Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Garden State Golem

by Drew Martin

New Jersey is nicknamed The Garden State, which seems ironic to New Yorkers who never get passed the gaseous Meadowlands and to other Out-of-Staters who have only driven the bleak Turnpike. Most of New Jersey, however, is dense with vegetation and nestled in wooded oases. Its tree-lined streets and manicured lawns offer some of the nicest towns in America. I moved to New Jersey after living in Prague several years and I brought with me the stories of Golem from the old Jewish ghetto. I conceived of a similar character, transplanted to the town of Ridgewood, where I now live. The result...a Grass Golem: a living hedge, a wandering bush that would roam the lush properties like a mossy Yeti. I sewed a baggy suit from AstroTurf and had a limber Bikram Yoga student bring the outfit and project alive. Although the idea was simply to create a photo series of this Golem in various poses on different yards, the piece turned into something very different and much more communal when friends and neighbors started interacting with the Golem: even pruning and watering it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Commuter Art: An Interview with Richard Blumenfeld

Peripheral Art has many facets and definitions but one of the most transitional forms and interesting subsets is Commuter Art. This is not Poetry in Motion or graffiti on train cars but art that is created on trains, planes, buses, ferries and metros. The purest form is created by the artist as a way to creatively pass the time without the intention to display it anywhere or to anyone. This means that the viewer usually only gets glimpses of the process but none-the-less has the privilege of proximity.

The following interview is with such a creator, Richard Blumenfeld. He draws during his daily train and subway commutes between Northern NJ and Manhattan. Once a woman reported him to the NYPD because she thought it invasive and sinister for someone to draw someone else without permission. Two policemen immediately took him aside asked to see his sketch book. After thumbing through it, they handed it back and said "You're pretty good!" Another time a man on the NY subway handed him a draft of a poem written about him drawing on the subway.

I observed Richard for a long time, perhaps it was years, as I having been on his route for ten years. He quietly draws his fellow commuters, usually without their knowledge. Once or twice I felt like I was in his drawing zone so I tried not to move too much. Our acquaintances were made outside the commuting world. The following is an interview conducted via email (my questions were written during my commute).

So, did I get the two incidents (police and poet) right or did I exaggerate or miss something?

Yes, you got them right. I had no idea sketching could be so risky. Two out-of-breath uniformed officers caught up with me after jogging up the stairs from the PATH train to the street. One tapped me on the shoulder--he looked to be about fourteen years old, the other, mature enough to shave--and asked if they could talk to me. They maneuvered me out of the crowd to a quieter spot, looked me over, and said, "We understand you were drawing a picture of a woman on the train." This was post-9/11 downtown Manhattan, soldiers in camouflage with rifles at the ready. The gears spun while I desperately tried to conjure up the least sinister answer possible, one that would keep me from causing an elevation of the national threat clock from amber to red. I confessed: "Yes, I was." I'm not sure whether I hung my head in shame. There was a bit of a hesitation while these two unfortunate peace officers calculated their next move. "Can we see the picture?" I handed them my sketch book, turned to the most recent drawing, and showed it to them. They looked it over, inspected a few of the other pictures, finished with a rather generous evaluation of my inky scrawls and went on their way, probably wondering how to incorporate this particular investigation into the training of future police recruits. I felt rather righteous--in that moment I was transformed from no-talent sketcher to member of the subversive, underground artistic community. I had suffered for my art, been questioned by The Man. I resolved to grow a beard and drink my coffee inky black. Then I realized I already have a beard and drink my coffee inky black.

My interaction with the poet was somewhat less stressful. A complete stranger holding onto the strap in front of my subway seat wordlessly hands me a piece of paper, penetrating my invisible cone of protection. I'm wondering, is this a prelude, a distraction prior to a mugging? Is he a beggar, a lunatic, a long-forgotten colleague? Does he not understand the commuters' social contract that demands zero interaction between riders other than pushing and shoving while racing for seats? I took the risk of glancing down at the proffered sheet, a seemingly ordinary piece of laser-printed bond but showing the phrase "It's about you!" scrawled across the bottom in blue ballpoint. It was, indeed, a poem about an artist on the train who uses his briefcase as his easel. Definitely me. I wasn't sure how to react, so I went the quid pro quo route. I tugged my current drawing out of my perforated-paper sketchbook, signed it, and handed it to him. He looked it over and slipped it into his own notebook. When the train stopped, he went his way, and I went mine, both silent, our respective cones re-energized.

Do you recall if you ever drew me? I think I positioned myself a few times to be an ideal candidate.

I don't think I ever drew Drew, but it's possible. I draw whoever comes into my line of vision without too much regard for who it is. Since the pose is usually pretty short--my subway ride is about ten minutes--I don't retain much of a memory of the subjects from day to day.

I still actually have not seen your work up close. I remember it being scratchy pen work. Are most of your drawings of the commuters or do you also draw from memory or fantasy?

Mostly I draw the commuters, but sometimes I draw en plein air. (Now that you've elevated me from scribbler to artist I feel there should be some French involved.) I've tried a few times to draw from memory, but I haven't been very successful.

