Beauty as survival
Beauty as resilience
Beauty as empathy
Not camouflage for commodity
Invited Artist Lecture at Dia.gnosis conference, Ackland Musuem of Art, UNC, Chapel Hill, NC, March 31, 2017
What would it mean to make a painting truly from the beginning, now? What would it mean to cut down the poplar tree, plane the trunk, slaughter the animal, boil the glue, manufacture the glue, mine the minerals, fuse the metals, extract the linseed, mull the “pigment” and “binder,” lathe the handle, pluck the horse, forge the ferrule, lathe the handle and forge the blade, and then merely paint a field of color?
In the woods, I was struck by the juxtaposition of a napthol red handle of a bone saw next to a horizontally spread poplar, in an assortment of grey hues.
We counted the rings on its branches: 50. Does that mean by its trunk, four times the circumference of its branch, that the tree might have been 200 years old? That means, if so, that this tree was at least 50 years older than this cabin (which was built in 1871 by Civil War veteran), predating both the war and photography. It appears to have been blown over the creek by a wind storm, its root system the footprint of the cabin stretching over stream—Nature’s homage to Smithson’s displaced tree.
As I swung an ax, its dulled blade yet still functional, I felt my entire body falling into a mediative repetition, raising my heartrate into cardiovascular exercise. Why did it feel so unexpectedly physical? Even though my body vaguely remembered this primordial task, my mind conjured a mere thin image of the act.
I spent the entire morning cutting, hauling and stacking at least fifty pieces of firewood. In a couple hours at night, we had transformed though the supernatural process of fire all of the fuel to a small pile of ash.
A Painted Ecology, an Ecology of Embodiment
Canary Lab Visit, Syracuse University, NY
We artists often become debtors to the financial systems that are indebted to our cultural capital and raw labor. In educational and sustenance debt to shore the unsustainability of our efforts as object makers, culture bearers and educational instructors, we experience precarity, placing us in solidarity with minimum wage workers and the dienfranchised. Yet why don't we leverage our priviledge to amplify the voices of those who don’t have the luxury to fight for equal resources and fair treatment?
Although social practice masquerades as a form of art, it wanders far from an aesthetics of art and its visability, casts a net ineffectively too wide to be disruptive and falls to the ideological service of its institutional sponsors.
The idea of creative direct action opens a possibility: that the imagination of the artist and activist are solidary links in the same chain.
Occupy affirmed the artist as organizer, imbuing power in the ability to organize both the aesthetics of a potential space and actions towards a realization of this space.
How can the exhibition space embrace a dense assemblage of human and nonhuman activities, objects, technologies and spaces, where biopolitical aspirations of justice and poetical gestures can coexist?
How can we heighten the urgency of the space between art and life. How can the embodied experience of painted architecture and canvases dislodge this interstitial wedge from the ideological strictures of its institutional? How can we divest ourselves of its blandness, inspiring our collective imagination and excitement?
Objects can be both sensitizing and disobedient. In a social movement, these objects can be the materials, things, structures and devices that structure the experience.
How can we build a horizontal space of learning to imagine, debate and enact a vision of social transformation without being pedantic or academic?
From the archive, Oscar Nino's Cloud c. 2000, obviously done before 9/11 as we were able to film at RDU airport with props, no questions asked.
Wetlands and food plots of my teenage Scouts years, from the archives. Note: this landfill is across from Sutton Lake a site of coal ash pollution.
Notes from a Tour of the Cape Fear River with Charles Robbins
by Greg Lindquist
With hope to locate obvious signs of coal ash damage, I asked Charles Robbins for a tour of the Cape Fear River. Although those signs are there-- at low tide ash seeps from below the water table-- I saw more of the American picturesque and underlying racial unrest from the last century. On Sunday, March 1, 2015, Charles Robbins of Cape Fear River Watch (CFRW), his friend Larry Myers, and I departed from the public boat launch on Castle Street. We took an 18-foot wood boat used for netting, custom-made by a Wilmington boat builder from the 1950s through the 1980s. We began our approach towards the L.V. Sutton coal-burning power plant that had been recently shuttered.
