Writings & works on the PSU MFA Studio Lecture Series by the students of the MFA in Contemporary Art Practice: Studio program.
During her lecture, Wendy White talked about how important it is to her that her canvases be handmade. Later on, in an interview, she said that she used an airbrush because seeing brush-strokes made her feel sick, she hated them so much. She didn’t want her hand to be visible. I asked her about this apparent contradiction in an interview but never got a clear answer. I have been thinking about this ever since, trying to decide if there actually is a contradiction and whether there is a difference between the handmade and the artist’s hand.
First of all, craftsmanship is extremely important to Wendy White. She fabricates everything herself, but is able to steer clear of the DIY aesthetic. And, making the components of her work herself gives White a level of control over the final product that is just not possible any other way. The craftsmanship is so good that you don’t notice how it is made and then get bogged down in thinking about it. When an artist intentionally makes things look hand-made, they are in dialogue with conversations between low and high art, craft, and art history. White avoids this conversation by having impeccably crafted work.
The materials and processes that White uses are associated with sign-making or commercial house-painting rather than with fine-art. In commercial sign-painting there is never the question of who the artist is, or what their intent is. In contrast, when we see a visible brush-stroke in a painting, we can’t help but think about the artist as a person. In this sense, the artist’s hand becomes an important part of the work, a third party between the work and the viewer. By rejecting the hand painted mark in favor of the airbrush, White takes herself out of the picture and allows the work to speak on its own terms.
A response to Joe Brainard’s “I Remember “ (as recommended by visiting artist Matt Connors)
I remember walking from my mom’s white station wagon to class in fifth grade. I was always wearing the same shoes and I would stare at them as I walked.
I remember the apple tree in the backyard before it was cut down. It had a red, plastic swing attached.
I remember going through every inch and corner of my house. I discovered everything from my brother’s Playboys to forgotten stuffed animals under the house.
I remember the Easter egg hunt at church every year. In fifth grade the pastor’s wife decided that the hunt was wasteful, so from then on we had to find plastic eggs instead of hard-boiled eggs. We were all very disappointed.
I remember jumping on and in bushes as if they were toys.
I remember my dad teaching me how to bike and how the corner of the block was the hardest to get my bike around without falling.
I remember my fourth grade teacher getting crumbs and stains on our papers because she was always eating during class. Hypocritically she would never let us eat in class.
I remember the neighbor boy breaking my sled when it had snowed.
I remember my first attempt to wear makeup to middle school. I used my mom’s old makeup from the 80’s and put bright, blue eye shadow on.
I remember how my parents were friends with our dentist. He used to smoke after dinner at the table. I thought that was a strange habit for a dentist.
I remember when every girl I knew wore leggings with straps on the bottom and scrunchies in their hair.
I remember how my mom would say “sweet dreams” to me every night before turning off the lights. I was convinced that if she didn’t say that exact phrase I would have nightmares.
I remember waking up one morning as a child and being covered in gum. I must have fallen asleep with it in my mouth. In the morning it was absolutely everywhere; my feet, hair, face and all over the sheets.
I remember having to go door-to-door to sell magazines, giftwrap and cookies for various fundraisers. My best friend’s dad would just bring her supplies to his work and make his employees purchase the items. I always thought that was cheating.
I remember the annual parties my schools would throw. My favorite game was the cakewalk, despite the fact that I never once won a cake.
I remember that there was a doorbell by the outside door of my elementary school cafeteria. I never knew what that bell was used for, but always wanted to push it. I never did.
I remember a friend asking me if she smelled because her parents hadn’t done her laundry and she’d been wearing the same underwear for 3 days.
I remember picking strawberries every summer with my parents. One year my dad got kicked out of the strawberry patch for eating too many.
I remember impressing a boy I liked by beating Bubble Bobble on Super Nintendo.
I remember my brother explaining to me what the internet was in sixth grade. We looked up the movie Clueless together and I was thoroughly impressed.
I remember the night my dad died. The realization that the screaming I was hearing was my own.
I remember smoking pot and doing drugs in the Masonic cemetery with my friends in high school.
I remember throwing and hitting my brother’s head with a rock because he took the remote control away from me.
I remember finding my mom’s lipstick one day while unattended. My brother found me naked and covered head-to-toe in pink lipstick. I was so proud of myself.
I remember stepping into a pool before I could swim. Underwater was completely serene and I was utterly calm. Out of the distance I could hear a faint noise that got much louder. It was my mom screaming before she pulled me out of the water.
I remember that my second grade teacher would give us all “birthday spankings” in front of the class on our birthdays. For some reason we all looked forward to this.
I remember looking forward to school starting after the long summer break.
I remember what it was like growing up in a small, Oregon town. We never locked the house or the car doors. My mom would just tell me to go play and come back before dark without asking me where I was going.
On Second Glance: Jennifer West
Upon first investigating Jennifer West, I simply viewed her film “Jam Licking & Sledgehammered” and was delighted to watch the pink, psychedelic abstract film. I thought it was a beautiful and unique piece, but didn’t think much more on the subject. Being the lazy art patron I am, I skipped over much of the information provided and didn’t really question how the piece had technically been made. It wasn’t until I went back to her work that I realized how much I’d missed in my initial viewing.
