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
Guilty 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.