We immediately passed a set of pilings across the river from downtown used during the 1898 race riots to impale three African-American men’s heads on poles. Accounts said that the river was to have been running red with blood from the number of African-American bodies that were dumped into it. On the way back nearby we also saw the concrete tubing that was being laid at the new Meares Harris Artificial Reef and a gaping pile of broken concrete from a shopping center on Wrightsville Avenue torn down for mixed-use condos.
On the way up the river, an old steam engine tugboat’s wheelhouse had just fallen into the mud. From the 1700s, it had a coal fired engine, just before diesel. Along the west bank of the river it was scattered amongst tanks and gearing from various tugboats. This is also a location where ironclads were made for the Civil War—two were made there and later sunk. Blockade Runner ships that sunk off the coast of North Carolina turned up in the mud and sanding coverings during hurricanes.
Water piping for Wilmington’s water supply snaked under the Cape Fear in large 3-foot wide concrete and steel tubing. Kemp Burdette, another watchman of the Cape Fear, had recently located leaks in this piping causing it to be turned off for repair. Orginating 30 or 40 miles upstream from the natural spring, it is piped into Wilmington for city water.
We passed under a historic railroad drawbridge, raising with a massive concrete counterweight. Nearby fragments of dredging equipment litter the marshy shoulder, used to deepen the 2 – 4 foot waters after the Civil War to bring in more ships, also bringing salt and changing the river from fresh to brackish water. Charles also noted a guillotine apparatus that regulated water in and out of rice fields before the Civil War. The ricefields, which slaves once worked in, died after the water became brackish and salty.
Ten miles up the river, we encountered the Sutton Lake overflow center which dumps lake water with elevated levels of Selenium into Cape Fear River when the lake overflows. Nearby were the plant’s smokestacks, now collecting green algae from their disuse. Rumored that Duke was planning to implode the stacks, Charles expressed concern about the ash particulate and precipitate still inside of the smokestacks that would be released into the air during demolition.
As I finish this booklet in early March 2016, these 550-foot, red-and-white ringed (described often as candy cane-striped) smokestacks are in the process of being broken down a few feet at a time. A ring-shaped machine (nicknamed a doughnut) mounted atop the stack will be used to deconstruct each from top down at a rate of about 10 feet per week. The slow demolition will take a little over a year from each stack. A press release on Duke Energy’s site states that these “colorful stacks” are “a symbol of our long history of powering the Cape Fear region and contributing to industrial growth in the Carolinas.”
Youtube video of H.F. Lee Plant Implosion, Goldsboro, NC, December 20, 2013.
Trying to observe Sutton Lake, we got out of the boat into the marshy woods separating the river and lake, but one of Larry’s shoes was pulled off his feet and into the mud. Dozens of plastic bottles, from Mountain Dew to motor oil, have slowly washed ashore. We picked up the garbage, discovered a bobcat’s tracks, and went up the river to turn around. Charles also collects what he calls “treasures” -- both pieces of crooked timber from fallen cypresses and retrieving wayward boat fenders.
Blanched and ghostly, the Cypress slowly dies in the salt content of the Cape Fear. Swaying towards the river beds, they eventually fall into the river, becoming planks that the drift and are picked up into the piles. The cypress knees—the woody projections sent above water level vertical from the roots—may help gather water for the actual tree trunk, or provide buttressed support. They populate the ground and like Sutton’s smokestacks are perhaps substitutes for a receding human presence. Here nature overtakes its human counterpart, only several places are populated with the necessities of industry: highway overpasses, an oil recyling yard where the polluters were recently inprisoned, and Duke Energy’s smokestacks that are now slowly being dismantled.
“We are more aware with every day that passes that we inhabit a single planet, a fragile, threatened body, infinitely small in an infinitely large universe; this planetary awareness is an ecological awareness, and an anxious one, that we all share a restricted space that we treat badly. At the same time, we also are aware of the gap, growing day by day between the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor; this planetary awareness is a social awareness, and an unhappy one.[…]
How can this trend be reversed? Certainly not with a magic wand or pious sentiments. If we want to prevent knowledge and science from being concentrated exclusively at the same poles as power and wealth, at the points where different networks of global system intersect, then today education is the ultimate utopia”
-- Marc Augé, Non-places: An Introduction to Supermodernity
Excerpt from editorial introduction "Social Ecologies" for my November Critics Pages in The Brookyn Rail:
Understanding the complex links between human impact on the environment, the relations among people, and the natural world’s response is crucial to seeking solutions. Recent philosophical developments such as speculative realism, object-oriented ontology, and the notion of the nonhuman turn envision a world recast in egalitarian interconnectedness and treatment of nonhuman objects and beings with the same regard we have for humans. But there is an inherent glibness to these arguments: they assume that humans unanimously practice a sort of humanistic equality. Meanwhile, if we focus on the environment alone, we forget other people. In the United States, and beyond, rampant racial discrimination, gun violence, misogyny, and income inequality remain. Pope Francis’s recently published Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality declares that climate change is a moral problem that disproportionately impacts the poor. He argues for an integral ecology that seeks comprehensive solutions for a crisis that is both social and environmental, solutions that, in the process, unite us.