Drawing seems to be almost part of a curriculum for you. I have not seen you draw much since we were introduced to each other but I recall you also reading/studying Hebrew and I think I saw you reading up on knot tying. How does drawing fit in to your commuting electives? Is it for expression - something you feel you have to/want to do or is it much more of a practical approach, such as learning to juggle?

It's a bit of a mixture. There are all kinds of ways to spend time on the commute: some people read the paper, some read books, some sleep, some yammer on their phones. Drawing started off as a pastime, but I've come to enjoy my own work, enough so that I want to make more of it. I really enjoy the challenge of image-making, the creation of a likeness with marks on paper under the time pressure of a ten-minute subway ride, or the occasional longer pose on the suburban train. Since I have no gallery to fill with saleable work, no art director to satisfy, drawing is, for me, quite self-indulgent. If I don't draw, I usually do something else self-indulgent: I daydream, I study foreign languages for which I have no use, I braid friendship bracelets, hence the knot-tying reference material. If I had a bit more room on the train, I'd definitely work on the juggling.

Are most people clueless to your gaze? How do they react when they find out, other than by telling the cops?

Fortunately the episode with the cops was a one-time thing. I don't call attention to what I'm doing, so the subject of the drawing doesn't usually know what I'm doing. Once in a while someone reacts in a negative way--a glare, a harrumph, an oral threat (well, that only happened once, a few years back)--and I switch subjects. The folks sitting next to me sometimes watch me draw, shifting their gaze back and forth from my pad to the subject. I've gotten a few compliments from these watchers, but I get the occasional critic, too. "So, what is that, like, a caricature?" Not exactly what a likeness-maker wants to hear, but when you draw in public, you have to have a thick skin.

Do you draw much outside the train? How is it different in another environment and another sense of time?

The train is pretty much my atelier. (A little more French, on account of I'm an artiste, now. Oops, did it again.) Sometimes I draw buildings, lunch carts, chess players in the park--they stay pretty still, so they're a good subject for me--and the odd piece of statuary. I remember drawing a ruined sculpture several times in Battery Park, where the piece had been transported after being partially destroyed on 9/11.

I am going to post this interview with one of your drawings...tell us a bit about it.

This page of three faces is pretty typical for me. I started to draw one fellow, a strap hanger got in the way so I switched to a second guy, ran out of room on the page, then switched again, all in about ten minutes. I used a "Gelly Roll" pen, which produces a very dense line but tends to smudge, on a Canson sketch pad, about six inches by nine.

Thank you for your time. I really love to see art created so purely and by someone who has made time for it from an otherwise busy and responsible life for family and career.

I'm flattered you think of my work as art. I'm thinking of buying a beret.

The Museum of Peripheral Art: Bon Ton Cleaners (The Well)

by Drew Martin

This project appeared at Bon Ton Cleaners in Ridgewood, NJ from 2007-2008.

Studnia (Well)
A man came out of the house and shouted at me in Polish:
"Would you please explain to me why you are taking pictures of my well?!
I told him I was an artist from America, photographing objects that interested me and that I liked his well. I said it had a 'nice form.' The man's tone changed. His posture straightened.
He enthusiastically approached me and explained how he built this well with his own hands and told me how deep it was. He even bragged about how he only drank water from this well; because the town water is chlorinated. Then he pointed at a nice house next to his, smiled at me and said,
"My daughter lives there."

The Museum of Peripheral Art: The Wall

by Drew Martin

The Museum of Peripheral Art started with a communal art wall project on the corner of my property on South Broad Street and Brainard Place in Ridgewood, NJ in the early 2000's. To finish off a section of the yard without perimeter fencing and a living hedge, I piled all of the field stones dug up during the post hole digging. The pile was added on to with colonial bricks, Polish Tatra Mountain river stones, Prague cobble stones and other rocks from around the world. I also placed there small sculptures, trophies and other curious objects. Soon enough it became an attraction. Neighbors contributed to it and it started drawing a lot of attention. This all happened during the time I was working on my Master's thesis on the relationship of image and text. This work was academic and isolated, destined for a dark closet of The New School. The Wall, however, was much more promising. It was communal and constantly in flux. One old Jamaican neighbor once passed by, shook her head and said "I don't know what it is but I like it!" Another time I started pulling it down to clean up the corner and a passerby argued that it was part of the neighborhood and his "tradition" so I have left it up and still maintain it. This feedback, combined with the rememberance of a project I was part of in the late 1980's in Santa Barbara, where local artists exhibited works in the display windows of the closed shops during the reconstruction of State Street sparked The Museum of Peripheral Art and such serendipitous, projects.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Per Form

by Drew Martin

An email came in at 2 a.m. this morning from an acquaintance, which promised "an alternative theater experiment...a night of storytelling, a way of remembering into emergence..." in a basement in New Jersey tonight. The email had four images of which has been posted here. The acquaintance, Magda, is a young lady, originally from Gdansk, Poland. During the winter, I went to a similar storytelling event in her suburban basement. It was mesmerizing: the young lady transformed herself into an ancient woman and the corner of her basement, where she performed, looked like a mountain campsite. Her audience were friends, friends of friends and kids of friends.

