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← Art that explores time and memory

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Showing Revision 7 created 09/30/2019 by Brian Greene.

  1. I want to start with a question.
  2. Where does an artwork begin?
  3. Now sometimes that question is absurd.
  4. It can seem deceptively simple,
  5. as it was when I asked the question
    with this piece, "Portable Planetarium,"
  6. that I made in 2010.
  7. I asked the question:
  8. "What would it look like
    to build a planetarium of one's own?"
  9. I know you all ask that every morning,
  10. but I asked myself that question.
  11. And as an artist,
  12. I was thinking about our effort,
  13. our desire, our continual longing
    that we've had over the years
  14. to make meaning of the world around us
  15. through materials.
  16. And for me, to try and find
    the kind of wonder,
  17. but also a kind of futility
    that lies in that very fragile pursuit,
  18. is part of my art work.
  19. So I bring together
    the materials I find around me,

  20. I gather them to try
    and create experiences,
  21. immersive experiences that occupy rooms,
  22. that occupy walls, landscapes, buildings.
  23. But ultimately,
    I want them to occupy memory.
  24. And after I've made a work,
  25. I find that there's usually one memory
    of that work that burns in my head.
  26. And this is the memory for me --
  27. it was this sudden
    kind of surprising experience
  28. of being immersed inside that work of art.
  29. And it stayed with me
    and kind of reoccurred in my work
  30. about 10 years later.
  31. But I want to go back
    to my graduate school studio.

  32. I think it's interesting, sometimes,
    when you start a body of work,
  33. you need to just completely
    wipe the plate clean,
  34. take everything away.
  35. And this may not look
    like wiping the plate clean,
  36. but for me, it was.
  37. Because I had studied painting
    for about 10 years,
  38. and when I went to graduate school,
  39. I realized that I had developed skill,
    but I didn't have a subject.
  40. It was like an athletic skill,
  41. because I could paint the figure quickly,
  42. but I didn't know why.
  43. I could paint it well,
    but it didn't have content.
  44. And so I decided to put
    all the paints aside for a while,
  45. and to ask this question, which was:
  46. "Why and how do objects
    acquire value for us?"
  47. How does a shirt that I know
    thousands of people wear,
  48. a shirt like this one,
  49. how does it somehow feel like it's mine?
  50. So I started with that experiment,

  51. I decided, by collecting materials
    that had a certain quality to them.
  52. They were mass-produced,
    easily accessible,
  53. completely designed
    for the purpose of their use,
  54. not for their aesthetic.
  55. So things like toothpicks, thumbtacks,
  56. pieces of toilet paper,
  57. to see if in the way that I put my energy,
    my hand, my time into them,
  58. that the behavior could actually create
    a kind of value in the work itself.
  59. One of the other ideas is,
    I wanted the work to become live.
  60. So I wanted to take it
    off of the pedestal,
  61. not have a frame around it,
  62. have the experience not be
    that you came to something
  63. and told you that it was important,
  64. but that you discover
    that it was in your own time.
  65. So this is like a very,
    very old idea in sculpture,

  66. which is: How do we breathe life
    into inanimate materials?
  67. And so, I would go to a space like this,
  68. where there was a wall,
  69. and use the paint itself,
  70. pull the paint out off the wall,
  71. the wall paint into space
    to create a sculpture.
  72. Because I was also interested in this idea
  73. that these terms, "sculpture,"
    "painting," "installation" --
  74. none of these mattered in the way
    we actually see the world.
  75. So I wanted to blur those boundaries,
  76. both between mediums
    that artists talk about,
  77. but also blur the experience
    of being in life and being in art,
  78. so that when you are in your everyday,
  79. or when you are in one of my works,
  80. and you saw, you recognized the everyday,
  81. you could then move that experience
    into your own life,
  82. and perhaps see the art in everyday life.
  83. I was in graduate school in the '90s,

  84. and my studio just became
    more and more filled with images,
  85. as did my life.
  86. And this confusion of images and objects
  87. was really part of the way
    I was trying to make sense of materials.
  88. And also, I was interested
    in how this might change
  89. the way that we actually experience time.
  90. If we're experiencing time
    through materials,
  91. what happens when images and objects
    become confused in space?
  92. So I started by doing some
    of these experiments with images.
  93. And if you look back to the 1880s,
  94. that's when the first photographs
    started turning into film.
  95. And they were done
    through studies of animals,
  96. the movement of animals.
  97. So horses in the United States,
    birds in France.
  98. They were these studies of movement
  99. that then slowly,
    like zoetropes, became film.
  100. So I decided, I will take an animal