What function, then, should art serve in the context of the current environment and social concerns, and to what degree of efficacy? Should it solely problematize, polemicize or theorize? Or can art provide an aesthetic, emotional, and beautiful experience while empowering direct environmental action and policy change? Can beauty infiltrate and influence public opinion? What audience should it reach? Can direct human action, organization, and creation effectively take art into a
public space? Can art convey a message without being overly didactic? How can it find a common in, and tear down cultural, racial, and economic boundaries?
Read print section as PDF here.
Read entire section via The Brooklyn Rail web here.
Portrait of Greg Lindquist. Pencil on paper by Phong Bui.
From a photo by Taylor Dafoe.
Participants in editorial:
Suzaan Boettger, David Brooks, Mel Chin, Laura Grace Chipley, John Clark, Ian Cofre, Tara DePorte, Natasha Dhillon, Mark Dion, Rackstraw Downes, Willis Elkins, Marc Handelman, Eleanor Heartney, Ellie Irons, Jeffrey Kastner, Tom McGrath, Yates McKee, Mary Miss, Gean Moreno, Timothy Morton, Nancy Nowacek, Aviva Rahmani, Alexis Rockman, Martha Schwendener, Dana Sherwood, Gio Sumbadze, Matthew C. Wilson, Sarah Nelson Wright, Kevin Zucker
Newtown Creek Bateau-Atelier: Collaborating with Fung Lim of North Brooklyn Boat Club, I started this project that is inspired by Claude Monet’s boat studio. This project will involve plein air painting expeditions on Newtown Creek in Lim’s eight-person rowboat, Alycon, to capture the industrial beauty and ephemeral light of this highly polluted waterway in situ. As Fung has said, “The incredible bucolic beauty of his paintings shall serve as counterpoint to the ephemeral urban decay and beauty of our landscapes.”
Excerpt from the review of The Nonhuman Turn, ed. Richard Grusin (University of Minnesota Press, 2015) in July/August's The Brooklyn Rail:
Read entire review: here
[...] how can human and nonhuman be regarded, especially humans among humans? Morton’s essay in particular raises questions about the underlying class and race structures of philosophy, whereas many object-oriented philosophies make an assumption of equality among humans in discussions of the nonhuman. But we must also contend with the racial, gender and class inequalities among humans. How does the lens of the nonhuman help resolve this?
Furthermore, how can we make art that provides an aesthetic, emotional, and beautiful experience that empowers direct action and policy change? How can beauty please, infiltrate, and influence public opinion? Art ought to be taken into a public space both by direct human action, organization and creation. Is there work that can be both explicit enough to convey a message without being didactic and limiting in a circumscribed message?
We are in a national moment with multiple discussions of equality, entwined with such issues as transracial and transgender identities, gun control, and racial discrimination by police violence. The Confederate flag hanging over South Carolina’s state capitol is finally being called for removal because of the inescapable signification of its racist history. Pope Francis has recently argued in his ambitious encyclical Laudato Si that climate change is a moral problem that disproportionately impacts the poor. Sin ruined humans, and humans have ruined the earth, he has declared.
How can we tolerate this malaise, which is global in scale and 24/7 in duration? Anxieties are common and unifying through feeling, connecting us with a common experience— “a certain structure of feeling in which all humans are implicated,” as Morton writes. If we can unite in the solidarity of our shared disquietude, what then is the responsibility of philosophy toward social justice and direct environmental action? Philosophy and theory certainly can reroute, challenge, and reimagine our sedentary assumptions, but our actions shouldn't stop with speculation or merely acting out a feel good idea of the future. We should systemically debate, organize and enact change at both local, policy and global levels. Starting with the choices we make in the ways we treat ourselves and each other, we should strive for an all-encompassing equality, both human and nonhuman alike.
