Guest Post by Young Joon Kwak
This edition of salon talk is a conversation with artist and educator Patrick Jackson. Jackson was born in Los Angeles, CA, where he also currently resides. Working primarily in sculpture, he’s had exhibitions in galleries and institutions internationally, including François Ghebaly Gallery, and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery in New York, The Soap Factory in Minneapolis, MN, and CAPC Musee d’Art Contemporain in Bordeaux, France. His next solo show The Third Floor opens at François Ghebaly Gallery in November 2013. Jackson got his MFA from USC, where he is currently the Sculpture Area Head. I first got to know Patrick Jackson through Mutant Salon barber Marvin Astorga, so I thought I’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.—Marvin Astorga
PJ: Lately, I’ve been reading Philip Guston’s writing and looking at his paintings. I think his work is a good example of ideas and forms working off each other—clashing, in a productive way. 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: Do you look at other sculptors or sculptures when you’re starting a project?
PJ: I look at a lot of sculpture, I like sculptors, but I feel like I sculpt mainly because that’s what I’m good at and I enjoy it—it fits my personality. I move slow—it’s a contemplative medium by nature, I think. But when it comes to looking at work, I’m more attracted to films and writing, just idea-wise. Sculpture is not a thing where you can explore ideas in a really deep way. I think if you wanted to do that, you’d turn to writing.
YJK: What’s a favorite film of yours?
PJ: My favorite film is probably Terrence Malick’s Badlands. There’s something about it similar to Guston’s work, in a way. They both deal with people’s relationships to objects. That’s how I think about sculpture, as the study of relating to objects—from a rock, to something bought in a store …
YJK: How do you feel about a lot of sculptors today using stuff that they bought from stores, readymades?
PJ: Some of it’s too heavy on the “purchase and lay it on the ground” approach, without any alteration—or perspective. But it’s an important part of considering objects, I think—how we navigate the aisles. I’ve always thought Rachel Harrison is good with that kind of stuff and I’ve flipped through her books, trying to figure out how to use them in my own work. Her show, If I Did it, has been a big influence. The title for the show came from OJ Simpson’s book, by the same name, which I think is him telling how the murders would have gone, if he had done it—something like that. But for Harrison, If I did it was the idea of the readymade and making. If I buy something and put it in the gallery, am I the one who made it? The whole show was really an open consideration of objects, how we relate to them, understand them, our connection to them, how we’re involved with them …
YJK: Yeah, I think it’s interesting that you bring up Harrison. There are so many different ways to engage with her work, so many entry points, like pop cultural references, a mixture of readymades, and there’s a sense of play in her process and certainly in the experience of the work. I’m also interested in the formal decisions she makes—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: Yeah, I’ve heard that she describes the way she makes work as similar to the way someone shops, where it’s sort of like I’ll try some of this, and try some of that, and like you described, a sort of movement through objects.
YJK: Someone told me that John Kelsey thought of her sculptures as drag objects. I’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 they’re positioned with their eyes closed—they do seem like they’ve been inflicted, like it’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 sculptures—I think there’s a stocking pulled over the face…
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. The one that has the stocking over its head is the same body, it’s from the same molds, but it’s made up of leftover pieces. I sawed the body in half, so it could sit against the wall … ended up looking more like it’s folded in half and crammed against the wall.
YJK: So was it a cast of your body?
PJ: Yeah. When I first started working on House of Double I knew that I wanted to make a body, because other sculptures I’d made were more in relationship to the viewer’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. I wanted to make it lying down, on the one hand because I felt like that’s what would make it feel between object and person … then there’s also this idea of violence. Again, I was thinking a lot about Badlands, and there’s this idea that goes through that film, a classic philosophical consideration, of one’s relationship to the world—about what’s an object and what’s a subject. The movie is based on the true story of Charles Starkweather, an American serial killer. This character is continually considering what is worthy of living, and what’s not, and then it gets applied to objects too, where he’s sort of, “Well, what object is useful to me and which one is not?” And that’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: I’m interested in knowing more about this sense of masochism I get from the work, I mean it’s cast from your body, like you’re enacting violence on yourself, or a projected self, or a surrogate self?
PJ: In the House of Double, there’s a body in each bedroom, and the idea was they’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 it’s sort of a memory comparison, or the idea that they existed somewhat in your head. Of course when you look at them online you see both of those images at the same time, though … I guess that doesn’t answer your question.
Installation view from House of Double, 2011
YJK: I was thinking a lot about the relationship of yourself or your body, this body that you’re creating in relationship to the viewer looking down at it, and there being this sort of hierarchy that’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: A lot of ideas went into it: research, reading, movies, TV, and a lot of stuff I was going through in my own life. It was a mix of a lot of things, and then it felt like it clicked in the end ‘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 you’re describing is really interesting and kind of true, but that’s not the only thing that this piece is about.
