Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Squaring the Circle or Unusual Uses for Veggies

1. These two paintings are by Spanish painter Juan Sanchez Cotan (1561 - 1627). They are part of a series of 'kitchen pictures' that I have been reading about lately in a essay called "Rhopography" by Norman Bryson that was part of a collection of four essays about still life painting that he published under the title "Looking at the Overlooked" in 2002.

The initial reason I thought about this project in relation to these was I made a formal connection between the kind of collapsed depth of the composition in the paintings and the almost abstract physical space of the light boxes. I think I am trying to get an idea about what kind of spaces these lightboxes are -- they are photographic spaces, but also closely connected to the way high-profile advertising appears in the streets of Wellington. Their materials, configuration and established role as art spaces I guess skews the advertising connotation slightly, but perhaps it is still a space where promotion, text and image are swiveling together.

Bryson talks about these paintings as having a surplus of appearance (beyond realism -- he calls it hyperreality) that sits in opposition to the established power structures demonstrated in narrative painting (the presence of the heroic figure and the strict journey the eye is commanded to take through the painting). The critique in these works are firstly located in the subject matter, and secondly in the manner in which they are painted. But these do not sit outside the rarefied realm of painting completely, they are the necessary counter-compliment to narrative painting. Kind of like how Dan du Bern used to joke (perhaps still does) when asked what kind of art he made, would reply "Organic Art".

But.... I want to connect these paintings to your poem Rachel. Not that I am suggesting Cotan's level of intimacy with vegetables (!), although I do spend much of my life in the kitchen, more that I am thinking about forms of visibility, or legibility, or realism when trying to speak about intimacy. Perhaps for these paintings the vegetables (through colours, textures and lines) become material metaphors for a certain kind of touching -- kind of how your words work in your poem. They get stacked, paced and layered on top of each other with the forms and the meanings all leaning on each other. Words facing each other. Bryson talks about the curves in Cotan's paintings as being hyperbolas:

"In relation to the quince, the cabbage appears to come forward slightly; the melon is further forward than the quince, the melon slice projects out beyond the ledge, and the cucumber overhangs it still further. The arc is therefore not on the same plane as its co-ordinates, it curves in three dimensions: it is a true hyperbola, of the type produced when a cone is viewed in oblique section"

2. I made this image with Clare earlier this year -- there is a much larger series that this one is part of. It was in my studio, and we used a mirror and a quite precarious set-up with the both of us balancing behind a curtain, with the camera and our hands sticking out from holes in the fabric. When we had found a place for our visible hands, one of us would hold the curtain up while the other focussed the camera and pressed the shutter. It is interesting for me to think about what it takes to make pictures, the completely non-everyday processes that I construct to turn a situation into something that is visible only as an image. Perhaps these images could be "accurate fictions" as you speak about them Rachel? Actually this reminds me of a text by the German artist Hito Steryerl, it was published on e-flux, and you can read it here. It is not a super heavy or particularly thorough text -- but when I read it I felt like she was articulating a political relationship with images that I had been trying to speak of in relation to my own work.

Perhaps this could be a helpful read in terms of what this project could mean for us as a group -- and especially in relation to your questions Mary-Jane. As a way to start approaching your question about how (and indeed to what point of visibility) this project addresses contemporary homosexuality, I think that being a woman, being gay, being a feminist, being from New Zealand, these things all form a place, or a set of conditions, that I speak from as an artist. But I am wary of the point where these conditions then become causal ie. that I say these things, this way, to these people because I am gay or feminist, or from New Zealand (I think this is connected to how Hito defines representation). Part of what makes what I say, and to whom, have potential -- a wayward potential -- is that every time I speak or make work, I participate in articulating what an embodiment of these conditions could do. But I also believe very strongly in moments when a collective position of feminism, for example, materialises. In a way this project, as it stands now -- with the four of us --, is already articulating a community of gay women, so the question would be is this a generative juncture to work from (as I think we are already working within)? What would it mean for us to articulate this in public space?

My intuition with this would be to let our collaboration and the resulting work lead the way here. I can only speak about my own work, but I feel like questions of gender and sexuality are increasingly appearing as legible threads in my work -- in particular, in relation to performative modes of writing, image making and installation. I don't necessarily see my work as having a gay agenda, but more personally that there are binaries of gender and sexuality where I see and desire ambiguities.

I like the way you describe your work Rachel, as burying clues and revealing opacity's, as I feel like a certain shifting, shuffling and shadowing could make a nice nest. But I also wonder about maintaining a direct mode of address within the work -- I would like to approach these spaces as public platforms, and be able to make a series of works that use this component of the site quite explicitly.

3. This is one of the works Marie Shannon showed in the light boxes in 2009 under the title Love Notes. I really like the way with these works that the notes are addressed to someone, from someone, but the position in public space stretches (but does no rupture) the intimacy of the message out towards the public. I have an impulse to somehow break the photographic surface of the light boxes -- perhaps by making images that have holes in them, or using them as objects located and negotiated in space and duration -- like you suggested Rachel with text on one side and images on the other for example, or use them as indicators of something happening elsewhere.

In terms of this collaboration that we are embarking on across the time/space continuum, I am really enthusiastic about making it work, but I do think that we need to factor in the distance we are working across into our process -- it would be pretty difficult to try and develop a project pretending that it does not exist. With this in mind, the blog is a place to discuss ideas, but we also need to make a space and give time for the articulations of making, testing and experimenting (a kind of studio I guess). How can we go about this making as also a collaborative mode of conversation? Mmmm. What specific kind of collaboration would be interesting for this project? Recently, I made a documentary film with a group of artists. One of the artists had worked professionally on films before, so he kind of plonked us into "official" film making roles -- based very loosely on what we perceived to be our skill base (this worked in some senses and disastrously in others!). It was super interesting to be part of a structure intended to be about efficiency of production and specialisation but, because we were all artists and fumbling to fill our roles, the production process and final film took some unusual detours.

I wonder if we could somehow take the structure of collective production (from television, for example) and work towards a project that worked with the space of images and narrative. We could work on, for example, a television show, or a bio-pick about mystery novel writer, giving ourselves production roles and a series of narrative or stylistic constraints to work within. I am really attracted to this idea Rachel, that you have a fictional character that you can then test ideas with, and I can imagine this as a really fascinating place to play-out (and also to somehow expose the mechanism of representing) these accurate fictions of self. Perhaps the final project could take a fragmentary approach to the possibilities of a collective production process -- for example, we just produce the publicity for the film, or the script for the pilot of the television show; there are scripts that are impossible to make into films, music scores that are more true without the accompanying film, and film-stills that are really photographs. Perhaps we could work with/around the binocular book you are working from Rachel?

This seems interesting to me... perhaps awful to you!?

I am very excited to see how our discussion progresses. And totally looking forward to our skype date. I think Clare mentioned that I am going to be in NZ in October, so we can talk over skype about how we can use the time with three of us together.

I hope you are all well. I have discovered my dream motivational tune (perfect for a studio lull). Turn it up loud: here.

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