The email (and remembrance of that night) made me think a bit more about performance art. The first performance art piece I vaguely recall had something to do with a ranting fellow art student, a bathroom stall and a plastic fork. That was the late 1980's, when American performance art was waking up to Karen Finley after a night out with Chris Burden and tossing and turning with nightmares of Joseph Beuys.* The performance art I was most familiar with was in Ann Hamilton's installations of the early 1990's and on the streets of Prague by DEREVO in that same period.

If performance art still seems marginal it is most likely because the message is lost to the delivery. Perhaps what is missing is the relationship of the timeless story teller to the audience, which Magda naturally mastered; commanding time and space, casting spells over the listeners. In the name of art, this art has now been lost to a cool distancing of the analytic viewer or worse, those who perceive performance as entertainment.


Finley had a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant withdrawn, in 1990, when her chocolate-dipped body was described as obscene by the ultra right-wing U.S. Senator Jesse Helms.

Burden is best known for his 1971 performance piece, Shoot, in which he was shot in his left arm by an assistant from a distance of about five meters. Burden was taken to a psychiatrist after this piece.

Beuys, a former rear gunner for the Luftwaffe, most famous for his pivotal 1974 performance, "I Like America and America Likes Me" for which he flew to New York, was taken by a veiled ambulance to a room in the René Block Gallery on East Broadway. He shared this room with a wild coyote, for eight hours over three days. At the end of the three days, Beuys hugged the coyote and was taken to the airport. Again, he rode in the ambulance, leaving America without having set foot on its ground.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

D.R.E.W. - Drawings that Reflect the Experience of Words

by Drew Martin

While working on my Masters at The New School in 2004, I wrote a rambling but occasionally insightful paper (bound as a small book) with the egocentric title: D.R.E.W. - Drawings that Reflect the Experience of Words. The essay suggests that drawing, in our earliest stages, is more about movement than imagination. Tracing movement with a crayon builds up a creative relationship of action and art. I call drawing a "byproduct" of motion.

I also explore the idea that drawing is essential to human development and the advancement of civilization. The mind and map developed together to understand space in abstract ways and to eventually discover, amongst other things, that the world is round. The drawn map is a record of both the movement of a hand as well as a body through space. We move our bodies across seas, deserts and mountains and record these movements, landmarks and features in our minds and then we translate this information to a scale that can be understood at a glance.

My essay eventually works its way towards the D.R.E.W concept by replacing a physical landscape with the abstract terrain of words and language. At the time, I was drawing for Logos, which required reading lengthy and academic writings and providing editorial drawings. The essay attempts to explain and describe the types of drawing I did. They were expressions of text instead of illustrations of text. The result (hopefully) is a symbiotic rather than a parasitic relationship between the image and words. Most importantly the drawing should have its own emotional existence.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Subtle Line: the Migration of Art & Ideas

by Drew Martin

I originanlly wrote this article for a 2007 issue of Umelec magazine. I want to include it here because I like how Velasco's work comments on physical and emotional borders and fits in to the idea of peripheral art.

When I arrived at Haydee Rovirosa Gallery (formerly ART&IDEA) in New York’s Chelsea district to interview the gallery’s curator, Haydee’ Rovirosa, and the newly arrived artist, Javier Velasco, I found neither. They had stepped out to get a tool for the installation of Velasco’s solo show, “Linea Sutil” (Subtle Line). The gallery’s assistant, Jaime Bandres, showed me around the space and later became my invaluable interpreter. I was privileged to see Velasco’s work in a rare moment: halfway unpacked, resting temporarily on the floor and windowsills. “Linea Sutil” is primarily a show about migration, specifically from Mexico to the United States, which serves as a metaphor for the borders and barriers of flesh, faith and feelings.

Velasco’s work shows his command of very different materials, with which he harnesses a full spectrum of emotion. The ubiquitous barbed wire is not simply an attention grabber, but instead leads to complex relationships. In most minds this potentially lethal wire is a symbol of incarceration, but through Velasco the wire functions more like the natural design of its organic prototype, the defensive thorn.

Velasco’s barbed wire is not spun off a generic spool: In one piece it is presented as streaks of gorgeous blue pigment that form a triptych screen, which has the weight of impassable mountains but appear to be made of cascading tears. There are also barbs that gather into a vein-like mask of thorns and then there are clusters of painterly barbs that seem to float on paper, liberated from their own confining purpose. The closest thing to a physical border in the show is an installation of suspended rows of clear barbed glass. The transparency of the piece is both a tease as well as an illusion. The viewer can easily circle this partial fence, but tends to step back from it, not for fear of being cut but for caution not to break the delicate glass.

Sometimes it is difficult to tell which of Velasco’s Mexicans are turned back at the border and which cross into the United States. The point is that neither group realizes their dreams.

