Brent: Having followed your work for a while I remember a short video that had you leaning pieces of ply and whatnot against the side of a tin shed (some sort of shed) and in the video you were talking about a kind of rascalism that had to do with random events and placement. Back then, too, you worked with sculptural forms, often triangular shapes, and the way you put them together suggested a keen look back to the Constructivists.
Justin: The work you’re thinking of was an Inverted Topology project. It was an installation made against the external facade of ACCA, for the +Plus Factors series of interventions, March 2006. The collaborative philosophy behind the group involved strict limitations, such as often using only materials and paint (if any) that were found on site, or in the storage facilities of those locations where we worked. This encouraged a more of situationist mentality to realizing work, opting to engage with what was pre-existent and available, rather than fabricating things from new.
All Inverted Topology projects involved indirect decision-making. In every instance, work was made through an advance/retreat scenario, where people would continuously build on, remove, or modify others work, to produce works which were the outcome of collaboration, negotiation, communication.
The materials used were just elements that allowed for shared activity. Colours and forms were like words to facilitate all of this. We could have been using anything. Even though most of the individuals involved in the group were abstractionists, there was no conscious reference to constructivism. The character of the Inverted Topology installations was situated exactly in between all of the participants’ individual practices. We used materials to make our collaborations physical. Structures were made incredibly quickly and were often unfixed. Geometric forms were basic enough to produce and familiar to us all.
Maybe this is the rascalism you’re talking about. I’d just call it getting together and jamming.
Brent: I like the term jamming, and also what you say about abstract forms being moved around like words are. Though, when I think about your kind of jamming the thing that comes to mind is more Cage-inspired than garage band.
And with colors and forms working like words, I wonder what the sentence is –comprehensible, mumble jumble, or do the visual aspects move noise and word into a more tangible make-sense zone and world?
In your own practice the random takes on an incredibly complex system. You make work that crosses the three-dimensional, the two-dimensional, the photographic, and time-based, with each insistently feeding off of the other, yet not in any hierarchical way, though instrumentally blurring the line between fact and fiction.
Justin: With Inverted Topology, there was never any attempt to arrive at something logical, even though elements eventually found themselves arranged in a certain way. There was never any opportunity to be part of every decision, and any decision that was made either individually or collectively was forever up for change. I found that to get the most from this shifting methodology, works made should only be seen as configurations of a sum of elements with no specific intention or particular resolution. The others would probably put it in a different way. It’s fitting that very little of what was made still exists.
As for me, trying to actualize the random is a major challenge. Never is it entirely possible. The best I can hope for is to guide random situations into being through the use of conscious contexts. I’ve always found bridging that paradox to be difficult but fascinating. Perhaps my most successful works are where their generative systems are most clear, offering a representation of past events that is indexical and also historical, because they are literally ‘of’ a time (or a number of them) that has now receded into the past. This is one interesting territory where the abstract seems to meet the representational…
My work is not medium or dimension specific. It’s the above concept that ties them all together. I try to use a range of materials to do a similar thing in different ways, so that in its entirety, there’s once again this extended vocabulary of forms at simultaneous play. I’m very critical of my own work holistically as well as individually.
I’m making mostly photograms, paintings and drawings these days. Sculpture is a bit difficult at the moment. I’m not really looking for ways to reference worldliness in my work. I’m happy for them to be of their own reality, which I find to be a complicated one that is tessellated with non-linear events and collaged time frames.
I see my work as being temporal arcs. That’s the only way I can describe it. As reproductions of independent moments stacked on top of each other, each work becoming a kind of manifold or arc that brings separate events together in a synthetic way. The role of the work is to visually refer to these different moments instantly. They are composite representations of time, a flattened visual trace of it.
Brent: The photogram messages absence. Drawing, well, articulates the rudimentary/experimental, and painting tends to be the slow ooze of it all. You mention a territory where the abstract meets the representational where what is ‘being represented’ is an action/moment of time passed. I’m going to be presumptuous and assume that the sculptural is sidelining at this moment because it’s harder to come to terms with sculpture as a residue of time. Stacking, of course, is what your sculptural works do, but they also have direction, usually up or out. For me formal sculpture operates best in the now, we can see it all as we move around. It takes time, and may lead us on to the next thing, but at any time we can retrace our steps, in the sensible realm. I see paired down forms less a record of an event and more the event that we are supposed to respond to. There are exceptions, Rachael Whiteread, being a good one.
Of course style and history modifies this, as does the conceptual motive. And this can also shift with painting and drawing, and perhaps even more so with the photogram. But a surface transaction/mark is more convincingly understood as something folded back in time, as a record and document of an event. And a succession of events recorded visually can either work directionally, as with storytelling, an early example “Tales of Genghis”, or, as you say, can be achieved with stacking, with each succeeding event leading ‘sometimes’ to an obfuscation of a previous.
I guess what I’d like to know is a little more about this ‘stacking’, “non-linear’ and ‘collaged time frame’! You sent a pdf file with a set of images that go through change (my guess). And the final image is, or looks to be, a painting – the last stage, the ooze of it. And because the painting appears tactile, what does that say about the kind of experience you have with it. Is it not similar to the sculptural? And then, going back, we look at a line, and then to the recording of absence… and while they are traces of a history isn’t it ‘in the now’ where the experience is, for the viewer? (Like a good set of words, not didactic, but penned for the reader for the thrill of it…)
Justin: That relationship between conceptual structure and material character found in an artwork – I always try to work in a way where one supports the other. I continually focus on my ongoing concepts but I also try to work just outside of them to create new findings. To me this is the activity of drawing ideas, regardless of format.