  101. and I'm going to play with that idea
  102. of how the image is not static
    for us anymore, it's moving.
  103. It's moving in space.
  104. And so I chose
    as my character the cheetah,
  105. because she is the fastest
    land-dwelling creature on earth.
  106. And she holds that record,
  107. and I want to use her record
  108. to actually make it kind of
    a measuring stick for time.
  109. And so this is what she looked like
    in the sculpture
  110. as she moved through space.
  111. This kind of broken framing
    of the image in space,
  112. because I had put up notepad paper
  113. and had it actually project on it.
  114. Then I did this experiment
    where you have kind of a race,
  115. with these new tools and video
    that I could play with.
  116. So the falcon moves out in front,
  117. the cheetah, she comes in second,
  118. and the rhino is trying
    to catch up behind.
  119. Then another one of the experiments,

  120. I was thinking about how,
  121. if we try and remember
    one thing that happened to us
  122. when we were, let's say, 10 years old.
  123. It's very hard to remember
    even what happened in that year.
  124. And for me, I can think
    of maybe one, maybe two,
  125. and that one moment
    has expanded in my mind
  126. to fill that entire year.
  127. So we don't experience time
    in minutes and seconds.
  128. So this is a still
    of the video that I took,
  129. printed out on a piece of paper,
  130. the paper is torn and then the video
    is projected on top of it.
  131. And I wanted to play with this idea
  132. of how, in this kind of
    complete immersion of images
  133. that's enveloped us,
  134. how one image can actually grow
  135. and can haunt us.
  136. So I had all of these --

  137. these are three out of, like,
    100 experiments I was trying with images
  138. for over about a decade,
  139. and never showing them,
  140. and I thought, OK, how do I bring this
    out of the studio, into a public space,
  141. but retain this kind of energy
    of experimentation
  142. that you see when you go
    into a laboratory,
  143. you see when you go into a studio,
  144. and I had this show coming up
    and I just said,
  145. alright, I'm going to put my desk
    right in the middle of the room.
  146. So I brought my desk
    and I put it in the room,
  147. and it actually worked
    in this kind of very surprising way to me,
  148. in that it was this kind of flickering,
    because of the video screens, from afar.
  149. And it had all
    of the projectors on it,
  150. so the projectors were creating
    the space around it,
  151. but you were drawn towards
    the flickering like a flame.
  152. And then you were enveloped in the piece
  153. at the scale that we're all
    very familiar with,
  154. which is the scale of being in front
    of a desk or a sink or a table,
  155. and you are immersed, then,
    back into this scale,
  156. this one-to-one scale
    of the body in relation to the image.
  157. But on this surface,
  158. you had these projections on paper
    being blown in the wind,
  159. so there was this confusion
    of what was an image
  160. and what was an object.
  161. So this is what the work looked like
    when it went into a larger room,

  162. and it wasn't until I made this piece
  163. that I realized that I'd effectively made
    the interior of a planetarium,
  164. without even realizing that.
  165. And I remembered, as a child,
    loving going to the planetarium.
  166. And back then, the planetarium,
  167. there was always not only
    these amazing images on the ceiling,
  168. but you could see the projector itself
    whizzing and burring,
  169. and this amazing camera
    in the middle of the room.
  170. And it was that, along with seeing
    the audience around you looking up,
  171. because there was an audience
    in the round at that time,
  172. and seeing them, and experiencing,
    being part of an audience.
  173. So this is an image from the web
    that I downloaded
  174. of people who took images
    of themselves in the work.
  175. And I like this image
  176. because you see how the figures
    get mixed with the work.
  177. So you have the shadow of a visitor
    against the projection,
  178. and you also see the projections
    across a person's shirt.
  179. So there were these self-portraits
    made in the work itself,
  180. and then posted,
  181. and it felt like a kind of cyclical
    image-making process.
  182. And a kind of an end to that.
  183. But it reminded me and brought me back
    to the planetarium,