Excerpt from essay for Charlie Schultz's guest editor slot in May's The Brooklyn Rail:
Read entire essay: here.
The social healing of trauma, especially when an object becomes a focus or a distraction of conversation, is also wonderfully powerful. Empathy and compassion is what we can give freely to others when we have the capacity. When the presence and attention of our bodies are in the same space, we focus ourselves as mirrors for each other. We become receptive vessels that can hold the pain of others, allowing circumstances to be seen from a distance with perspective. We create community, compassion, shared introspection and love for one another as people who are emotionally equal.
Another video archiving of panel.
A Panel on Painting: Presented by the Brooklyn Rail and Hunter College Part I and II from James Kalm. Introductions are made by Brooklyn Rail Publisher Phong Bui with the panelists from left to right: Phyllis Tuchman, Alex Bacon, Carrie Moyer, Greg Lindquist and Amei Wallach.
A painting, like the surface of water, like an infinitely mediating screen, is an interface—of unresolvable confluences, incompatible elements, and indissolvable constituents. It is only present when it its surface is flawed with physicality and failed in its invisibility. These manifolds of activities and experiences are in constant negotiation. The painting exists in many world at once: the material, the symbolic, the social, the interior, the exterior, the landscape where it is not.
Abstraction of image and subject at once draws away our attention from the external reality into our own inner life of introspection, and back outwards into the social strata of the real: empathy, community, citizenry, justice and the environment. For example, when the solid wastes of industry and liquid resources of the earth commingle in beautiful patterns of ugly consequence, our mindfulness in this environmental disaster is heightened.
Mixing yet never combining, moderating, visible partially—visible, and then, sinking to the bottom, once again an invisible force in the landscape, environment, and social fabric. The poetics and politics in my paintings are a necessarily irreconcilable. Rather than a dialectical synthesis, they are a mirroring, transparent threshold. Without a strong political position, the paintings drift onto a sea of formalist reverie. Without the poetical, the work repels the very audience the paintings most desperately need to reach.
On the Cape Fear River with Charles Robbins, Cape Fear River Watch
Surveying the Sutton Lake Steam Plant
Sketch for installation at North Carolina Museum of Art, April 12, 2016- Sept 11, 2016
Smoke and Water on WWAY TV
Beauty is a tool of infiltration: the paintings may appear benign but are much more insidious in content. Art engages our curiosity whereas activism may feel too forceful, abrasive. Beautiful experiences connect us with other people.
"If icons are paraded through the streets, they might become part of our daily decisions and begin a kind of theater of confusion and choice." --Doug Ashford in conversation with Maria Lind
Statement for Smoke and Water
Digital Sketch for Smoke and Water, Southeastern Alliance for Community Change, Wilmington, NC
This wall painting will accomplish two major goals: first, it will create an atmosphere of reflection through its contemplative yet unsettling beauty, while interweaving the statements of those impacted by the coal ash pollution, as well as those responsible for its damage and regulation, into a more inclusive democratic presentation of voices. Secondly, the installation is living and thus effective: uniting the empathic quality of painting with the voices and experiences of our community, it offers a space for people to not only inform themselves and others, but also organize for true social change.
There is no political power without the control of the archive, if not memory. Effective democratization can always be measured by this essential criterion; the participation in and access to the archive, its constitution, and its interpretation.
--Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever
Bruno Latour lectured on the lawn of Columbia University about the concept of the Gaia, the subject of his forthcoming writings. He also commented that philosophy should use the "illusion of the intellectual, in general" in efforts in effecting political change on environmental issues.
Whatever happened to the ritual of postcard writing (and making)? An assortment of postcards mailed from places in between California and Arizona. Everything handmade, everything handwritten.
Mary Mattingly and I will host dinners Aug 16 and 17 informed by research exploring sustainable alternative cooking energies and gathered largely from the WetLand garden. The meal will include summer cocktails made from infused herbs from the WetLands garden and locally sourced ingredients.