What one discovers through Velasco’s work is that the barbed wire is never beneficial. It is either banning or entrapping; it wards off hope and traps disillusionment. The collection that especially relays this snare is a set of fine dining plates; each has a hand painted portrait of a Mexican in the center with a halo of decorative barbed wire (or perhaps a crown of thorns) painted around the rim of each plate. If this sad decoration is not enough to shatter the celebratory mood of a table set with these lovely plates, the flatware is outright disturbing as the elegant forks and spoons end in a set of silver fishhooks. These aren’t merely surreal utensils like Meret Oppenheim’s “Object: Breakfast in Fur,” but instead have a real-life utilitarian presence.

Whereas the pacific blue portraits of the Mexicans on the plates seem symbolic a small collection of rougher red portraits of immigrants seem closer to trials of the border crossers. There are no references to the barbed wire in this series but the red pigment and the fact that this pigment is indeed iodine, dramatize the cutting of the barbs and the need to disinfect wounds.

From this series we can read more into the most graphic pieces of the show: two, larger than life portraits of young men’s bodies, which are pierced by Velasco’s tears; long frozen streaks of clear glass. Tears, another theme in much of his work, also fall from unexpected places, like the buttonhole of a shirt collar, because as Velasco explains, “Men are not supposed to cry.” The most moving tears fall down over the gallery’s windows, facing the Hudson River, which flows south. It is hard not to become sad when you look out through these tears because they make you think about reasons to cry. The tears that rain down on the subjects of the photographs pierce various parts of their bodies. These men are simultaneously mourned and mourning, missed and missing. Isolated from this show, I would understand these portraits directly; there is physical pain that swells with sadness and longing.

Referring back to the iodine portraits and looking at them from across the gallery through the glass fence, these piercings seem to be the parts of the men that got snared in the barbs and never healed. Whereas the iodine and plate portraits give faces to the immigrants, these sharp photographs evoke a very sensual feel of disrupted love.

A large photograph, in fact the first thing you see upon entering the gallery, is of a woman fastening a cilice around her leg, with another cilice already over her exposed breast. This specific, extreme Catholic contraption is one of several Christian images that appear in the show. There is also a monstrance Velasco has retrofitted with a miniature flat screen, in the center of which we find a suffering Christ, animated in a video loop. He is trapped like a genie in a bottle but he is not patiently waiting to be released: he is wild and claustrophobic. His suffering is from all the trappings of Catholic pomp and ceremony and the superhuman expectations bestowed on him for millennia. Another religious piece is a crown of glass thorns resting on an elegant and plush bright red pillow. On it, embroidered in gold, are the letters “HIV” ("VIH" on a Spanish version, pictured here). This crown of thorns has a retail countertop presence because it is new and it shines in the bright gallery light. Its presentation seems to be set up for a coronation ceremony. But who would kneel before it to bear the burden of sin and infection?

Velasco’s most perplexing piece literally hangs in the back gallery, directly across from the monstrance. It is simultaneously repulsive and stimulating. Whereas the other works have layers of meaning beneath the immediate visual surface, this one has many graphic cues. The piece is a clear, suspended clothing rack on which Velasco has hung 19 custom glass hangers he fashioned, each bearing an article of clothing. From afar the material appears to be fine chamois but upon inspection one finds thin, fleshy rubber that has been cast from body parts. Some of these pieces resemble nylon stockings or latex gloves while others are sexy halter tops or corsets. You simultaneously see body scalpings, provocative lingerie and fleshy souvenirs. The wardrobe brings to mind crimes of death camps, rape and mutilation, even though it has a high-fashion look. Each piece has a tag attached to it that is both a fashion label and a morgue I.D. On the tag is a small photograph of the actual body (part) it was cast from and the following categories typed in and filled out in handwriting (in Spanish):

Region of Skin:

Because this rack hangs across from the monstrance, Velasco’s male and female sheddings introduce the idea of flesh as a barrier, across which sensuality and sin, modesty and shamelessness are traded. We are also reminded that the opportunity to shed all the trappings of morality and sexual bias can be as simple as pulling off a pair of socks.

Velasco’s discussion of a religion that focuses so much on earthly suffering offers quite an interesting perspective into the will and endurance of a border crossing. Of course, the main incentive is monetary and the human desire to improve one’s lot in this world, but is the crossing really an act of faith and an extreme passion play? Certainly all of the elements in Velasco’s show suggest this: the “subtle lines” between barbed wire and a crown of thorns, blood and purification, illusion and disillusion.

If this is in the minds of the border crossers it is certainly not conscious to the Mexican government, which in the past year created and distributed a palm-sized cartoon book ‘Guia Del Migrante Mexicano’ for citizens about to make the journey. It is not a warning pamphlet and it is certainly not a legal framework. It is, in fact, a survival guide. This publication, in the talented hands of Velasco, becomes his most loaded piece. To begin with, he created a hinged tin case for the comic and metal-punched the cover, giving it a more permanent place in this world as well as a bit of folkloric flair. From here Velasco pulls all the stops and shows off his intelligent humor and mischievous wit by having the words of the comic sung as a grand aria. A recording of counter tenor Santiago Cumplido’s performance of “La Opera para Migrantes Mexicanos” at the Spanish Embassy in Mexico is played on a plasma screen in the gallery.

