Ricky Swallow’s second solo exhibition at Modern Art, London, features a new body of cast bronze objects created from archery targets the artist found in Los Angeles, where he lives. Presented on plinths and installed on the wall, these works synthesize various references from art history, from British ceramics to California modernism. Here, Swallow discusses his approach to creating the show and his new processes in the studio.
COLLECTING OBJECTS––such as modern ceramics, Native American pottery, baskets, and Inuit carvings––and arranging them in different rooms in our home has, for some time, run parallel to my art practice. For this show, I wanted to capture that sense of vitality––how collecting has affected my studio logic and the forms of the pieces themselves. There’s a quote I like by Ken Price where he talks about working with the cup as a form, and the ways in which it presents formal restrictions that create a structure to work within. He also speaks about the objects’ universal quality, how the cup can exist as its own subject matter. That really articulated and echoed some of the concerns I had when I began constructing the vessels, bottles, bowls, cups, and jugs that the other sculptures in this show evolved from. There’s a collective ownership and understanding that one brings to such recognizable forms.
I’ve also been thinking about the individual and handmade aspects of my work. This has led to a concern for the pacing of each exhibition. When I was planning this show, I knew that I didn’t want there to be much in the viewer’s peripheral vision. It needed to have the kind of breathing room that is there when I actually make each sculpture, even though in the studio environment everything looks kind of crazy and cramped. In the gallery there is that space––that ratio of intimacy of construction and experience that is important to me.
In my wooden sculptures, all of the gestures of composition happened in the very early stages of each piece, I would settle on a subject and then transcribe it in wood. Carving is such a measured act; it’s the process of removing information in order to gain a form. With the new works, however, it has been a very additive practice of constructing forms, with more room for improvisation. What I was missing in my previous studio habits, or what I needed now, was a daily routine in which constructing pieces from materials at hand could inform new sculptures and lead to different sets and groupings of works. The idea of a cumulative process for me relates to both a collector’s logic and the kind of studio pottery production where the sequence and subtle variation in pieces produce unexpected combinations. I’ve always been drawn to artists who are prolific while working with an economy of subject, materials, and scale where constant tweaking and rearranging of their established language becomes the most important tool; Lucie Rie, Hans Coper, and Giorgio Morandi are perfect examples.
There’s an archery range adjacent to where we walk our dog in LA, and that’s where I first found the cardboard targets, which the archers often leave on the hay bales after practice. I’ve been collecting the targets there for two years now; I feel like one of those weird guys scouting the beach with a metal detector trying to find something of value after people depart. The targets are often in various states of decomposition (and pierced differently based on the experience of the archer). Bringing them into the studio marked the first time I had incorporated a readymade form into my work. And there’s been a weird sort of liberation in that––the fact that they are made, composed, and created by someone else and then collected and recast by me. There was an intuitive transition of treating the targets like a base material, in the same way that I had treated wood or clay in the past. My work has always essentially been about translation, passing a subject through various processes on the way to a fixed or permanent state, with each different material influencing the creation of new forms.
I’ve been spending time in the flea markets here, looking at “make-do’s.” Make-do’s are antiques that have been creatively repaired or adapted––given an extended life rather than being discarded. I’m also interested in these other folk art forms––mosaic vessels, and furniture that has been clad in tile from
broken pieces of other ceramic objects. Again, this economy of labor and materials toward something that’s a translation of a traditional object, a replacement of its former self, is something I love.
I took a bunch of photographs of these objects for reference, thinking that there was something in that tradition of gleaning one form from other disassembled forms that I could use. So I made the jugs, which are constructed in the studio from cut-up pieces of the targets and other cardboard. It’s interesting to begin with this material that already has a history, the punctured surface providing a sort of vulnerability (rendering the sculptures functionally obsolete from the outset). I wanted to make something that was more structurally sound and permanent out of these pieces and decided to cast in bronze. The patina of the bronze is an important element––it can dictate the form so differently. Most of my patina references come from ceramic glazes. Bronze is a kind of beautiful alchemical wizardry, which I’m learning more about through working with a great foundry here that indulges my experiments—developing new results from tweaked recipes and accidents.
William E. Jones is one of Los Angeles’s leading independent filmmakers; his films often circulate in the context of museum and gallery exhibitions. On February 2–5, the Österreichisches Filmmuseum in Vienna will host the first retrospective of his film works in continental Europe. On the occasion of this presentation, Jones discusses the recent shift in his approach to his practice as well as the changing expectations that viewers have from one viewing situation to the next.
