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MERIDIAN SLEEVE

2011

Sunlight, heliostat, mirrors

Dimensions: Variable

 

A beam of sunlight is bounced down through the stairwell of the museum via a system of 13 front-surface mirrors, each measuring 6 inches in diameter.  The primary mirror is controlled by a dual axis heliostat, a sun-tracking device that sits on the rooftop of the museum, facing south.  The subsequent mirrors are attached to the inner railing of each landing by rare-earth magnets and are adjustable by virtue of their custom gimbal stands.  The beam roughly follows the path of the feet of a person descending the stairwell.  It terminates in the basement gallery, where it projects a 6” circle of light upon the wall among the objects in Streambed (see below).  This piece is informed and inspired by meridian lines in European cathedrals, such as the one found Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri in Rome, and various archeo-astronomical sites and artifacts in the Southwestern United States, such as the Sun Dagger in Chaco Canyon.  By tracking the cycles of the sun (and sometimes the moon) these systems serve as calendars—tools for maintaining the social-cultural, agricultural and ideological fabric of a people.  In Meridian Sleeve, the small, delicate spot of sunlight is held still—precariously suspended outside of time in a small curio-cabinet.  It hangs alongside other objects, in a room that is far removed from the diurnal world.  Occasionally, clouds can be seen in the projection as they pass across the sun.

 

Reflections on Meridian Sleeve, Streambed & Inversion

2011

 

Meridian Sleeve, Streambed & Inversion were conceived as site-specific installations for the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art as part of the exhibition Another Victory Over the Sun (2011).  They were designed to function both separately and together as a whole.  Each piece is meant to engage, interrogate and play with the architecture of the MCA building and modernist architecture in general.  They are also meant to touch upon the history of various museum practices, such as containment, collection and display.  Finally, they are meant to investigate some of the conventions and assumptions that have conditioned the way we perceive and conceive of space and time.  To be specific, they stem from an interest in the codification of space that resulted from the invention of perspectival representation in the Renaissance and how this innovation laid the ground for subsequent forms of Western scientific thought.

 

For the past few years, I have been primarily concerned with ideas of space and the systems by which it has been represented and mapped.  More and more, I find myself interested in time, especially as an inextricable aspect of space.  I have been thinking lately about the consequences of separating space from time and the assumption that space is an a-prior condition, with time steadily flowing in one direction. The idea that space is an empty, three-dimensional container that exists prior to our perception of it is a construct that serves particular ideological frameworks.  It is a highly functional way to map and describe an ultimately unknowable territory.  But it exists within a vast spectrum of different, equally valid, systems of mapping and describing (songlines, gift economies, books of living and dying). This has led me to ask:  What if space (including matter and objects) could be conceived of as a constantly, yet inconsistently, unfolding fabric in which we are accountable participants?  I say participants because, by this way of thinking, one is actually producing space by one’s interactions with, and in, the world (Lefebvre, Soja).   How does such a space get mapped and how does this type of thinking affect ideas of time, movement and self?

 

As I reflect back on the three works included in Another Victory Over the Sun, I consider how each piece involves an experience of the body moving through time.  Inversion exists “in the round” and can be seen from several different vantage points throughout the museum.  A viewer leaves the piece behind and encounters it again from a different perspective, having walked around the corner or having gone from one floor to another.  Similarly, Meridian Sleeve invites movement through the stairwell as one follows the beam of light to its origin or terminus.  And Streambed can be regarded from many perspectives, each resulting in a different composition of objects on several layers of glass that have varying degrees of reflection and transparency. Though these artworks are all very still and quiet, they invoke time and movement.  Dust collects in the cabinet; the clay dries and shrinks; one moves from room to room; one notices others in noticing the work.

 

This experience of ‘noticing others noticing’ is something I have been considering more and more as I reflect back on these projects.  It appears to me to be a type of movement that involves the imagination.  I first became aware of it while watching visitors interact with the artwork and with one another.  I became more aware of it in talking with others who had seen the exhibition and had noticed the same thing.  In Streambed viewers point things out to one another as they move, both visually and physically, around the piece.  In Meridian Sleeve people venture up and down the stairwell (together or alone) and encounter others doing the same; and when a viewer cranes their neck over the railing to follow the beam of light, they might very easily see another viewer looking up from below.  As for Inversion, it appears as though viewers become more aware of one another as they become aware of a lack of viewers (others) within the void of the glass chamber.  Taking note of these experiences has given me new insights and new ideas.  Certainly, I have been long interested in the implications of differing perspectives, but I think my concerns up to this point have been more theoretical and abstract, rather than the practical or social.

