Monday, December 14, 2009

Buried, driven:

At the New Museum:
SkowheganTALKS with Fred Tomaselli and John O'Connor. (12-12-2009)
John O'Connor screened this image of Bob from Twin Peaks (David Lynch's tv series). This charactor buried information in his murder victims by "collaging" cut-out letters under their finger nails.
click image to enlarge

Another image screened by O'Connor. The Cardiff Giant was a 19th century hoax. The sculpture, buried and then "discovered", was taken to be a petrified giant. It became part of a debate over a naive (biblical) account of ancient history.
click image to enlarge

Cardiff Giant
John O'Connor, ink and colored pencil on paper, 2009
The giant story unearthed / translated into a drawing.
click image to enlarge

Fred Tomaselli, print, 2005
click image to enlarge

Dr. Atkins’s Code of Independence
John O'Connor, colored pencil on paper, 2005
78" x 59"
click image to enlarge
O'Connor on "Dr. Atkin's Code of Independence":
"I became inspired to make this drawing while looking at the ancient Egyptian grid systems employed to represent social hierarchy via a pharaoh’s idealism. The system I invented to generate the colors of the grid was based on the size of the language used in various texts – the lengths of words, sentences and paragraphs. It became an indecipherable code. I began the drawing by randomly scribbling across the paper. I then marked the intersection points of the lines and connected them to create the dominant shape in the work. Next, I drew the grid across the entire form and began to apply the system. The system linked the sizes of words, sentences and paragraphs to corresponding colors. For example, if a word was 5 letters in length, it would be red. If it was 10 letters long, it would be silver. The lengths of the sentences are also encoded this way. The sizes of the paragraphs are marked with alternating orange and violet pairs of squares. Finally, a change in text is marked by 4 fluorescent squares. I chose a wide range of texts to encode. I began with the Atkins’ Diet and included works such as Chaos, Declaration of Independence, Bible Code, Dante’s Inferno, How to Build a Time Machine, Rethinking Intuition, The Da Vinci Code and numerous others. The title of each text is written in proximity to its pattern on the grid. Lastly, the color of the larger areas along with the grey central section were determined through chance."

Two terms that were used in the event at the New Museum were "buried narratives" and "information driven". The conversation was an examination of particular works by the two artists (Tomaselli and O'Connor) and an exploration of how their visual choices might relate to "content".

John said that when he and Fred first met several years ago (in John's studio at Skowhegan), Fred looked at the large, complex drawing John was working on, full of diagrammatic information, text, numbers, etc., and wanted to know, "Is there anything behind that, does it mean anything, or is it bullshit?" It turned out that the drawing they were looking at was John investigating and processing his research about Alzheimer's, which a family member was going through at the time. Apparently that was the seed of the talk. I guess that could constitute a "buried narrative", though maybe it's more accurate to call John's work "information driven". I think "buried narrative" is a term Fred brought into the discussion. In either case, I take it to mean that visual choices are fostered by information (whether a story or statistics) that determine or propel abstract visual choices, and that while the end result is derived from and inseparable from that material, the sources may not be transparently available in the final result. O'Connor often cites John Cage, but with O'Connor's work it is different from some who've used chance, the I-Ching or whatever, in that John doesn't shy away from including a lot of personal stuff-- his weight, recordings of his own sleep-talking utterances, or the investigation into the illness of a relative. This is an openness to things that can express a certain vulnerability. Tomaselli talked about how various of his own works were generated out of and tied to his personal stories and experiences. I like Tomaselli's work very much, but I find the relationships John creates between narrative or information and image in his complex drawings particularly unconventional and unique.


Michele said...

Beautiful commentary on John's work.

* said...

thanks, M.


Phillip Buntin said...

Curious about how both would see their work in relationship to Duchamp's "mystery mongering" Thanks Ken, obviously related and helpful to my own meager offerings.

* said...

"Mystery mongering" was used by Gerhard Richter as a kind of anti-Duchamp statement, right? (Talking about his '4 Panes of Glass' as a reaction against the opacity of 'The Large Glass' as well as neo-dada)? I wonder what you think about it-- do you want to say?

Phillip Buntin said...

Ken, Yes it was Richter. I don't know if it is a fair remark, in consideration of his all his work, but I do think it is applicable to some aspects or particular pieces. All the notes surrounding the large glass could be considered communicative of many things, including hermetic inquiry...yet I also think that there is also a certain playful type of mystery mongering in them.

* said...

I agree about playfulness, and also a serious contrariness in Duchamp.

In John's work, I don't see mystification or obfuscation. To me what's being presented is more about how information is gnarled, knotted and sticky in ways that make it impossible to stand outside of and disentangle. The more we reach for it and try to grasp it (in this case visually), the more wrapped up or lost in it we can become-- yet there are things we can see and discover. Beautiful moments that are crystallizations of thought. I don't feel there's a hidden content that's being shrouded, but that the content is what makes up the web. The promise of content is both the bait and the trap.

* said...

I get what Richter meant by "mystery mongering" (and if his '4 panes of glass' comes out of it, cool), but the sentiment of the term doesn't really correspond with the feeling I've had about Duchamp's works.

Phillip Buntin said...

Even in the "Green Box" notes?

* said...

Do you feel that term fits the Green Box notes?

Phillip Buntin said...

Based on the description I read, a long, long time ago, it was my understanding that they are not a collection of his thought processes, but instead a series of obfuscations. Regardless I don't see "mystery mongering" as necessarily pejorative (in spite of Richter), and the tone of the phrase, instead I just see it as another spot along the continuum of this line of thinking/art making. Although I wouldn't apply it to either of the artists mentioned here.

That said, I would think that intentional obfuscation would eventually lead to the disenchantment of the viewer. I am not sure what that line would be, but think it is an interesting relationship to consider.

* said...

I don't know. As soon as you say "intentional obfuscation" I have an urge to say maybe that sounds pretty good as a way to make art (maybe it's even a good provisional description of what art is.)

I can also think of ways to imagine it describing something quite uninteresting, though I think art plays with meaning and thought, and jamming frequencies of expectation is one of the ways to do that.

"Mystery mongering" sounds kind of crass and schmaltzy, and I usually find Duchamp's work elegant and graceful.

And these things are such moving targets without being specifically hitched to particular examples-- ("the disenchantment of the viewer": hey, maybe that's a desirable outcome...etc.) You pointed to to them, but unfortunately I don't really know the Green Box Notes well enough to anchor a reaction in that.

Phillip Buntin said...

Okay you convinced me to leave off mystery mongering.

I would agree with you on the potential of "intentional obfuscation" to be both interesting or lacking. I think the disenchantment of the viewer in my mind would be related to the former and in those instances when a work is intentional oblique and lacking.

But I will leave off now as it seems my conversational style is annoying you. Just thought it might be interesting to explore the topic further. Sorry I couldn't articulate my points more specifically.

* said...

You're not annoying me in any way! I was just trying to engage and figure out what I thought and what you were getting at... Again, not annoyed.

Thanks commenting here, in fact!