I have always enjoyed looking into flat examples of geometric abstraction. I look into this kind of work as if they are conceptual architectures. I find this to be especially possible when the surface of the work has very little material specificity. I find drawings, prints, photographic work and graphic paintings to be successful in setting up this scenario.
Witnessing abstract work first in reproduction also has a lot to do with why I look at it in this way. When I was an art student, I encountered a dumpster containing books and other administrative material. In it, I came across a copy of Art of the Avant-Garde in Russia: The George Costakis Collection. The book was in poor condition and some of its pages had been ripped out. I’ve always assumed that this is why it had been deaccessioned. I instantly became the new owner of the text. I was very much engaged by the imagery inside it – I had never seen anything like it before. I was compelled by the constructive nature of the work shown in it. But because I had never seen the actual works in the flesh, I had no objective knowledge of them in the primary form. I subconsciously imbued the works with the aura of ancient, otherworldly artifacts. My perception of them was led only by the reproductions. In many cases the black and white images were reprints of damaged photos of works, meaning they were twice removed from their original, which was often lost or destroyed. I felt as though I could sense the potency of the original objects by looking ‘into’ the reproductions. Perhaps their graininess accentuated their appeal. To me, the Constructivist works pictured in this book had become inseparable from the history and noise they were bathed in. It was obvious to me that these works were chronologically and geographically distant as well as de-contextualized in the political sense, but in reproduction they had outlived their makers and transcended their own time.
I enjoy the sensory gestalt that I get from looking at photograms. In them, forms defy any sense of a natural appearance and evade the worldly sense of gravity. Scale, orientation, weight, and gravity – these implied values are flexible in my 2D work.
But my work does reference the activity that makes them. They are indexes of their own production. Their appearance is a visual record of the decisions behind them. When I look at my work, I see the time and activity behind their production. To me, that is what they are of. But the hook is that the activities taken to make the works have now passed and only exist in reproduction in the work. So the work becomes a historical window into a set of moments that are constantly receding into the past.
The further my work travels along this trajectory from what is to what was, the more abstract it appears to me. I would love it if the viewer could look into my work as I do, through its spaces, to see a kind of reproduction, or echo of the transient events that went towards producing them. To me, reproduction is like a passage that bridges the divide between something in its transitory states.
The random events used in these works are configurations of cut elements. The shapes and textures of the individual elements are reversed out of each other, allowing the individual forms to add to the overall complexity of each work. These configurations of random events are layered or stacked on top of each other in an order that does not adhere to the order they were originally generated in. I often sample imagery from different photography sessions. This is where my idea of collage and non-linearity comes in, as I feel as though I am very much folding time to make the imagery.
The works themselves are made through a process similar to a unique transfer. The process that makes these compressed representations of time is also the process that degrades them. As they are made, they are simultaneously destroyed. It is part of their production and reproduction. This entropy is an unavoidable by-product.
Even though they are made from a printmaking process, there is a tactility and material nature to their unique state that aligns them with painting. And the actions involved in generating the initial random arrangements are physical, temporal, bodily, which I associate with sculpture. So for me to talk about any one medium is kind of redundant because they employ so many different forms of engagement in their production. Perhaps by working in many different separate formats, maybe one is eventually able to arrive at an object, which encapsulates all of the processes in one…
Brent: If indeed the ‘object’ is the catalyst for the all-in-one. You talk about this minute tactility with the building up of layers and the reproduction fall-shorts, and it does work similarly to your sculpture – printing as painting as sculpture. Funny that you mention the book you found in the dumpster and how enormously it has impacted your current work: I was trying to think how I could respond to the image you sent; that scan of the two-page spread. What came to mind, and considering the newest work that we are discussing, is that there’s this other-worldly-step-back-in-time, though not as a romantic gesture, it’s more kind of like a Galactic experience. I mean the density of the image, through its layering, and all of the interference, reminds me of staring into a dark place with all this activity yet volume-less. Yeah!
You mention the body and I guess you are talking about a bodily response, and it is definitely out there. But bringing it closer, and even further ‘in’ to the internal, I sense a strong navel or pre-natal, umbilical cord-like growth, where all these shards, suggestions of dimensional things, attach and spin vertiginously towards a rebirth. I’m also drawn to the flatness because the painting hybrids are not really flat. With so many layers on a single surface it reads as theater ready to unfold – a compression of space/time/memory waiting to be released.
And then there are your abstract drawings, much more simple.
Justin: My drawings once again make strong reference to the formalization of the random. Unlike the ‘paintings’, there is no visceral surface, no atmospheric background that recedes away forever. Its just the cold, hard elements in configuration. Some of which have been developed further to involve an architectural language.
Graphite is a fugitive material to look at. Its surface picks up on ambient light and changes with movement of the viewer. It’s one of the first mediums that really struck a chord with me. I enjoy layering it to the point where it becomes burnished. Thinking about it now, it’s the mutability of the medium that interests me – this point of interdependence between surface and site is why I continue to use it.
The paper that my recent drawings are made on was particularly old by the time it was given to me, and that was a number of years ago. The compositions I have imposed on the paper cannot help but look relatively recent in comparison. But still, the residue of an older language is there in them.
I’m really involved in this idea of states-of-change. I see no real end to it. All of our discussions here relating to the formal aspects are fine, and that is whats possible at this time, but I have always felt that all I do is stare into a void.
I guess all of the work I make is a signification, a coming to terms with that.
But I do sense a source of energy in space and geometry.