The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2012

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OCT 2012 Issue
Art In Conversation

An epistolary interview with Jarrett Earnest, pt. 1 “A-G”

Portrait of the Artist. Pencil on paper by Phong Bui.
Portrait of the Artist. Pencil on paper by Phong Bui.

Dear Richard, 

Phong has been in touch about me doing an email interview with you. I’ve just come from your current show at Pace (Systems VIII-XII September 07 - October 13), and have admired your work since I saw the 2005 retrospective as a student. He forwarded me your message with the ABC idea—which I am game for, I just want to clarify the structure:

For each letter of the alphabet I choose a “theme or subject” and then ask a question.  I think they should come one at a time so that they can develop. 

I like the idea of compiling an interview-collage-glossary of sorts—thinking of Auden’s A Certain World, the “commonplace book.” Are we on the same page, or did I misunderstand your message?

I think it will be fun — Jarrett

A is for “Alchemy”

A.N. Whitehead has written that “Nature is a structure of evolving processes—the reality is the process.” Your work often feels like an image or object undergoing the process of alchemical transformation. Do you think of alchemy in relationship to what you do? What do you make of gold?

Nice question, Jarrett. Yes, you’ve got the idea, even better than I, which is to say, it is not really an idea. One part of the recent work is locating the figure in landscape. I was successful in locating it at the vanishing point, but let’s see what happens if I am that figure. When I say “I”, I mean you, or any other “I,” and the figure is an ultimate reduction of it in the mind. So it is we who create the vanishing point. You can say, how can we create the vanishing point, and how can we do anything not that.

Language and social structures begin in originary space, but I find, not only can they not function, we can't even know what space is, then. So an “A,” alchemist would try to create, not the illusion of space, but the reality of 3-dimensional space, even as a fundamental possibility within culture. That would be infinitely more valuable than gold, although “gold” could be used symbolically to describe it. The fun is in non-symbolically saying something never said before. That explains itself.

B is for “Bachelard”

Your discussion of the figure in the landscape reminded me of Bachelard’s writing on “intimate immensity” where the immense is revealed to us through the private contemplation of vast landscapes, like the sea. He begins with two quotations that seem especially relevant to my experience of your work: Rilke’s “The world is large, but in us it is deep as the sea”; and Jules Vallès’s “Space has always reduced me to silence.” Has Bachelard’s Poetics of Space influenced your thinking? What do you make of this interconnection between interior experience and expansive external space? 

Today, we can locate ourselves without knowing if we are looking up or down, not feeling disoriented as expected—not hurting, joyful.

C is for “Cantilever”

Richard Tuttle, detail of “Systems, X,” 2012. © Richard Tuttle, courtesy Pace Gallery. Photo by: Kerry Ryan McFate / Courtesy Pace Gallery.

A scene from Vertigo (1958):
Midge: It’s a brassiere! You know about those things, you’re a big boy now.

Scottie: I’ve never run across one like that.

Midge: It’s brand new. Revolutionary up-lift: No shoulder straps, no back straps, but it does everything a brassiere should do. Works on the principle of the cantilevered bridge.

Scottie: It does?

So many of your works seem to generate excitement and freshness through asymmetry, although the works in the current exhibition all seem more or less symmetrical. What interests you about balance; or, things that are structurally sound but deny some sense of stability, or vice versa?

The body alone—if we could achieve that, there would be no death, there would be no war. Rather than the body leaving the spirit, the spirit might leave the body for an instant, and we would experience freedom from the fear of death and be open to language.


D is for “Dancing”

Edwin Denby writing about a component of dancing he calls “stylized movement”:

It is a movement that looks a little like dancing but more like nondancing. It is a movement derived from what people do when they are not dancing. It is a gesture from life deformed to suit music (music heard or imagined). The pleasure of watching it lies in guessing the action it was derived from, in guessing what it originally looked like, and then in savoring the ‘good taste’ of the deformation.

