Dusk is Dawn is Day

August 19, 2013 · Print This Article

As I was walking through the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago not long ago, I noticed a late Donald Judd, Untitled, 1989, on view. A wall-mounted, boxy, red and black sculpture, vacillating between image and object, I found myself walking around it, going from side to side, taking it apart in my mind. Despite its seeming simplicity, the work drew me deeper into the implications of its facture. From a slight distance, it looks virtually immaculate – by the standard of most artistic mark making, it is. Of course this was typical of minimalist work from this artist and others of the 1960s. The shapes have a certain predictability verging on total blandness, like a Steelcase office desk. One reads about the importance of the gestalt of this experience from artists like Robert Morris, which he believed lead to a more holistic, unified apprehension of the object. “Unitary forms do not reduce relationships,” he says. “Rather, they are bound more cohesively and indivisibly together.”[1] On the one hand, the rectangles empty out the object, being everything and nothing, though they might lead to some kind of mathematical spiritual reverie. Yet on the other, in this particular work by Judd, we can perceive a distance from aspirations toward a unified experience in a few ways. Looking closer at the surface – the fasteners, the corners, the paint – I feel a certain fascination for its proximity to, and utter failure to join, that virtual phantom world of forms. The “resemblance” to an imagined perfection makes the distance from this realm seem all the greater. The corners in the metal have a diameter. There is nothing instantaneous, simultaneous, intersecting, coexisting. The screws, though each meticulously tightened and turned to top dead center[2] (“dead” in that turn of phrase being particularly appropriate to the general inertia), announce their absurdly disruptive presence, like boulders being dropped in a glass-smooth pond. The surface of the paint, machine-even, still betrays the slightest speck of dust or fluctuation in thickness. And the colors, well, they don’t actually seem like they follow any particular logic at all, save that they were commercially available as is. In the sphere of this type of artwork, these aspects are magnified from being mere details to critical features. We go from what is presupposed (“it’s held together somehow”) to what is foremost in our consciousness (“the screws are exposed and meticulously turned”). This leads me to thinking in general about an aspect of the art that I am often drawn to, and the art I like to make, where one looks for ways to investigate the liminal areas of the process of making and enlarge upon ways of becoming. Beyond the physical, it seems important to consider how the object’s resulting attitude relates to issues outside of itself – whether it wants to or not – allowing the work to be permeated by contextual notions. We can observe a world where the particular diameter of a metal corner is a metaphor for the problem of actually doing what one thinks. The speck of dust on the surface can be what happens when ideas are tested, moved around, creatively misread and complicated by personal and social circumstance, material, process, and even broader subject matter.

Donald Judd, Untitled, 1989

Donald Judd
Untitled
1989

In the 2011-2012 exhibition at Chicago’s Museum for Contemporary Art, The Language of Less: Then and Now, we were reminded of how the echoes of minimalism are still felt in vital, current artistic practice. I take Gedi Sibony, whose personal biography of being the son of a contractor seems to have informed much of his often slight, provisional work[3] as a prime example. Included in the exhibition, The Cutters, 2007/2010, a dry-walled portal adorned with sketchy paint, spackle and loose canvas, seems quite direct in its relationship to the artist’s life experiences, though the manner of its presentation leaves us at a definite remove from these facts. There is a way the work slips past us and lets us wander without being pinned down, though no doubt the particulars are also what charge it with presence. The title for the show and catalog actually derive in part from conversations like the one between Sibony and curator Michael Darling, where the artist wanted to avoid the term “minimal” to describe his practice. Instead, he talked about “maximizing space”.[4] While I might hesitate to go that far in describing his work, there is doubtless a greater assertion of content and experience through the use of spatial relationships, involving somewhat idiosyncratic motivation, and more particularity than one would expect from something in the minimalist canon.[5] On the other hand, what Sibony seems to draw from this tradition is its ability to make us notice not only the space we’re in and how we relate to it, but to make us look more intensely at what is actually there – as with the fasteners on the Donald Judd. So what we have here is something more like a methodology of focus, than that of reduction, per se.

Gedi Sibony, The Cutters, From The Center, Her Trumpeted Spoke Lastly, 2007/2010

Gedi Sibony
The Cutters, From The Center, Her Trumpeted Spoke Lastly
2007/2010

In my own practice, small perturbations are to be multiplied and dilated; brought forward to be enlarged. Fissures between potential and imagined, present and executed are widened. Any time I can find a troubled intersection of intention and doing, imagining and becoming I want it to be fore grounded. Prioritizing space, form and material rather than image, metaphor and text doesn’t preclude the latter, but allows me to focus on what is happening in the made object, what happened during its making, and how bringing that experience to bear in the viewing situation acts a kind of demonstration but also as a site for instigating and considering ideas and their implications.

Things should stop short of anything too transcendent or settle only for what is concrete or commonplace. Dealing with the facts is important, but I don’t expect things to stay put there. Better to look for an experience that shuttles back and forth between something like the transcendentalism of Suprematism and the facticity of the readymade – a dyad of artistic renunciation of the temporal and embrace of the spirit and intellect.[6] On some level, things should be a little dirtier, interfered with and multifarious. I mean by “dirt” a sense of something that isn’t necessarily supposed to be there by some tenet or other, or is in a way incongruous with it; a complication that has a complication.[7] So with regard to some framework, the artwork should take a step in and a step away. Something meticulously “designed” in a CAD system can be made by hand with rudimentary tools. Painting can be done with “brushes” that are whole images, letting them interact on the surface in a way that multiplies context, so expression is built up not only from each successive mark but from the baggage the marks carry. Personal histories and studio histories can be starting contexts. A finished piece is a context for another through it actual use in part or whole. The branches in the process of construction can be turned toward another project. Perhaps this is a version of the deliberate cataloging that R.H. Quaytman does, except it’s not being declared so such as much as its being done genetically, so to speak, in chains of production that cause each other. Even more than this I see reason for exhibitions containing objects that are out of phase rather than exhibiting a single end point of a creative stretch of time, avoiding monolithic bodies of work to be shown at once. Perhaps two, three or even five different aspects of a view on things is called for. The problematic for me here is a kind of foreshortening effect of cultural production and its vacillations. Taking a cue from Walter Benjamin’s ruminations on the melancholic,[8] no particular idea becomes overly reified, nor is there too much trust lain in detached universals. It is a basic predicament not only of importance to art, but in life. Ideas are placeholders, and reality is often beyond our tenuous grasp. We can perhaps hope to try to widen the island we stand on, but we can never know the ocean.

Of course, a countervailing force to whatever direction I’m headed need not only be found in bodies and processes external to the one I begin with, but can be discovered inside them. Things contain their own undoing or re-emergence. For instance, repetition is a well-recognized minimalist impulse, but it can be used not to eliminate the presence of the unique and idiosyncratic, but as a means for things to transform and estrange themselves, taking them to another place perhaps even opposite of where they started. For example, a repeated line, a layered image or a structure turned on itself can be made to collapse and then crystallize into a different appearance or meaning. To borrow a word Chicago artist Steven Husby has been fond of using, we could call this type of repetition or self-transformation recursion. It’s a term used in mathematics and in the study of nature. What I take from it is the notion that sometimes doing the same thing repeatedly doesn’t produce the same results; that feeding something back into the same process can cause it to change exponentially.