AFTER I FINISHED IS IT REALLY SO STRANGE? IN 2004, it became difficult for me to make another long film. I was left with the question of how to continue a body of work under adverse circumstances, since the conditions of funding and the technological possibilities for independent filmmaking have changed radically over the past twenty years. Experimental filmmakers of previous generations have found ways to cope, ensconcing themselves in academia or becoming technical fetishists—repairing cameras and going on eBay to find 16-mm projector parts. That is not my situation. I thought it was more important to do things that were in keeping with my interests rather than rigidly adhering to an arbitrary form like the feature-length film.
I began to adopt a practice more like that of an artist than that of a filmmaker. An independent filmmaker puts everything into a project that can take years to realize. Every thought, every feeling, every bit of money goes into one movie, and if that movie is a flop (as it often is), financial and emotional devastation follow. It is a very difficult way to live one’s life. My first two films each took approximately six years to make, and I was lucky. The films were screened, they were released on video, and I was able to make more of them, but I got tired of the protracted struggles. I have come to prefer the way many painters work, making several pieces at once, switching from one to another, and ultimately producing a number of discrete works.
Becoming more prolific and being less attached to any one work has been liberating. If someone doesn’t like a particular movie of mine, it doesn’t matter much; there are plenty of others to see. For me, it is most important to continue making work and to be part of a discussion—to be present in the world. I think artists are a bit better at doing this than filmmakers are. Even highly successful feature filmmakers go silent for a while.
Those who make theatrical films have the privilege of getting the undivided attention of a group of people for a certain amount of time. Cinema spectators walk into a theater, they all see the same movie, and they have a common experience that allows for a discussion. This sounds old-fashioned, and I suppose it is. The experience of seeing art is more in tune with contemporary society as a whole, where distraction is the rule. Most art spectators wander in and out of galleries looking at moving-image works in a casual way.
At first I considered this distracted attention nothing but a problem, but then I came to understand that a different context provides me with an opportunity to make another kind of work. A long film produced with an economy of means must have a sustained argument, narrative, or visual strategy to lend it coherence. An artist can produce a work that has an extreme and concentrated visual impact, almost like an abstract painting, and this possibility is entirely appropriate to the cinema. Many of the first films projected in public offered brief views of subjects that were thrilling and sublime, like Niagara Falls or, in the earliest instance, a train arriving at La Ciotat station. Independent films have neglected the cinema’s genius for providing cheap thrills, but big-budget films certainly haven’t. Critics ridicule movies that consist of almost nothing but explosions, but they fulfill an enduring need in spectators. From the very beginning of cinema, that’s what movies have been, explosions! So I am making my own explosions, in another context.
Michael Lin’s exhibition at the Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato, Italy, features forty-one works from twenty-four different projects created over the past fifteen years––including his floral patterned architectural interventions and his prior installations that have been cited by critics as early examples of relational aesthetics. For the show, which is on view until February 13, Lin collaborated with the architectural firm Atelier Bow Wow to create a new work, Book Metropolis.
“THE COLOUR IS BRIGHT THE BEAUTY IS GENEROUS,” the title of the exhibition, was taken from a packaging label for a night-light that I bought from my neighborhood electrician in Shanghai. Statistically, Prato has the densest population of Chinese outside of China relative to its own population. One out of five people in Prato is Chinese, and this is a reality the center and Felix Schober, the show’s curator, wanted to address.
For me, the show provided an opportunity to present a comprehensive overview of my practice, which was quite a challenge due to the ephemeral quality of my early projects. To cite one example: Imported, from 1998, consists of three large round tables and stools, six hundred bottles of Taiwan beer, and two hundred cartons of Long Life cigarettes that are distributed to the visitors throughout the duration of the exhibition. There are also two large billboards advertising the products.
I’ve always thought of my practice in terms of hospitality rather than gift. This gesture of generosity proposes an art experience as a social interaction rather than a solitary experience. Hospitality is a relational act that takes into account a recipient/visitor; there are hosts and guests. Hospitality is open-ended, and unlike the idea of the gift it does not necessitate reciprocity. The host opens his doors and welcomes his guest in. Once invited in, there are questions of customs, traditions, and habits. The first room of the exhibition is a work from 1996 that consists of three carpets from my home, a CD player, a selection of CDs, and a statement of welcome from the host: PLEASE REMOVE YOUR SHOES BEFORE STEPPING ON TO THE CARPET, FEEL FREE TO CHOOSE FROM THE SELECTION OF MUSIC. This statement is presented on the wall in large letters.
