March 20th, 2015
June 8th, 2014
July 10th, 2013_____________________________________________________________________
Interview questions by Julia Nasser as part of a shorter feature:
JN: I read that you think the artist’s role is to be a “Public Amateur”. Can you tell me a little about this?
The term “Public Amateur” is not my own, but a proposition I’ve adopted and folded into my working process from mentor, artist, writer, activist and “Public Amateur” Claire Pentecost. Claire writes about the artist’s particularily well situated position to act as a “Public Amateur” on her blog of the same name (http://publicamateur.wordpress.com/about/). She articulates that when assuming the role of the “Public Amateur,” the “artist becomes a person who consents to learn in public … empowered to take the initiative to question something within a given discipline, acquire knowledge in a noninstitutionally sanctioned way, and assume the authority to interpret that knowledge.” The “Public Amateur” is someone motivated by curiosity, wonder and a sense of criticality: a lover, a learner and an activating force in the world. The “Public Amateur” reveals the risk, pleasure, failure and insight of learning, and learning in a dialogical, active, reactive way. Not all art or artists obviously function in this manner, but it is a role that I feel particularly drawn to, and attempt to wholeheartedly engaged with through the many overlapping facets of my practice.
JN: Could you describe what you did with algae in Chicago (for MULTIPLICES ). The samples you collected from the sites were somehow translated into a narrative of interconnectivity, or so I gathered. How so?
For the past four years I have been researching algae, seeing it as both a sculptural “material” and as a point of convergence (an anchor) for my incredibly diverse bodies of research and wide-ranging interests. For my threewallSOLO exhibition (MULTIPLICES), I wanted to begin with the simple fact that algae can be found everywhere: it is an organism small enough to be invisible to the naked eye (microalgae), or large enough to sprawl in twisting tendrils across the ocean floor (macroalgae); it can live in enormous monocultures (algal booms) or symbiotically on a lichen covered rocks; it can be cultured from the Brita filter in my studio or from the massive lake I live by; it can be collected from beneath the ice in the Arctic Circle or from the super-saline pools of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. I was - and am - struck by the incredibly flexible, invasive, pervasive nature of algae in our world, and the way in which it simultaneously embodies interconnection and dispersion in both a literal and metaphorical sense.
So, for MULTIPLICES, I collected algal samples from 5 sets of sites in the Chicago metropolitan area, taking these sites as a series of coordinates from which to draw spiraling connections between personal, social, material and theoretical histories. The sites - Wolf Lake on the Illinois/Indiana border, Buckminster Fuller’s lakeshore residence near Belmont Harbor, the offices of SAIC/SAIC (the Art Institute and the science/technology company), Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable Homesite/Dusable Park and threewalls itself - were represented in the gallery by 5 sculptural assemblages, each conceived around a unique algal sample from the representative site. To connect these disparate sites, I self-published 250 copies of a 168-page artist book which wove together my research through text and image. I had the books printed here in Chicago as loose, collated pages, and bound them at threewalls via a bookbinding station installed at the gallery throughout the length of the six weeks exhibition.
JN: In an interview you talked about embracing failure and absurdity in your work. I love this on so many levels. Do you have an example of this? What failures have been most poignant? The most absurd? Could you explain this further, how questions surrounding this failure or amateurism is perhaps at the core of your work?
Failure and absurdity - in my work and in my life - are ongoing constants; they often show up together, particularly when attempting to operate with the most sincere, ambitious intentions. Recognizing the absurdity in failure - whether due to my own limits or those of the institutions or organizations I am working with - I find is a much needed survival skill. I see failure not as something to be avoided (although it is undeniable stressful and painful), but as something that occurs when you have the courage to take a risk: when you push yourself to the edges of your understanding, challenging the limits of your knowledge and your physical abilities. And it is in this challenge, to yourself and others, that I think one of the critical roles of the amateur resides. It’s incredibly exhausting and overwhelming, but if I wasn’t failing - if things weren’t leaking, spilling, falling apart in unexpected ways, sticking onto each other, bubbling over, and making an absolute mess - the relationship between myself and my work would be too one-sided: a monologue of control rather than the dialogue of action and reaction that I think speaks to an understanding of the world in all of its (often absurd) contradictions and complexities.
