I enjoyed Renee Cox’s work, talk, and interview a lot. In her talk, she gave an overview of several bodies of work that spanned many years. She presented the work chronologically and it was great to be able to see how her work changed and evolved. This format also allowed me to notice similarities and through lines throughout her work. Cox herself was the subject of most of her pictures, and often she posed nude. She spoke about the power in nudity that she feels, and how it is her most direct self. I felt incredibly empowered seeing Cox’s work. I was still hurting and reeling from the election results and I appreciated seeing and listening about images of a powerful woman.
Cox also spoke about the power and responsibility she has as an artist to change and create new narrative. When people told her that her career was over because she was pregnant while in the Whitney visiting artist program, she made her pregnancy the subject of her work. She did not see any black super heroes, so she created her own, Rajé. Rajé was a giant and Cox depicted her doing things like protecting the sphinx in Egypt and grabbing a taxi in New York city. Her most controversial work was “Yo Mama’s Last Supper”, which reimagined the last supper where everyone except Judas was played by a person of color. Cox herself posed nude as Jesus. The religious right took great offense to this piece, but Cox was surprised by the controversy. I loved how she viewed the work. She asked what was so wrong about reimagining a famous scene with people that looked more like her. White men such as Da Vinci had been doing the same for centuries. I find it interesting and sad that so many people felt like it was a huge act of subversion and insult to ask people to reimagine a world where a woman of color was trying to do what white men had been doing for years. Even though my work does not address the same issues as Cox’s, I came away from her talk inspired and empowered to value my voice as an artist.
I struggle with writing about my work. While I was in undergrad, I got a degree in math. I made art as well, but I always thought of it as separate from my academic studies. I was rarely asked to explain what or why I was making, and I almost never had to write about my work. There is still a part of me that associates academic work and research with doing math exercises and problem sets. I am still learning how to connect my thinking, making, and writing within my artistic practice. I usually do not have a problem describing the math that is embedded in my work. This is familiar territory, but when it comes to other aspects of my work, I am less articulate.
I like how Rachel Jones talks about the value of not knowing and how that can lead to wonder. I would like my work to produce a sense of wonder and a desire for more knowledge. I find wonder in the parts of my work that I cannot understand fully. I think part of why I am making art work about math instead of studying math is because I am trying to express something that cannot fully be put into words. Jones talks about being undone in order to think and make openly. She thinks one must let go of what he or she previously thought and become open to new ideas, in other words one has to learn how to “unlearn”. This is where my practice does not completely agree with Jones. Some of the mathematical elements of my work, remain very rigid, and do not have an opportunity to remain open to change. I model my work on the computer, and once I decide on a design and start fabricating it, there is only so much room to change. I am looking for a balance of knowing and not knowing in my work. I am interested in the certainty and reliability of the math in my work, but I also want to allow for wonder and mystery.
I think about my work’s relationship to the viewer a lot. I am very concerned with space and how my work can alter, transform, highlight, or disguise it for the viewer. I sometimes want my work to physically change the shape of a space and how people move through it, but other times I am more interested in how a piece can make the viewers aware of the space in a different way. Many of the artists that I look at for inspiration are minimalists, so I was interested in Michael Fried’s essay, Art and Objecthood. The part I found most interesting, was most of his critiques of what he called literalist art, I found as positives and reasons why I am drawn to minimalist or literalist art. He argues that the literalists’ works have objecthood, which demand a theatrical read. The size of the literalists work causes the viewer to become a subject. The viewer is both considered and a part of the work, but also separate from the piece. Literalist works confront the viewer and often stand in his or her way. This is what excites me about large minimalist work. It forces me to both contemplate the work, but it also makes me aware of myself and the space that I and the piece take up.
This makes me think of when I saw Michael Heizer’s work, North, East, South, West. It is a massive sculpture where primitive geometric forms are cut out of the floor to create enormous voids. The piece alters how you walk when near it. It almost has an invisible fence around it. I was acutely aware of how massive the voids were, which made me much more aware of my own body and the space it took up. The theatricality of the piece allowed me to have a visual as well as embodied experience of the piece.