Does your wish for a “body alone” have movement? Is it possible in movement? Does looking at dancing of any type influence your forms?

There are art people you haven't seen in years, and the first thing they say is your best time in the half mile or remembering seeing you dance.

When people recall seeing you dance what do they say—do you remember it too? Does it align with how you felt?

When you are a dancer, you know you are putting out art, and that is confirmed when someone receives it. I would say, both are felt, believed, and, though only acknowledged years later, are “remembered” by both.


E is for “Echolocation”

Installation view of Richard Tuttle: Systems, VIII-XII, Pace Gallery. Photo by: Kerry Ryan McFate / Courtesy Pace Gallery. (c) Richard Tuttle, courtesy Pace Gallery

Bat and dolphins—seeing with sound or feeling—Would you be a bat for a day? How would that type of sense change things for us—for art?

If one accepts the demos as authority in government, one must include the possibility of echolocation response in art, wouldn’t you say, Jarrett?

Then, I might ask: how does authority in government structure what you do and the possibilities of others responding to it?

It structures everything. That’s why it’s important, though innocent, and, perhaps, ignorant. The authority of the demos must be structured “from above,” as we are, I assume? How else could we respond to art? Of course, many do not believe we can govern ourselves this way. Do you?

Governmental authority as a crystallization of the social then yes. That art is stuff made by human beings to be shared with other human beings and is the social, then also yes. In that case every gesture is political—I think your work is very political in this way, almost oppositional. 

Thank you.


F is for “Free Indirect Discourse”

Richard Tuttle, "Systems, X," 2012. Wood, concrete, cloth, plastic, paint. 80" x 10'10" x 36", overall dimensions variable. © Richard Tuttle, courtesy Pace Gallery. Photo by: Kerry Ryan McFate / Courtesy Pace Gallery.

Famously Flaubert wrote for and of Emma Bovary: “So at last she was to know those joys of love, that fever of happiness of which she had despaired! She was entering upon a marvelous world where all would be passion, ecstasy, delirium.”—a slippery authorial position called free indirect. How do you see yourself as a maker in relation to the expressions you bring the world? Are they speaking for or of you, of themselves? What type of discourse interests you, and how does one go about engaging in it?

At this point Flaubert was secure, we loved Emma; I could never do this.

We love Emma as Flaubert, No?

Not really. At first, the “of” Emma part, we think we do love her, as he strikingly reveals he does—we are using him as a crutch. Next, the “for” part, he just as strikingly abandons us, as a writer, to her, who we realize we loved, independent of him, and stay interested in her, of course. We are drained of passion, however; the doors to the blessings of tragedy are open for us and Emma with Flaubert in the distance, where nature exists, metaphorically.


G is for “Grid” & “Gendered Aesthetics”

Richard Tuttle, “Systems, IX,” 2012. Wood, string, metal, fabric, plastic, foam, paint. 44” x 17’6” x 9’3”, overall dimensions variable. © Richard Tuttle, courtesy Pace Gallery. Photo by: Kerry Ryan McFate / Courtesy Pace Gallery.

In a 2005 interview you recalled: asking Agnes Martin, “Is there a special relation between women and abstraction?” To which she replied, “Without women, you’ll never know what abstraction is.” This fascinates me. What led you to ask her this? How do you feel about gender and abstraction now? I’ve been thinking about the historical relationship between gay sex and abstraction. How do feel gender functions in your work?

But it was good to reread. Writing looks good one moment, bad the next—to its author—Mine seemed pretty vulnerable, especially if the reader were to be unsympathetic. Look at poor Aristotle, one of the greatest writers who ever lived; he’s been attacked, including by me, through the ages, but he survives, because his writing comes to what is real, whether we like it or not. Why can’t anyone else except Agnes paint the grid?


    The next installation of this interview will be published in the November 2012 edition of the Brooklyn Rail.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2012

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