What is interesting about this piece is that this is the only openly political work in the show and yet there is nothing obviously visual about it. Velasco’s work is not protest or propaganda art and so, in being visually apolitical Velasco is extremely political. He knows that his influence works at a much deeper level. The opera is not the only place in the show that language appears. There are also books: one spotted with glass tears and three pierced by twists of clear barbed glass. The books are from 19th France, filled with writings on morality. The glass barbs grow out of the pages as trappings of the words. Whereas the glass fence makes the visible, invisible, these strands do just the opposite; they materialize the between-the-lines feelings that contradict the moral lessons.

Velasco’s work is the perfect curatorial statement for Rovirosa whose gallery seeks to bring challenging conceptual art to New York. A week prior to the opening of Linea Sutil, Haydee Rovirosa Gallery invited the public in to their space to see Velasco in action, assembling some pieces and installing his work. Seeing the show on opening night made me think of it not so much as installed as unpacked. Though Velasco can approach the Mexican dilemma from a personal experience: having grown up in La Linea de la Concepcion, a town in Spain that bordered powerful Gibraltar, there is a whole, perhaps entirely unconscious subtheme to “Linea Sutil:” that of the migration of the artist and his work. It would be unfortunate to miss the detail that Velasco’s work was detained for a week by US customs and that it was only released when Rovirosa swooped in and declared it as “educational material.”

Upon hearing this I joked to Rovirosa that Velasco could have had a show at US customs that week but perhaps the US officials saw his work in the most appropriate manner, during their dutiful inspection. Not to overlook the work at hand, but it must be a pleasant spin-off to a conceptual artist for his passage to create another dialogue about a more theoretical kind of migration across endless rows of borders: the migration of art and ideas.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Image and Text: Jerry Martin

The following text is an edited transcript of an interview I did with Jerry Martin in the Spring of 2005. It was from a series of phone interviews I conducted with Leonid Lerman, Ann Hamilton, Scott Adams and Jerry Martin on the Relationship of Image and Text.

Jerry Martin is a psychiatrist and painter who lives in Santa Barbara, California and Todos Santos, Mexico. Here, he explains the relationship of image and text.

At the bottom line it gets messy and inseparable; you can't separate text and image. When you are reading or hearing text there is going to be some stimulation of visual imagery that may not be attended to and or vice-versa. If you see an image, its going to spontaneously create text, all potentially in the unconscious and it seems to me that the real issue is a process of which text and images are two surfaces of the same underlying experience.

I think they are separate and parallel memory systems and one incorporates explicit memories, that would be the text, whereas the image would be an implicit memory, and that they are distinctly different entities but that they occur simultaneously and codetermine and procreate each other. And so in other words you are having the parallel process in these parallel memory systems, that the implicit memory is effecting the explicit and vice-versa. So it’s a reciprocal and mutually influencing system. As it goes along (even though each is a distinct system) the product-the image, at any given moment is available. The emergent characteristic, or the emergent state that comes forth from this process of the memory system can only be one image at a time and that can then be experienced more on a sensory motor, basically visual, but some contextual and kinesthetic and so forth, but on a visual motor level whereas the text is experienced on an explicit, more linear, whatever you want to call it, explicit imperative memory system.


But now, if you are shown the image of something and then you hear or see the word for that same thing, does it stir up the same concept in the head or is it accessing different...?

I think it basically stirs up the same concept. The way I would look at that is, wherever the input comes from or if I am even having just a daydream and I think of a tree, and I...or have a daydream and I image a tree, and presupposing that it's the same tree, let's say an oak in the early springtime with that color and so forth, either way that to me would evoke the same internal experience. I wish in my painting that I could image what I want to capture but it is more just a feeling. I keep struggling trying to find the image for it and in that struggle use the text in terms of what I've learned and what I've heard and what I've been told and the contextual, technical elements. And so one thing I get from it is I am pulled away from my thought processes and away from my usual way of reflecting on things and being concerned and worried or simply preoccupied, even in a positive way with an exciting concept and I sort of lose myself and will disappear from that thinking for a period of time.

It seems like you and I are very similar in that we have ended up trying to translate this boundary or this borderline between what you are referring to as text and image and what in my thinking about it is more in terms of what’s body and mind. I just, two weeks ago, gave a seminar in the biology of the self because there is so much data now about that. About which aspects of the brain and how they fire and this and that and the other thing...that it creates what we call a self. But that, which is really I think very similar to what you are interested in too in terms of image and text.

The neurophysiology does show that the development of the brain, which is a continual process throughout life, although early in life the brain is more plastic in terms of being able to change more easily but the...that it's always a mutually codetermined interaction between the brain and the environment. And that all of our behaviors and responses and the way we think about things is always context related.