Most obviously, I’d missed the medium list for the piece:
“70 MM Film Leader Covered in Strawberry Jam, Grape Jelly and Orange Marmalade – licked and sledgehammered by Jim Shaw, Marnie Weber, Mariah Csepanyi, Bill Parks, Alex Johns, Karen Liebowitz, Roxana Eslamieh, Chaney Trotter & Jwest – a filmic restaging of moments from Allan Kaprow’s ‘Household’”
Once I’d actually read the medium list and looked more into her process, I realized that the beautiful pink film that I’d seen before was a) made without a camera and b) created by licking and sledgehammering the film. Once the medium list was read, West’s film became entirely different to me. Now instead of appreciating the pink hues and formal qualities of the film, a very different scenario was playing in my head; one of licking, gooey sweets and sledgehammers. And while all of this activity created a beautiful film, it’s the performance and actions that created the film that hold the most interest to me. This understanding opened up an entirely different entrance to West’s work that had gone over my head: the humor.
In addition to the humor of West’s films, much of the magic resides in the fact that the pieces ultimately exist as a combination of the visible film and the experiences, senses and imagination the viewer conjures upon reading the material list. “Jam Licking & Sledgehammered” simply doesn’t have the same power without the merging of the film, medium list and my imagination of what occurred to make the film. Even if what I imagine is not what really happened, it’s that collaboration that makes these films so interesting. Strawberry jam licked film certainly looks different in my mind than in other viewer’s minds and neither of these visions surely looks like what actually occurred. And that’s my point, it’s the collaboration between film, medium list and viewer that make the sweet spot of these pieces.
A Broken Contract
When watching a film it’s usually safe to say that there will be an event or something will happen. This expectation is part of a wider set of expectations we unconsciously bring with us when watching films. In a sense, there is a “contract” between the audience and the filmmaker. The rule that something will happen in the film is one of the most basic, unstated rules of this contract. Video art is not excluded from this contract; regardless of its status as art and not as a Hollywood blockbuster, the understanding and expectations inevitably carry over.
For example, when I watched Pipilotti Rist’s Ever is Over All for the first time, I wasn’t surprised that the video wasn’t straightforward, that it was slowed down slightly, or that it was projected as a split screen with two separate stories being told. All of the basic film rules were still intact; in effect I watched a video and something happened. That something might have been beautiful, unoriginal, contrived or wonderful but that does not change the fact that the basic rules of viewing a video have not been changed in this viewing.
It is this very unspoken and unconscious rule that Euan MacDonald’s video House (everythinghappensatonce) challenges. The single view shot is of a body of water and a dilapidated boathouse that seems to teeter on the edge of falling into the water. The eventual demise of the house seems to be the impending narrative that will be told throughout the piece. This however is not the case. Instead, initially the viewer might actually suspect that what they’re seeing is a still-life, a photograph or some other non-time-based-art. This is because for much of the thirty-minute piece, absolutely nothing happens.
After a good amount of time watching the virtual still life, without warning, a boat speeds across the screen. This occurs so quickly and without preamble or conclusion that it almost seems to be a technical glitch. And while this does constitute as something happening in the video, the fact that so much of the piece focuses on nothing happening calls into question the entire contract of the viewer and the video. MacDonald seems to be pointing back at the viewer’s inherent assumptions. He begs the question, why does anything have to happen at all?
Not only is MacDonald challenging what we expect to see in videos, he’s challenging our relationship to how time is shown in videos. Traditionally we have come to expect time to be condensed in video form (think Rocky montage), but this piece seems almost to elongate and slow down time just by being shot and remaining in real time. By “slowing” this time down and challenging our assumptions of something happening, MacDonald challenges our relationship to video. This challenging stance changes everything about the critique of this video. MacDonald is playing with our expectations as viewers, our unknown contracts we have with video and our relationship to time in video.
Being eaten by a Monster
A response to the Jennifer West visit
“I don’t know if you intended this… but after you showed the shark in that one clip …it looked like being eaten by a monster…a film version of being eaten by a monster”
Audience member at the Jennifer West lecture
The Boogie Man
He was a very good friend of mine
I know he was a big fat dirty man
But he was a very good friend of mine
His father was a Lima Bean
His mother was a pizza queen
and we was in a rock and roll band
and he was writing this very same song
his friend the spider had a Slurpee cell phone
and I’m going every where
Now he lives in a slime house
and I know that’s where he is
Boogie Man by Dolphin Explosion
lyrics as heard by Steve Brown
Jennifer West opened her lecture with a 2006 video of her daughter 7 year-old Ariel Mira West and 6-year-old Colette Weber Shaw performing Boogie Man in their band Dolphin Explosion, featuring Mike Kelley on drums. A fitting tribute to her departed friend and teacher.All the artists that have visited the Studio program in this series, have studied with some pretty heavy people - John Cage, Mel Bochner, Kenneth Noland, Martha Graham…I don’t think anybody got through a West studio vist without some anecdotes about Kelley and Jim Shaw, which made me very happy. I come from the Destroy all Monsters island, but not from Michigan. When I showed J West some videos I just made of pink VHS projected fabrik and mirrors on my head she said it reminded her of job Jim Shaw created for her, where she just videoed fabric . I told her that I had just watched a gallery talk with Jim Shaw and Walker arts center chief curator Darsie Alexander, where he claimed West had given him an idea for a piece and spoke about this very same fabrik incident. She seemed pleased but said she hadn’t seen the talk.
“Jennifer West who had just graduated from Art Center was working for me and I was looking for something for her to do.and She had been doing things with like close up video of melting foam and things like that and they (Art Center Pasadena CA) had sort of talked her out of it because of… it looked great but there was’nt enough theory in it or something, so in way I was working with.. it was similar to what she had done pre-Art Center.”
Jim Shaw on one of the two times a studio asistant gave him an idea for a piece
(((too be continued)))