More recently I have been thinking about the way in which absurdity and failure reveal an imbalance in a system, speaking pointedly - and poignantly - to our own dysfunctional habits and inability to fully comprehend the overwhelming complexity of the universe we live in. There is a Sisyphean doing and re-doing and re-doing that is simultaneously unavoidably painful and profoundly beautiful, as it reveals our limitless capacity for hope: the act of repairing the constantly breaking, maintaining the dysfunctional, arriving at a point of un/knowing after years of research.
JN: What are you planning /working on now/next?
I'm constantly working on about 5-10 projects at once, collaborative and individual, in various states (in a similar manner, I'm reading about 15 books right now - it's the conversation amongst them that I find energizing, the bleeding into each other that creates a dialogue rather than an individual thesis or singular argument). I'm builing a Maine peapod rowboat, as I've decided I need a more literal vehicle to get to a number of performative and video project revolving around Lake Michigan and the Chicago river. I will also hopefully take the rowboat to Ox-Bow this fall as I will be there for a residency in September. I'm building a device to create felt while riding my bicycle through the streets of Chicago. I'm thinking about space exploration and reenactment, wild yeast, tree tapping and core sampling, mailing rocks and mobile sites. In the next year I will have another solo show as part of my upcoming year long residency at the Chicago Artist's Coalition's as part of their BOLT program, and am looking forward to a number of group shows in Chicago later this fall. I'm also hoping to do quite a bit more writing (again, individually and collaboratively), as writing is becoming another important medium for me.
JN: These are experiments, yes? Ways of playing with control and facing what is unpredictable and up to chance? Can you speak to this?
Experimentation is essential to my work, and the sense of ongoing investigation that the word implies is integral to how I understand the constantly growing, transforming, changing nature of what I do (the building and re-building a set of ideas, materials, etc. in relation to each other to come to unexpected new conclusions with each iteration and combination). I have struggled with the word "experiment" to describe my work in its entirety, as it is deeply embedded in a scientific vocabulary. I have chosen instead to use the word “proposition,” as it embodies a sense of experimentation while simultaneously implying a more directed or purposeful intention.
As for the role of chance in experimentation, I think I'm interested in how experimenation provides a space for chance to meet agency: where letting go and leaving things to chance allows an agency (other than your own) to enter the work (and in a greater sense, your life). It is this acknowledging of external agency - of the world beyond your control or comprehension - that I think allows for making creative leaps, arriving at unexpected connections.
In the past year or so I've been using the material felt to try to articulate the role of chance in my work after reading Chris Thompson's Felt: Fluxus, Joseph Bueys and the Dalai Lama. I've been thinking of felt - this nonwoven fabric - as a model for assembling materials, ideas, experiences, etcetera, and forming them together into a structure - a cohesive assemblage - through pressure, heat, labor and a “methodical and meticulous leaving-to-chance”. A process of “leaving to chance” that Simon Starling describes in an interview with Fancesco Manacorda in his most recent monograph: “there are these chance collisions, these rather serendipitous meetings that, at a certain point, start to drive the form of things.” A “leaving to chance” that requires room for failure, necessitates a certain resilience and provides a space for hope. A “leaving to chance” that Rebecca Solnit describes in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost as “...the art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing that there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control. To calculate on the unforeseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.”
JN: How have you surprised yourself?
I think I understand surprise more as a feeling of wonder or excitement - of experiencing something unexpected, learning something new, embarking on an adventure you would never have foreseen. So, I think for me, surprise is more of a constant state of being than an event or unexpected occurrence. It's one of the things I've come to love - never knowing what will come next or where the day, the week, the month, the year will take me. It's both a privilege and a preoccupation to live in a constant state of surprise, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
JN: Do you face criticism from art world nay-sayers who question whether these works are art? Do you ever have to validate your work as art rather than just experiments? Are certain viewers unable to access your work?
