Fall 2007 Talks
Michael Joo (b.1966) creates provocative sculptures and videos that explore how science, religion, history and media inform the ways we interpret our surroundings. More interested in how we perceive than what we are looking at, Joo tests the limits of viewers' beliefs and plays on preconceived notions. In his work Yellow, Yellower, Yellowest (1991), for example, Joo presents a sculpture consisting of three beakers filled with yellow liquid, accompanied by labels mischievously identifying their contents as the urine, respectively, of Genghis Khan, Benedict Arnold and the artist himself. Deeply interested in the cyclical nature of energy, Joo has also presented Salt Transfer Cycle (1993-95), a video in three segments. In one, the artist swims through a vast mound of MSG, the stereotypical flavor enhancer in Asian cuisine; another finds Joo walking, crawling and running on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, a stark bit of mineral-rich terrain in the area where the artist was born and raised. In the third, Joo sits on a mountainside in his parents' native South Korea with his body encrusted in salt, allowing an elk to lick him.
"Things that get rigged up, propped up, balanced or weighted down to keep the whole process running smoothly," says sculptor Phoebe Washburn (b.1973, Poughkeepsie, NY), "are often ingenious, funny, desperate, stupid or a little of all of those things." Sometimes mistaken as a renewable-resources advocate for her enthusiasm for refuse, Washburn makes monumentally scaled, architectonically precocious installations out of vast amounts of materials she scavenges from the neighborhoods around her apartment and studio, as well as other locations in which her sculptures appear. Materials have included cardboard boxes from Staples, Bonita Bananas, FedEx, Frito Lay, Evian and Clorox—as well as scrap wood, sawdust (which the artist refers to as "beaches"), thumbtacks, pencils, scaffolding, bags of cement, pencil boxes, phone books, duct tape, masking tape, zillions of drywall screws and "mis-tints" rejected from Janovic. Starting with a premeditated finished product in mind but allowing the particular characteristics of her materials to inform the final result, Washburn makes work that has also been compared to such varied phenomena as a pixilated landscape, a glacier, a shantytown, a deranged demolition site, a tsunami, a whirlpool, a tornado, a 24th-century Saõ Paulo, a big-rock candy mountain on stilts and even San Francisco as seen if one approaches the city from the south. Forcing her audience to crouch, bend and otherwise adapt to sculptures to partake of various perspectives, Washburn's sculptures evidence the energy and process dedicated not just to manufacturing and discarding mass amounts of resources but repurposing them into elaborate, playful works of art.
Stan Douglas (b.1960, Vancouver, British Columbia) creates lush photographic series and technically sophisticated film and video installations, which are the foundation for his nuanced political criticisms and cultural investigations. Over the course of his 25-year career, this Canadian artist has addressed such timely issues as information overload, cultural difference and the impact of technology on perception. He also has used a computer program to recombine visuals, music and dialogue in complex arrangements, resulting in lengthy and intricate narratives. Among his most ambitious and acclaimed projects are Klatsassin (2006), a "Western" that tells a murder mystery from multiple viewpoints and includes aspects of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950); Inconsolable Memories (2005), a dual 16mm projection loosely based on Thomàs Gutiérrez Alea's 1968 film Memorias del Subdesarrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment) about the dilemmas of a bourgeois intellectual in Havana during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962; and his latest project, Vidéo (2006), a video based on Samuel Beckett's Film and Orson Welles' The Trial.