on leave from a project with Helen and Newton Harrison, is visiting us for a
while. As per usual, Witness is
asking questions [in the tradition of Socrates] that help us focus in our
search for understanding…..
what exactly is the difference between “ceaseless” and “useless,” or are they
the same thing?
I think Sisyphus’ labors may be ceaseless, and they may be useless in terms of
energy output being turned into something concrete – his labors cannot be
called “work,” I suppose.
But his energy expenditure is also
useful as the signifier of a general
human condition. And that is
does that mean that Sisyphus would not be expected to shrug? That
is, Sisyphus will actually
continue to labor into eternity?
Yes. His tedium is a form
of prayer. It is repetitious and
focused – I’m sure he experiences that sense of “stopped time” – what Eliade
would call the “Eternal Moment.”
And so his labors transmit to us the
possibility of stopped time as
know, I’ve been thinking about this whole issue for quite a while, and for a
time even thought that “tedium” had something to do with God – “Te Deum.” Make sense?
what will we DO with that information?
Surely it is of no benefit to us unless
we have a means to achieve the
same state of grace?
think you must be asking me that question as a fellow artist
– am I
right? Aren’t you wondering how an
artist might tap into the ethos of ceaseless labor, thus achieving the epiphany
suppose each of us has to find our own personal means to that end. But if we assume there is a “benefit,”
don’t we also assume a moment of completion? I think what we really seek is fulfillment, not closure. I guess fulfillment is beneficial……..
have been thinking about Jay DeFeo – that congealed mass of paint that she
worked on for so many years, and which may never have been finished. Didn’t she die without declaring it
not sure about that last part, but I do know she worked on it for years –
endlessly or ceaselessly!
what would be your own particular version of what DeFeo was doing?
not at all certain that DeFeo had voiced any kind of conceptual agenda – that she
had any particular vision for the process. I’d need to go further into that.
Peter Scheldahl recently suggested that there is a trend toward working in
small scale and in tedious increments – I think he refers to those artists as
have been monumental, but the engagement was the same – termite work….. And this all fits with how I envision a
game for myself.
do you mean by “game”?
alternative to a finished product.
More as a kind of state of eternal
playing and imagining. I think about Borges a lot –
fantastic imaginary libraries that stretch on into infinity and eternity – and
I try to live in my own ongoing Borgesian fantasy. In fact, that’s why I hate that whole current art crit riff
about end games……
are two examples.
construct collages from hundreds of tiny, ½ inch squares, which are cut out of
very old textbooks. In these
textbooks, which I have collected for years, I started to notice that the
children who had used them made marks – what you might call “doodles” or
“graffiti.” Funny little
strange scrawls and hackneyed pronouncements [“Roses are red”] are found
throughout these books. One boy
even did graphite rubbings from coins in his pocket – he must really have been
bored! So I imagine that these
marks were made out of a sense of – oh – eternal tedium as only children
experience it. Stuck in a
classroom while birds are singing outside! And the books are also stained – fingerprints, grease
stains, little bits of food, ink blots – even pressed flowers and the stains they
leave. The books have been touched.
I cut out a square, I only do so from those parts of a book that have been
marked or stained. The collages I
make with them, then, are reconstructed records of thousands of children and
thousands of hours they spent in a kind of suspension state. I,
in turn, share in that through my
process of snipping and re-arranging the squares. Too, I feel very close those distant children – so time is
compressed and halted.
far I’m only making fairly small grid pieces of these materials – ranging from
8x8” to 24x24” mostly. But I
imagine much, much larger works – panel after panel, say 40x40”-- that stretch
on into infinity, each one consisting of thousands of these tiny squares – each
40 x 40 panel would contain 6400 separate squares. So that, eventually, all of the graffiti and stains in the
world for all time are preserved.
does indeed sound like a good example of useless, or at least ceaseless,
is the whole idea, of course. I
like the thought that I could have a project that never ended – that would
carry me forward into the unknown future.
can you show me what you mean?
in fragments. Here is one small
piece with a lot of wonderful doodles and stains. I think of it as being evidence – a small specimen – of what
I can only imagine.