The following interview was conducted with Andrew Goodman in October 2011 for a website I had setup called Golden ArtNet. The website was dedicated to “Exploring the creative energies of the western central highlands, from Ballarat to Bendigo … and everywhere in between. Seeking out the best contemporary art from the region and delving a little deeper into its development, its production, and the people who create and present it.”
Andrew lives and works in Castlemaine and pursues some pretty cutting-edge art. There’s an undercurrent of belief in the artworld that we’re headed for a transition of focus to artworks that are immersive, technologically advanced and experiential – that art should, and will, use the same sort of technology we use for entertainment and industry. Some artists are keen to explore this option and look at all things in the world as forms of material to use in their art making.
This sort of art is not easily constructed without some high level technical skills – or access to it – and comes with all manner of potentials for glitches, malfunctions and failures. For some, that is enough to turn them off the idea of trying but for others it’s a challenge worth pursuing for the sort of unique and intense creations that are possible with these materials.
I spoke to Andrew about his works, the ideas behind them and why he thinks it is worth taking art into these territories.
(oh – and don’t feel bad if you need to google some of the terms in here, i had to do it myself. that’s how we learn!)
You recently had some work in an exhibition at Paradise Hills in Richmond. Could you explain a little bit about the art and how it worked?
The work was titled ‘Momo’, after a text by Artaud which formed part of the initial impetus for the work. It consisted of an installation of soft sculpture pieces with pulsing lights and an interactive or generative sound.
The sound was made up of loops of words and phrases from the Artaud text, reconfigured by being cut up and reconstructed through the participants’ movement. Light sensors where embedded into the main sculpture which then had bright lights projected onto it, and shadows formed by bodies in the space triggered sound events. Artaud’s ‘project’ in theatre was to disrupt the meaning of the language through the excess of the body, so in a way this was a literalisation of this concept. The configuration of the sensors and software followed a topological approach, where sound loops or interactive events are each controlled by multiple forces to create a complex web of relations rather than simple, easily read connections. For example, a particular sound might have its volume controlled by one sensor, be turned on/off by another, be exchanged for a different sample by a third, and have its EQ parameters altered by the fourth sensor so that the piece becomes more or less readable.
The sculptures where constructed from a shiny metallic fabric and a particularly violent pink material (with the walls painted the same colour), and where extremely, absurdly sexual – all phalluses and orifices. I tried to channel the explicitly sexual nature of the Artaud text into the sculptures rather than use those actual words and end up with an ‘R’ rated installation. Some of the pieces were lying collapsed or deflated on the floor, while the central sculpture was standing upright and engorged, reaching to the ceiling.
Well, I just had to research Artaud on the internet to find out who he was! What a life he led. I noticed that he had a belief in the impact of theatre on the audience – that theatre should be potent and create maximum impact on its audience. In contemporary art there is a definite increase in the development of immersive and interactive installations which could easily be said to be of a theatrical nature. When pursuing your own installations is it important for the viewers or audience to register some sort of heightened or dramatic impact from your works? You often use lighting in your works and this has a way of rather strongly setting a scene, creating an atmosphere and mood, so do you like to create this palpable and physical connection for the audience?
Definitely this is where I’m at. I’m really interested in a kind of visceral, ‘dumb’ connection or effect on the viewer. Affect and sensation, for example, which might be thought of as physical, material connections outside – or at least in excess of – language and conscious thought processes are my primary interest in terms of response. They have this unbounded quality that resists stability (of relation) and productive connections – they operate outside of exchange value systems. Sensation becomes perception when articulated in language, likewise affect becomes feeling through the same process, but something is always lost. If you think of strong bodily events – roller coaster rides, being violently ill, sex, for example – they can never be fully described in language no matter how articulate you are, there’s always an unsaid residue.
So I’m most interested in this dumb physicality, and maybe some kind of heightened state of physical awareness or state that the work might put the viewer in. But always this is just a temporary, unproductive moment, I’m not trying to change people or teach anything here. Again a roller coaster ride is a good analogy, the pleasure is in having your senses shook up just for the hell of it.
In terms of atmosphere, what I often find lacking in interactive work is this quality – humour, tension, uncertainty or mood. Two particular ideas that are currently informing my thinking are Arakawa & Gins’ notion of ‘tentative architecture’ – creating spaces where the position or nature of objects/space is somehow uncertain. Normally on entering a space we very quickly establish where everything is and how to navigate the terrain, so the moment of tentativeness is very short and is replaced by a stable structuring. But if things remain uncertain for longer, you have to remain inquisitive, investigative in your actions – they stay at a level of immanent discovery or unfolding. A dark room is the easist way to achieve this, though I’m trying to think about less obvious possibilities too.
The other concept is Francisco Varela’s argument about affective tonality and transparency. Varela argues that a sudden change in the affective tonality of a space or person – say you suddenly become embarrassed – makes conscious (ie, ‘transparent’) bodily functions that were previously operating on an unconscious level, So on becoming embarrassed you might suddenly become hyper-aware of your breathing, posture, the tone of your voice and so on. This seems like an interesting way to achieve some heightened body awareness to me.