I think here of Eva Hesse and some of her not-quite primary, post-minimalist forms. Even her relatively simple structures, like boxes, cylinders and lattices were greatly complicated by the potential readings of their fabric, latex or metal components. Especially interesting here is a piece like Accession II where what the material could do took it well beyond its default reading as plastic or steel. In particular, the way the plastic tubing is inserted into the structure, piece-by-piece, generates an altogether different experience. It is holistic but of a totally different order than early Robert Morris’ geometric gestalt. The entirety is radically different from the parts as opposed to the parts servicing the entirety, or even the parts just fitting into the whole, which was a complaint Morris had about painting.[9] This is an aspect that makes her work not only post-minimal but potentially instructive for us today as it opens up the end-gamesmanship of minimalism for future use – again, the aforementioned methodology of focus rather than less. But it’s not at all the formalized focus of a hierarchical academicism, but the character of a certain specificity of the experience. Other transformative uses of material that take minimal precepts beyond even this to other subject matter to include the likes of Felix-Gonzales Torres’ candy installations, with their heartbreaking references to loss and Janine Antoni’s Chocolate Gnaw, 1992, a form reminiscent of Tony Smith’s Die, 1962, made thirty years hence from chocolate with large bitten-off chunks taken out of it, subjecting the austerity to obsessions over body image.[10]

Samantha Bittman, The Longest Distance Between Two Points, 2011, Acrylic on hand-woven textile

Samantha Bittman
The Longest Distance Between Two Points
2011
Acrylic on hand-woven textile

A local, contemporary artist who fascinates me with subtle material play in a fixed framework is Samantha Bittman. It’s a very close game of ruffled repetition in her textile-based painting-like pattern works. We’ve seen many attempts at the dialectic of image/object, painting/support in our time, but very few demonstrate a consistent talent for intertwining these issues in such a cohesive and distinctive way. There are patterns painted and patterns woven in the support and neither quite adds up to the other, as they incessantly confuse their figure ground relationships. The patterns themselves really are only pseudo patterns since the actual weave is nearly as varied in warp and weft as a gesture and the painted overlay is often equally complex in a more macroscopic way. At times the painted surface is almost indistinguishable from the support, but a tension always remains; a serene overall surface threatening to break apart from itself and its background. The material and its differing implications disappear and reappear into each other like sfumato ten times removed, born of a seemingly cosmic sense of humor.

From the standpoint of the process, we could take cues from artists like Hans Haacke or (former) team of Peter Fischli and David Weiss. Haacke takes variously hidden or opaque critical stances toward larger institutional issues in his workings with natural phenomenon, such as in Condensation Cube, while Fiscli and Weiss deal not so much in formal visual tension but the actual tension of gravity in their photography and film, especially with the filmed running of a highly complex Rube Golderg machine in The Way Things Go. I will often consciously interleave some sort of external chance or physical process into things, ala the fluctuating Cube, so that whatever I’m thinking is shifted or channeled if not completely determined by it. The incorporation of a complex event like a crushed object, or the grain in a piece of wood can spin things around formally while the determination to involve bodies, events, and physics in this way is critical to the desire to foster interplay between idea and outcome, connotation and fact. Alternately, Fischli and Weiss’ film is not only another example of physical phenomenon (gone hilariously absurd) but that it was filmed and edited, to the point where we really have to question what did and did not happen, is of great interest. At several points the artists seem to hide their transitions in plain sight. The viewer can be convinced – by the extremely well worn and nearly invisible trope of the dissolve transition in film – that two connected takes really do match up with the same chain of cause and effect. Letting yourself pause on it, the realization comes that it probably went all wrong and they had to kick start it. These breaks transition us between natural and cultural facts; the will and desire to make the system keep going, or at least make it appear to keep going despite contrary realities.[11] This sense of dealing with gaps, losses, and non-sequitirs enters my work on a regular basis.

Looking closer at this, I see my sculptures, for instance, as reactions to broken, self-contradictory and attenuated geometric structures. As I work with them, I’m trying to bring them to a place beyond themselves, to have the initial breakdown re-emerge as some new cohesiveness that in its own way seems kind of inevitable, but really is more like one of many potentialities. There are cascading decisions to make. First, I have to think about the sculpture being a practical object that can hold together physically. Some forms of sculpture contain tabs, rods and armatures, but I will tend to make those parts that bear the structure a part of the form that one sees. Having a certain range or degree of relief is important for the objects status as something for the wall or floor. I consider whether they are balanced or unbalanced, try to involve myself in convolutions or extricate myself from them in some way, and try to recognize a character that emerges. This character can appear after one or two moves or after 50 moves, or even on the last touch. In one case, with a piece I called Double-Sided Painting, I didn’t realize what it was until I tried to hang the piece on the wall and noticed that both sides of it fought to be the “front”. So I hung it on a mount that suspended it in space so each aspect could have its say, not to mention point toward something like traditional panel painting which often involves using both sides to tell a story or perhaps simply to recycle a costly wood panel. Other times, the character involves a certain sense of gravity or volume, a particular structure that presents itself as needing to be built “around” or is relevant to something I had to do to the piece to make it “go”. One I titled Twoohsix really had something to say to me after I stood on it with all of my weight to make it do something – the compressed words of the title being my approximate body weight.

Fourteen, 2013, Primer on aluminum

Fourteen
2013
Primer on aluminum

Living between polarities, looping through historical and contemporary artistic practice, taking an ending as a beginning: these induce for me a constant state of movement in the art. On a personal level, for whatever reason, life has led me to change my place of residence a number of times over the last several years. So in a way I feel like these disruptions, beginnings and endings have become a bit ingrained in my psyche as much as it has been a part of my art practice. One apartment was on the 6th floor of a building in Edgewater that had a view of the lake. The vista was framed by a couple blocky apartment buildings. It made for a striking image of nature and construct and I would regularly take pictures of the sunrise as filtered through these concrete monoliths. Looking at the images over time, I thought if you didn’t know the time and location, it might be hard to tell if it was morning or evening. Astronomically speaking, it all may look much the same – the star bears a relationship to the horizon of the planet earth from my vantage point that produces a characteristic range of hues in the sky. The sun being 18 degrees below the horizon, according to accepted standards, defines both. Those are the facts. Most likely our circadian rhythms or some other such way finding apparatus make it easy enough to distinguish dawn from dusk as you’re there in it. And to me that’s the part about spending time in the studio that will probably never get old for me is not quite knowing what will spin the one into the other until it is experienced, whether it’s something in front of me or something from history considered from a given moment now. The title above was taken from the first line of the R.E.M. song Low, released on the Green CD in 1988. The video for that song has always struck me for its imaginative use and technological reanimation of La Confidence, c. 1880, by Elizabeth Jane Gardner. It complicates and broadens the experience of an otherwise rather academic scene of innocence and intimacy, combining “high” and “low” impulses and values of visual production. The very meaning of the painting seems vastly different by this act of recycling.[12] As I’ve related elsewhere[13], this sort of play of past and future, and how something upon which the sun has set can be given new life, is a cornerstone to my own practice.