You can't really examine brain function without at the same time examining the environment and also the past environment because of the programming or the template that has been laid down before it. If you look at trauma, I mean in terms of the question of how it affects the brain, one severe traumatic experience can literally change the biochemistry and the electrophysiology, as measured by PET scans and the different neuroimaging of the brain. And so certainly that would be true too with expanding and or contracting areas of creativity or being able to see what you see, what you think when you do see...It does have a lot to do with genetics. And that, just like some people are...there are all these different areas of the brain that are a little bit more formed in some people than others and not always does it mean a good thing because we certainly have a lot of models of "crazy" artists and "crazy" writers and so forth, I mean whether they seem to be...excel in one area and not another.

For any genetic propensity to become expressed, that is dependent on the environment. And so, I would guess that it's a wide spectrum that if you have enough genetic endowment it's just most likely going to be expressed, period, so probably Beethoven. On the other hand, if you have enough to be accomplished and even great, but there's not the environmental setting to either facilitate it or the struggle to need to compensate for something else, which I think is extremely important, in other words when people have certain deficits or struggles or crosses to bear or whatever, that then they will turn to what they are endowed with genetically and are able to do and maybe excel in that make up for feeling deficient in some other area. So, I think again it's...bottom line, it has to be an interaction between the individual and the environment. But, that without a certain genetic propensity, I can't really image that it would would be done.

Just as an aside on that, if you look at a lot of artists, I think I wrote this to you about Calder, which I found interesting. He like so many of these great people said things that predated any mechanical way of measurement to see if they were correct or not...I mean, like even Einstein for instance. But Calder, when asked why he worked in black or white mainly instead of also color, which he did less of: He said that the color was distracting and preempted the movement. Neurophysiologically now we can measure the introduction in the brain of the determination of color and the determination of movement, which are done in very specific areas of the brain and in different cells. And it in fact is true that color precedes movement by something like 50 milliseconds and would indeed be distracting then to movement. And so if they then, then these features...sorry, this was not done with Calder in mind; this research by the way, it was put together, the findings were put together later by a guy interested in the neuroscience of aesthetics, but anyway...and other studies show that if you do have movement and color that the movement, and then you subtract the color out of it and revoke the same movement and then look at it on brain scans, the movement is determined more quickly...becomes conscious more quickly if the color is taken out of it.

So, what I am saying by all of that is that here is an example to me of someone, Calder, who I think probably had an exaggerated...that little part of his brain was just more developed than most people’s and I would guess, looking at his family pedigree, that you would find some other people who were interested in movement or that were excelled in something having to do with that skill. That's my pure hypothesis, I mean, I have no idea if that would be true. A case could be made of course that that part of his brain was stimulated early by some event or another that allowed him then to develop it. And that may be the case too but for him to excel like he did, I would imagine it was a combination.

Where would you put form? When you say movement you actually mean something moving, such as Calder's mobiles...


But where would you put the shape of something? Does the shape of an object qualify as movement almost because your eye follows it, or is that...?

Shape doesn't really seem to get recorded in the brain as shape. It gets recorded as a series of diagonals and series of horizontals, verticals...but if we like look at a face, there's not anywhere in the brain that is a...I think it is called an ideogram, but you know a little, where it's symbolic of a face. What in the brain there is, is a whole bunch of cells reacting, some to the color, to the direction of the lines, to this that and the other thing, and so the overall form is really a...a confluence of all these other simultaneous inputs, or at least near simultaneous.

So it has more to do with positioning, or like the positioning of the eyes and...I mean where the brain would log all these different positions of the face?

Yeah. So, so it might see a horizontal line that is separated by a distance of five centimeters, this and that...

This particular conversation with Jerry, who is my uncle, was very important to me because we are genetically related and genes are a living example of this relationship I am trying to explore. Genes have a code to them. They have information, which is like text and yet part of their expression is entirely visual. One of the interesting things that came out of this project, which I didn't expect was that in the audio editing process, where the words appear in the program which I edit, as little blips, like on the heart monitor, and so you see these clusters of, of movement, of waves and you start to identify different clusters. So, for example, I was cutting out a lot of "umms" and "ands" and these were very obvious little blips, dense and well-rounded, which I could easily pick out and cut out.

Image and Text: Scott Adams

The following text is directly from the transcript of an interview I did with Scott Adams in the Spring of 2005. It was from a series of phone interviews I conducted with Leonid Lerman, Ann Hamilton, Scott Adams and Jerry Martin on the Relationship of Image and Text.

Scott Adams has been creating Dilbert since 1989. Here he responds to a question of how he handles the relationship of image and text.

Well, I should tell you that first of all my process is different from most cartoonists because I actually do the drawing before I know what I am going to write. So I have an idea and then I start drawing the pictures and the pictures often change what I thought I might have written. Uh…that sentence didn’t make sense but the point is that sometimes I will just stare at the picture and I’ll think "You know, the guy in this picture wouldn't say that. He'd say it a little differently" or he accidentally looks happier than I thought I wanted him to be so, actually it is funnier if he's happier. So sometimes there's a little organic thing that goes on, where the picture changes the writing and then I, maybe I come up with a perfect sentence and then I go back and change the picture.

