HOME  

STREAMBED

2011

Mixed Media

Dimensions: 120’ x 72” x 40”

 

A 120’ x 72” x 40” display case, constructed of welded steel and semi-transparent glass and housing a collection of found, altered and manufactured objects.  Some objects come from the natural world, such as stones and branches; some come from the man-made world, such as copper cables and steel clamps; while others combine the natural and man-made in poetic ways.  Some objects are crafted into geometric shapes, such as a solid, cast iron mazzochio (a piece of decorative headgear that was often depicted in perspectival paintings in the Renaissance).  And some objects are left raw, such as a cube of split limestone.  Many of these objects are studio experiments.  That is, they result from undertaking a material process where outcomes are unclear at the outset—tests, if you will.  These tests lead to an increased understanding of the process at play, which in turn leads to using these processes methodically.   For example a piece of old-growth yellow cedar is machined into a polyhedron such that each face is 3 degrees from the perpendicular of its neighboring faces.  This form is then partially submerged in a bath of ink.  By capillary action, the ink is drawn upwards along the wood grain.  The resulting stains and ink-lines are chaotic and relatively unpredictable—marks that are not made by the hand, but by the nature of the wood and the ink.  The wood is then allowed to dry and then submerged again to a different level.  This process is repeated several times.  The result is a series of complex lines that evoke a wooded landscape contained within a geometric form.

 

Taken together, the objects in Streambed form a complex system that explores adjacency and juxtaposition.  How does one object change when placed next to a second object?  How do both of these objects change when a third element is introduced?  How does changing the arrangement of these objects affect the way they are “read”?  How is the circular projection of light from Meridian Sleeve seen in the context of the similarly-scaled globe of glass that works like a lens and appears to contain the other objects in the collection?  How does the branched-end of a piece of switchgrass alter the way we perceive a bramble of fiber optics?

 

The museum, as we know it today, has its origins in early forms of worship, collection, and categorical thinking.  Medieval reliquaries, Renaissance curio-cabinets and natural history museums, much like art museums, depend upon the contextual presentation of artifacts to construct particular “readings.”  Streambed is meant to explore the ways we order and interpret the world.  It is also meant to explore and question the ways by which we see, and subsequently name, an object as an object.  This project is a an outgrowth of a similar project from 2008, titled Tables of Inadvertence (see below). As such, it is meant to be incommensurable, ever-evolving and adaptive.  In its origin, production and re-production, it is for me, as an artist, a form of “thinking through objects.”  Simultaneously it is a form of “systems thinking”—a practice of physical, material poetry, where constellation-like relationships emerge through the intuitive placement and arrangement of various objects.  The title for this particular version, Streambed, is inspired by the experience of looking down through the layers of a flowing stream, with the various distortions, reflections and repetitions that shift and alter features under the water.  It is also meant to refer to stream-of-consciousness thinking and dream-imagery, where familiar objects and images have an uncanny and elusive nature.

 

 

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.