 

 

 

[1] Robert Morris, Notes on Sculpture, essay, first published in Artforum, February, 1966.

[2] On even closer inspection, I think one screw isn’t at the same angle on this piece!

[3] Michael Darling, The Language of Less, essay, in the exhibition catalog for The Language of Less: Then and Now, 2011, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, curated by Michael Darling. p. 27.

[4] ibid., p. 23.

[5] Even when looking at the usual suspects like Morris, Judd, Flavin, LeWitt, McCracken, etc. there are a lot of different approaches, some even opposed, such as Morris’ and Judd’s differing views on whether ideas of painting and sculpture can be commingled or not. At least early on, Morris seems to have taken a hard line against the admixture, though I’m left wondering – for another place and time – about his felt reliefs for the wall.

[6] For an interesting discussion of this, see Barbara Rose, ABC Art, essay, 1966.

[7] See Brazil, a film written and directed by Terry Gilliam, 1985: http://youtu.be/KyHilwSRo28

[8] Such as he ponders in works like The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 1925. (See, for instance, the translation by John Osborne, London: Verso, 1998, paperback edition, pp. 138-142.) It is important for me to note a fascinating passage later in the chapter on the the ancient views of the saturnine disposition being countered by the influence of Jupiter, or Jove, the origin of jovial. For starters, making art is, to me, in itself a jovial thing to do. This is the dialectic I’m touching on, not to take melancholia as some kind of prescription.

[9] This seems to be alluded to in Robert Morris, Notes on Sculpture. The issue was also discussed in Michael Fried’s Art and Objecthood, Artform, 1967.

[10] Minimalism, ed. By James Meyer, Phaidon, paperback edition, 2005, p. 42.

[11] I am indebted to Jeremy Millar’s book from the Afterall: One Work series, Fischli and Weiss: The Way Things Go (Afterall Books, published in 2009) for his excellent, in-depth analysis of the artists’ film.

[12] http://youtu.be/QqVI_CHlFAI

[13] See my post, The Outward Spiral, published on Bad at Sports art blog, June, 2013. http://badatsports.com/2013/the-outward-spiral/




The Outward Spiral

June 21, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Robert Burnier

Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait (detail), 1434, oil on panel

Whence this creation has come into being; whether it was made or not; he in the highest heaven is its surveyor. Surely he knows, or perhaps he knows not.

 From the Cosmology Hymn of the Rig Veda, c. 2000-1700 BCE

 

In the initial remarks of his recent lecture at Northwestern University[1], Tim Griffin[2] offered as foundational that there is no timeless or natural state for art. G. Roger Denison[3], in his polemic on the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition, Inventing Abstraction, employs a cyclical view of history to reel in some of the statements made by that exhibition’s curators, suggesting that a “Re-” in front of the title would have gone a long way to calm his nerves[4]. Richard Kalina[5] writes of painting born from its perennial destruction, calling the prevalent cross sectioning and boundary exploration not a “stasis, but rather a new kind of growth.”[6] These discussions can feel quite esoteric in a way, and yet if one pauses to consider the Sistine Chapel, for instance, and the way it sadly and slowly deteriorated over time, only to stir up an outrage at the garish colors produced after it’s restoration, it becomes apparent that the public is constantly wrestling with its own expectations of art’s duration. Additionally, Griffin spoke of a compressed, lossy JPEG image – seemingly complete and yet missing most of its original information – as a metaphor for spontaneous creation by art viewers and art historians; the radical necessity for reconstruction in the mind of someone observing. Denison takes a somewhat formalist approach as he draws comparisons among the art of differing eras, but nonetheless produces striking examples of historical syzygy, such as when he aligns the distant planets of Tantric and Supremacist painting two centuries apart or points out the sleek “modern” character of a Cycladic head carved perhaps 2,500 years ago. Kalina, for his part, seems compelled to fashion an outline of historical typologies as a kind of deck the artist can shuffle. He calls for “a non-judgmental format for viewing painting, and to allow for growth and expansion in a non-linear” way. From this I take the author to mean that nothing is entirely off limits form the standpoint of art history and time; that we should think instead terms of consolidation and dispersion, linking and decoupling. Similar to what I said in an earlier essay about craft[7], when I suggested we look for “usage before material specificity”, we should look for the usage of an historical precedent in present terms. All of these views are reconstructions of history – welcome ones for me. Even as the historical lines they push against are themselves constructions, they revitalize an openness in how a single work of art endures. But this also points toward how contemporary art production can have access to this shifting ground as a generative source. As things have come back around in the past, they can do so again for us – the same but different. But this is not a merry-go-round, nor is it a journey toward some definite horizon. It is a widening field of activity expanding around us even as it reverberates and echoes the waves of the past. We can observe the freedom art and artists have had to loop and interact with, and not necessarily march through, history, even as they exist for the present and point toward the future.

Aside from any categories we might apply to our work, I like to think in terms of how things move; what dynamics keep us in the search, trying to create something, and trying to look critically at what is happening. There are aspects to life around the artist that change, like technology, politics, social tension and geography. These kinds of things morph at very different rates, some daily while others are fixed for millennia, which can create openings to explore as currents slide past each other. The artist can also look back and find a great deal unresolved, perhaps seeing something that was abandoned that could bear a lot more exploration. Alternately, in light of present circumstances, one can seek new meaning through an old, established idea. So in view of the approach to grappling with these issues as suggested by Kalina, I submit a few observations to consider in addition to the framing devices he offers us. I will touch on a few of these notions here, mainly focused on examples in painting and photography, knowing that they are only sketches or pointers toward a deeper investigation of these dynamics in future writing.

 

Jan van Eyck, Virgin of Canon van der Paele, 1434-36, oil on panel

 

One steadfast source of change, as mentioned above, has been technological development. But as art observes this change it will necessarily index what came before as well. We can look far into the past, such as to the innovative oil painting of the 15th century Flemish master Jan van Eyck if we want to see the effects of a new technique or technology. He achieved a fidelity in surface and light that greatly added to the visual depth and presence of his paintings, enhancing the experience of story, idea and imagination in subjects that were themselves very well established. His Virgin of Canon van der Paele (1434–36) contains many of these innovations in the myriad facbrics, reflective surfaces and patterns, all bathed in a convincing light. And however utterly familiar the subject of Madonna and Child may have been, it is instructive how the artist could bring so much to it through his particular technique and vision, drawing it closer to the viewer than previously possible. And the cultural expectation to illustrate such subjects as the Passion of Christ, as exemplified in the Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych (c. 1430–40) is fulfilled with new urgency and impact. The subject is reborn.