I think about material and my making process a lot. I decided to leave my studies in mathematics to pursue art largely because for me math was lacking a physical element. I did ceramics as a hobby for many years, but I was finding that the more hours that I spent thinking about abstract math, the more I wanted to make physical objects. In this way, I was craving knowledge through physicality and making, which Tisseron talks about. I also found, that around the same time I decided to leave the math world, many of the mathematical concepts that I was studying entered into my work. It was as if I was so fed up with the purely theoretical nature of the math I was studying, I needed physical proof to back it up. It is around this time that I made the Klein bottles that I posted earlier. I also really resonated with the Barrett reading because I suddenly found myself dealing with mathematical concepts in the art world. This is still something that I grapple with in my work. In math, the rules and logic are agreed upon and are absolute, and I am constantly trying to negotiate how those rules fit into the context of art. I also liked the examples that Barrett gave of how following an artistic line of inquiry could lead to new and different knowledge and discoveries as seen in the blogging as art. I do not presume that I will discover some new mathematical truth through my work, but my practice feels like a way for me to understand math concepts that I am familiar with in a different way.
I have also been thinking about materiality a lot in my work lately. My most recent body of work has revolved around making physical representations of math functions. Inherent in this endeavor is that no material will allow for the “perfection” that is found in the theoretical function. Even by using computer programs to design the work, and CNC machines to help make it, I end up confronting material constraints all the time. I am interested in what is lost and gained by transforming these theoretical functions into wood, clay, foam, and plaster. Right now, much of this lies in the agency of the materials. I could not help but feel like the wood I was using was fighting back when I left with many splinters and scraped knuckles. Perhaps by turning these functions into materials, I am attempting to give them their own agency in the world.
After reading and discussing O’Doherty’s Inside the White Cube, the biggest question I still had was about three-dimensional work. Most of the things I make are 3D and right now I am grappling with how my work is displayed. I am interested in the separation of my work and the space in which it is living. In an ideal world, I would love much of my work to simply float in space, but gravity of course makes this impossible. In some of my pieces, I view the hardware used to hang or display it as an element that bridges the gap between the piece and the space. This sometimes is more successful than others, but I think I am looking for a solution that allows me to display a piece the way I want, but also does not distract from what the piece is about. Recently, I have been thinking about my work as a way of trying to alter or redefine space. I have been making pieces that are site specific and interact with existing architecture more directly. In this work, the edge of the work becomes much more difficult to find. I find this blurring really interesting because it then affects how the viewer approaches a piece. People interact with architecture and art very differently, and when those two things begin to intertwine, I hope it provides a different viewing experience. I am reminded of seeing James Turell’s exhibit at the Guggenheim a few years ago, and it was so depended on the architecture of the museum, yet I could not discern or define any frame or edge of the work.
I found Will Lamson to be a very interesting artist. I liked his artist talk a lot and was appreciative he broke with the familiar format of an artist lecture. He mostly focused on a couple of his projects and just touched on others. He also spent the majority of his time talking about his most recent project and was very open with the fact that he had not yet reconciled and processed all parts of that piece. By going in depth on a couple of projects, we were allowed to see more of Will’s process as an artist instead of just the end product. I enjoyed learning about how his concepts emerged and his determination to get the work done. He talked about having the idea for his piece Excavations, but getting his proposal rejected by a show in Miami. It was a huge revelation for Will to contact ArtPrize in Michigan, and realize that if he was willing to fund his project, he could do it. This freed him up to make how and what he wanted. It was really helpful to hear about an artist’s process from conception to execution and I was grateful that he was so open to talking about all parts of this process. Although I liked much of Will’s work, and I particularly found his Walden pond piece beautiful, I had a lot of questions about ego, subject, and artist as genius when listening to Will and learning about his work. I am interested in that line between confidence and ego. When listening to Will talk about Excavations, there was something in the idea that he knew he wanted to pursue at all costs. For that project, he altered an abandoned concrete slab and turned it into to a sculpture, but for his project Hydrologies, Will watered a strip of the land in the Atacama Desert to try to produce an artificial bloom. Even though he only added water, I felt as though it was much more potentially dangerous to alter an ecosystem in the wild than to cut up a concrete slab. I think Will is exploring these concepts of human power versus the power of nature in many of his projects, and I am interested in why some projects feel beautiful and appropriate, while others feel intrusive to nature.
