ€™re not just completely divorced projects from each other, although thatâ€™s usually how I try to start something, trying to make it autonomousâ€”like a film or a book.Â But before you know it, youâ€™ve created this body of work, but also a reflection of yourself, basically. You see it differently than I do. Â You come to the work and look at it as a whole, and you start to see these connections that I see too, when you bring them up, but I guess I donâ€™t try to approach it as this idea of â€œI make work about the body transforming.â€ Â But now when I hear you talk about the body transforming, Iâ€™m like, â€œOh yeah, I think that makes sense.â€Â Definitely with doing this sculpture that is partially based on my nephew for my show…
YJK: Â Yeah, the scale of itâ€™s funny…
PJ: Â Because Iâ€™ve seen him change a lot, knowing him since heâ€™s a little kid.Â Iâ€™ve seen him go through life and that makes a lot of sense to me with thinking about that sculpture, and then also just him. Â As a piece, itâ€™s just a boy, but what youâ€™re talking about â€¦ I can really see in relationship to this show.
sculpture in process, 2013
YJK: Â Can you tell me more about the other work youâ€™re making for your upcoming show at FranÃ§ois Ghebaly Gallery, in the fall?
PJ: Â Well, one of the things I was thinking about with the title of the show, The Third Floor, is a sort of relationship of one object to another object, or subject to subject, and this book Flatland, that classic book of circles or triangles that can only move through two dimensions of spaceâ€”they can only go forward and backward, left to right.Â And then us, being in the third dimension, we can see them and understand them in this really basic way, but they canâ€™t understand our worldâ€”our third vertical dimension. Â And then thereâ€™s an idea of the fourth dimension, where there are these eyes, this sort of knowledge that exists beyond us, that sees us as limited in movement and can observe us and can see all of time. Iâ€™m trying to do a similar thing with this show, where thereâ€™s the narrative of the space where this boyâ€™s body is on the third floor, looking down, or sort of seeing everything as objects in relationship to him.Â Then thereâ€™s us as viewers, who come in and see him and everything else as an object inÂ relationship to us. Also, Iâ€™ve been thinking of the idea of the uncanny, something like thinking that I just saw a person Iâ€™m attracted to, and then itâ€™s like, oh no, itâ€™s a 90-year old woman I just saw out of the corner of my eye, this feeling of like, â€œOh, whatâ€™s going on?â€
YJK: Howâ€™d you end up working with ceramics for this show?
PJ: It came about because I didnâ€™t have any money. Â I work at USC and I can use the facilities for free. On top of that, mold making can be really expensive, but slip molds and ceramic supplies, in general, are pretty cheap. Then I just got into the process, my hands in the clay and experimenting with the materialsâ€”especially the glazes.
YJK: Â Whatâ€™s the relationship of your ceramics to the long history of ceramics in relation to contemporary art? Thinking particularly about howâ€”I donâ€™t know whether it be right or wrongâ€”ceramics occupies this place within sculpture discourse/greater art discourse of marginalization, this place of just being merely decoration?
PJ: Â Well, it goes through stages.Â I mean, ceramics is very popular right now, itâ€™s in every gallery, but it also has a history that youâ€™re talking about, which is, itâ€™s seen more as a craft and itâ€™s looked down upon, and thereâ€™s also a certain form that I was really aware of when I was making it that I was trying to stay away from, which was just the look of something that was made in a parks and rec. course or in an elementary school, having that sort of â€œceramicâ€ lookâ€”which I think is fine, to maybe even harness, but for the look I was going for I tried to pick stuff that would look unceramic, in some ways. Iâ€™ve also added other materials: wax, epoxy and rocks.
ceramic pieces from The Third Floor, 2013
YJK: Â Youâ€™ve mentioned to me that the three floors of the space are three categories of sculpture, both in arrangement and form. Â Youâ€™re thinking of the lower level, where the ceramic vessels will be placed, as storage. Â Do you feel like the ceramics, their importance or meaning arises more in relation to the other works that you create? Like in relation to the upper level, or more conceptual works, as you said? Â And just the idea of these three floorsâ€¦
PJ: Â I think a big part of meaning comes from juxtaposition. Itâ€™s like making a sentence, where words next to each other start taking on a different meaning instead of being autonomous. So thatâ€™s part of the show, too. Â I think this is something a lot of artists grapple with, nowadays.Â You have the installation, which is however long, you know, six weeks, a few months, and things are arranged to be a certain way in relationship to each other and then they get broken up and theyâ€™re never the same. So thatâ€™s definitely what will happen to this show. And Iâ€™m trying to think about that a lot, as being part of it, of questioning whatâ€™s an object alone? What is an object next to other things? But when I first started writing about the show, doing researchâ€”I have a notepad for every project I work onâ€”I was thinking about this movie Iâ€™d seen about a girl whoâ€™s discovered after being locked in her bedroom till she was like 11-years-old. So she had never learned to speak, and she hoarded.Â One of the things that she did, that apparently is common with children who experience this sort of intense isolation and entrapment, is hoard water, usually containers of water, so when she lived with a therapist in her room she just had cups, sheâ€™d get cups of water in the kitchen and then leave them around her bed.