Visited Quint Contemporary in La Jolla with my mother to see Horizon group exhibition in which I have two paintings. Had excellent lunch with Sarah, associate director, and Mark, founder, and my mother.
Excerpted from essay I wrote for exhibition:
The inherent contradiction intertwining painting’s physical quality and illusionistic space has historically been fertile ground for the medium. Whether bridging the verbal and nonverbal, tactile and virtual, painting also offers an absorbing and empathetic involvement. MICA’s LeRoy E. Hoffberger School of Painting MFA ’14 artists, while interfacing the history of painting from Modernism and beyond, are simultaneously engaged with the world around them, from the deeply felt experience of paint to percepual issues of seeing and image mediating technologies. Simply stated, these thoughtful and sensitive artists are complicating the everyday through painting. [...]
A sophisticated, savvy use of color is a common bond for these artists. This strong use of hue and its interconnected conversations has been an exigent concern threading the selection of these paintings. While the richly developed political, philosophical, social and aesthetic positions emerge with context, the most immediately striking thing one might see is how far these artists have pushed the most basic properties of painting. In this simple, everyday engagement with the medium, they have transcended the commonplace and delved into fantastic visions of their worlds.
From forthcoming essay "Both Visible and Invisible, Object and Interface: Site proposition and completion in painting, sculpture and participation" in July/Aug issue of The Brooklyn Rail:
Finally, what are the end social results of the performative action of social practice or the assembly of a particular set of pigments? Social practice’s actions open a utopian space of possibility, whereas a painting offers presence as an aesthetic tool as well as an autonomous yet linked and empathetic object. The muscle knowledge and the movements of the hand are empathic, activating the felt experience of paint. In depicting a landscape, a painting is both the physical site of material transformation and the signifier of the site depicted, both object and illusionistic space in a virtual network and material relations. While both mediums may engage a matrix of social relations, their ends greatly differ. Whereas social practice speculates a site proposition, painting elaborates on a site’s completion. Somewhere between the complexity of depiction/signification and the open-endedness of proposition is where we find ourselves in this moment with landscape art.
Duke Energy's Dan River, in progress, 68 by 78 in
Notes on site complexity
In landscape painting, the painting is both the site and the signifier of the site: Painting as material and illusion is endemic to painting itself, in a virtual network and material relations.
In social practice, if political transformation is a goal, then it weakly holds onto the open space of possibility. It continues to maintain a utopia speculation. Social practice may bring people together, but it doesn't solve any of the problems that it claims to.
How does painting define itself against an open space of possibility? Painting provides a space that is site complex. Complex in the nature of its objecthood, a painting is an aesthetic tool as well as an autonomous and empathetic object.
Stayed at Allen Ruppersberg's restaged Grand Hotel installation at Frieze Art Fair on May 11, Mother's Day. The idea of sleeping in a booth at an art fair excited and intrigued me. Although the mythology sold was a sense of community created by guests of two rooms dining and drinking wine, I felt captive in the booth. There was an exhibitors party on the deck across the fair and the security (one inside the Grand Hotel and one stationed outside in the booth across from the hotel) wouldn't allow me or my fellow guests out of the booth, which really shifted the conversation from the enthusiasm of the hotel project to the commodity/power structures of the fair and its security. Awaking at 6:30 am amid an all night bustle of cleaning crews, I was escorted by security out of fair, skipping the breakfast provided.
After the The Brooklyn Rail received an AICA award, I thought at lengths about about what significance the Rail has now for art criticism and reporting. A quote by Charles Baudelaire came to mind afterwards in which he said criticism should be partial, passionate and political. Partial because it comes from a particular point of view and circumstances, as the Rail puts it, a diverse set of voices that are often divisive. Passionate because we want also to read with enthusiasm and fervor. And political, because art and especially the criticism of it always reveals undermining ideologies. In thinking about the Rail in particular alongside my experiences with print publications, there is a stark difference in how criticism functions. Many of these print publications have been circumscribed by advertising and its politics and thus a critical judgment has been elided for fear of a loss of revenue. A loss of all three criteria Baudelaire sets forth then is also the result. The Rail has offered a more ideal form of autonomy without much editorial corralling. While we have yet to be paid for our efforts, I think in the end there is greater intrinsic value in critical growth, dialog and opportunities that arise from the notice of our published voices, which will be experienced as a more steady intellectual wealth than a quickly spent monetary compensation.