You know, that totally reminds me of a James Turrell work I saw at this brilliant show called ‘Artempo’ that was a side exhibition at the 2007 Venice Bienale. I walked into the room and there was three purpley-reddish coloured walls, and one bright white wall. They all glowed like hazy fog and it was impossible to know where the boundary of the space was. I remember inching forward, putting my hands out and wondering when I’d touch the wall and what it would feel like. I remember the sound of my breath became more obvious, my balance seemed all fuzzy and hesitant and my whole body was almost quivering in some sort of bizarre anticipation. Then, when I got to the white wall, and as my hands went into, and then passed, where I assumed the wall was, realising it was actually a giant hole – my whole body kind of snapped into another mode. It was amazing.
I think having architectural spaces that are more uncertain is very interesting. As a metaphor for life, we constantly ‘walk into’ situations that are unfamiliar, unstable and we have to ‘find our feet’. Making that a physical thing would be fascinating. There’s a definite sense in your work of the relationship between the audience and the installation, but how do you feel about the impact of the audience’s relation to each other in these works? Is that an important part – I guess with Momo it had to be as each audience member affected the network of technological interactions. This idea of a network of relations between people and technology and architecture and sound and fabrics and each other must be a primary concern, true?
That Turrell piece sounds great – a really good example. I like the fact that it’s, in a sense, not ‘technologically’ dependent, or at least not high tech. I’m planning to write a chapter of my PhD thesis around one of his pieces. A similar experience can be had from Lygia Clark’s piece ‘Caminhando’. You can do it yourself at home, these are her instructions:
“Make yourself a trailing: you take the band of paper wrapped around a book, you cut it open, you twist it, and you glue it back together so as to produce a Mobius strip. Then you take a pair of scissors, stick one point into the surface and cut continuously along the length of the strip. When you have gone the circuit of the strip, its up to you whether to cut to the left or to the right of the cut you’ve already made. This idea of choice is capital. The special meaning of this experience is in the act of doing. ”
It sounds simple and predictable, but there’s a point while doing it when your whole spatial awareness flips on itself.
In terms of audience or participants relating to each other in my installations, it hasn’t been a primary concern to this date, but it’s something I want to think about more. Often I’ve designed works to be best experienced by one or two people at a time (and have even gone as far as to install a bouncer on the door to keep to this during openings), as I’ve thought that the felt connection between the body and the generative aspects would become lost as the interrelations became so entangled. However, I think I’m embracing more chaos in the work now, trying to make relations very complex and keep them in a continuous state of ‘unfolding’ rather than settling and stratifying. Also, as I’ve looked more at affect as a type of relation – the transference of affect particularly – the potential to have one person’s presence alter and complicate the affectual tonality of another person seems to have potential – more for the possibility of disruption than connection. I try to view the viewer-plus-artwork as one ‘assemblage’, in the Deleuzian sense, that is a contingent series of forces that coalesce into a temporary construction – in this case the event of the artwork. So each person makes their own assemblage with the other components, and necessarily creates a singular event. An assemblage is again a topological model with everything pushing and pulling the overall shape, so that the work drifts into some kind of self-organising form. That is, once you include the viewer as part of the work, you can see that the work has its own agency. Of course where it drifts to is to a large extent constrained by the parameters I’ve set up, but there’s always a few surprises (and disappointments).
That’s a really important way to look at art, I think, when you say it is an assemblage of viewer-plus-artwork. It reminds me of the idea of the ‘death of the author’, which basically means that a creator can make something – a song, a painting, a novel – and with all the best intentions in the world try to imbue it with some sort of underlying message or meaning, but in the end, the only important meaning extracted from that creation is that one developed by the person engaging with it. The author’s power and authority is limited, and the power of the viewer is recognised as the more significant event, ultimately.
And yeah, bringing in more components to that assemblage, either more viewers or more objects, makes the network more complex. And this could of course pick up on ideas from complexity, in the scientific/mathematical sense, where the interaction of elements inside complex structures start to create behaviours and characters in the overall structure that are in excess of the capabilities of the individual parts. The classic – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts scenario.
Obviously there’s some very technical intellectual concerns driving your work, and I think that’s evident in the way our discussion is veering into fairly philosophical territories. How do you deal with the balance between the theory and the practice in your art making? Do you consider the intellectual investigation as some sort of fuel for the material work or is it just another part of the art? I know some artists struggle to be productive in both areas simultaneously – they have to devote time to either research and writing, or making stuff, but not both together. Is this how it is for you?
Theory and practice balance is a tricky one. As I’m currently doing post grad study I’m reading a lot more than i probably would otherwise, and having to articulate concepts and directions more too. After Honours I fed off that theoretical study into excess quite happily for the next 5 years, letting the connection between theory and making drift, in the sense that while I was still interested in the ideas, they were more percolating in the background and I never felt I had to justify the connections (except when writing proposals). I enjoyed that, but its been good to dive back into theory and try to think more clearly about what I’m trying to do. Personally I get a lot of ideas from theory – the whole area of affect that I’m currently interested in comes from the last year or so of reading – or at least its made me recognise something that was already happening to some extent in the work. At the same time the practise leads to new areas to investigate – the affectual properties of colour has come by accident from the last show, for example. I think that you have to always allow space for the art to be more than a theoretical investigation, in excess of it. Often you can pick post-grad exhibitions by the didactic nature of the work, and the last thing I would want is to be teaching anyone about relation, or have them leaving an exhibition trying to decipher the meaning of the work – I’m all for art remaining resolutely useless.
A big thank you to Andrew Goodman for letting me prod him with my questions.