I have been challenged - in particular at graduate school, but also by the art world in general - by this question of whether my work is art or science or just an experiment someone’s brother was doing in his basement in the 70s. I think any work that resists direct classification - as art or science, as aesthetic or functional, as research or play, etcetera - enters this space of the unknown or the unnameable: a territory which makes anyone who is interested in setting up disciplinary boundaries incredibly uncomfortable. I, however, think existing in this space of the unknowable and unnamable is one of art’s most powerful functions. Again, in A Field Guide to Getting Lost, I have felt a deep resonance with Solnit's argument for seeing art’s potential in occupying this space of the uncertain or the unknown.
As for accessibility, yes, it becomes an issue when you are still figuring out the connections, the meaning, the purpose of the work yourself, and inviting the viewer into this space of process rather than product. Nothing is constant or certain, connections are being negotiated and renegotiated, and that can be a challenging mental space for a viewer as it requires investment on their part; and the complexity can be overwhelming (being overwhelmed is a constant state of being in my life). However, in opening up the work - in providing a map or set of variable, but no direct route, precise destination or set outcome - I hope that my work inspires curiosity, challenges preconceptions and makes a space for new iterations, possibilites, connections and collaborations.
JN: Do you see yourself changing – as thinker and creator?
Yes, all the time. I feel myself continually growing, changing and transforming in relation to my environments (conceptual, social, physical, etc.), as I have come to understand myself as particularly responsive to my surroundings as a thinker and maker. I think of myself as acting and reacting to what I see, hear, feel, read; to each collaboration I engage in, expedition I embark on and material I collect.
JN: Who inspires you?
I am something of an excitable person, and consequently there are many inspiring “whos” in my life, but just as many inspiring “whats”. Among an ever expanding (and as Karen Barad might say, “entangled”) list, I am inspired by the complex and contradictory city I live in (the city of Chicago) and the incredible community of hard working, sincere, talented artists who I am surround by and have the privilege of working alongside and in collaboration with every day (too many and to diverse to name individually here) // by mentors A. Laurie Palmer and Claire Pentecost and Anne Wilson and Ben Nicholson // by Simon Starling and Andrea Zittel and Mark Dion and Sarah Sze and Phoebe Wasburn and Mierele Laderman Ukeles and Joseph Beuys and Eva Hesse and Hans Haacke and Robert Smithson // by writers and philosophers Karen Barad and Jane Bennett and Rebecca Solnit and Italo Calvino and Steward Brand and the contributors to The Whole Earth Catalog (of which my father gave me his copies) and Ken Issacs and Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson and William Cronon and Bruno Latour and Deluze and Guttari and Jack Burnham // by ideas of radical intimacy and transformation and ephemerality and experimentation and growth and agency and mobility and nomadicism and balance and maintenance and survival and change and subjectivity and hylozoism and living structures // by mycelium and soil and terracotta and honey and mead and wild yeast and beeswax and fat and felt and salt and sulfur and bismuth and meteorites and microbes and algae and oil and carbon and tar and water and lightening and electricity and oak and maple // by exploration and navigation and “the Age of Wonder” and the Mir Space Station and the Deep Tunnel Project // by Lake Michigan and the Chicago River and waterways and canals and oceans and puddles … to name a few.
JN: Where do your demons live - artistically speaking?
In the very places I tend to look for answers - the things I fear the most are the ones I try to face the most squarely: uncertainty, loss, change, complexity, liminality, my own limits of time, knowledge, energy and comprehension.
May 7th, 2013______________________________________________________________________
Posted by Jason Foumberg (5/7/2013)
This is the fifth installment of the Visiting Artist column. Here, Marissa Lee Benedict reflects on several of her art-research projects, of “propositions.” Benedict shows at Threewalls (119 North Peoria) through June 13.
Located on the border of Illinois and Indiana, off of Avenue O, Wolf Lake is neatly bisected by the state border; an invisible geopolitical line made visible by a two-lane road running vertically through the middle of the body of water at a precise longitude of 87 31’W.
Wolf Lake was first brought to my attention a few months ago, as I discussed my need to find water sources from which I could collect algal samples; sites which would speak to my interest in finding dis/connections. While I was sitting in his studio a few months ago, David Allan Rueter mentioned that last year he had driven down to Wolf Lake to walk its shores, tracing the edges of the fractured lake by foot.
