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A State of Resonance

December 16th, 2009|Painting|11 Comments

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Resonant State No. 1, 24 x 24 inches, ©Deidre Adams

Do you ever get the feeling that life isn’t always as random as we might think? I had yet another experience today that goes into the category of amazing coincidence.

Last week, I wrote about my Entangled Series, the first group of pieces that I did for my Painting V class. Making these pieces was a cathartic experience for me, but they were also extremely time-consuming. While it was OK that I had to spend pretty much every minute of my time not taken up with other obligations working on them, I knew that work in my other classes was going to start demanding way more time and attention, and I needed to find a way to do the work faster. So I decided to go back to painting.

By now I think I’ve worked something out of my system, so even though I started out this second series still thinking about entanglement, the work evolved into something different as I progressed. I’m still thinking about the processes of the brain, but now it’s more general. I’ve been doing a lot of research on neuroscience, at least insofar as I can understand it because it can very quickly become “science-y” beyond the point that I’m willing to pursue it. I have a basic understanding of neurons, synapses, axons, and dendrites, but what I find immensely fascinating is that science still doesn’t have a clear understanding of how all these physical structures lead to the phenomena of language and memory, perceptions and emotions, consciousness and dreams, and ultimately becomes an awareness of self. This is what I’m trying to explore in these paintings.

I’m still working with texture, because after so many years of working with textiles, I’ve developed an inseparable connection with the tactile nature of materials. Besides the visual texture imparted by the lines, shapes, colors and markings in this work, I’m also using thread, string, fragments of handmade paper, and other embedded objects to impart elements of physical texture to the surface. I’m still very interested in creating a sense of depth and layering here, in an attempt to create an illusion that you are moving into the piece.

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Resonant State No. 1, detail, ©Deidre Adams

Today, I was in the process of writing this blog entry on the next group of pieces, when something arrived in the mail which helped to solidify my ideas about what I’m trying to say with these pieces: the December ’09 issue of Discover Magazine. Now as far as I know, we do not have a subscription to this magazine (although it could very well turn out that a family member is giving us a gift subscription for Christmas), and I’ve never read it before in my life. But it looked interesting, so I thumbed through it, and right there on page 61 is a fantastic article about Henry Markram and the Blue Brain project. The project is an attempt to simulate a human brain with computers, reverse engineering what we know and “building tools to synthesize those data into biological phenomena.” In its current state, the project is running on the IBM Blue Gene®/P, a supercomputer consisting of “16,000 processors squeezed into a space the size of four refrigerators.”

The article is fascinating and I highly recommend it. I won’t go into it in too much depth, except for the part that really sparked my recognition of how this applies to my work. In answer to a question about what they’ve learned so far with the project, Markham talks about the phenomenon of “gamma oscillations,” a rhythm of electrical activity that appeared spontaneously in the circuit. He explains further:

Gamma oscillations are the basis for consciousness, according to a theory. The theory holds that when the brain goes into high-frequency oscillations, those oscillations do perceptual binding, which is the foundation of consciousness. … It’s significant that we didn’t specifically try to model the phenomenon in the brain. All we have to do is pay attention to the fact that we are building it correctly, and these phenomena emerge. The whole circuit goes into this resonant state, which is an amazing state. Now we can dissect the circuit and find out exactly which neurons were crucial, which pathways, which receptors, and so forth.

I love the idea of the “resonant state,” as I think this has multiple meanings applicable to thoughts, memory and the making of art in and of itself. Here are the other paintings in the series:

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Resonant State No. 2, 24 x 24 inches, ©Deidre Adams

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Resonant State No. 3, 24 x 24 inches, ©Deidre Adams

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Resonant State No. 4, 24 x 24 inches, ©Deidre Adams
December 16th, 2009|Painting|11 Comments

Entangled Series

December 6th, 2009|Fiber / mixed media, School, Work in progress|5 Comments

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Entangled II, 24 x 24 inches, ©2009 Deidre Adams

Now that school is just about over, I thought I would start posting some of the work that I’ve been doing this semester. Besides the Art Theory & Criticism class, I had two studio classes, Painting V and Printmaking II: Lithography. I’ll start with Painting.