I was most interested about the implications of the death of the author that we discussed at the end of class. I agree with the criticism that by calling for the death of the author, minority groups are prevented from getting to be the author. As Battersby outlined, the artist as genius is a very male idea, and I find it problematic that white men (Barnes and Foucault) are saying that there is no need for an author. By doing this we are depriving all those who have not had the chance to be authors. The death of the author also signals a finite stopping point of the idea of the author, and allows no room for growth or change of the definition of the author. If we allow new and different voices to be authors, the idea and role of the author will also change.
I do think that strategic essentialism is a good way to change the definition of the author. If a large group of voices are not being heard, it is good to give those voices a platform to speak. I am aware of the danger of strategic essentialism perpetuation the idea of otherness in underrepresented groups, but I think the good outweighs the bad. I heard an example on a podcast about the cable channel FX, whose CEO prides himself on letting all the showrunners run their shows with no interference. This sounded like a great place to work as an artist. However, a study was done, and FX came in near last in the number of women and minority directors. This was not a conscious decision on any of the showrunners parts, but they were hiring their friends and colleagues, who happened to be mostly white men. As soon as people became aware of the issue and talking about it, more minorities and women were hired, whose voices could be heard. I think that the art world (as well as all other parts) will benefit from a greater diversity of authors, as well as more definitions of authors.
I find it depressing to think of ourselves as subjects that are always lacking as Lacan says, but it feels like as an artist I am trying to connect to and understand the world in a way that I haven’t been able to before. The world is constantly changing and moving, and we are constantly changing with it, so it makes sense to think that we are never quite sure of ourselves, and always searching for a more whole or resolved version. Art is one way to engage in this search.
Although I do not feel like I make work that is overtly about all of my identity, I am constantly trying to make work to understand my relationship to what I am interested in and why I am interested in those things, and how that fits in the wider world. My art is definitely my attempt to connect to certain parts of myself and the world. This is the way that I see art as an Ideological State Apparatus. Art is influenced heavily by the beliefs and values of society, but since it is a mediation between the self and the greater world, there is the ability to make ideological changes over time. At the end of our discussion, I was left with the question of who/what is the Subject when we are talking about art as an ISA. Althusser gives the example of the church as a Ideological State Apparatus, and it is obvious that God becomes the Subject. He says that the Subject “interpellates all individuals as subjects”, but I cannot think of a single central idea that brings into being all artists as subjects. The church was a concrete example of a ISA, and it was helpful to understand some of Althusser’s ideas, but I am interested in how an institution with less built in structure functions as and Ideological State Apparatus.
I am particularly interested in the Sol Lewitt article we read this week. I have been a fan of Sol Lewitt’s work for a very long time. I was first drawn to it visually in the geometry, color and scale, and I liked it more once I learned about some of the concepts behind it. I love math, so I love his pieces that directly address a problem of geometry, permutations, or counting. I also resonate with the ideas of problem solving and following basic rules to an end. These are ideas that I am often exploring in my own work and it is also what fascinates me about math. The idea that by defining a few basic rules, an entire field of mathematics can emerge. I try to employ the same philosophy when I make as Lewitt, who says to, “Select the basic form and rules that would govern the solution of the problem.”
While I agree with almost all of what Lewitt says in “Paragraphs in Conceptual Art”, I disagree when he says that the idea is the most important part. I am very interested in the physical product of my work. Many of the ideas I am working with right now have to do with math, and I have already spent many years studying them. I want to engage with these ideas in a different way. This is where I can see some of the ideas of Deleuze becoming relevant to my work. I do not claim to fully understand Deleuze’s ideas about becoming, but I am interested in the power of art to bridge a gap between two things, or maybe not bridge the gap but exist in the space between two things. The way I am understanding the idea of becoming is that it is a resonance between things that cannot be fully explained by either of those things. I am interested in exploring the ideas of math through my art because I would like to access something that I was not finding when only studying math.
Here are a couple of pictures of some Klein Bottles I’ve made.