Walking the shoreline of Wolf Lake, it’s difficult to find soil, the road and dikes being mostly composed of slag, gravel and lakefill. I’m afraid that most of what passes for soil is, in fact, dirt: soil’s less microbially active cousin. Wolf Lake, along with neighboring Calumet Lake, was once among the most biologically diverse pockets in the Midwest. To take a water or soil sample from Wolf Lake 150 years ago would have been to collect a cosmic paraphernalia of organisms. A century of heavy industrial use by the surrounding steel mills has radically reduced this biodiversity, but despite this, I have hope that the samples I collect will come alive. With the chill of winter on the lake, the ground is still frozen in early March. Many of the organisms will be dormant, arrested in their metabolic activity by the freezing cold. I’m un/certain of what I will find as I dip my hands into the frigid waters, my fingers going numb and lifeless as I walk back and forth across the state line, filling two containers: one from the Indiana side of the waters, and one from the Illinois.
As I walk, I look down. The gravel is littered with chunks of iron, pitted moon rocks whose surfaces are marked by the radical shock they have received—molten metal rapidly cooled by water. Railroad spikes litter the ground, and I pick one up from each side of the tracks and put them in my pockets: one to the east and one to the west.
The last time I picked up a railroad spike was two years ago, as I embarked on a collaborative proposition—a proposition of sprawling scale and dimension—with artist/philosopher Andrew Barco during the summer of 2011.
Andrew and I began discussing the possibility of working on a project together while traveling on the Chicago Metra to a part-time job in South Chicago. The proposition, later titled “H.Y.L.O.Z.O.I.S.M: How You Land Or Zoom-in On Inter-Subjective Matter(s),” was set in motion by the train, and was ultimately re/sited on two sets of abandoned railway tracks: the Bloomingdale Trail (an elevated railway track no longer in service, running east to west through Humboldt Park and Wicker Park) and the Chicago Tunnel Company’s underground mail carrier (an inaccessible narrow gauge railway built twenty to forty feet beneath the Chicago Loop).
One set of tracks above Chicago, one below.
Although my collaboration with Andrew was difficult at times—we put ourselves under an enormous amount of pressure to produce a complex body of work in a few short weeks—the conversations and conceptual strands we began to “felt” together have wound themselves inextricably into my own working process. My sense of dis/connection, of the simultaneously interconnected and fragmented nature of everything, has expanded exponentially out of our interactions that summer.
One of the most powerful desires that grew out of my collaboration with Andrew was the need to not only collect research on a site, but to venture out: to go on an expedition to physically “sample” the site, to dig into the ground or the bottom of a lake to collect something alive.
It was right after Andrew and I had finished the first draft of our “H.Y.L.O.Z.O.I.S.M” catalog, and summer was coming to an end, that I took a trip to visit my sister in San Francisco. While walking out of the basement of City Lights bookstore, where we had been spending the afternoon, my eye was caught by a book titled “Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things.” Intrigued, as it expressed something Andrew and I wanted to articulate through our use of the word “hylozoism” (a Greek word describing a sense of the world being materially alive), I bought the book on the spot and have been carrying Jane Bennett’s text with me ever since.
Bennett’s philosophy of “thing-power”—of vibrant matter—reinvests the material world with agency. It fore-fronts the “force of materiality,” creating a neologism to describe our actively networked interconnectivity, a worldview rooted in traditions of Shintoism, hylozoism and other animist philosophies. Bennett describes her idea of “thing-power” in the chapter of that title:
"Thing-power perhaps has the rhetorical advantage of calling to mind a childhood sense of the world as filled with all sorts of animate beings, some human, some not, some organic, some not. It draws attention—to an efficacy of objects in excess of the human meanings, designs or purposes they express or serve. Thing-power may thus be a good starting point for thinking beyond the life-matter binary, the dominant organizational principle of adult experience."
Although sensitive to the linguistic limits of the use of “thing,” Bennett’s proposition of “thing-power”—of the world being radically alive on a micro and a macro level, from the mineral elements in our bones to the electricity running through our global networks—reclaims a space for wonder. A wonder that we are not only part of the world, but made of the world.