The insertion of appropriated floral patterns from traditional bedding linen into architectural spaces proposes a continuity with tradition and also facilitates the renegotiation of the position of art and public. Over the past fifteen years I have probed numerous applications of these patterned coverings, from large facades of buildings to interior spaces and furniture to book covers to a tennis court.
I was introduced to Atelier Bow Wow while working on a project in Tokyo in 2007. I was already impressed by their research and practice of what I understand to be architecture for a real place. I share their questioning of what they call “the misalignment of the positions of user and creator.” Our collaboration spawned a dialogue that traversed great distances; the discussion started in Tokyo, we worked on the model in Venice, and we went into production in Italy while communicating between Brussels and Tokyo.
The general layout of the exhibition was discussed regarding every spatial division and wall. Atelier Bow Wow proposed many interesting and elegant solutions, such as an inverse triangular wall that functioned perfectly to resolve the division between two different lighting conditions and at the same time blended seamlessly into the architecture of the museum, with its diagonal support beams that normally complicated the openings and positions of walls. Their main contribution is Book Metropolis, a freestanding structure made up of twenty-three interconnected bookshelves that form an octagon. It is designed specifically to fit in my home, and the shelves are filled with the books from my personal library––nearly one thousand volumes, including magazines and journals––that can be read in the museum.
Mark Fell is a musician and artist based in Sheffield, UK. One half of the electronic music duo SND, in late 2010 he released two solo albums: Multistability (Raster Noton) and UL8 (Editions Mego). His solo exhibition “Coherence and Proximity” was on view at the Woodmill in South London last December. He performs a new solo work at Espai Cultural Caja Madrid, Barcelona, on January 21 and with SND at Rex Club, Paris, on January 26.
MULTISTABILITY, in theories of psychology and perception, refers to information that cannot be easily resolved into a simple form—it’s a way of describing perceptual ambiguity. Think of the wire-frame cube, which can seem to project into the foreground or recede into the background. Listening to music can be equally subjective. The Multistability album isn’t meant as a musical illustration of the concept, though. I’m less interested in how we resolve what an object is than in the human impulse to discern patterns in our environment. This plays out in the CD artwork, which has a graphic image of lines on the front cover, and which finds similar “lines” in other images reproduced inside: sunlight pouring through a train station and the marks someone has cut into their arm.
The album is divided into two parts. The track titled “Multistability 1A,” for example, has as its counterpart the track “Multistability 1B,” both of which use the same algorithm—albeit on different sounds and in different ways. It’s not an exact replication, and not every track has a partner on the other half of the album. When making music, I am constantly pondering where to take it, having an internal dialogue about the possibilities it presents. Sometimes you want to go down more than one route, and on this record pieces have more than one finished form. This is a method that I have explored before, on the 2005 album Ten Types of Elsewhere, which also presented multiple, unresolved versions of each piece. While the music isn’t overly conceptual, my ideas about it are influenced by the contemporary philosophy and literature that I read, especially theories of identity and language formation.
Mark Fell, “Multistability 1-B.” From the album Multistability, 2010. (Courtesy Raster Noton, 2010.)
I have never observed a strict dividing line between the sounds I create for albums and the sounds I create for gallery installations, which I began exhibiting in the late 1990s. In fact, it was through my interest in all kinds of visual art—particularly Minimalist sculpture—and in film that I was able to think about the structure of music in a nonmusical way, which was a real breakthrough for me. I was able to leave behind verse-chorus-verse progressions and other traditional forms of pure linearity. I should say that the music I make as a solo artist is necessarily different from what I make with Mat Steel as SND. Mat’s methodical, very cautious, and counterbalances my own tendency to shoot off in many different directions.