YJK: Â Which makes sense with all of the ceramic vessels and cups you are making for your showâ€¦
PJ: Â Yeah, itâ€™s like a hoarded kind of thing. Â I looked in my notebook a few months after I started making these and I realized, â€œOh yeah, I forgot about that, but thatâ€™s what started it all.â€™
YJK: Â So is this show all about you being really isolated and trapped in the world?
PJ: Â Ha-ha, no comment. Â I donâ€™t know â€¦ It is what it is â€¦ I mean, itâ€™s about my family too. But itâ€™s also about thinking about a basic form, that everyone can relate to. Â Iâ€™ve been thinking of Brancusiâ€”he did a cup piece. Â Thatâ€™s one of the fascinations with children like this. When children like this are discovered, itâ€™s like, every scientist, every therapist wants to work with them, because now we can get to the bottom of things, like how does language work? How do we develop it? When are you too old to learn how to speak and interact with another person? How is this person going to understand things? Theyâ€™re fresh, theyâ€™ve never been educated in anything. And so, to look at something that they do, like hoarding water, hoarding cups or â€¦ thereâ€™s also the movie The Wild Child, which is about a child who was living out in the wild and was discovered by someone, a French scientist was studying him, and in that film thereâ€™s a scene where he drinks from a glass of water while he looks out a window, it was one of his great joys and I think it was used as a reward when he was being trained how to read and stuff like that. Â Iâ€™m just fascinated by that. Â What is it about having a cup of water and looking outside? Â Of connecting to nature, I guess, with water, this basic thing that we all need.
YJK: Â We talked a bit about The Third Floor before, and how the unique architecture of the spaceâ€”how on the second and third floors one can see the lower levelâ€”influenced formal decisions you made, such as extending the second floor with scaffolding, covering the lower level and making a basement of sorts. Â Iâ€™m curious about your decision to have scaffolding, just thinking of all the exposed parts underneath.
PJ:Â From underneath where one encounters tÂhe ceramics, it will look like regular scaffolding, and then from up top it will look like a wooden floor, or like an old wooden floor, â€˜cause you wonâ€™t see any of the mechanics holding it up. Â From underneath, itâ€™s more of what you would think of as an unfinished basement, where you see the structure of the house and everything that sort of holds things up, itâ€™s sort of the raw elements of things. So it seemed to just make sense that way and also, yeah, just sort of revealing the structure I think goes along with part of the narrative that basements have and of the show … I think of hidden things happening.
YJK: Â What keeps you going in your practice?
PJ: Â I just want to make work that I like and that I feel like I changed because of it, like I had an experience out of doing it, where it affected me from making the workâ€”it didnâ€™t feel like I was just going to a job and making stuff. Â Thereâ€™s a Tarkovsky quote that I often think of and I have on a notecard, on my studio wall. Â The Tarkovsky quote is something like â€¦ Iâ€™m gonna slaughter the quote, but itâ€™s something like, â€œYour work shouldnâ€™t be the next step in your career, but a turning point in your life.â€ Like any quote that one pins up on their wall, itâ€™s a bit cheesy, but I think itâ€™s something that I agree withâ€”and itâ€™s not practiced enough, these days.
GuestÂ PostÂ by Mark Sheerin
Art needs networks, and the 20th century testifies to that. There could never have been a lone fauvist, a solitary cubist, an isolated futurist, etc, etc. The avant garde loves company, and, without it, could never have made the great strides which came along with modernity.
Now we live in a different landscape. Cafes have become corporate part-time creches and third place venues for business meetings. Cigarettes and pipes, both intellectual props, are banned. And just try paying for your triple shot latte with a sketch, it canâ€™t be done.
The avant garde have been in retreat everywhere for decades now. So it is good news to have some networking technology which might serve as a focal point for new visual ideas. So brew your own coffee, and read on, then redirect your browser to ArtStack here.