- See more at: http://art.newcity.com/2013/05/07/visiting-artist-marissa-lee-benedict/#sthash.tsFqLXPq.dpuf
May 3rd, 2013_________________________________________________________________________
CUTTING TOGETHER/APART: COORDINATES OF DIS/CONNECTION (INTRODUCTION)
1. consisting of many elements in a complex relationship
2. manifold; multiple
3. of, pertaining to, or using equipment permitting the simultaneous transmission of two or more trains of signals or messages over a single channel
1. a system or signal involving simultaneous transmission of several messages along a single channel of communication
2. (in map making) a stereoscopic device that makes it possible to view pairs of aerial photographs in three dimensions
3. a building containing a number of motion-picture theaters or, some times, a cluster of adjoining theaters on the same site
1. to send several messages or signals simultaneously, as by multiple telegraphy
[from Latin: having many folds, from MULTI- + plicāre to fold]
“In a book, as in all things, there are lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories; but also lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification. Comparative rates of flow on these lines produce phenomena of relative slowness and viscosity, or, on the contrary, of acceleration and rupture. All this, lines and measurable speeds, constitutes an assemblage. A book is an assemblage of this kind, and as such is unattributable. It is a multiplicity…”
Deleuze and Guttari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
“This method is the same as that discovered by Goethe in natural science. It involves not only placing two things next to each other, but several, and trying, in the sequential placing of these things, to make the connection from one to the other. In this way observation proceeds from one thing to the next and then actually becomes creative itself. The decisive thing, then, is not just what is in front of you, but whether or not you can make the connection that exists between one thing and the other. To the extent that this is possible, observation becomes insight… And this process of making connections between one thing and another, which also means passing through a space or gap, is in fact always both sensory and supersensory; a creative engagement with substance.”
Harlan Volker in an interview with Joseph Bueys, What is Art?
“How much of philosophical, scientific, and political thought is caught up with the idea of continuity? What if it were otherwise? This paper experiments with the disruption of continuity. The reader is invited to participate in a performance of spacetime
(re)configurings that are more akin to how electrons experience the world than any journey narrated through rhetorical forms that presume actors move along trajectories across a stage of spacetime (often called history). The electron is here invoked as our host, an interesting body to inhabit (not in order to inspire contemplation of flat-footed analogies between ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ worlds, concepts that already presume a given spatial scale), but a way of thinking with and through dis/continuity - a dis/orienting experience of the dis/jointedness of time and space, entanglements of here and there, now and then, that is, a ghostly sense of dis/continuity, a quantum dis/continuity... The hope is that what comes across in this dis/jointed movement is a felt sense of difference, of intra-activity, of agential separability - differentiations that cut together/apart - that is the hauntological nature of quantum entanglements... This paper is about joins and disjoins - cutting together/apart - not separate consecutive activities, but a single event that is not one. Intra-action, not interaction.
Center stage: the relationship of continuity and discontinuity, not one of negative opposition, but of im/possibilities.”
Karen Barad, “Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological Realtions of Inheritance: Dis/continuities, SpaceTime Enfoldings, and Justice-to-Come”, Derrida Today 3.2
I want to talk about pairs and multiplices; simultaneities and separations; iteration and reiteration; sampling and searching and researching; cutting apart and together; certainty and curiosity and uncertainty; chance and intention and proposition; moments of hope and failure; loss and transformation; everything and nothing.
At its origin, this was an exploration about algae, and its transformation into biodiesel.
About the forced metamorphosis of a living organism -- algae -- into a material with another “life,” as fuel for our vehicles, our industries, our politics, our economies, our systems. Invested in both practically and theoretically researching the potential uses of algae, I want/ed to translate an abstract understanding of a process into practical knowledge and vice versa; information becoming embodied knowledge becoming information. I want/ed to get my hands on something, to know something with my whole body and mind. I want/ed to rearticulate the first 1968 Whole Earth Catalog statement of PURPOSE, which challenges the reader to “...conduct his[/her] own education, find his[/her] own inspiration, shape his[/her] own environment, and share his[/her] adventure with whoever is interested.”
So, in the past four years I have propositioned a number of installations which literally engage in this process of converting algae into biodiesel. A series of stations which begin to articulate these ideas of knowledge production, amateurism, experimentation, failure, uncertainty, potentiality, abstraction, mobility, scale (macro and micro), alchemical transformations, etcetera.
