Excess Baggage: part 2

For part 1, please click here.

CH: It is funny that you mentioned collecting physical newspapers, because I do the same with my Economist magazines.  I threw away all my other subscriptions, but for this publication that deals with analyses of global political issues, economic situations, technological changes, art and book ideas, keeping the issues feels like preserving cultural concerns that had once meant a great deal to our society.  But what you are doing is also quite personal aside from the larger issues we are facing today.  

BB:  I wholly relate!  Of course your subscription to The Economist probably gives you unlimited access to the digital archives, but somehow it’s not the same as having the stack of magazines at your disposal, right?  I now have the excuse that anything might be part of a future project, and it often is, but I’ve been doing this since childhood.  And again, as you point out, people collect for all kinds of reasons – absurd, sincere, and in some cases, for their livelihoods.  My partner Bill Santen’s video project “Low Tide,” in the exhibition, follows “scrappers” along the Bronx waterfront who scavenge abandoned boats for scrap metal, something he himself has done between freelance jobs, which brought him into a culture of collecting with vastly different motivations than mine.  

Becky Brown
Black and White , 2016
Pencil and collage on paper
Image courtesy the artis

I thought the New Museum’s recent exhibition “The Keeper” presented a fascinating range of collections and collectors, highlighting the range of forces that drive people to collect in compulsive ways.  I was deeply inspired by that exhibition and the questions it raised, and while we focused more on the artwork than the psychology of individual collectors in “King of the Cockroaches,” I hope the works and performances we showed push forward the conversation about collecting as a kind of artistic research

Becky Brown
Pleasant View, 2016
Mixed media on paper
Image courtesy the artist

CH: Last Thursday, you invited me to “King Of The Cockroaches” live performance and video program.  The title of this program which, you put together sounded appalling to me at first, as I imagined an enormously large pest sitting at a throne wearing a golden crown (unless anyone is a fan of cockroaches.)  In fact, the title draws from an ancient Arabic preservation myth.  Very interesting, please tell me about this.

BB: Yes, I realize the prospect of a “King of the Cockroaches” might be scary or even repulsive!  I came upon the phrase while researching preservation.  In thinking through the exhibition (which Bill and I conceived and then collaborated on with Daniel Lichtman and Jess Willa Wheaton), I began to connect the collecting interests of all four of us to the tradition of historic preservation – defined as the endeavor to “to preserve, conserve and protect buildings, objects, landscapes or other artifacts of historical significance.”  At one time in Arabic cultures, the king of the cockroaches was invoked as an appeal to nibble on and destroy ancient books and scrolls.

CH: I like your process of thinking behind putting together this show.  Because you are invoking the viewer to consider that those ordinary pieces of information also address other issues at stake.

BB: Definitely – I hope the works in the show operate on multiple levels at once.  Another significant element to me in Jess’s “Post-Grocery” series is the larger issue that groceries, along with other brick and mortar stores, are themselves under threat.  The shopping malls of the 1990s are now a rarity; Amazon just bought Whole Foods and Greenwich Village’s Bleecker street is now lined with empty storefronts.  While New York natives like myself might remember Food Emporium as a posh, often-overpriced market, it is still a piece of history that I am glad Jess has preserved – a symbol of the changing New York City streetscape, and the changing commercial landscape of 2017.

Installation view
King of Cockroaches at Hercules Art Studio Program
Image courtesy Becky Brown

CH: In this program, and for your piece “Community, 2017,” you recited as if reading from a list, various applications of the word “community” to social and cultural formations.  The result at times was comical and absurd, such as “why I am tired all the time community,” at other times alarmingly violent such as “the gun community.”  Does your interest in “community” reach beyond the linguistic value of the word?

BB: Thanks for noticing those particular quotes!  I’m always so interested in which fragments, or words or phrases, stick out to people, so I’m happy to know that that those two lingered in your mind.  The “Community” reading included two different kinds of found text.  The first is verbatim phrases with the word “community” that I have heard or read.  “The gun community” is one of these – probably in a news story about gun control advocates vs. “the gun community” who fight for 2nd amendment rights.  As with many of these, the agenda or identity of a given community can be obscured by the word itself.  “The sleep community” for example, is a mysterious phrase that on the one hand might include every living organism who sleeps, but in fact probably referred to people in the business of sleep, who research it and treat disorders related to it.  This is just one example of what I think happens when a word gets repeated and overused – it obscure meaning in the same way a word that we say again and again becomes abstract sound.  I suspect this is one of the darker underlying intentions (conscious or unconscious) on the part of our capitalist culture in harnessing a word like “community.”  

CH: Your work has involved experimentations with different mediums.  For the “Cockroaches” exhibition, you showed Board Meeting (2017, acrylic and collage on wood), Safe Keeping (shelf), (2017, mixed media installation), Black and White (2016, pencil and collage on paper), To Do List (2015) and A New Kind of Conversation, (2016; both pencil and ink on paper).  It seems you are not only working with different mediums but also working with different concepts.  What is the relationship between Board Meeting and Safe Keeping (shelf) for example?

BB: Indeed, I realize my work seems to move in many directions, and that relationships between projects, particular pieces, or even within a given work may seem mysterious.  I like that you zero in on Board Meeting and Safe Keeping (shelf) because these might represent the two most distant poles: one is a small painting, the other is a large sculpture; one uses nearly every color in the rainbow, mostly in the brightest saturations, while the other uses a limited range of muted colors.  But I think beyond these immediate differences, they have quite a bit in common.  Most significant, they both take real, everyday, recognizable subjects (people sitting around a table, laptop computers, a bottle of wine; shoes, fishing poles, kitchen utensils, a guitar, etc.) and make them abstract – or de-familiarized, alien – via simple, formal modifications and additive layers of paint.

Becky Brown
Board Meeting, 2017
Acrylic and collage on wood with frame
Image courtesy the artist

CH: I knew there must exist a link either conceptually or formally.  Thanks for explaining this.  Are you preparing for upcoming shows? 

BB: After “King of the Cockroaches” and my two-person show “Cognition-Stroll” (with Annette Cords) earlier this summer, I am ready to get back to the studio!  Annette and I designed a wallpaper to transform the space into an installation tracing the external and internal path of a “flaneur” (or its contemporary counterpart).  We also created a publication with a text by our friend Tatiana Istomina on the theme of “universal language” and organized the panel discussed “Collage City” featuring fellow artist Lisa Sigal, experimental radio DJ Gaylord Fields and professor of Global Studies Laura Y. Liu.  So along with the two performance programs for “Cockroaches,” it’s been a busy summer, full of different kinds of collaboration.  I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to show different bodies of work, and to organize programs around questions and ideas I care about.  And it’s been an honor to work with so many great people!  Which also makes this a perfect time to return to the more solitary space of the studio.


Popular posts from this blog

The Whitney's Dreamlands

Excerpt from my essay on Barbara Chase-Riboud for 2017 FIAC

Rosemarie Trockel at New Museum- An interview