Painting V is the last level of painting that Metro offers, and it is the time when students are expected to be hard at work developing their body of work for the all-important thesis/portfolio show. At this time, we’re expected to be pretty much self-driven, choosing what we want to work on, developing our own proposals, and being given little direction other than feedback on the proposal and the work itself, both in progress and finished. It was a stacked class, meaning that the instructor had another class to deal with simultaneously and so was stretched pretty thin trying to get around to everybody. (Not surprising with budget cuts across the board, but who knows how much worse it will get before it gets better!)

As usual, I struggled to figure out what I wanted to go with for my concept. It’s not that I don’t have any ideas, it’s just the opposite. I have too many, and I feel such affection for each of them, it’s hard to settle on a single one. I went through a couple of false starts before I finally settled on this one idea. It’s something that’s been rolling around in my mind for a long time, but I never could figure out exactly what I wanted to do with it. Part of the problem is that as a highly introverted individual, I’ve always shied away from making work that is too personal, choosing for the most part to concentrate on formal elements and/or safe choices that won’t reveal too much of myself to the world. When my mother died four years ago, someone close to me suggested to me that I should do a piece about it, to allow me to work out my feelings. No, I said, I could never do that. I wasn’t even fully capable of confronting those feelings directly; it was better to keep it all at a safe distance.

Without saying a whole lot more about it, the important thing to convey is that about 4-5 years before she died, my mother began to exhibit signs that something wasn’t quite right in her mind. She was forgetting things, losing things, saying things that made no sense, sometimes displaying irrational fears about things that no one else could see. By the time she died, she didn’t know who I was any longer, but I think from some of the things she said, she might have been confusing me with her older sister.

While I was thinking over ideas for my concept, mulling thoughts about patterns and textures in nature and science, my dad had an accident and went into the hospital. I went down to Albuquerque to see him and deal with anything that needed my assistance. While there, I stayed in my parent’s house, which always makes me think a lot about my mother. I also think about how the things I experienced growing up might have looked from her perspective, how differently those same incidents and conversations would have appeared through her eyes. I think about what she might have been like as a child and a young woman, what kind of hopes and dreams she may have had that never materialized as she continued down the path she ended up choosing.

When I got back home, something I saw, I don’t even know what now, sparked the idea of trying to tie together her experiences with the physical changes that occur in the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s disease. I did a lot of research so I could understand the science of it. Neurons, the nerve cells which transmit brain activity, die when the proteins which are normally broken down and eliminated by the body instead become reformed into hard, insoluble plaques. Microtubules, the brain’s cellular transport system, break down abnormally and the proteins released reform into insoluble twisted fibers called tangles. As these cells die, the brain shrinks. Ventricles, the chambers containing cerebrospinal fluid, become enlarged.

Having seen the outward manifestations of these changes, I visualize the thoughts inside the person’s head becoming trapped: twisted, tangled, and cut off from their normal pathways by these cells and obstructing formations. An idea tries to make its way to a familiar connecting point, but it’s either stopped completely or diverted to a place it’s not supposed to go.

I wanted to use fibers and thread to express my concept, both because I love using them and because these materials seemed like a natural fit to express the concept of entanglement. As more and more thread is added, the surface becomes at once more complex and more unified. The idea is not a literal representation of brain cells, but rather a depiction of how the strangulation of the sending and receiving cells means they can no longer function as they should.

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Entangled I, 24 x 24 inches, ©2009 Deidre Adams

These originally started out as strictly fiber works, but the shapes were very wonky and I couldn’t figure out how I would hang them. I also knew I would need several more pieces in the series, especially since these two were so different. I would need to make more pieces with bridging elements to make everything work together as a single exhibit. So I came up with the idea of making a grid of 24-inch squares, and to that end I ended up stitching these pieces to stretched canvas.