But as my research has carried me away from my point of origin -- a proposition about algae and its transformation into biodiesel -- I have become dis/oriented.
I have gotten lost.
I have been found.
Recently I was recommended Rebecca Solnit’s, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, and although I am admittedly still only a few chapters into the book, I feel a deep resonance with her description of being confronted by the unknown -- the overwhelming feeling of going somewhere but having no idea how to get to the other side. Only on page 5 of the text, I was struck by the following passage:
"The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation… how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone [and here I would also interject, “something”] else?"
As I have read about algae, cultured algae, gathered it from the lake and the river and found it growing in my studio Brita filter, dipped my hands in vats of it, had it splash on my face and in my mouth, spill in tidal waves across my floors and seep through the floorboard cracks, I have been struck by the incredibly flexible, invasive, pervasive nature of this organism which seems to know no bounds and have no boundaries. Algae can be found in literally every climate and environment, from beneath the ice in the Arctic Circle to the super-saline pools of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. It can be found living symbiotically on lichen covered rock or as enormous floating patches, algal blooms, which are often indicative of an ecological imbalance, both beautiful and frightening in their immensity. Algal bodies can be small enough to be invisible to the naked eye (microalgae), or large enough to sprawl in twisting tendrils across the ocean floor (macroalgae). Algae and its byproducts have infiltrated our lives, invisible but present across food, pharmaceutical, science, and fuel industries. Even when processed industrially, algae is persistent in maintaining its mutable, gelatinous nature: alginate (an impressionable paste used for mold-making of all kinds); agar (a gelling agent derived from the brown algae agar agar, used equally in laboratories and kitchens); carrageen (derived from a red algae and utilized to increase viscosity in food products); alginic acid (a viscous, gum-like substance, important in the manufacturing of paper and textiles -- a substance perhaps used to manufacture the very paper this is printed on).
To suddenly find what you are looking for in every nook and cranny is a dis/orienting experience -- a philosophical premise not unlike that of intra-actions propositioned by Karen Barad: “a dis/orienting experience of the dis/jointedness of time and space, entanglements of here and there, now and then...a ghostly sense of dis/continuity, a quantum dis/continuity...”
My initial investigation into the transformation of algae into biodesel was a point -- a material process -- to start a conversation, and the conversation has grown exponentially in dis/continuity and dis/jointedness. It has become a conversation about complexity / non-linear inter-connectivity / radical intimacy / felting / felt / carbon / carbon-felt / soil samples / terracotta / digging / Douglas Huebler / 1968-1972 / the 1972 Oil Crisis / Cinder Lake / holes / Mir Mine / Mir Space Station / the Deep Tunnel Project / Nature’s Metropolis / Lake Michigan / microbial fuel cells / anaerobic environments / closed-systems / fossil fuel / carbon cycles / The Biosphere / Biosphere 2 / Paragon Space / the Google Lunar X prize / lunar greenhouses / the moon / Cosmicomics / simulated lunar regolith / meteorites / Apollo 17 / Voyager / The Cosmos / Carl Sagan / the Overview Effect / Bubbles / the Arctic Circle / Iceland / isolation / stations / trains / railroads / bricks / steel / tracks / dikes / rivers / boats / mobility / nomadism / nomadic science / Capitalism and Schizophrenia / rhizomes / mycelium / hylozoism / living structures / Ken Issacs / Buckminster Fuller / my father’s Whole Earth Catalogs / ephemerality / Eva Hesse / loss / survival / mess / maintenance / Miereles Laderman Ukeles / care / love / amateurism / the Public Amateur / “Access to Tools” / toolboxes /information / knowledge / bibliophilia / Bouvard and Pècuchet / DIY culture / blackboards / whiteboards / hope / potentiality / failure / fulcrums / absurdity / propositions / Simon Starling / curiosity / The Age of Wonder / exploration / navigation / latitude / longitude / getting lost / contradictions / collaboration / experimentation / transformation / Mythologies / Le chante du styrène / plastic / the plastic arts / Joseph Beuys / fat / felt / honey / mead / energy / electricity / Vibrant Matter / foam / graphitic foam / sulfuric acid / sulfur crystals / bismuth / enantiomorph forms / endothermic reactions / exothermic reactions / equilibium / balance / counter-balance / certainty / uncertainty / subjectivity / longing / blueness / cyanotypes / photosensitivity / photoshynthesis / biology / cutting / grafting / hybrizing / mixing / action / reaction / chemistry / alchemy / gold / algal biodiesel / oil / water / tar / carbonization / extremophiles / super-saline lakes / Dunaliella salina / brine shrimp / spirals / helixes / Robert Smithson / site / non-site / mobile site / compost / bacteria / microsoms / macrocosms / iteration / reiteration / repetition /
At its origin, this was an exploration about algae and its transformation into biodiesel. After a year of thinking, making, researching, growing, transforming, I feel as if I have been inexorably, irresistibly, drawn into a hole of possibilities and potentialities. So the question repeats itself: how to pick a point from which to begin when confronted with a multiplying web, a rhizomatic network, an infinitely revolving spiral?