â€œHow do these groups of people come together?â€ asks Co-Founder Ezra Konvitz. â€œWhat do they come together around, what was the particular moment where you have a group of people who have all converged around an idea?â€
Some journals and meeting places may still exist, but these days many artists find it just as easy to share works, inspiration and ideas online. Like any social network worth its salt, Konvitz says his project hopes to replicate the social dimension of the real world.
For those new to ArtStack, the beta-stage website is a minimal, intuitive platform on which you can post images of your favorite art and browse those pertaining to other avant garde spirits. But I jest; the site is not at all elitist.
It is instead a space where you might find super-curator Hans Ulrich Obristâ€™s profile along with those of well-known artists from around the globe and emerging names from the most far flung parts.
â€œWhatâ€™s really cool now is youâ€™ve got people from Australia talking to people who are in New York and collaborating on shows. Itâ€™s so quick now,â€ says thirty-something Konvitz, whose democratic start-up is the fruits of a Masters in Art History and a timely enthusiasm for new and social media.
He talks of providing young people and other outsiders with, â€œthe inspiration to go and be an artist, to go and be a curator, to get involved with artâ€. You donâ€™t need a residence in a capital of culture to participate; ArtStack brings together people from 198 countries.
Konvitz is under no illusion that his site will replace the first-hand experience of a gallery. â€œOf course, real world interaction is always stronger,â€ he says. â€œBeing able to have a conversation with somebody, or to see something in real life, is always going to trump an online interaction.â€
And yet research has shown that some 60 percent of visitors to a show at Tate Liverpool, previewed online, said that seeing the displays online made them more likely make a visit.
At a later point in our conversation, Konvitz compares visiting an exhibition to experiencing live music. Jpegs and mp3s can help make you familiar with the work, but a live experience is always something special.
Perhaps it is inevitable, but the musical comparison brings to mind the rapid rise of band Arctic Monkeys, thanks to a page on music networking site MySpace. Anecdotal evidence suggests ArtStack has hooked up artists with curators, but the art world is still waiting for the meteoric artist without gallery representation.
However, interested parties might still learn something from a check-in with the websiteâ€™s trending page. Major exhibitions in major cities tend to drive traffic to certain artists. â€œItâ€™s a good way to keep tabs on whatâ€™s going on in the world,â€ says Konvitz.
It also offers the chance to see much loved works in new contexts â€“ 3D pieces and video are both well served. â€œYou can see a sculpture from the front, from the back, during daylight, at night, when it was in France, when it was in New York,â€ says Konvitz,
â€œItâ€™s nice to get more of a rounded experience of a work or to view video art in your living room.â€ Indeed, to visit a page on which Giotto could rubÂ shoulders with a 21st century art student is the most rounded of experiences.
â€œFinding the way in which artists can have that success and connect with the people who will make a difference to them is a really important thingâ€, Konvitz says. Avant garde movements may be a thing of the past. But, all the same, you might watch this virtual space and hope.
Mark Sheerin is an art writer from Brighton, UK. He can also be found on Culture24, Hyperallergic, Frame & Reference and his own blog criticismism.com
This piece was originally submitted to Chicago Artist Writers:
Guest post by Daniel Baird
In the recent Field Museum exhibition â€˜Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux,â€™ perfect replicas of a 20,000 year old archaeological site in the Southwestern countryside of France are brought to Chicago by way of 3D models, to-scale stone replicas and cast artifacts. The process by which the drawings and cave structures are being visualized shows a contemporary trend of using advanced imaging technologies to digitally represent and conserve the surfaces of objects and locates it purely within an aesthetic analysis of surface.
The recent predominance of surface is seen most notably in cultural objects that come to us via the internet and hand-held mobile devices. Google Earth is a leading proponent that is warming us to this way of being in the world. Ambitious in its scope, it seeks to map out by way of photographic image an accurate depiction of the entirety of the earth. It does this via satellite imagery and numerous on land instruments that take 8 simultaneous pictures and seam them together as a flowing surface. In this digital replicating of the world through image, one is able to traverse any place on earth through a screen. Spin-Cam, a recent application for the iPhone, allows viewers to download panoramic images of locations from around the world and view them, hands outstretched, through the surface of their screens at the same position they were taken. Literally spinning in place while a different location is grafted onto the present. A recent development in printing technologies, centralized to the advertizing industry, has allowed for images to be placed onto a mesh vinyl that is able to be seen though when near, but at a distance reveals an image. Used in construction sites during the restoration of important structures, it has been used to place an image of the building as it is planned to look on the outer scaffolding, or skin, to mask the potentially unflattering things being done to its exterior facade. In all of these instances, including the recent Field Museum exhibition, the surface of the experienced world is presented as disembodied and able to be understood as object.
