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Parasitic Relations: A Walk Through "Intersections and Interstices" With Richard Jochum and Steven Dubin

On October 2, 2008 I joined Graeme Sullivan, Maurizio Pelligrin, and Richard Jochum in Richard's studio to discuss his upcoming exhibition. Until the previous day Maurizio and I were both unfamiliar with the artist's work. By Richard's own account it was a conversation that failed, beginning with two artists vying for territory and my own concerns about the role of conjecture in art criticism. Nonetheless, the conversation was published in the catalog as an important supplement to the exhibition.

What follows is a conversation held while walking through the exhibition "Intersections and Interstices" at Columbia University's Macy Gallery with Richard Jochum, and subsequently joined by the sociologist of art Steven C. Dubin. Dubin writes frequently for Art in America and had just published a feature article describing his studio visit to Liza Lou in South Africa. I publish this conversation now on the occasion of Richard Jochum's current exhibition "Unexpected Weight Loss" at the Dowd Gallery, SUNY Cortland.

Maurizio Pellegrin and Graeme Sullivan in Richard Jochum's studio, October 2, 2008

CS: Richard, about a month ago we held a conversation in your studio about the exhibition before it had been realized, and there was immediate difficulty about that - were you prepared for that difficulty?

RJ: You can never project conversations, how they unfold, and a group of four can already be quite complex. When you are one- on- one with a person you can rely on undivided attention. And although I had no specific expectations, I hoped for us to have a somewhat choreographed conversation, one that would dig deeper into the matter step- by step. I planned for us to have breakfast with each other first, but because Maurizio was on a tight schedule we started right off. And I think it did not really help that I had provided a computer link beforehand so that people knew what this was about since it made Maurizio start with a dismissive statement: "Couldn't this exhibition just be a blog?".

CS: The sense of anxiety was really more like "Are you an artist?"! Maurizio's work is installation-oriented, and very formalist in a sense.

RJ: So it really wasn't until the conversation ended that things got into place and I thought we were actually getting somewhere!

CS: Richard’s studio was the site of a conversation about a show that had not yet appeared, and there is a kind of dissonance between the studio and the appearance of the work in a gallery context. So when we got to the beginning everything ended, and between then and now the exhibition has appeared. What is the place of the object in this appearance from the studio to the gallery?

SD: I have to jump in and say that Liza Lou’s work is such a meticulous process, literally individually placing tens of thousands of beads. In all cases the pieces were horizontal rather than vertical and they were covered up so that only a small area was exposed. I had to actually request that they be revealed and I was disruptive to the whole studio. Their work was all very Zen, there were thirty people in their own worlds with MP3 players doing something which is both methodical and creative. To see them horizontally and imagine them vertically, and then to see them three weeks later, more complete as well as more complex, and then to finally see them vertically - yes there is a huge difference.

CS: The piece that really drew me (Condition of Capture, 2008) looks like a painting, you don’t know what it is made of until you investigate it very closely and for a length of time, the difference you are describing between the studio and the wall, as you describe it with thirty people and their MP3’s, is a little more dramatic than Pollock’s horizontal and vertical movement from the studio to the wall.

SD: It’s really a privilege to see that whole process, she had to have the vision of what was going to appear, that’s pretty phenomenal.

Liza Lou, installation view of L&M exhibition, Sept.24th - Dec.13th, 2008, found here.

CS: Richard, what you are doing doesn’t resonate at all with a material craft but both your work and Liza Lou's have strong resonance with Minimalist forms, that is the only link I see. I'm enjoying walking through this exhibition with you and with a different familiarity to what I’ve seen. Your work and Liza Lou's are of course very different. There is a blog, and a studio, different formats in which you present your work, that are shaped by a sociality, reflecting conversations, individuals and their words, floated out there as bodies and words.

SD: One of the things that I said in my review of Liza Lou’s work is that it invites touching, it’s so seductive, it’s huge, it glimmers and you want to understand. There is something similar here, there seems to be an invitation to touch but at the same time there is a frustration in it, because there is the suggestion of something that is very tactile. And I think the key might be in something that you said about the craft, she is reviving a craft tradition. This is very seductive but it is seductive in a very different way. I almost hesitate to say this because it sounds like a judgment and it's not, but there is a coldness here, it both seduces and pushes you away at the same time, whereas Liza Lou’s work is hot.

DogEars from the series PaperWorks, 2007-present, dimensions variable.

CS: There is definitely something about their removal. With Liza Lou, there is a coiled pile of beaded rope (Continuous Mile, 2007-2008) protecting an interior we can't access, and I’ve taken people to see it twice, people who ordinarily I never have to say “Do not touch the art work!” Of course they know that but still they automatically go for that rope, they want to feel the weight of it in their hand. So what is here in your work Richard clearly is an invitation to touch but an emphatic removal from it at the same time. In the studio they were flimsy papers on the wall, and so there was a sense of touch, these are mounted, pulled away from touch by their presentation in the gallery. And Richard, we didn’t once talk about materiality in your studio!

RJ: No it became a conversation about territory and it failed. I am absolutely not at home with territory.

CS: It’s true that that conversation became very much about territory, and I’m enjoying that in the gallery context we are talking about what is materially here. Not only what’s here but having it gravitate very quickly as well to illusion and withdrawal as what is here. That’s kind of curious.