I think I have to begin again, this time within the im/possibility of a hole.
A year ago -- a year prior to the opening of this threewallsolo exhibition -- I had the pleasure of assisting A. Laurie Palmer de-construct and re-construct Hole as we moved it from the site of her studio to the site of her threewallsolo, “Still, yet, further, else, again.” A massive structure of old-growth wood salvaged from demolished Chicago buildings, Hole rose vertically in threewalls’ main space, stacked layer upon layer, without any armature; a feat of constructed balance growing and rising and expanding centrifugally to touch the walls, filling the space and merging into the architecture of the gallery.
Upon first entering threewalls, the sculpture was unrecognizable as a hole, reading instead as a tornado or a cyclone: a positive occupation of space rather than a cut into the Earth. It wasn’t until you re/positioned yourself -- by stepping up onto the built platforms, or were hoisted to the gallery ceiling by a fellow viewer via a counterweight system -- that the hole became visible. From the elevated vantage point of the ceiling, a seemingly bottomless vortex extended into the depths below, towards the center of the Earth, a vortex that gestured further outward, moving beyond the physical limits of the space. As you descended from this bird’s-eye view, you were struck anew by the groundedness of the hole, rising from a singular point on the floor. This subtle yet radical shifting of perspective -- of a multiplices of viewpoints -- allowed for an experience of dis/connection, for an understanding of the hole as an im/possibility.
As I have begun to re/orient my own proposition for this threewallsolo exhibition, I have been struck by this relationship between a point -- or a site or a material or a thing -- and the multiplices of perspectives from which it can be understood and experienced. By the resulting sense of dis/connection this brings. A dis/connection which makes me feel I know more and less with each passing day. A feeling of dis/connection which hovers in the back of my studio, in the back of my mind, as I collect seemingly disparate materials, searching for the threads of connection that will weave -- or I should say to felt -- them together into a cohesive structure.
About a year prior to assisting Laurie with the installation of Hole, I happened upon Chris Thompson’s text Felt: Fluxus, Joseph Beuys and the Dalai Lama, and ever since, this idea of “felt” -- the material and the metaphor it embodies -- has become essential to my understanding of the chaotic, serendipitous yet directed process of generating connections that is so fundamental to the way I operate as an artist in the world. Essential, perhaps, to describing this experience of dis/connection. As Thompson writes:
"The words text and textile share the same etymological root, the Latin verb texere, meaning “to weave” [having a warp and a weft, an x and a y axis, a linear construction]. Felt has a different composition altogether. It is a nonwoven fabric, a body without axes, created through the multiple, random interlockings of spiral strands. The material owes its structural integrity to the chance bindings among its irregular spiral fibers. Felt is arrived at through the leaving-to-chance – even if it is a methodical and meticulous leaving-to-chance – of the combination of the spiral fibers, textures, and interstices of wool."