I also started a third piece, but since these are extremely time-consuming, I didn’t get this one to a satisfactory state before the due date. I’m not even sure if I want to keep going with it. For now, it’s a UFO (unfinished object).

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Entangled III, 24 x 24 inches, ©2009 Deidre Adams
December 6th, 2009|Fiber / mixed media, School, Work in progress|5 Comments

Gordon Matta-Clark — Artist, Activist, Anarchitect

November 29th, 2009|Influences, Interesting Artists, School|Comments Off on Gordon Matta-Clark — Artist, Activist, Anarchitect

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Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting, 1974

Completion through removal. Abstractions of surfaces. Not-building, not-to-rebuild, not-built-space. Creating spatial complexity, reading new openings against old surfaces. Light admitted into space or beyond surfaces that are cut. Breaking and entering. Approaching structural collapse, separating the parts at the point of collapse.
— Gordon Matta-Clark, 1971

I’ve just spent a couple of weeks researching the work of Gordon Matta-Clark for a paper for my Art Theory & Criticism class this semester. The assignment was to choose an artist and/or specific work to tie in with some of the theories we had been discussing in our readings. Deconstruction theory* is very interesting to me, so I started with a Google search on that term and came up with Gordon Matta-Clark. As soon as I saw the images that came up, I remembered having seen a slide of his work in an earlier art history class. The slide we saw was from his work Bingo, in which he cut out sections from the side of an old condemned house. Some of these sections were saved, and this slide shows them placed in a pristine museum setting — a striking contrast of particular interest for me because I find abandoned structures so compelling.

Gordon Matta-Clark was quite an interesting guy. He was the son of two artists — Chilean surrealist painter Roberto Matta and American artist Anne Clark. Marcel Duchamp was his godfather. He was active during the early 70s and died an untimely death from cancer when he was only 35. His work is somewhat difficult to categorize, consisting of elements of sculpture, drawing, film, performance, social activism, and “semantic deconstruction,” a label applied to his fondness for word play in his documentation.

His most well-known works are probably those often referred to as the “building cuts.” The earliest works involving cutting of buildings were “urban guerilla acts” in which he illegally entered abandoned apartment buildings and cut out parts of what would have been a floor on one level and a ceiling for the level below. These cut-out fragments were displayed in a gallery setting as Bronx Floors.

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Gordon Matta-Clark, Bronx Floors, 1972-73

As he gained notoriety, Matta-Clark was able to gain legal access to various condemned structures in order to perform his interventions. Splitting (top) is probably his most iconic work, consisting of a house which he cut completely in half. He and his collaborators were able to remove part of the foundation on one side so that the affected half tilted back and transformed the opening into a dramatic wedge, widening from bottom to top.

Matta-Clark was interested in the social aspects of how abandonment and urban renewal would affect and displace communities. His ideas about consumerism and capitalism seemed to be taken almost directly from the Situationists: the concepts of psychogeography, dérive, and détournement. In explaining his “dualistic habit of centering and removal,” he said,

Here I am directing my attention to the central void, to the gap which, among other things, could be between the self and the American Capitalist system. What I am talking about is a very real, carefully sustained mass schizophrenia in which our individual perceptions are constantly being subverted by industrially controlled media, markets, and corporate interests. … This conspiracy goes on every day, everywhere, while the citizen commutes to and from his shoe-box home with its air of peace and calm, while he is being precisely maintained in a state of mass insanity.[i]

Matta-Clark was trained as an architect, having received a B.A. in architecture from Cornell University in 1968. But he spent a lot of time in the company of artists while in college, and he expressed some disaffection with the field of architecture, and especially with the type of modernist ideas he encountered there. After leaving Cornell, Matta-Clark moved to New York City, to an area now known as SoHo but which was then called the South Houston Industrial area. At that time, the area was in a state of decline, a prime example of urban decay, with numerous abandoned buildings and streets lacking lighting and maintenance. Since the 1950s, artists had been attracted to the area for the cheap rents, living illegally in buildings zoned for commercial, not residential use. In the late 1960s, the city’s urban planners and wealthy landowners wanted to transform the area into a modern corporate and financial center, an idea which was met with no small resistance by the inhabitants.

