Art Work (Music) is an art research project I am conducting with experimental musicians, composers, and sound artists, facilitated through diagram-aided conversations about their individual artistic practices. Through multiple feedback loops that include short improvisations and commissioned compositions and performances, I aim to discern and evoke what I call 'epistemic engines', individual artist's forms of knowing and doing generated by and going into the work of art.
My interest in how artists work is precipitated by reflection on my own, diagrammatic mode of working. I articulate condensed, spatial interpretations of specific discourses. The outlines of what has become Art Work (Music) cropped up at an invitational residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts, titled "Making Artistic Inquiry Visible", in 2008. Visiting each other's studios, I began to ask fellow artists: How do you work? Thinking through drawing, as I am wont to do, I shared diagrammatic condensations of our conversations. Besides following a curiosity about artistic cognition, I had a secondary, emerging inquiry: a growing desire to reinforce the self-reflective artistic voice. Having begun to teach full-time in a cultural management graduate program geared towards administrators the year prior, I was increasingly becoming attuned to the ways in which my artist colleagues evoked aspects of arts administration, alongside with addressing studio practice and engagement with various forms of theory. A great deal of tacit knowledge became evident that albeit had no frame to be reflected under. At the same time I gained a deeper understanding of those frames - critical and administrative contexts to place these accounts within. Specifically, the through-lines from administrative conventions, to policy setting environments, to the strata of ideology discourses that shape arts and culture emerged with great clarity. Where this loops back into the studio is that degrees of access, opportunity and equity, concerning both discourses and resources, permeate art practice. How far this is discerned has a bearing on an artist's agency. To facilitate and promote the sharing of knowledge that many artists do tacitly hold has become the core of my work as an artist. The diagrammatic mode, in tandem with an approach to conversation honed in well-conducted studio critiques, lends itself to this pursuit. To perform this work, it is necessary to tell an artist's core story. That is where the epistemic engine is located.
Lou and I met in my office at SAIC, a late afternoon in December of 2015, on a day when we both taught. We have known each other for many years, I've attended presentations he gave about his work and over time seen and heard quite a few as well. Lou calls himself an audio artist. He speaks three languages, and while he does so no longer, has played bass for 20 years, until 1990. He just stepped down from the position of executive director of the non-profit he founded in 1986, the Experimental Sound Studio (ESS).
How do you work?
It's impossible to conduct a regular studio practice, Lou brought up first. Everything is channeled through projects. He then cited a conversation with Iñigo Manglano Ovalle, agreeing that "the best pieces come from jokes, non sequiturs - a single image, idea or moment." These images might arise suddenly, in response to things, to places, and to social relationships. Next came: "I don't really write music." What he emphasized instead was listening, attending to cues, and permitting parameters to emerge from bodily interactions and relationships with instruments, collaborators and social settings. He calls these behaviors "virtuosic listening strategies."
July 18, 2014, I talked with Deborah Boardman, who had come to the Chicago Cultural Center so I could ask her about how she works, as I’ve been asking other artists since summer 2008. We sat at a table off to the side, along the east wall of the expansive public space on the first floor, outside my exhibition of diagrams, which we had walked through for a bit first. The municipal AC was blasting.
I took notes. Deborah said: “I think in threes, always.” She explained. There’s actively painting. There’s an intermediary stage, and there’s grunt work. The intermediary stage was elaborated first. It is characterized by free-flowing thought and serendipity. Things overheard are captured in sketchbooks, as lists and in open-ended image making. The grunt work, in contrast, is intentional. It presents an intellectual anchor. Research and readings on current topics, and also meetings and conversations with people, strangers as well, provide excitement and inspiration. Concept and substance are assigned to this realm. What is acquired or considered here cannot just be executed, though. It contrasts with the flow of making form, as experienced in actively painting, which is laden with an unbearable anxiety – is it the right form? Thus, there is great tension between actively painting and intentional research, full of frustration and perceived misfirings.
Following our conversation about how she works, visual artist Judith Leemann (Boston) performed a reading of the diagrams I worked out in response. She then also performed readings of diagrams created in conversation with sound artist Andrea Sodomka, musician/composer Maria Gstättner, and sociologist Tasos Zembylas (all Vienna).