  184. and that interior,
  185. and I started to go back to painting.
  186. And thinking about how a painting
    is actually, for me,
  187. about the interior images
    that we all have.
  188. There's so many interior images,
  189. and we've become so focused
    on what's outside our eyes.
  190. And how do we store memory in our mind,
  191. how certain images emerge out of nowhere
  192. or can fall apart over time.
  193. And I started to call this series
    the "Afterimage" series,
  194. which was a reference to this idea
    that if we all close our eyes right now,
  195. you can see there's this flickering
    light that lingers,
  196. and when we open it again,
    it lingers again --
  197. this is happening all the time.
  198. And an afterimage is something
    that a photograph can never replace,
  199. you never feel that in a photograph.
  200. So it really reminds you of the limits
    of the camera's lens.
  201. So it was this idea of taking the images
    that were outside of me --
  202. this is my studio --
  203. and then trying to figure out how
    they were being represented inside me.
  204. So really quickly,

  205. I'm just going to whiz through
    how a process might develop
  206. for the next piece.
  207. So it might start with a sketch,
  208. or an image that's burned in my memory
  209. from the 18th century --
  210. it's Piranesi's "Colosseum."
  211. Or a model the size of a basketball --
  212. I built this around a basketball,
  213. the scale's evidenced
    by the red cup behind it.
  214. And that model can be put
    into a larger piece as a seed,
  215. and that seed can grow
    into a bigger piece.
  216. And that piece can fill
    a very, very large space.
  217. But it can funnel down into a video
    that's just made from my iPhone,
  218. of a puddle outside my studio
    in a rainy night.
  219. So this is an afterimage
    of the painting made in my memory,
  220. and even that painting can fade
    as memory does.
  221. So this is the scale of a very small image

  222. from my sketchbook.
  223. You can see how it can explode
  224. to a subway station
    that spans three blocks.
  225. And you could see how going
    into the subway station
  226. is like a journey through
    the pages of a sketchbook,
  227. and you can see sort of a diary of work
    writ across a public space,
  228. and you're turning the pages
    of 20 years of art work
  229. as you move through the subway.
  230. But even that sketch
    actually has a different origin,
  231. it has an origin in a sculpture
    that climbs a six-story building,
  232. and is scaled to a cat from the year 2002.
  233. I remember that because I had
    two black cats at the time.
  234. And this is an image of a work from Japan
  235. that you can see
    the afterimage of in the subway.
  236. Or a work in Venice,
  237. where you see the image
    etched in the wall.
  238. Or how a sculpture
    that I did at SFMOMA in 2001,
  239. and created this kind of dynamic line,
  240. how I stole that to create a dynamic line
  241. as you descend down
    into the subway itself.
  242. And this merging of mediums
    is really interesting to me.

  243. So how can you take a line
    that pulls tension like a sculpture
  244. and put it into a print?
  245. Or then use line
    like a drawing in a sculpture
  246. to create a dramatic perspective?
  247. Or how can a painting mimic
    the process of printmaking?
  248. How can an installation
    use the camera's lens
  249. to frame a landscape?
  250. How can a painting on string
    become a moment in Denmark,
  251. in the middle of a trek?
  252. And how, on the High Line,
    can you create a piece
  253. that camouflages itself
    into the nature itself
  254. and becomes a habitat
    for the nature around it?
  255. And I'll just end with two pieces
    that I'm making now.

  256. This is a piece called "Fallen Sky"
  257. that's going to be a permanent
    commission in Hudson Valley,
  258. and it's kind of the planetarium
    finally come down
  259. and grounding itself in the earth.
  260. And this is a work from 2013
    that's going to be reinstalled,
  261. have a new life in the reopening of MOMA.
  262. And it's a piece that the tool
    itself is the sculpture.
  263. So the pendulum, as it swings,
  264. is used as a tool to create the piece.
  265. So each of the piles of objects
  266. go right up to one centimeter
    to the tip of that pendulum.
  267. So you have this combination
    of the lull of that beautiful swing,
  268. but also the tension that it constantly
    could destroy the piece itself.
  269. And so, it doesn't really matter
    where any of these pieces end up,

  270. because the real point for me
  271. is that they end up
    in your memory over time,
  272. and they generate ideas beyond themselves.
  273. Thank you.

  274. (Applause)