The SND project is also a very strict exercise, an exploration of the possibilities inherent in essentially two kinds of sounds, both borrowed from early-’90s house music: electronic percussive sounds and piano and organ chords. On my own, I’m able to go off in various directions, sometimes literally: Space is an important part of what I do. Every venue—a club, a gallery, some other kind of building being used as a club or a gallery—has its own characteristics, and I try to activate each in a unique way, to change the way you perceive it. I don’t respond deliberately to the history of a space, or produce something romantic or sentimental—no recordings of children’s voices “haunting” an abandoned schoolhouse. I’m interested in the sound and look of things in purely aesthetic terms. Although I’m aware that it’s a rather naive position to adopt, in this respect I’m quite happy to be thought of as an old-fashioned modernist.
Mark Fell, “Multistability 6-A.” From the album Multistability. (Courtesy Raster Noton, 2010.)
Katharina Grosse, One Floor Up More Highly (detail), 2010, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view. Photo: Christopher Grimes Gallery.
The Berlin-based artist Katharina Grosse is known for her immense installations that examine how painting functions in an expanded field. Here, she discusses one of her most ambitious projects to date: One Floor Up More Highly, which opened at MASS MoCA on December 22. Grosse’s concurrent exhibitions of new paintings at Christopher Grimes Gallery in Santa Monica and Galería Helga de Alvear in Madrid are on view until January 8.
THE BIG SPACE AT MASS MOCA IS VERY UNUSUAL. It’s very long and very wide. It also has windows on each side, so a lot of light passes through it. I’ve made a work that fills the whole volume of the space but that also travels through it to the mezzanine gallery, from where you can look down on it again. So you can look at the whole thing while you’re walking through it, and also from above.
I’m using huge Styrofoam blocks that have been cut with a hot wire. They look a bit like sharpened pencils. I’ve always been fascinated by what happens to Styrofoam when you cut it with hot wire. You get very interesting, pseudomathematical forms that are difficult to produce with CAD systems. You also get holes, voids, and turns in the material that are difficult to create unless you cut the foam by hand. Normally, I paint on Styrofoam objects and then laminate them with epoxy and fiberglass so they can sit outside; they become very hard and durable. But when you laminate them, you lose all of the fine cuts and streamlining. And the white of the Styrofoam is especially beautiful. So I’ve left the blocks unpainted in this installation. They’re very glary, like crystallized light, which connects with the white walls of the building.
The blocks are piled up and surrounded by huge heaps of painted soil, which are about sixty-five feet by sixty-five feet, and twenty-three feet high. We’ve also mixed larger “fake” grains of soil into the heaps––we’ve fabricated boulders that are six feet by six feet, for example, then painted them. This has a lot to do with how changes in scale and color can transform the material into something ambiguous––in this installation, the soil looks a bit like raw pigment, or like it could be contaminated, or like colored light is hitting it. There are also two warped shapes that sit in the middle of this artificial landscape, one small painting on canvas, and a floor painting in a smaller space. So there are lots of different understandings of space, and vast scale changes among the different areas of thought and image crystallization.
The relationship between my installations and my studio practice has become more important to me in the past few years, especially since 2008. I’ve always worked on both strands at the same time, but I usually spent more time on the installations. My knowledge of how my installations function is very precise; they’re about expanding small experience. By making something small really large, you slow the information, and time, down, like slow motion. I’ve started to understand that my canvas works do the opposite––they’re compressions of time and activity that make things very fast. Also, the painted area in my new canvases is relatively small. The white space I leave seems to somehow correlate to the Styrofoam in the MASS MoCA installation: Both create areas in the image field that either mark something as invisible or that cut into the vision and erase information.
Rather than seeing the MASS MoCA installation as a site-specific project, I would say it’s more like my systems are running alongside the systems of the space. It’s as though something has moved inside the building from outside. I find the relationship of this idea to those held by certain American artists, like Robert Smithson for example, fascinating. The work also creates a very interesting situation for me in relation to Abstract Expressionism, and the gesture, the drip. AbEx opened up different ways to look at painting, but it also hindered, to a certain extent, painting’s development. Negating painting’s illusionism narrowed it down to applying paint to a flat surface. I have a totally different approach. I don’t think that a painting is a coherent, closed system that only takes place within its borders. And rather than choosing between painting being a window and painting being flat, I view everything as a window: You’re a window, the window is a window, the car is a window. For me, everything is an illusionistic surface, and painting is a mode of thought––a way to link these illusionistic elements together. That linking process constantly changes. I don’t create a set of rules through which the thinking has to happen. Neither a predetermined outcome nor the rules to realize it exist.