 

Cory Arcangel, Photoshop CS: 84 by 66 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient Blue, Red, Yellow, mousedown y=22100 x=14050, mouseup y=19700 x=1800, 2010, (detail), unique C-print (image Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris/Salzburg)

In our own day we can look at the work of an artist like Cory Arcangel, who has also tried to chisel something out of art history through new technological means. Although it got some mixed press, I thought there were a number of things to take from his 2011 Whitney exhibition, Pro Tools. There we saw a series of his Photoshop prints, which present themselves initially as machine-perfect geometric abstraction and color fields. On this level they speak plainly enough about modern art history, but more deeply they are conjugations of the character and limits of that digital medium on a most basic level. They seem to point toward a repeating, overarching pattern in history of medium exploration and technique discovery; of finding uses for them and expanding on the possibilities. It’s also worth considering that many of the functions and terms in Photoshop are themselves borrowed from other traditions that just weren’t worth changing, so they stayed in the software[8]. I’ve also always thought of Arcangel’s work as both “fast” and “slow”, liable to be obsolete in a year or sooner and yet connected to ideas that are truly glacial. An example would be his Paganini’s Caprice No. 5. It is resolutely about the way change affects us as we strive to remember who we are or were. Paganini’s romantic era composition is cut to ribbons by a software program that auto-tunes and selects the notes in the musical composition from a pool of amateur musical videos of mainly dudes on their couches playing guitar. The extremely short clips are reassembled back into a “song” of a decidedly estranged character.  This double-facing view – an old thing strained through new means – is essential to the way the work speaks of loss (or lossy-ness) through a distorted nostalgia, but also issues of the democratization of esthetics through a DIY impulse and the technological dispersion of information, for better or worse. In the end, as with van Eyck, our relationship to a cannon of art has been forever altered, but not erased.

Jeremy Bolen, 350 Feet Above the Large Hadron Collider #2 (matter/antimatter), 2012, archival inkjet prints, neodymium magnets

 

Besides generally contrasting with something prior exists the possibility of flowing with and redirecting it. Chicago artist Jeremy Bolen takes a position that mimics some prevalent aspects of the post-industrial age but draws radically different conclusions. He essentially hijacks the scientific method, but collates his “research” in a way that produces more questions than answers. His alternate use of such a tried medium as photography – whereby, in his words, he makes it additive rather than subtractive – continues this line of redirection. The photographic plane is thus a base on which he accumulates rather than frames. Specifically, the images result from visiting the sites of particle accelerators throughout the world, and capturing echoes of the energy nearby on sensitive photochemical paper. It problematizes institutional research in the sense that it is not necessarily authorized (the scientists at the research facilities aren’t always aware of where Bolen is working or what he’s doing) and that the energy particles he’s captured are arriving at locations they weren’t ideally “meant” to go – they are traveling beyond their preferred targets, such as in the series 350 Feet Above the Large Hadron Collider #1-4. Bolen not only captures the stray energy in these images, but re-situates them in a displaced representation of the location by layering a “conventional” photo of the site beneath. This also causes a rift in how results are obtained, as his are essentially esthetic, provocative and non-deterministic. It is as if he’s running behind the scientists plucking out the seams of everything they try to sew up. Bolen’s work not only expands on the possibilities of photography with his alternative approaches of imprinting an image but broadens our thinking about empiricism and knowledge acquisition in general.

 

Palladio’s refectory at the San Giorgio Monastery in Venice Italy. Image credit: The San Giorgio Monastery.

 

Even going back to using some method of photography to simply record something, we can see how photographic reproduction causes shifts in meaning based on its place in time. Veronese’s The Wedding Feast at Cana (1563), now at the Louvre, Paris, was recently painstakingly scanned, duplicated, assembled and “reinstalled” in Palladio’s refectory at the San Giorgio Monastery in Venice Italy, where it originated.  The reproduction of Veronese’s work is an expression of a longtime trend to “originalize” works of art from the past, either by restoring them to a location nearer their origins, in proximity to their original people, or by providing a context for them to be seen in a way somehow closer to what people in their time might have. The process by which this was achieved is fascinating enough[9]; but almost like an artificial appendage, it is provocative to think about how it both provides a useful, educational facsimile even while it underscores loss and speaks to shifting world political power as a kind of prime mover.

If we’re not necessarily breaking new ground all the time, does that mean we’re only fussing with details and adding adornments, or is there another way to see this? As Kalina says, we can draw from these accumulations to “make new spaces between existing areas, [and] reference new subject matter as the world around us changes.” I think of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty as a fitting metaphor. He was very interested in the idea of entropy, but instead of focusing on its implications of dissolution and decay, I prefer to think about how a crystal forms by the same process of lowering its energy state and yet arriving at more structure than before. The jetty seems to disintegrate slowly, even disappears and reappears as the water level changes, but it is in fact also accumulating accretions of salt crystals. To this we could add more earth, continuing the outward spiral. From any point we are free to look toward the center or toward the open sea, but we’d always be standing on its shore.

NOTES:
[1] Compression, a lecture at Northwestern University, Block Museum of Art, organized by the Department of Art Theory and Practice, May 22, 2013

[2] Formerly the editor-in-chief of Artforum and currently the Executive Director and Chief Curator of The Kitchen, a non-profit, interdisciplinary arts organization.

[3] Critic, essayist, novelist and screen writer living in New York City who has written on art and culture for Art in America, Parkett, Artscribe International, Flash Art, Bijutsu Techo, Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, and numerous other international magazines and journals.

[4] Colonizing Abstraction: MoMA’s Inventing Abstraction Show Denies Its Ancient Global Origins, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/g-roger-denson/colonizing-abstraction-mo_b_2683159.html

[5] Painter and critic. He is a Contributing Editor at Art in America and is represented by the Lennon, Weinberg Gallery in New York. He is Professor of Art at Fordham University, where he teaches art history and studio art.

[6] The Four Corners of Painting, The Brooklyn Rail, December, 2012, http://www.brooklynrail.org/2012/12/artseen/the-four-corners-of-painting

[7] http://badatsports.com/2013/catholic-craft/

[8] Operations like cropping were, of course, previously quite physical undertakings with scissors or blades. Masks were just physical barriers to light in a photochemical process, and layers were simply layered negatives. The list could go on.

[9] Bruno Latour and Adam Lowe, The Migration of the Aura, or How to Explore the Original through Its Facsimilies, Switching Codes: Thinking through Digital Technology in the Humanities and the Arts, ed. Thomas Bartscherer and Roderick Coover (University of Chicago Press, 2011), pp. 275-97

 

ROBERT BURNIER is an artist and writer who lives and works in Chicago. He is an MFA candidate in Painting and Drawing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. Recent exhibitions include The Horseless Carriage at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Salon Zurcher at Galerie Zurcher, New York, the Evanston and Vicinity Biennial, curated by Shannon Stratton, and Some Dialogue, curated by Sarah Krepp and Doug Stapleton, at the Illinois State Museum, Chicago.