Lascaux, as the caves paintings have come to be called, was discovered in 1940 and made into a tourist attraction in 1948. Due to heavy carbon monoxide levels generated by roughly 1200 visitors per day, the caves were shut down to conserve them from damage. To satisfy the desire to see these ancient discoveries, in 1983 a nearby quarry was used to house a pair of to-scale replicas of walls from the original. It was given the name Lascaux II in recognition of its artifice. Constructed with armatures and concrete, detailed diagrams were made of the original paintings and reproduced by hand using pigments and tools similar to what may have been used by the creators of the original. The field museum presents another, mathematically precise, iteration of the replicated cave drawings.
The entrance of the exhibition begins with a stone object that is worn, weathered and dimly lit. This initial confrontation with the stone object anchors the viewer in a familiarity to the real. Light slowly traces the contours of faint engravings on the fragment calling our attention to an abstracted horse hidden within the surface. The revealing of a hidden illusion on the surface of the stone sets the stage for a type of reversal between the real and the artificial that occurs throughout the exhibit.
In an adjacent room, the mesmerizing sound of a synthesizer pulses soothing digital tones that feel like a sacred chant. Six stark-white, bulbous vessels recall decayed and hollowed out tree trunks resting on skewed geometric bases. At waist height, these objects refer to horizontal bodies balancing precariously on the peaks of mountains. Sleek, bendable lights are perched at the entrance to each of these forms illuminating the interior surface. The hollow vessels are so thin that the interior and exterior skins appear to be the same.
A realistic digital animation projected onto the wall is the heart of the exhibition. It connects the forms surrounding the viewer into a single entity that slowly rotates amidst a black background. It looks like an organic spaceship, floating with no reference to its own scale. As the animation rotates the cave structure, the viewer becomes aware that the exterior surface is derived purely from images of its interior. The cave as 3D model is a pure flowing surface. This visualization of the cave structure as an absolute object is an experience that would be impossible to attain in real life.
The camera enters into the digital cave structure and moves with anthropomorphic gestures through the detailed interior, bobbing ever so slightly to the left and right as if to mimic how we walk through the world. Artificial bats rush through the caves and floating balls of fire illuminate the chambers casting faux shadows on the walls. At the end of the tunnel is a bright light that obscures any further view. This visualization of the caves interior is key to understanding the objects in the room. The white vessels in the space become blank sheets of paper that the viewer can now graft the cave drawings onto. It is impossible to resist imagining oneself inside the vessels at a 1:10 scale.
Surface and replication are emphasized by the exhibition. In digitally acquiring the undulating surface of the cave drawings through 3D laser scanning, we are left only with images that can be grafted onto mathematically precise points in virtual space. These points hold no depth and can be seen anywhere in the world, at any time with any digital device. The caves are now pure information. The thinness of the physical structures throughout the exhibition exemplify the ‘zero-dimensional’ quality of 3D models. Each physical object we encounter is derived from the original 3D model and pushes against its own architectural and structural limits in order to maintain this illusion of immateriality.
The next room in the exhibit presents enormous, to-scale wall replicas of select rooms of the caves. Faux-stone surfaces with crude pigmented drawings tower over the viewer. They appear rocky, irregular and roughly an inch thick while being held from behind by large geometric structures (mirroring the display techniques holding the 1:10 scale models) Termed ‘stone-veils’, these massive replicas attempt to enter into this depth-less and perfect zone of the digital. Lights subtly change in this new space, revealing different perspectives of the drawings that are on the walls similar to how the faux-candles changed the surface in the animation. Two hyper-real sculptures of a man and woman clad in animal skins and jewelry peer out of the cracks of adjoining walls. The woman points her finger outward with a look of fear on her face while the male, much older in age, sits beside her with a passive expression. Their uncanny expressions, particularly that of the womanâ€™s, instills a feeling of trespassing and self-awareness within the viewer. Despite all attempts, eye contact with the ancient figures is impossible. They always look through you.