 

Classically understood, sculpture is a time-based medium:  a viewer regards an object from one perspective, then, by moving to other perspectives, constructs a mental image of that object as it exists in space.  This is as true for looking through one eye and then the other as it is for moving from one side of a monument to another.  The curious thing to me about this process is the importance of memory, and in particular, embodied memory—memory as it relates to physical movement.  Parallax, the apparent difference in an object, or set of objects, due to changing viewpoints, is a useful term in this respect.  If we think critically about the various strategies of visual representation that defined the modern era (especially perspectival painting) and the way they set the stage for a monocular, unmoving, timeless and some might say, oppressive, observer—then parallax becomes an interesting way to think about, acknowledge and engage difference.  I find this to be a compelling way to think about irreconcilable differences in cultures, voices, ways of seeing, etc.  More subtly, it is an interesting way to think about the fact that one’s present self differs from—is other than—one’s past selves and one’s future selves.

 

Like the rest of the work in this volume, these three pieces are, first and foremost, meant to engage viewers in perceptual experiences that provoke certain, yet unnameable, feelings.  (This is not to assume that these “certain” feelings are consistent from person to person.)  Though they are informed by theoretical and historical questions, they did not start with such questions in mind.  They started from hands-on experiments, in the studio or in the field, with both conventional and unconventional materials.  My practice is that of a sculptor.  I manipulate materials to make objects and installations of an experiential nature.  I am certainly, and very strongly, invested in the craftsmanship and the formal qualities of the things that I make.   It may appear then, to be a bit of a stretch when I say that my work is fundamentally about language.  But I am referring to language here in its broadest sense.  I mean to include those systems of order that allow us to organize and communicate information in useful ways—relational systems that have agreed-upon rules that govern the meaningful exchange of ideas.  There is a language to Euclidian geometry, there is a language to jazz music, there is a language to Victorian architecture and there is a language to Persian carpets.  In my work as a sculptor, I am particularly interested in the language of visual representation, especially the language of perspectival depiction.  I am very curious about the way this innovation has affected our understanding of space and matter—two categories that are unmistakably fundamental to the practice of sculpture.

 

This curiosity arises from having spent a great deal of time outdoors and thinking carefully about the way significant features of the natural landscape get packaged, and hence perpetually deferred as experiences, for the common visitor.  For example, the Grand Canyon has become a prescribed experience for most visitors.  It begins with encounters with advertising-like imagery and slogan-like narratives prior to a visit.  It continues when one encounters the paths, guardrails and framing devices that are used to direct the experience.  The third step in this packaging and dislocation is the act of standing behind a camera and taking (often clichéd) photographs, including those of oneself, or one’s group, standing in front of the glorious backdrop.  The final step in this production is sharing these images with others after returning from the journey.  I am interested here in blindness and whether or not it is possible to see something that has been packaged to such an extent. This experience differs very little from a visit to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa.  Such prescribed experiences leave little room for the live, human creature to encounter something that otherwise defies words or other representations, especially photographs.  These are instances in which the signifying complex (language) conditions experience to the extent that the object or phenomenon is rendered “consumable.”  There are moments though, when the reverse happens, moments when the signifying complex collapses and one is “consumed” in an encounter with an object or phenomenon.  These are moments of aesthetic (i.e. perceptual) engagement that language fails to encompass.  My question then, is whether or not it is even possible to actually see something that defies one’s ability to adequately represent and comprehend it.

 

As an artist intrigued by the momentary collapse of conventionalized vision when encountering something in the natural world, I am, in turn, very curious about such failures when it comes to encounters with things that are culturally produced.  I am not simply referring to those moments in which an experience defies description.  I am referring more specifically to those moments in which we experience something that does not fit into the frameworks that normally give us the tools to navigate the day-to-day world.  If we consider the signifying complex that co-opts phenomena such as the Grand Canyon or the Mona Lisa to be a veil, then it is the innovative artwork that either puts a tear in that veil or reveals that veil to be what it is, in all its pretenses.   Hence, Duchamp puts a mustache on the Mona Lisa.  This playful gesture gave her a new face, at least temporarily.

 

I am of the opinion that interesting artworks are unwieldy.  They withstand multiple readings.  They defy description.  They change each time you visit them.  They challenge you and they alter the way you imagine the world to be.  They give a little shock to thought and to vision.  I like to think of this moment as a slow, but sudden recognition—a moment of being present and sensing presence, a moment in which one’s perceptual field is refreshed and one’s inner chatter is silenced, a moment that mixes beauty with dread and wonder with critical thought.