Catholic Craft

May 17, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Robert Burnier

 

Alicja Kwade
Andere Bedingung (Aggregatzustand 6), 2009
steel, copper, glass, mirror, iron, mop stick, seven parts
Format variable

 

I once had a penchant for the obsessive, compulsive traditions of certain Dutch painters like Paulus Potter, Adriaen van der Spelt and Jan van Cappelle, so whenever I was in an encyclopedic museum, I would always make my way toward those galleries. Afterward, however, I would go straight to where the modern art was and stand in front of a Cy Twombly or some other such work. In 2002 the Gerhard Richter retrospective, 40 Years of Painting, came to the Art Institute of Chicago. One salient aspect of this was to witness a similar kind of range more or less present in one artist; one who held up Reading, Grey Mirror, and 256 Colors as artistic statements of the same order. I see these memories as analogies for the way I continue to approach works of art, especially – though in a limited sense – when it comes to issues of craft.

Mari Eastman
My Architect, 2011
Prismacolor, oil and glitter on canvas
20 x 16 in.

When I look at art today, I would say my taste still involves a dialectic similar to my earlier favorites. I can appreciate artists like Roxy Paine and Mari Eastman, Nicole Eisenman and Richard Rezac. With Paine, we have someone creating sculptures by a distribution of expertise among multiple minds through the idiosyncratic use of high-tech machines and processes, producing objects of a mysterious and alien ilk. Eastman at once shows her knowledge and understanding of painting while withholding some obvious trappings of virtuosity in favor of revelations of a seemingly more personal sort, which are then often further complicated by some borrowed subject or motif. Eisenman is commingling many ideas of painting together with the understanding of craft necessary to put them in conversation with each other, adapting them to her subjects. Rezac makes highly resolved and technological constructions that are nonetheless very slippery to our perception and suggestive through their careful arrangement. In all cases, the individual hand moves, sometimes at a distance, even if only to turn the knobs so that the machine overruns its target output.

Of course, for many reasons – call it the loss of center [1], bourgeois democratic/market forces, technology, transportation, and communication – our era is splintered artistically. It is apparent in public collections where many eras are present at once, creating a stacking effect of latent visual experience. Our perception of space and time are compressed. It isn’t really possible to point out what to do or not to do because no one person can index all of it. Technology is of little help. It only reminds us of our difficulties even more. But we can reach into this heap of history, as I like to think Robert Smithson might have put it, for resources, touchstones, and questions unanswered. [2] We can look for ways and means that might yield new meanings or recuperate older ones in new ways. Not only does this apply to the mode and medium, but also to the work, effort, or craft involved.

The degree of facility is linked to the effectiveness of the artistic statement, with the critical caveat that it is for something and not self-reflexive. I often find myself saying to people that craft is only craftiness when facture overtakes ethos. If you paint the sides of a stretched canvas because you want it to look “finished” the painted side remains a superficial garnish; if the painted side reinforces the conceptual aspect of the object, it can serve the work intrinsically. We could get into semantic questions of intent here, but I think if you really know it and mean it, it has a greater chance of seeming to be true, or we have a greater chance of becoming involved in the work on a deeper level. A specific example would be the vast difference between Karthik Pandian’s recently exhibited sculpture at Rhona Hoffman, I Am My Own Wife – a highly polished construction in steel and industrial-grade color – and any number of sculptures that are often sprinkled along Navy Pier or grace the ad pages of a major art magazine, aspiring to a similar finish. Pandian’s work perhaps takes us a distance toward examining issues of gender while the other sculptures too often don’t take us anywhere in particular beyond the awareness of their often massive size and tired formalism. Another successful example would be the work of an artist like Alicja Kwade, whose phenomenological sculptures and installations can cause a shift in our basic understanding of the elements of experience. Works such as Andere Bedingung (Aggregatzustand 6), 2009, toy with assumptions of objecthood in terms of weight, substantiality and permanence. So what I’m saying is that with our incredibly intense media saturation, I turn to usage before material specificity for what I get out of seeing a work of art. I want to try to not judge a book by its cover; to allow the myriad options to play out; to remain variable, accepting and catholic in my assumptions about material and craft. Here I am reclaiming the non-religious sense of having a catholic attitude, which simply means to be open to a wide range of tastes.

Karthik Pandian
I Am My Own Wife, 2013
Stainless steel and plastic vase
81 ¼ x 20 x 20 in.

Alternatively, the work of an artist can be de-skilled either in the sense that he does not concern himself personally with technique or high craft, or he transfers it to an outside technician (or even leaves it to chance). But if this becomes too dominant to the meaning of the work, then the lack of facility or personal involvement may fall into banality. For example, I’ve found it hard to pay attention to very much “glitch” art. This has surprised me somewhat since it seems to go against my own extensive background in computer science. However, much of it seems to stop at the glitch itself, piling one glitch on top of another. Aside from the sense that I think glitch art may be claiming a little too much for itself anyway [3], I just can’t be too impressed by the mere malfunction of a computer, even though I’m fully aware of the potential auratic qualities of such failure. [4] It just stops too soon. That said, I really liked Christopher Meerdo’s recent show at Document. What separates his work is not only a very careful selection of some of the more uncanny images and a spectacular transformation into the medium of print, but also the stress laid on the origin and the process of exhuming source images: discarded vacation photos on found memory cards. Meerdo’s exhibition really reflects on the medium, its relationship to our human lives, and our capacity for recording and forgetting through the usage and leveraging of those very same auratic tendencies of malfunction. I draw a similar conclusion about the difference between some of the stacking and leaning of things we are seeing today [5], and the output of an artist like Felix Gonzales-Torres, some of whose best work relies utterly on stacking and piling for it to function.

So there is a kind of competence I see that has to do with an investigation within an artistic practice and through the artist’s level of experience with it. This most often involves objects and materials, though it could also be bodies and spaces or something else. The artist grows a micro history of production, a personal academy and repertoire. The depth of the work emerges from the depth of the investigation and the shape of the path walked by the artist. She can come to know quite well what she is doing, while avoiding the twin pitfalls of connoisseurship and disinterestedness. This is about studio time. [6] The artist may find it better to reflect on what she did rather than what she thought, or accept what happened over what she intended. This doesn’t involve the rejection of purpose, but the acceptance of things that come into view. For example, looking at R.H. Quaytman’s work for the first time a few years ago, I felt initially that the pieces functioned like works of art as essays in the sense put forward by Art & Language [7]. But even as they projected a kind of ultra-intellectual air they had a resolve and physical quality that drew me in. From subsequent lectures and artist talks, I learned about the experiential origins of much of Quaytman’s work. [8]  A frequent refrain I remember in her talks went something like “… after I did that, of course I thought it worked because…” In the end, the body of work she’s constructing is one of thoughts and contexts, but also of trials, errors and discoveries.

Christopher Meerdo
IMG65, 2013
Archival inkjet print
16 x 22 in.