At this time, much of Matta-Clark’s work involved a spirit of community, calling attention to the plight of the poor and homeless and involving neighbors and other artists in the work’s creation. He had several ideas for making building materials from discarded bottles and other trash, with thoughts of developing some of these ideas into places for the homeless to live.[ii] He explained his motivation:

As a native New Yorker my sense of the city as home runs deep … [and] my attitudes are still keener as regards an awareness of prevailing conditions and their need for improvement. Among the conditions my training and personal inclination have taught me to deal with is neglect and abandonment. There are words which when applied to children or human beings of any age evoke a profound call for alarm and rectification, yet when existing in massive proportions throughout our urban environment evokes only bureaucratic or juridic ambivalence and in-action.[iii]

Matta-Clark’s ideas about the social content of his work grew clearer to him as he progressed in his career. In a 1976 interview with Donald Wall, after he had done several building-cut projects, he reiterated his commitment to fighting against what he saw as a flawed system:

By undoing a building there are many aspects of the social conditions against which I am gesturing: first, to open a state of enclosure which had been preconditioned not only by physical necessity but by the industry that profligates suburban and urban boxes as a context for insuring a passive, isolated consumer—a virtually captive audience.[iv]

In 1975, Matta-Clark began work on Conical Intersect, one of his more complex building interventions. In Paris at this time, the old section of the city known as Les Halles was being demolished to make way for modernization, including the building of the then-controversial Centre Georges Pompidou. Matta-Clark obtained permission to work on two 17th-century houses that were the last to be demolished to make way for the modernization project.

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Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical Intersect, 1975

Having been to the Pompidou myself last summer, I found this especially interesting. The pictures are fascinating, but how amazingly cool it would have been to be able to experience this first-hand. These works could only exist, and for only a short time, because they would subsequently be destroyed. All that remains are photographs and film of the process.

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Interior view of Conical Intersect

I can’t help feeling nostalgic when older buildings are demolished to make way for the new. I know that’s a kind of sentimental attitude, and we must have progress and all that, but I just like the character of old buildings better than new ones. If I never saw what was there before, of course I couldn’t give that too much thought, but Gordon Matta-Clark did want people to think about that, and that’s why I love his work so much.

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*Deconstruction is a literary theory credited to Jacques Derrida, who is maddeningly difficult to read. I found a very understandable explanation of deconstruction in Literary Theory for the Perplexed by Mary Klages. (Wow – Amazon seriously wants $132 for this book? Good thing we have libraries!)

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[i]Gordon Matta-Clark, Interview by Donald Wall, 1976, in “Gordon Matta-Clark’s Building Dissections,” in Gordon Matta-Clark: Works and Collected Writings, ed. Gloria Moure (Barcelona: Ediciones Poligrafa, 2006), 58.
[ii]Christian, Scheidemann, “Material and Process: Gordon Matta-Clark’s Object Legacy, in Gordon Matta Clark: You are the Measure. Exhibition catalog published by the Whitney Museum of American Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 119.
[iii]Gordon Matta-Clark, notes from the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark, quoted in Judith Russi-Kirchner, “The Idea of Community in the Work of Gordon Matta-Clark,” in Gordon Matta-Clark, ed. Corinne Diserens (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2003), 148.
[iv]Matta-Clark, Wall interview, 57.
November 29th, 2009|Influences, Interesting Artists, School|Comments Off on Gordon Matta-Clark — Artist, Activist, Anarchitect