I have been thinking of felt -- this nonwoven fabric -- as a model for articulating a mode of making dis/connections, of assembling materials, ideas, experiences, etcetera, and forming them together into a structure, a cohesive assemblage, through pressure, heat, labor and a “methodical and meticulous leaving-to-chance.” A process of “leaving to chance” that Simon Starling describes in an interview with Fancesco Manacorda in his most recent monograph: “But in a way, like many of my works, there are these chance collisions, these rather serendipitous meetings that, at a certain point, start to drive the form of things…”
A “leaving to chance” that requires room for failure, necessitates a certain resilience and provides a space for hope. A “leaving to chance” that demands that the artist, and consequently the viewer, stand at the edge of the un/known, on the brink of un/certainty. A “leaving to chance” that Solnit describes as “...the art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing that there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control. To calculate on the unforeseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.”
At its origin, this was an exploration about algae and its transformation into biodiesel. As my research has carried me away from this point of origin, growing in density -- felted density -- and complexity, I have become dis/oriented. As Laurie expressed during the talk she hosted that spring in the threewalls gallery space, as she stood under the arching mass of Hole rising overhead:
"The deeper I got into this research the more complex the interconnections became between labor, toxics, land use, biotechnology, homeland security, histories of genocide and racism, space exploration, energy use, globalized trade, and, well, etcetera. I began to draw large spirals for each chapter I was writing in which varying quantities and flavors of the above topics arranged themselves, with Mark Lombardi‐type links cutting through the curves of the spirals to make supporting networks... everything linking back to the oil industries…”
Everything is simultaneously, overwhelmingly, inaccessibly complex and elegantly simple. Everything links back to / stems from oil. Oil deposits that are composed of fossilized algae, the product of thousands of years of light, energy, pressure and anaerobic activity. Fossilized algae that is dug up, processed, burned, released into the atmosphere, absorbed back into algal bodies and re/deposited into the earth to be fossilized again in another million years. As Claire Pentecost reminds me in her Notes on the Underground, “the earth is more vastly complex than a human analogy can contain. The life cycles of ten million living species all consuming energy and releasing by-products are coordinated in a system that collects energy from a star and recycles its own waste. The activity of life is what created the atmosphere of earth and now regulates it. We and our atmosphere evolved together.”
So the question repeats itself: how to pick a point from which to begin when confronted with a multiplying web, a rhizomatic network, an infinitely revolving spiral?
Perhaps the root of the problem is in the phrasing of the question itself, in the assumption that there is a singular point of origin, rather than a set of coordinates from which to begin.
Recently, while sitting at a kitchen table, Douglas Huebler’s 1968 “Site Sculpture Project, Windham College, Putney, Vermont” was pointed out to me in the text On Location: Siting Robert Smithson and His Contemporaries. For these “site sculptures,” Huebler would draw a series of arbitray points on a map in the form of a geometric shape and set out to collect samples located by those geometries. In the 1968 version, “Site Sculpture Project, Windham College, Putney, Vermont,” Huebler spent only a day at Windham College in Putney, Vermont; he drew a pentagon with the college campus at its center, and proceeded to collect earth from each of the five sites that fell at the vertices of the pentagon. Huebler cast the five samples he collected in resin and, after exhibiting them in the university gallery, re-buried them on the Windham campus.
At its origin, this was an exploration about algae and its transformation into biodiesel. After a year of thinking, making, researching, growing, transforming, the points of origin have multiplied, the coordinates have become dis/connected.
I have, like Huebler, selected 5 sets of coordinates from which to collect algal samples. Although these sites are in many ways dictated by the whims of chance -- by making dis/jointed leaps, following unexpected connections, giving way to the haphazard nature of my research process and swimming out into the deep waters of the un/known -- I am positioning these 5 sets of coordinates as anchors, as stationary moorings in a sea of shifting relationality. My intention with this text is to provide a road map connecting these 5 sets of coordinates. It is a way for me to felt together a narrative structure while hopefully still allowing space for you, the reader, to make your own connections within these pages, to follow your own dis/jointed leaps between my collected words and images. Although language is undeniably linear in nature, I want to put forward this idea of the experience of a book as a multiplices; as a way in which messages and transmissions can be packaged together and sent simultaneously along a single telephone line. The way in which Deluze and Guttari’s proposition the book as a space where “there are lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories; but also lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification. A book is an assemblage... It is a multiplicity…[a multiplices].”