What kinds of experts do these artists become? All of them possess expertise in the statements they want to make in relation to their own concerns and toward the historical context. But in the same way that de-skilling was a term borrowed from economics, I want to say that these works have been “right-sized” in their respective areas of making. Pretty close to the mark from my perspective is a relatively recent piece by Claire Bishop where she says, “Some will say that skills no longer matter, that the artist today should be fully ‘spectralized,’ because the truly emancipatory position is to erase the line between professional and amateur. […] That said, the best forms of de-skilling evoke in the viewer something of this spectralization: Such works generate in us not a disdainful ‘I could do that’ but the generative energy of ‘I want to do that!’” [9] If I ever get that kind of energy from viewers of my work, then I have probably done my job.

 

 

NOTES:

[1] I saw this phrase in Christine Mehring, Jeanne Anne Nugent, Jon L. Seydl, Gerhard Richter: Early Work, 1951-1972. J. Paul Getty Museum, 2010.
[2] http://www.robertsmithson.com/drawings/heap_p104_300.htm
[3] What I mean here is that glitch is a breakdown, a misuse or a chance process. Not a new idea, though consistent with a medium specific conversation, the fact that it is a computer malfunction makes it a contemporary concern. It’s a concern that is, of course, worth examining, but the question is how to approach it.
[4] See, for example, Martin Dixon, The Horror of Disconnection: The Auratic in Technological Malfunction, Transformations Journal, http://www.transformationsjournal.org/journal/issue_15/article_06.shtml
[5] Robin Dluzen, https://twitter.com/RobinDluzen/status/324255330265595904/photo/1
[6] For a fascinating read on contemporary issues regarding studio time and its effect on the production of art, try Dieter Roelstraete, The Business: On The Unbearable Lightness of Art, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-business-on-the-unbearable-lightness-of-art/
[7] Such as in Charles Harrison, Conceptual Art and Painting: Further Essays on Art & Language, MIT Press, 2003.
[8] Society for Contemporary Art lecture, The Art Institute of Chicago, March 15, 2012 and The Opening Reception Artist talk at The Renaissance Society, January 6, 2013.
[9] http://www.brooklynrail.org/2011/12/art/unhappy-days-in-the-art-worldde-skilling-theater-re-skilling-performance

 

 

ROBERT BURNIER is an artist and writer who lives and works in Chicago. He is an MFA candidate in Painting and Drawing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. Recent exhibitions include The Horseless Carriage at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Salon Zurcher at Galerie Zurcher, New York, the Evanston and Vicinity Biennial, curated by Shannon Stratton, and Some Dialogue, curated by Sarah Krepp and Doug Stapleton, at the Illinois State Museum, Chicago.




An Interview with Artist Steven Husby

April 27, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Robert Burnier

 

After seeing Steven Husby’s exhibition, BRUTE FORCe, at 65GRAND, I had the opportunity to catch up with him and ask if we could dig a little deeper into his process. There were several aspects of my earlier writing on his show that I wanted to hear more about from him, but it seemed to me that certain activities of his outside the studio and gallery were also of interest. In response, he very generously took great care in his answers, giving us substantial insight into his motivations, ideas and ways of approaching a studio practice.

 

Robert Burnier: When would you say you first began to explore the notions that led to the kind of work you’re doing today?

Steven Husby: I would say that I’ve flirted with pictorial recursivity, deductive structure, and something like absolute opacity for years. The house–painterly way I work really started in undergrad as something to aspire to and something to work against. A kind of pop–inflected formalism was in the air – and I was young and impressionable. Over time I’ve generally found it to be worthwhile to give myself over to the more excessively restrained aspects of my practice, probably because I’m not a particularly neat, linear, or orderly person, but I like what happens when I try to behave as though I were. I think I was first attracted to limits both as things to provide traction and as things to be subverted in some way. I found as soon as I practiced these things, the force generated through restraint was greater than I could ever achieve without it. The channeling, focusing, and projecting of force – whether from inside or out – is absolutely key to the whole project.

RB: How do you feel about the use of concepts from science or mathematics in a work of art? Are they intrinsically important to you in some way or do they act more as metaphors on which to hang other concerns?

SH:  Well on the one hand I sympathize somewhat with Joseph Kosuth’s early position on these things – on the face of it these concerns are external to whatever the ‘art’ concerns may be. But from that standpoint so is form, beauty, and meaning – critical or otherwise. And though I sort of love the perverse absolutism of that, I wouldn’t want to go so far as to say that these seemingly external concerns are not relevant – they are; however, I think you’re correct to key in to them as metaphors. I’m not a scientist or a mathematician, and I have no formal training in anything like those fields. If anything – I would say that although I’ve had a ‘crush’ on math and science from an aesthetic standpoint for so long that I can hardly remember not being intrigued by the imaginative possibilities they suggest to the laity, I have almost no innate aptitude for the practice of either. I’d say I’m passably adequate with numbers, and although my studio practice entails some small degree of discipline and rigor, it pales in comparison to that required by even the most rudimentary scientific method. I think what has allowed me to move forward in my practice has been remaining open to the possibility that potentially nothing is external to it.

I think at first I thought that I was only ever interested in these strict pictorial procedures as perverse, radically artificial things in stark juxtaposition to everything else, and in the expressive potential of choosing that sort of perverse limitation as a resonant gesture. But I’ve also always really loved designing things and making and looking at objects. I believe in the work as this weirdly sincere gesture that somehow enfolds a healthy amount of skepticism. I’ve often been too proud to spell out my intentions, so as a consequence the work can be read as purely formalist or procedural, or in some way simply ‘about’ structure or something like that. And I believe that it is not really my place to say that it’s not. Sentence meaning takes precedence over speaker meaning. But then why painting? It’s a very specific choice. I’m getting bolder about putting forward my own rather more emotionally loaded interpretations of my work as I’ve gotten more comfortable seeing more kinds of things as internal to it.

RB: What things were most important to you as you prepared to arrange and install the work for BRUTE FORCe? And what got you onto the idea of making those posters instead of the usual show card?

SH:  I knew that I wanted to show the big red painting, and the rest of the decisions proceeded from that one. I had begun work on the black and white paintings when the show was first proposed several months ago, but I hadn’t originally intended to show any of them until I had completed all sixty-four in the set. My original idea was to show the big red painting, and a group of small collages on the wall that is now occupied by the black and white paintings, but that idea fell by the wayside fairly quickly, as I realized that the collages just weren’t going to hold that wall, and the idea of presenting the first eight of the sixty four paintings I began working on towards the end of last year just made more sense as something that could actually hold their own across from the red painting.  I had recently completed the second four, so when the opportunity presented itself I couldn’t resist the temptation to exhibit them earlier than I had originally planned.  Progress continues on the remaining fifty-six, which I will show in partial groupings as I complete them.

