Saturday, June 27, 2009

Interview with Stylusart, Barcelona

Where do you prefer to work exterior or studio? Explain your preferences. Today is May 12, 2002 in Toronto Canada and it is 7 degrees Celsius and raining (but it feels like it’s about to start snowing). So the answer to your question is rather self-evident, I work indoors (while worrying about the fact that perhaps I’ve planted my vegetable garden too soon). For the longest time I’ve never had a studio per se, largely due to economics; but since moving into a large old house with my partner last summer, I’ve been able to devote one room for use as a studio. While I work almost exclusively with digital media now and a computer takes up so little space, it is a treat to have a dedicated space to spread out and make a mess (which is a far cry from my former work area – the kitchen table). Do you make any image treatment in a laboratory? What do you think about computer image treatment? I used to use a photo-lab for processing and printing but at Christmas I was given the gift of an ink-jet printer, so now I do all the printing myself. Because there is not longer any need for chemicals, the printing process no longer necessitates a darkroom with all the accompanying mess and smells (and is probably less dangerous to my lungs – even though I still smoke like a chimney!). The maximum size of prints that I can output is only 20 cm across, but I like to work in large formats (which is prohibitively expensive when using a lab) so this opens many conceptual problems and possibilities. I’ve found two solutions to this dilemma. The first is to construct a piece out of many fragments and arrange them in a grid, which gives the work a subtle (but rigid) organizing template that is often at odds with the chaos apparent in the entire image. The other solution is to frame the fragments individually and arrange to frames into a grid, creating the impression of window mullions or the bars of a cage, increasing the inherent voyeurism of looking at art. Probably 99% of computer imaging is garbage. Much of the work I’ve seen involves using digital media to simulate painting, which seems to me to be deeply conservative and pointless. There is a faux-trendiness involved with using new media that may be a way of disguising an artist’s conceptual bankruptcy. If you’re going to try to simulate a painting, why not just make a painting? There’s a political dimension to digital media that seems largely unexplored – if computer-manipulated images are capable of simulating reality (as opposed to the traditional snapshot, which captures the world as it is) is there not a danger for governments or news agencies to advance their own agenda? How reliable are the images that we see on the evening news or in the newspapers? This poses an interesting conceptual question for visual artists. Which do you prefer black and white or colour? What do you think of this dichotomy? I work almost exclusively in colour, although I did a series of very creepy and gothic black and white pinhole photographs a few years ago. Because colour is “prettier” and more naturalistic it’s possible to use the inherent prettiness against itself and use it ironically. It makes me wonder if the history of photography, and by extension, the history of art would have taken a different course had colour processes been invented before the use of black and white processes. How would you value the present moment of photography in your country both commercial and creative? The evolution of my own work, I can see now in retrospect, has been in line with the evolution of contemporary Canadian art over the last thirty years. While the history of photography is a parallel history, my involvement has been to move from the dematerialization of conceptual art through performance art toward using photo-based work as a conceptual tool to investigate and critique charged relationships between voyeurism, public display, male vanity, sexuality, and doctrinaire political extremism. Much of the relevant photo-based work in Canada follows the same time-line, and while not as butch and antagonistic as my investigations, there is a clear tendency to follow the influences of contemporary art rather than the influences of the history of photography. Thus, there is less a problem for artists using photo-based means being viewed as equal to painters, which happens so often in other places. We would like you to name three photographers whom you find interesting (from any period). Gilbert and George from London, and George Platt Lynes (who worked in the United States from the 1930s-50s) interest me very much both for the collaborative nature of the former and the bravery of the second. While the political environments they operated in were very different, both were able to make unabashedly homoerotic work. Lynes faced the potential for serious legal censure from the intolerance of the time and the G & G duo have been able to forge a very successful career in an art world that is still shamefully and hypocritically homophobic. While George Platt Lynes was a traditional photographer as comfortable working for fashion magazines as making art photos, the Londoners’ exuberant and large-scale photo pieces pointed the way toward extending the gravitas of painting to photo-based work. The third favourite is not an individual but the use of the medium of web design by artists entering into the democratic free-for-all of the Internet. The form offers the potential to increase the viewership of contemporary art practice exponentially while at the same time subverting the sell-or-die ethos of the commercial marketplace. The conceptualists of the 60s and 70s attempted this through other means, but the market quickly subsumed their projects. It is rather amusing to watch museums scrambling to accommodate web-based work in a fruitless attempt to place parameters around something that is by its very nature open-ended. What do you think of Stylusart? It is refreshing indeed to find an art publication which is not bound by the whims of advertisers, as well as one which truly takes an international approach to the art world (a world which no longer has any need for a hegemonic centre). By publishing on-line, there is a real opportunity to spark the kinds of intelligent dialogue that is so often missing from the letters to the editor pages of art journals. What do you think about the campaign “Original Solidarity” organized by Stylusart? When Carmen Podesas talked about positive globalization in the Original Solidarity campaign to raise funds for the Save the Children Fund, it shows that art can indeed make a difference in the world. While it is impossible for artists to become social workers without descending into propaganda, the campaign shows that we can use our voices and individual unique perspectives, if only in a small way, to effect social change that will benefit everyone. I’m very pleased to have been invited to participate.

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