RJ: Yes, it’s a bit of a Platonic trick utilizing both, appearance and disappearance, creating a division among reality and fiction. You know, I worked a lot with paper in the 90's and created more than 40 artist’s books, most of them either small or thin and usually as multiple editions. They were very unique, they were very conceptual, and they were in German. Since I left home and came to this country, I have also left my frameset of language; so what's left is paper in it's its texture and shape without language. With one exception: the book «History of Art» from Janson which I had partly scanned and reconstructed as an accordion with two sides to look at: one with only the images and text while removing all the names of the artists.

Richard Jochum, Artist Book, 2005, 7 x 10 inches

SD: So there’s this purging that’s going on here.

CS: But look on the other side, don’t you put them back in?

RJ: Yes, this is the side which shows only the names, it’s an art history without discourse. History of Art embarks on my project dis-positiv, an exhibition series which puts on display not objects or images, but art historians, art critics, art curators, as a living embodiment of the contemporary art discourse, behind a plexi-glass wall, for two hours each, making them art objects, making them at the same time performers. While on display they are encouraged to reflect their own vision of art and their own work and where art is heading to in terms of its future. Looking at the relation between art and research, art practictioners and theorists from my own background and experience made me conclude that they are mutually inseparable, fundamentally intertwined and deeply interdependent. Boiled down to an artist's point of view: it doesn’t matter how good we are at what we do, if we don’t show it to people the title “art” is irrelevant. We are artists through our connection to the institution of art.

Richard Jochum, dis-positiv, 2000-2003. Performance project with plexi glass sculpture 750 square feet, online component, and film.

CS: So do you find that art history and criticism are an extension of your work?

RJ: Yes, definitely. The art world is the framework and community I deal with. It's not uncommon for me that I make the context in which I work become the topic of the work itself. In general, many of my projects are based on participation in one way or another, whether it is the world of art or another realm of the social. I find it particularly interesting that people in the arts are often noticeably weary wary???? of their own peers and the art world in general. I heard people criticizing the addressee of dis-positiv because "You are dealing with the art world!" And my response was, "Oh, come on, these are people too!".

CS: Maurizio very quickly launched into the issue of your blogging and you were very frank that a blog does not constitute an artwork in itself, that it was merely a vehicle for installing it in the art world?

RJ: That's right, despite the fact that there are numerous examples of intriguing blog-art out there. Over time I have created almost 60 blog sites, but almost all of them are representational rather than anything else. Only a couple of them take advantage of blogging as a particular artistic medium, such as My Favorite Saying.

CS: And it’s very social – I’m in your favorite sayings and I put it on my Facebook page and the whole thing! So it’s not only social in the presentation but in its use, you like to see an engaged community.

RJ: That's a role I am aiming for: to engage, to instigate and complexify. Injecting sentiments; setting up platforms; influencing the course of a complex system and if only in invisible, unmeasurable ways. Once we have set up our work, we cannot further control our audiences. I think we artists often hope for a certain impact of our work for the society or time we live in; and that may be a noble attitude, but in fact we really don't know in which way our sensibilities, visions and visual language speak to those who stumble upon us. The relation between art and society is not a balanced partnership among equals. It resembles more the connection between a parasite and its host. Like parasites we contribute in rather small ways to the spin of our society, a society however, which may or may not look alike without us. We are parasites mutually living from each other. An image in a gallery serves strictly speaking as a parasite, creating some of its meanings from its presentation and context. It lives off the frame, drinks from the white wall, eats from the space, no matter how much or little space there is.

CS: Do you see a parasitic balance then between the artist and the critic?

RJ: All along. I once had two artists participating in dis-positiv scratch the shape of a milk stool from a piece of felt which they then had presented as an image. It was a nice piece of work which I liked particularly for its title: «Who milks whom?» It's never clear cut and always fuzzy. Milking each other seemed perfectly descriptive for the relationship between artist and critic.

SD: Well you know the parasite is also something that can cause an upset, in your stomach, so is that the artist or is that the critic?

RJ: It can be either. Let's hope for a good relation between the host and the parasite since the end of the host equals the end of the parasite. It sounds like a moral statement or judgement. But I think the metaphor of the parasite becomes most interesting when we remove it from its moral context and read it in a broader, more logical sense.

CS: Vampire is a good word. I like the idea of infection, of being infected. Artists and art historians can be like vampires.

SD: A vampire gives eternal life, right?

RJ: And a vampire can do things we can’t do, like sleeping with the eyes open. Or hide in front of a mirror.

Richard Jochum, ParasiteMacy, 2008, ongoing series.

CS: The Parasite here, is it unusual to have the split there?

RJ: It matches the crack in the wall. Creating these parasites is a bit like creating decals – transfer pictures or simulacrums - which I started with some of my first solo shows in the late 90ies; ever since I create and collect them from different exhibition locations to prepare for a big parasite-exhibition one day: displaying nothing but parasites.

CS: Do you see it as an institutional critique, is that how you see it?

RJ: You could say so. But it's not just critique, it's also care. I constantly think about the relevance of our practice, the role of me as an artist as a care-taker and the relevance for the world I live in. That's where I am and who I am.

CS: So it’s a portrait.

RJ: I guess you are right, it’s a portrait, that’s right. We can’t change the world. We can’t fix global warming, but to aim for an impact is part of our work, it challenges me as a person and I don’t want to be oblivious to the world I deal with through my practice.

Richard Jochum, still from Atlas Goes Superman, video performance, Athens 2009.  Click here for video.


Copyright Catherine Spaeth 2009

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