Available: On Painting, Place and the Political, 32 page booklet of recent works, writings and interviews
For copies, email your mailing address.
Why use hyper-beauty to depict the degradation of our landscape? The hyper-beautiful provides a space for contemplation, rather than dismissive repulsion. The use of beauty is not a facile aesthetic coddling, but rather a state to reflect upon its moral complexities. Using coal ash or petroleum as a painting medium would show its physical material but give no suggestion of how it functions, or how one might visualize that function. Violence in painting via material has its own beauty and the hyper-beautiful falls into an acrid and acidic sensibility that some would consider distasteful. Pure activism alone does not allow for aesthetic nuance, the exercise of intuition or the sorting of moral conviction.
Process Images of Sutton Steam Plant wall painting, Marie Walsh Sharpe Space Program,
Excerpt from forthcoming interview with Orit Gat from Bomblog
GL: To that effect, I am against the fantasy of nature, those things over there. I’d rather show how they are present and politically entangled in crucial issues of environment and land use. To smash up the beautiful depiction of nature through painting to a sickly end and infuse a narrative of the toxic dumping of coal ash into our drinking water, for example.
OG: Exactly. And so the same way we now bury our trash in oceans and send our electronic trash to Africa, we mine in Africa and are repeating the exact same mistakes.
GL: And our factories of production are on the other side of the globe, like Bangladesh, so we don’t think about those same issues, like sweatshop labor, that we did in the early 1900s, as part of our cultural reality. And that’s really troubling. For me, it’s challenging to determine how I work with painting to address these social concerns. Painting is largely now more than ever about aesthetics and beauty. Conversely, I’m dealing with realities that are obviously not very beautiful and have real social consequence.
After completely concealing my photography process that I work from to make paintings, I am resolved to incorporate this element into the network of painting in order to inform what the viewer is seeing. I have been also asking myself how I can circulate this work outside of the commercial art world. The paintings can operate in a way that the photographs can’t. While the photographs and related texts anchor a social narrative, the paintings offer a meditative/mediative experience out of a weird ghastly, sickly, rainbow of colors. I’m aware that these colors also reach into a palate that some might associate with Impressionism, which addresses industrialism in its infancy.
OG: Well, an industrialism without any consequences.
GL: Exactly! Without a consciousness of how the future world was to be affected. I really like when Jonathan Crary in 24/7 discusses glare as this glut of visual information. His explanation has some poetic quality that I can relate to these paintings on some levels. Getting that inaccessible kind of glitch even, that happens when you look at too many images and its accompanying afterimage. Or that there’s this materiality of a screen through the way of the painting. My main point is that Crary is invested in light as a metaphor of its social functions and realities. I think that’s a difficult metaphor to wrestle away from its historical romantic connotations in painting and photography.
OG: That’s interesting because you talk so much about needing space and hanging and the need to look at stuff in order to make meaning happen, and then you thought about glitches that happen sporadically and spontaneously. Even though you have this very calculated practice, you keep waiting for this—
GL: Totally. And I think that that painting is what we’re talking about. Because the photographs can be very calculated and you have to crop your selection out of a series of photographs so they’re edited in some way, and they represent something very fully and very wholly. So, I think it’s about having moments, and knowing when it’s there. When you’ve hit something spontaneous and fresh, it’s like a glitch.
I’m invested in making painting, and I spend time thinking and reconciling these different modes of expression and ways I like working. I’ve enjoyed taking photographs since my mother gave me her childhood plastic Instamatic camera and I also love the process of mixing color with paint. But, they have to operate outside of the situation that you’re talking about, which is that they’re just about beauty. [...]
Harvard Graduate Architecture Students visit my studio at Marie Walsh Sharpe Residency in DUMBO
Painting for ART from the HEART Benefit, Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC, Feb 2014
owens_river+tributaries+mojave_desert>los_angeles (mono_lake_diversions), oil on linen, 8 by 10 in, 2014
Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year 1, curated by Phong Bui, Brooklyn, NY
UNTITLED: TALKS, Miami Beach, FL Dec 5, 2013, 2 pm
Art Fair as Site, Rachel Beach, Nick Kline, TM Sisters, moderated by Greg Lindquist, Untitled Art Fair VIP Lounge