This leaves the inkjet on canvas, which extends my investment in photographic imagery which began in 2009 when I began taking photos in the course of my daily life like a lot of people do, and experimenting with ways of bringing that kind of imagery into my exhibition practice. I’ve always liked how the really opaque geometric paintings looked in rooms – what they do to the space around them as these relatively unmodulated pictorial objects breaking up the contingency of real space. And I’ve always liked how the paintings looked paired with other people’s photographs – so at some point the idea of “sampling” the real in that way just made a lot of sense to me – so that’s where that decision comes from.  The poster is just a natural extension of that process of sampling, formatting, and juxtaposition, in this case of graphic with more atmospheric sorts of visuality. The title also came pretty early on – though originally it was going to be something like Brute Force: Coming Attractions. The text on the back – “This Is Not a Blog” – is one I wrote over the course of a couple of years for my website not long after I began maintaining one – also in 2009. I think that process of maintaining a website – the initial excitement, and eventual ambivalence I began to feel about its implicit demands and limitations – led me to where I am now with respect to my attitudes towards contemporary image culture, and the pressure that that exerts on our perception of paintings as objects which occupy a peculiar site of intersection between ourselves as embodied physical beings and ourselves as beings looking, passively watching, seeing into and through everything, comparing images to images.

 

Untitled AC, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30 in

RB: When you move from paint to, say, inkjet, what kinds of issues are raised for you in the use of those differing methods? In both cases the surfaces are just immaculate and consistent, but is there something fundamentally questioned here or do these questions reside on a level other than craft?

SH:  That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. With both I feel I’ve been engaged in a kind of pantomime of external limitation. Compared to many other painting practices I’m aware of, mine has consistently been much more seemingly de-subjectivized in many respects. And yet I’m not really interested in renouncing subjectivity at all – far from it. I’ve never thought of myself as a pure formalist. My work has been placed in those contexts, and I’ve never felt like it was appropriate for me to say no to that aspect of how it reads. But nonetheless, I often find myself articulating my concerns in weirdly formal ways when what’s called for is some kind of subjective or objective narrative, and in weirdly narrative and anecdotal ways when what’s expected is greater tact I suppose. As much as I seek out limits for their expressive potential, I’m never not chomping at the bit. I suppose that’s what it means to seek limits for their expressive potential.

I think my work is full of all sorts of ‘tells’ that it’s not just a matter of beauty, taste, decoration, or craft. I’m very much of my generation – between the super restrained anti subjective artists who emerged in the nineties under the influence of the pictures generation, and the super–subjective, affect heavy painters emerging now. I started using opaque color and hard edges when that was what the painters I respected seemed to be doing. It made more sense to me than trying to be a gestural painter, and I wasn’t alone in that. But I have to emphasize that I always loved ab-ex, and even more the really unfashionable stuff that came later like color field – specifically Louis. But then around ’98 or so, when I was nearing the end of my undergraduate education, right around the time I started seriously diving into more ambitious literature around contemporary art, painters like Ingrid Calame and Monique Prieto were getting a lot of positive attention. And a painter friend of mine turned me on to the work of Gary Hume, and it just made sense to try something like that…to try on some kind of obviously artificial restraint, rather than just keep layering imagery and processes relating to everything I was thinking about and responding to all the time into a finite number of surfaces. What I was doing before I ‘discovered’ opacity was something like a clumsy, handmade version of Raygun Magazine. It had it’s moments…but what I found by limiting my methods and imitating what I was capable of imitating at the time was something that felt much more mine in a way I could actually stand behind without feeling totally feeble and awkward. I feel like what’s been happening in my work the past couple of years is that I’m finally finding ways to slowly find a place in the system for all the impulses I had to restrain in order to find the system in the first place. This process of opening and diversifying also happens to coincide with my introduction to teaching (not coincidentally.) So I’ve been giving myself permission to think like a student. To try things…to try on things which I don’t necessarily ‘own,’ the same way that I didn’t ‘own’ flat color when I began using it in the late nineties. I don’t own inkjet on canvas, or half tone images. That stuffs just in the air, and if I think I can do something interesting with it I’ll try. The same goes for writing, making posters, blogging.

But to get back to your question – what the inkjets and my earlier adopted approaches to painting share is a certain degree of apparent impersonality – which I don’t so much attempt to shatter or disrupt as find myself inevitably doing in a weirdly personal way, which is what I think makes it interesting and confusing to take in, and really hard to narrativize succinctly.

RB: How and to what degree would you say you incorporate chance into your working process?

SH:  The answer to that question hinges on whether or not one believes in chance. On the one hand, randomness is real. On the other – it is only part of what feeds into the stream of what we call ‘chance,’ which is where genuine randomness and selection bias intersect. I believe in keeping my options open, following my impulses – allowing them to act as a lens or a filter. I don’t believe that the act of arbitration is necessarily an act of self–expression, and to the extent that it is I’ve found it more helpful not to try not to be overly censorious of it. But editing is still very important to me. I see recursivity everywhere these days, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always visible. I think for some of us, our task as artists entails keeping an eye out for it, and sharing it when it shows itself to us from our vantage point.

RB: For the red painting, do those shapes come from somewhere in particular, or is that pattern the result of interlocking circles?

SH:  I arrived at this more or less ubiquitous pattern – which I later learned is called Seigaiha – through a process of simplification of previous, more idiosyncratic drawings. The drawings I paint from are always virtual, which permits me to work fast and loose with structure without loosing sight of the whole, and allows for global changes (inverting values, distorting the entire drawing in a consistent way, etc) without losing anything I might find a use for. The way I begin drawing is almost always the same. I build a very simple pattern – usually a stripe gradient – alter it’s structure in some way – then cut and past fragments of the altered pattern back onto itself, crop and repeat. Sometimes I’ll come back to an older drawing and change something simple about it, and a new body of work will spring from that. In the case of the wave pattern – I was working with perspectival gradients distorted to form parabolas converging on a single point – like Saturn rings. I was cutting and pasting these patterns onto themselves – mirroring them, etc. The patterns that emerged from that suggested much simpler patterns, so I thought I’d see what would happen if I just drew those, using interlocking circles, as you suggest. I was curious what would remain if I stripped away some of the more sophisticated topologies the computer enables me to access. I was also looking for ways to try out more fallible kinds of marks, and these simpler patterns suggested themselves as appropriate vehicles for that.

RB: You seem to have an alternate practice of developing multiple tumblr blogs that are linked to your website. They don’t appear to behave as continuous logs as much as they resemble carefully chosen artist’s notes. Do these relate to specific bodies of work or perhaps mark plateaus in your thinking? How would you see us experiencing them in relation to the objects in your studio or in a show?

