DIALOGUE WITH AMY GREEN AND LAUREN HARTMAN
LH : I'm beginning to understand that representation primarily derives from abstraction, from patterns of thinking, ideas about immanence and transcendence, hierarchy, order, and logic. Images sometimes seem like representations of ideas that worm their way up through cultural strata. They cause problems and uncertainty. For example, the figure is troubling for many painters not because painting the figure is anti-intellectual but because the body is not loved in Judeo-Christian culture. We recoil from it. Like the fact that your paintings are dirty. What's that about?
AG : I want to deal with that uncertainty and upset. The dirtiness is about life. I began seeing the dust and scratches on the plastic as part of these pieces, working together with the painting, and it seemed really strange to try to remove those marks. I realize that the paintings want to move with life, to be in transition, accepting marks, scratches and this certainly disturbs ideas coming from the body in that Protestant stream of history that still affects us, its obsession with purity and cleanliness and ordered systems. I want to see if I can try not to escape from the body but allow it in, because there's so much emphasis on controlling the art object, keeping it clean, finished, and solved.
LH : Your work seems to suggest an end stage, as if the pieces of plastic stood up from an industrial collapse and marked themselves in the rubble. There is this sense that as Americans that will be repaid for the violence we do, but we don't know when that will happen. And if doesn't happen, and if the government doesn't do it to us, then we'll do it to ourselves, because there's only so much guilt a nation take on. I wonder if this expectation isn't the cause of our tentative relations, our fears about ambiguity, and timidity about self-expression outside of what can be purchased. We are almost fully compliant with consumerism and capitalism. Even our sophisticated strategies can flow in tandem with that. You can put very little into that philosophical stream that won't be subsumed by it.
AG : How can what we do be meaningful then? It's about resisting the stream. It's maybe the most challenging of times in which to make meaningful work, whatever that is, when the lure of capital is so seductive. Even for artists. It's important to be an independent thinker, but how do you know if you are an independent thinker within a culture that is able to take everything up as capital?
LH : And when our imaginations are clipped. I find myself in a cul de sac, unable to conceive beyond what is. I think that there are limits on what can be envisioned and until we experience existence differently, we'll keep confronting those limits. I think that's why the limits are so apparent now, because we are moving toward a major change. As an artist, the only thing I really care about is uncertainty. The real challenge is to be in the place of uncertainty and not to run, to allow myself to be flexible, to experience rather than to control. I can't do that most of the time.
AG : I know. I think we find things on our way to doing "the project." I'm starting to see that most of the time we're already there. I think that's why I keep emptying out my paintings, reducing them to one or two elements, because I want to empty them out enough to allow for the possibility of new information, new chance elements.
LH : All I can do right now is go back. I want to look at my own part in this disaster. I think that I'm a pacifist, someone with a lot of empathy. But I know I'm a product of American culture, which is tied to love of power, conformity, and self-doubt. I don't have enough money or guts or stupidity to buy an SUV and tailgate someone on the 405, but the moment I paint I watch my subservience to power, magic, and cruelty arise. What do we do about this hand? It doesn't lie. You can try to suppress it or hide it, but it's incredibly tiring to do that.
AG : Let's talk about conformity. The energy and time that gets put into trying to fit in, so much energy gets caught up in the details...if I start doing plaid, plaid's the answer, no culottes, that'll work, or hard edge, tracing, that'll work, no the stain, running around trying to clean it all up...that energy takes too much away.
LH : Sometimes artists adhere to the "contemporary artist" lifestyle archetype, imagining that if we hold fast to certain concepts there will be an art world and a livelihood, a sense of place and personality that will go on indefinitely. But in fact there is no security and there is void, and there is loneliness. We don't have to cure that. Ultimately, dissatisfaction breaks through conformity and we start to ask deeper questions. It's our way out. I want to connect with people who are asking questions that take a long time to answer.
AG : I'm interested in an idiosyncratic space that interferes with the neat intellectual systems that we have set up in painting. Often, painters get caught up in the idea of appearance and trying to make works that looks like contemporary art and in the process take on investigations that may host nothing. I want to know what's behind surface.
LH : Surface is fine, but it's not the limit. I think we don't allow for just how complex things can be. I think an artist can make a work that is totally sincere, lacking in irony and absolutely intellectually rigorous. It seems that we tend to look at work with certain "frames" on, and if a work is seen as outside those frames, it's met with neglect or derision, as if we can't see its value. I don't have to take my value system from my education or my professors; it can come from my life.
AG : In some ways, I don't know how not to be sincere. I think we need to give each other permission to express instead of closing down. That goes back to academia and how we're learning to talk to each other while working. We are very quick to categorize marks in a painting in their proper historical context, yes, to read it, but sometimes too quickly diffuse the painter's project. We have subtle ways of competing and overturning ideas. I think we have to sit still now. I feel there is a shift, and maybe it's the recognition of the time spent on things that don't really add up that's causing it. I think people want to breathe and experiment and to allow that this stuff takes time. All this running to the studio in a panic, thinking that you're going to figure it out has not been profitable for most, and I think we know that there's a more interesting conversation on the way. Maybe it takes guts to be vulnerable. Changes are coming.