What makes a comic work is that the words and the picture match, which is why you have so few comic teams. You know the obvious thing would be to have the best artist in the world team up with the best writer and they would make the best comic. But it doesn't really work that way because there's something about both the picture and the writing coming out of the same brain that when you read them, you know that they came from the same place. I think there are artists who try to write and writers who try to draw pictures and I am in the camp of writers who try to draw pictures.

Image and Text: Ann Hamilton

The following text is directly from the transcript of an interview I did with Ann Hamilton in the Spring of 2005. It was from a series of phone interviews I conducted with Leonid Lerman, Ann Hamilton, Scott Adams and Jerry Martin on the Relationship of Image and Text.

Ann Hamilton creates large scale multi-media installations and is based in Ohio. Her initial response here is to the question "What is the relationship of image and text."

Well that sounds like a twenty-year question. I mean, I have continued to work with text and image work, and I probably will. You know, I don’t think I am done at all. It's like probably just phenomenologically and the sense that I am really interested in how we know things through and inherit language and other somatic kind of experiences and the joint between those, the way we privilege one over the other, the possibility of language becoming tactilized. All of those things continue to be probably like one of the main underlinements a lot of...a lot of the work.

So, you know that early piece at DIA (Beacon) called Tropos, which is a biological term, but which means to turn toward light, like a plant turning towards light, having a strong internal response to an external stimuli...I really thought of also as related to the efforts to language one's experience to bring words which might generate response to the outside but come from the inside and extend out. And so there were two ways in which language was present in the material kind of expanse of that piece.

There was someone sitting with a hot wood-burning stylus and so as they read the book at the table they would singe it and that would in some ways obliterate it but not totally. It would transform it, which was something that became interesting to me; in that the book now holds the trace of the individual reader: everybody's hand was very different and everybody had their own books to read. Also, the printed text became smoke. It was reabsorbed by the material of the hair, which formed the ground of the piece. So there was this whole, kind of, you know, material state of change. And then also at around the perimeter there was someone speaking. And I worked with a man who had ectasia, an actor who had had a stroke. And we made a recording and I asked him to read several texts but what became more present was not the text but actually the efforts to come to speech, because while he could read the text it wasn’t necessarily what came out of his mouth. And so, the piece was all structured around that kind of liminal edge between language and not language, between language and material.

I was very interested in thinking about the origins of the alphabet and I was reading some things about that and thinking about oral space in relationship to written space. And I think that I was thinking about how an alphabet, which is all made up of standard parts, right?..A, B, C, D...and that in relationship to the...kind of nonrepeatable, idiosyncratic individual forms of each of those pebbles. Well, I mean oral space isn’t material space in the same way. You know, I think something that’s written, it's like, has an incessant horizontality. We, at least in the alphabet that we use, inherit always in a linear thing and the thing about spoken words is that they are spatial and they disappear unless they are recorded, obviously. But the...I guess the fixedness of the printed word creates a very, and the linearity of it, create a very particular circumstance for our perception. You know the, would you say the tyranny of the line?...I don't know. And, I think part of the interest in orality's impossible now for us historically to really imagine a culture that doesn't inherit a written form. But it's really interesting to think about a time when all things were remembered orally and it was in theirrepetition. And I think the...the kind of things I've been interested in, partly is the way perhaps, oral…the repetition of something oral, embeds itself or embodies itself in your experience in a way that is very different than something that's read. You know, like it's, it's embedded physically perhaps in a different way.

I think part of the attraction to oral space is that if it's live contingent, unfolding in the presentness-quality. You know, most recently in a lot of the work that I have been doing, is I've been doing things where the recorded sounds actually moves physically through the space in relationship to you also moving. I am doing a series of spinning speakers where, probably I am going to do another project with Meredith Monk and…I am really interested in how with one voice on, each of these speakers that spin like tether balls around you, you have a spatial...the work is spatialized in a different's very different than like surround sound. Sound goes in you in a way that something written doesn't. I mean, I think that we do not have, we don’t put up perceptual borders to sound in the same way.

Image and Text: Leonid Lerman

The following text is directly from the transcript of an interview I did with Leonid Lerman in the Spring of 2005. It was from a series of phone interviews I conducted with Leonid Lerman, Ann Hamilton, Scott Adams and Jerry Martin on the Relationship of Image and Text.

Leonid Lerman is a sculptor based in New York, originally from Russia He explains here how text influences his work.

Well, just to try to answer this question, "Why the text appears on my heads?" I would think that it was a failed attempt to make a metaphor that will convey that we all live in a text and we are part of that text; and we have been part of that text and at the same time we are trapped in the text and in the web of different meanings and we are always looking for meanings of life, to put it very simply. That raises a lot of questions and we keep finding different meanings for existence and sometimes they are so contradictory that one can feel trapped. And that was the initial idea that I was driven by. But to find the sculptural-sort of manifestation of that idea, I think is hard because sculpture is like that life of form in space and the text is, well it's...sculpture exists in our three-dimensional space and text is the gate that we use to get into another space, a mental space. So, I don’t know, sometimes it could be very conflicting and I think that the reason why I think I failed is because the text appears on the surface but never becomes never becomes a flesh of the sculpture.

