This leads me back to the earlier question about studio practices, because that anxiety sounds like what any artist feels in her studio. Yet for you the will to go on is rooted in responding to other viewing experiences, not in, say, fighting with a canvas. Is your “studio” in part the time you spend looking at and thinking about other art and architecture?
Yes, and reading and listening to lectures and researching for my courses. Others would say something similar about their studio practice, but in addition I wonder whether it’s important that my work look a certain way. Have you seen Sherrie Levine’s exhibition at the Whitney? In a recent panel discussion, [curator] Elisabeth Sussman said that throughout the entire curatorial process Sherrie did not discuss one aspect of her studio practice. As though it didn’t exist.
Or as if Levine was curating somebody else’s work.
And Elisabeth and Johanna [Burton, guest curator] likely deferred to Sherrie. And in that show there’s no interpretive wall text. So that would be the … I don’t want to say goal, but not to have to talk about how the works get made would be great. I’m much more interested in talking about my work in relationship to the work it gets exhibited with. So much of what I’m making right now is intended for the group-show context. The corner pieces were made specifically for a group show. I want the Whitney pieces to correspond not only to the architecture but also to the other artists’ work. That wasn’t a though that I could have had ten years ago. It was only after multiple experiences seeing my work isolated and decontextualized that I thought it made more sense to explicitly create art meant to be in dialogue with other people’s art. That’s probably the biggest shift in the work—one that probably nobody could see but me.
But that runs counter to your description earlier of an increasing laxity on your part, or your ability to be more relaxed about people’s ability to interpret your objects. The control that you used to hope to have over viewers, you’re not placing over yourself in a way. You’re making your practice conform to each of these exhibition contexts. If Witkovsky said, “Actually, let’s work with my colleague in classical sculpture,” what you would make would probably be entirely different from what you would make for your two-person show with Pumhösl in the photography galleries.
I would say that’s really accurate, and I would say that’s probably where the studio resides now: in proposals.
One of the elephants in the room in discussion of photographic technology is new media. Whereas many people have struggled with the transition from analog to digital, your way of inventing a new studio practice for yourself snuck you past such questions. It was a way to move forward while still exploring analog photography.
Well, for example, my 2001 exhibition “Blue Screen Process” at Andrew Kreps Gallery was about the compositing process as it evolved from the 1920s to the present day. In one series of work I basically covered all of the material possibilities of compositing. Since then new technologies have evolved; the one thing that has always been true of photography is that the technologies have always shifted and changed, digital or no.
Now I’m envisioning the blue screen (or green screen) as a kind of metaphor for your practice as I was describing it earlier: There’s Liz Deschenes standing in the image, in the middle, and the background keeps changing, the context keeps changing.
That’s a nice way of looking at it. I also don’t necessarily look for particular projects, either. I’ve been really, really fortunate that most of the dialogues that I’ve had with other artists have arrived when they needed to arrive. I’ve been familiar with Florian’s work for a really long time. Now I get to do a project with him in Chicago.
I would say that’s probably where the studio resides now: in proposals.
So the end point I mentioned earlier doesn’t come through technological exploration, it occurs only when opportunities to reinvent yourself stop arising. But they continue to.
But the change, too. Florian and I showed together at the Forum Stadtpark, in Graz, Austria, in 2003, in an exhibition called “Rethinking Photography.” I don’t necessarily think that such a context is as important today as it was then.
Can you envision a time in which your practice is primarily curatorial?
I don’t think—I don’t think that would be—
You’re still too attached to photography itself, to the medium and practicing it?
I think the two modes of working can coexist. Even though I didn’t want the title “curator” for what I’m doing with Matt and Florian in Chicago, there will certainly be curatorial components to it. I don’t really see a huge separation between exhibiting, researching, teaching. All the facets overlaps and photography is—has been—the word that contains all aspects of my work.
Photography is the container.
And I think photography is the perfect container. It has constantly shifted and changed as a technology, so it’s a perfect stand-in for all aspects of the work I do.