YJK: I think it’s interesting that in relation to the work where you’ve created more representational bodies—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 owners—They’re also almost body height, but a bit taller maybe, more imposing, like a body that comprises a collectivity of varied parts. It’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 Jackson’s tchotchke stacks, 2010
PJ: There’s also just the fact that our relationship to our body is changing, it seems to me. I’m a big Cronenberg fan, and he’s someone who’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: With each project, does your conception of the body change or transform?
PJ: 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 they’re not just completely divorced projects from each other, although that’s usually how I try to start something, trying to make it autonomous—like a film or a book. But before you know it, you’ve created this body of work, but also a reflection of yourself, basically. You see it differently than I do. 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 don’t try to approach it as this idea of “I make work about the body transforming.” But now when I hear you talk about the body transforming, I’m like, “Oh yeah, I think that makes sense.” Definitely with doing this sculpture that is partially based on my nephew for my show…
YJK: Yeah, the scale of it’s funny…
PJ: Because I’ve seen him change a lot, knowing him since he’s a little kid. I’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. As a piece, it’s just a boy, but what you’re talking about … I can really see in relationship to this show.
sculpture in process, 2013
YJK: Can you tell me more about the other work you’re making for your upcoming show at François Ghebaly Gallery, in the fall?
PJ: 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 space—they can only go forward and backward, left to right. And then us, being in the third dimension, we can see them and understand them in this really basic way, but they can’t understand our world—our third vertical dimension. And then there’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. I’m trying to do a similar thing with this show, where there’s the narrative of the space where this boy’s body is on the third floor, looking down, or sort of seeing everything as objects in relationship to him. Then there’s us as viewers, who come in and see him and everything else as an object in relationship to us. Also, I’ve been thinking of the idea of the uncanny, something like thinking that I just saw a person I’m attracted to, and then it’s like, oh no, it’s a 90-year old woman I just saw out of the corner of my eye, this feeling of like, “Oh, what’s going on?”
YJK: How’d you end up working with ceramics for this show?
PJ: It came about because I didn’t have any money. 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 materials—especially the glazes.
YJK: What’s the relationship of your ceramics to the long history of ceramics in relation to contemporary art? Thinking particularly about how—I don’t know whether it be right or wrong—ceramics occupies this place within sculpture discourse/greater art discourse of marginalization, this place of just being merely decoration?
PJ: Well, it goes through stages. I mean, ceramics is very popular right now, it’s in every gallery, but it also has a history that you’re talking about, which is, it’s seen more as a craft and it’s looked down upon, and there’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 “ceramic” look—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. I’ve also added other materials: wax, epoxy and rocks.
ceramic pieces from The Third Floor, 2013
YJK: You’ve mentioned to me that the three floors of the space are three categories of sculpture, both in arrangement and form. You’re thinking of the lower level, where the ceramic vessels will be placed, as storage. 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? And just the idea of these three floors…
PJ: I think a big part of meaning comes from juxtaposition. It’s like making a sentence, where words next to each other start taking on a different meaning instead of being autonomous. So that’s part of the show, too. I think this is something a lot of artists grapple with, nowadays. 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 they’re never the same. So that’s definitely what will happen to this show. And I’m trying to think about that a lot, as being part of it, of questioning what’s an object alone? What is an object next to other things? But when I first started writing about the show, doing research—I have a notepad for every project I work on—I was thinking about this movie I’d seen about a girl who’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. 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, she’d get cups of water in the kitchen and then leave them around her bed.
YJK: Which makes sense with all of the ceramic vessels and cups you are making for your show…
PJ: Yeah, it’s like a hoarded kind of thing. I looked in my notebook a few months after I started making these and I realized, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that, but that’s what started it all.’
YJK: So is this show all about you being really isolated and trapped in the world?
PJ: Ha-ha, no comment. I don’t know … It is what it is … I mean, it’s about my family too. But it’s also about thinking about a basic form, that everyone can relate to. I’ve been thinking of Brancusi—he did a cup piece. That’s one of the fascinations with children like this. When children like this are discovered, it’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? They’re fresh, they’ve never been educated in anything. And so, to look at something that they do, like hoarding water, hoarding cups or … there’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 there’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. I’m just fascinated by that. What is it about having a cup of water and looking outside? Of connecting to nature, I guess, with water, this basic thing that we all need.
YJK: We talked a bit about The Third Floor before, and how the unique architecture of the space—how on the second and third floors one can see the lower level—influenced formal decisions you made, such as extending the second floor with scaffolding, covering the lower level and making a basement of sorts. I’m curious about your decision to have scaffolding, just thinking of all the exposed parts underneath.
PJ: From underneath where one encounters the 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, ‘cause you won’t see any of the mechanics holding it up. From underneath, it’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, it’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: What keeps you going in your practice?
PJ: 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 work—it didn’t feel like I was just going to a job and making stuff. There’s a Tarkovsky quote that I often think of and I have on a notecard, on my studio wall. The Tarkovsky quote is something like … I’m gonna slaughter the quote, but it’s something like, “Your work shouldn’t be the next step in your career, but a turning point in your life.” Like any quote that one pins up on their wall, it’s a bit cheesy, but I think it’s something that I agree with—and it’s not practiced enough, these days.