The translation of the physical into the perfect digital and back again into the physical is tested in this part of the exhibition. In placing the figure physically into the 3D caves represented in the prior room, we physically enter into a world understood to be built from the virtual. The forms are fragmentary and stand in as samples for the entire structure. In bringing together these fragmented 1:1 replicas, the entirety of the cave is presented. In encountering these forms, the question as to whether or not the replica can carry more weight than the original is predominant. Would the replicas and the recreated 3D model shift in meaning or value if the interior structure of the original cave tragically collapsed in on itself and became forever lost? Would the 3D model, and the perfect reproductions that can be derived from it, function as the new original? Or, to speak to recent cultural apocalyptic fetishism, if the world should disappear would Google Earth be the perfect world before it beset an unfortunate event? The ancient cave drawings at Lascaux now digitally exist everywhere and at all times simultaneously, trapped photographically in the moment they were recorded. Visiting the original now seems fruitless and arbitrary.
This possibility of representing the cave structure in virtual space results in a new consideration of aura. In becoming virtual, the caves are now equated with any digital model of any object and as a result now exist in historical ambiguity. A digital spoon, table, asteroid, CAT Scan, height-field map of a farm in Nebraska or the Lascaux Caves all share the potential to exist simultaneously with one another, and at any scale, in the digital terrain. The digital caves are now a pseudo-artifact that share a likeness with the function of the souvenir. The 3D model of the cave presents the possibility for an acute historical analysis of the markings on its surface by way of mimicking the lighting conditions, zooming into the surfaces and experiencing time inside of the virtual models.Â It also allows for them to be placed in any virtual situation as object, container or reference.
The trans-historical preoccupation with the surface of objects is emphasized by these contemporary reproductions of the Lascaux caves. Created 20,000 years ago, these early articulations of physical reality on a flat picture plane have traversed through time to be embodied by our most recent iteration of representation. Whereas historically the placement of images on surfaces has been the dominant concern of art and aesthetics, we are now seeing a preoccupation with the pure surface able to exist anywhere and in any form. We can now experience the cave with more exactitude than we ever could in real life.
It has been a pleasure to be able to share my love for all things art in Indianapolis with you over the summer!
This will be the final installment of my series. For this post I’d like to focus on looking forward at what Indianapolis has in store for the fall.
Perhaps it will be enough to convince some of you Chicago-dwellers to make the 3 hour journey down?
THESE ARE MY TOP FIVE FALL PICKS
5. General Public Collective Opening – September, Fountain Square Neighborhood
General Public is an artist-run project space and concept shop dedicated to sharing ideas through exhibitions, performances and original works of art. They are opening their unfinished space for a special performance on September 11th featuring Calvin Johnson from K Records – Donations are encouraged. I’m excited to see how this space evolves. Right now it has a lot of components – shared work space, concept shop, art gallery, music venue, self-service print kiosk- I wonder which will come to the forefront, or if all can be simultaneously relevant. A wonderful experiment!
4. September First Friday Openings – Friday, September 7, All over Indianapolis
September First Friday brings a number of exciting openings around town. The Harrison Center for the Arts is featuring work by Kyle Herrington, Jude O’Dell, Tom Peck and more. They will also be giving away $10,000 through the final 5×5 competition (a local initiative to give $10,000 to ideas that combine art + community, art + placemaking, art+technology. The 5×5 has funded pop-up movies and a mobile literacy lab). The Murphy Building in Fountain Square’s Mt. Comfort Gallery will feature work from the collectiveEverything is AnythingÂ Else.Image via Everything is AnythingÂ Else Tumblr
3. Touchy Subjects at the Indianapolis Art Center – Friday September 27, Broad Ripple
Jedediah Johnson’s Makeout Project
2. Art Squared Festival + Art Parade – Saturday, September 21, Fountain Square Neighborhood
For a single Saturday in the month of September Fountain Square explodes with activity. The day starts with an art and writing competition called Masterpiece in a Day. Artists and writers register in the morning and create a piece of work in less than 12 hours using the neighborhood as their studio. At the close of the competition judges pick a winner for a cash prize. The afternoon closes with a rag-tag art parade put on by residents and local businesses.
1. Optical Popsicle – Friday, October 18th, Athenaeum Theater
A visual treat! Know No Stranger’s annual visual variety show is back with more puppets, music, dancing and laughs then ever before. This is the most wonderful feel-good night for Indianapolis. Know No Stranger is all about bringing folks together with their unique brand of performance art. Trust me, you’ve never had this much fun.
With love from No Mean City,
Wendy Lee Spacek is a poet who lives and works in Indianapolis, Indiana. She likes her city veryÂ much. She is a core volunteer of the Indianapolis Publishing Cooperative (Indy Pub Co-Op), publishes small editions of handmade books under the name Soft River and is an arts administrator at the Indianapolis Art Center. She will be posting monthlyÂ all summer long about her encounters with art, culture, creative experiences and resources in her city.