I was thinking about the idea of the last....somebody, last creator. That idea was working its way through my mind for awhile and I was ready to, like I told you, to do the last architect, last emperor, last poet, last this and that...and then I bumped into a book that was called the “Last Man”. And what struck me is that the text of that book was so powerful and so enigmatic and so rich that I instantly-sort of connected this book/this text with the sculpture that I wanted to make. And it was a desire to make a sculpture that will be as strong, as enigmatic, as deep and mysterious as that text just was for me. And I actually used that text to cover my sculpture with. But anyway, it doesn't matter really what kind of originated the idea, what inspired me, but it was a very, very strong feeling of belonging. It's like you walk into the text thinking that you will get out soon and then you never get out. It’s a…that text had such a power, enigmatic power. It's like the question that was raised and you can spend all of you life looking for the answer.

Well, this is the struggle of my life in a way because I am a story teller by nature probably because I am attracted to stories. I am attracted to mythology. As the way to help me to get the essence of the human condition and to know how to live my life. That was the question that was haunting me, just, all of my life. So I usually start with ideas. I am sort of halfway driven by idea. And then there is that other half that does that kind of thing to me. It’s like, seeing the form that tickles inside of my belly and leaves me speechless. So I have to, each time I have to reconcile that and I start with the idea and then I slowly, I am trying to slowly move into the territory of the, kind of speechless, from the narrative to the more kind of formal.

When I started my career, when I just started to work as an artist, I had a very poor understanding of the difference. My objective was to get as directly as possible to the core of my idea. So if I see the human condition very tough, then I would make a man walking, actually walking on the razor blade. I sculpted the razor. I sculpted the man. It was very rough but; Here's a man walking on the razor. It's you can be more direct than this? But eventually I grew out of that because it is a little bit simplistic. So I have to just remove myself from this, to be very linear, and literal and narrative into a more, like, suggestive thing. It is living less for the literature and more for the visual and formal sort of intrigue. The irony is that I am using text, which throws you back to literal. But now text could be a powerful visual element. Like the depth of a letter that you press into the clay creates the shimmering effect. The surface stops being flat and you feel almost like this text is not printed. It's engraved. It's sculpted. It has its own depth. And I guess this is how it becomes partially sculptural language. But if it's a couple words, you sort of zoom into these words and then by just that fact that that word is thrown into your face and you are tête-à-tête with that word, you have to come with rethinking, with a new idea of what that word means and why it's there and not in the book, written in granite, in marble, in whatever it is and then...You are standing in the front of it? And most likely you come with different options, different possibilities. And I kind of like that because each time when, like we are confronting something, even familiar things, something is happening. You are getting to a different level of reality and perception. So even familiar words, they can gain a new meaning. If you only give yourself that chance, give yourself that time. And sometimes artists they are playing with that. They give us that chance and they are giving us this opportunity to rethink and go deeper into ourselves.

For me, as a sculptor, as an artist ideas come in a way of form and then you can take this initial literal idea and then develop it and change form to make it a little bit deeper and not so much a "one-liner". When I refer to an idea it's not a text. It's and image but image that could be translated into text. It's a literal image.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cartoons as Performance Art

by Drew Martin

I am a cartoonist; therefore I am a performance artist. I create characters who perform a specific act to make you think differently about yourself and the world around you. The action begins when you look on and ends when you turn away. Even though there is no audio, you know what the characters’ voices sound like just as you know what they have been up to and what they are going to do because a cartoon does not dictate a situation; it asks you to get involved in the action and to add colors, dialogue, motion and a story. Most importantly, a cartoon is the original performance. It is not a recording of a past event captured in video, photography or writing.

The energy of a cartoon is not in the creation of the image but in the conception of the characters, which is why it has as much to do with biology, anthropology and psychology as the arts. Additionally, a cartoon does not lose much value and quality when it is reproduced so it will provide the viewer as similar an experience on paper as it does online. This is because of its immediacy, which transcends the medium. It is pure, cerebral information. Since cartoons are in the family of drawing, the proposition of cartoons as performance art raises an interesting question of the performance value of any medium. Certainly we understand the performance in the creation of certain works, such as Jackson Pollock’s action paintings but which painter for example starts with a completed painting as the beginning of a performance? Edward Hopper was the master of this because his paintings set the stage for action to take place. Cindy Sherman’s photography includes mock film stills with her posed on the cusp of drama. Andy Warhol’s Sleep brings the viewer bedside to watch a man in slumber for eight hours. Stan Brakhage’s films are so experimental you feel that you are witnessing a moment of creation. Alexander Calder broke the mold of sculpture with the invention of the mobile and other kinetic sculpture, which react to real-time influence of air movements and gravity.

For anyone interested in performance art, it is important to survey all media through the lens of performance value and discover which writings, photographs and other creations are merely recordings of performance and which are in and of themselves performances. For the artist, filmmaker and writer this understanding is essential to create work with temporal quality.