SH: I started playing around on tumblr about a year ago. I haven’t been able to devote as much time to it recently as I did in the beginning – but this seems pretty consistent with many people’s experience of maintaining a blog, so I’m not overly concerned about my temporary neglect of it. My step dad recently asked me how I manage to follow through with time consuming studio projects – and an artist friend asked me a similar question with regards to the big red painting in the show at 65GRAND. My answer to both of them was that I find that it’s really helpful to maintain several projects at different speeds and different timbres simultaneously so that each can act as a relief from the others, enabling me to follow through on each one in due time. This is true to what I learned in graduate school, which for me was process of pulling things apart and allowing them to stand by themselves without having to be all up on top of each other in one piece. This is still how I like to work. Tumblr’s really great as far as that’s concerned, because it’s something I can literally do while I’m waiting for paint to dry. But on a more serious level, which I’ve attempted to address elsewhere – on my blog “a little less democracy,” – the tumblrs are a way for me to gather and collect, circulate and redirect things that are floating around our culture. I try to be savvy about how I use it, not simply passively participating – but it’s not always easy to tell the difference. In part I think I’m using it to teach myself how to be as savvy as I can about images. I’ve found it a lot harder to shoot photos  – “from scratch” let’s say – since I started using it. You get a lot more picky. And it’s easy to get a lot more interested in playing with the relationships between what’s already ‘out there’ than with adding more images to the pile. It’s all so seductive and yet so ephemeral and insubstantial. The relationship between that insubstantial current – a kind of dreamtime – on the one hand – and the resistant density of paintings and objects and bodies in space on the other – is pretty interesting to me. I’m no expert – but when I give myself over to it (tumblr) it feels like I’m learning something – though what that is exactly is pretty hard to define. I think it has something to do with creating – or generating meaning passively through a kind of visual aikido – rechanneling the others’ force, which ties it back to my more strictly painterly pursuits.

RB: Given the sorts of wide-reaching ideas you like to think about, to what extent do you focus on histories – personal, artistic, cultural – as being ruled by extra-historical forces? Is there a link between these notions and, say, a blog title such as “a little less democracy”? In that case, I don’t see you as so much making a political point as just wondering aloud whether everything is in merely a matter of fluctuating opinion; that some things, if not universal and transcendent, at least move at much slower rate.

SH:  For sure. I’m definitely in tune with the notion that politics as it’s discussed in the mainstream, and practiced in the voting booth is epiphenomenal. I’ve always liked Ecclesiastes, and identified (perhaps a bit too much) with the spectator position. The older I get, the more I see that there is no spectator position, yet I also feel like I see how in the big picture our individual agency amounts to very little – we’re all spectators of a great deal of the structures which determine how we will spend our time on this planet. Things get done collectively. Masses move and are moved. Demographic biases are real limits in the world – real forces moving through bodies that have to be accommodated. In that regard it seems nothing short of miraculous to me how much more progressive people have been persuaded to say they are on things like gay rights recently. This is a hard won and incredible step forward in many respects. At the same time, it’s deeply disappointing that masses of people must be persuaded to accept what ought to be self–evident. This is sort of where the title of my primary blog comes from – I’m a little suspicious of the “democratic impulse” if there is such a thing. It seems like a con.  And of course the defenders of democracy are absolutely correct – it’s the worst form of government –except for all the other ones that have been tried. At least it’s less obviously sadistic than outright dictatorship. But still…I’m an artist, so I’m predisposed to be suspicious of community. It’s been very important for me personally, and as an artist, as a child of the Midwest, to learn to not anticipate and accommodate my natural opponents before I consider how things seem to me from my own vantage point. It’s an ongoing process.
 

This interview was conducted via e-mail in April, 2013.

Steven Husby’s exhibition, BRUTE FORCe at 65GRAND, continues through May 11.

 

ROBERT BURNIER is an artist and writer who lives and works in Chicago. He is an MFA candidate in Painting and Drawing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. Recent exhibitions include The Horseless Carriage at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Salon Zurcher at Galerie Zurcher, New York, the Evanston and Vicinity Biennial, curated by Shannon Stratton, and Some Dialogue, curated by Sarah Krepp and Doug Stapleton, at the Illinois State Museum, Chicago.




Steven Husby: BRUTE FORCe at 65GRAND

April 25, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Robert Burnier

Untitled, 2012 . inkjet on matte canvas . 60 x 48 in

Untitled, 2012, inkjet on matte canvas, 60 x 48 in

Normally when you think of covering all your bases it’s a way of being non-committal, of hedging your bets. But in Steven Husby’s case, it is precisely the opposite: showing different sides in order to invite you into a world and a mindset that can’t be contained in one object. In this way he takes a leap of faith beyond becoming enamored of any one approach to his work. Even the title of the show – BRUTE FORCe – seems meant in this inverted sense. It refers less to a domineering position than to exhaustively being open to a wide range of possibilities, to traverse as many combinations as one can.

This, then, seems to be both the form of the show and its central investigation. On view are the different worlds that can emerge when even a single aspect of each has been changed, and when we look in toward the building blocks of a certain “fact” of existence. We see what could have happened, and find the minute aspects of our situation in altering the path our universe can take.

For example, a set of eight meticulously crafted canvases of shaded triangles installed in a grid on one wall offers relationships where something in one is not like the other. We can determine that they are related somehow, and if we keep going, it is possible to suss out the entire potential set – exhaustively, as it were. But it could be otherwise, so a closed system like this also stands, in a way, for infinite alternatives. The surfaces are exquisite, displaying a minimal sense of touch. Brush strokes are sumptuous but also absolutely registered directionally to one side of each triangle, in a fusion of organic movement and idea.

Another canvas of interlocking red semicircles seems to be totally defined except for the notion that it could go on forever beyond our comprehension and that the color has a subtle, airy modulation which is actually quite unpredictable. Color here conveys other senses of openness. Speaking with the artist at his opening, he said he took care not to wear a favorite yellow shirt so as to avoid “fast food restaurant” associations. So clearly, the subjectivity inherent in this aspect of the work isn’t lost on him.

An inkjet print of a severely blown-up, half toned image rounds out the show. Ostensibly, this could have been the most distant of the works given its totally mechanical origins, but I found it to be as luscious as any color field. The discrete dots seem to gain more character as they are enlarged, and whatever image they represent dissolves into a sort of mock-expressionism. The practical uses for the half-tone seem subverted, giving us access to their blunt reality while allowing us to wander freely across the gorgeous, delicate, matte surface they generate.

Husby’s work is a studied exercise in emergence and the way that severe restrictions can somewhat paradoxically throw subtle expression and gesture into great relief. Having a foot in the minimalist tradition, there is an emphasis on the presence of the object in front of us, but not to convey any absolutes about this or that thing, self-contained, so much as to be a platform to experience a more expansive potential outside of what is there.

 

(For an in-depth interview I conducted with Steven Husby about the work for this exhibition and his practice, check back with Bad at Sports this coming Saturday, April 27th!) Steven Husby’s exhibit, BRUTE FORCe, is on view at 65 Grand until May 11th.

 

ROBERT BURNIER is an artist and writer who lives and works in Chicago. He is an MFA candidate in Painting and Drawing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. Recent exhibitions include The Horseless Carriage at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Salon Zurcher at Galerie Zurcher, New York, the Evanston and Vicinity Biennial, curated by Shannon Stratton, and Some Dialogue, curated by Sarah Krepp and Doug Stapleton, at the Illinois State Museum, Chicago. He also serves as a museum departmental specialist at The Art Institute of Chicago.