‘PROCESS: Readdressing Infinite Ways of Seeing’ ran from October 9th to November 19th, 2014 with the International Fine Arts Consortium (IFAC) in New York City. The group show—which included work by Brian Gormley, Marjan Moghaddam, Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos, Brian Leo, and Gabriel Don—was James Joseph’s first ‘official’ exhibit, including five ‘gizmos’ and a ‘bundle’. To root this conversation in the artist’s words and works, below are a few exchanges with James about his first exhibited works, followed by a discussion of the new direction he is headed in.
RVR: You refer to the paintings as “gizmos”, in many respects breaking away from a long history of painting and object making in art. However, these “gizmos” do still retain many of the traditionally legible components of a painted artwork - paint, canvas, frame. Why the decision to re-situate them, and how does this use of language relate to what is seen in the piece?
JJ: I would not say that this is retaliation against painting; it’s simply a new approach to an old form that I have let emerge. I watched an interview once where Richard Tuttle questioned how it is that, in the 21st century, we have still not yet created a new form. That has always been something that has stuck with me. I tried to stretch the canvas on the reverse side and it confused me. It appeared as something whole although, at the same time, it was a deconstruction of itself. It fell into a place undefined, which is why I chose to call them “gizmos.” By definition, a gizmo is a gadget, especially one whose name the speaker does not know or cannot recall.
The text (I refer to it as text—not simply letters—because the letters are arranged in a manner that allows the eye to easily connect them as words; my eye doesn’t see a letter soup, like colourful magnets on a refrigerator, but instinctually groups them together) seems to relate to the square swatches of paint, in that both are presented on the canvas for assembly. In this way, you seem to be providing a platform for performance of sorts. Can you elaborate on this?
The text comes from the abbreviations of the elements on the Periodic Table. I used this simply as a springboard. I was curious to see what words I could form. As I began to assemble these words from fragments I was astonished by how many I was able to find. I’ve accumulated about 10 pages in a text document and continue to decipher more.
The text is printed on iron-on paper. The paper is delicate; when peeling up the non-stick side, you sometimes have to leave a corner or two to peel it up. What could be seen as a flaw, I see as an unavoidable intention, the material itself wanting to claim its presence on the surface. This transfer serves as a metaphor for the assembly of language. I see the swatches of colour as containers for specific information, an empty signifier waiting to be filled. With time, one can discover new meanings and piece together a world that can be mapped out with the tools I have presented.
Interesting. I like what you have to say about mapping out a world. In “Sex In Public” (1998), Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner write:
“The queer world is a space of entrances, exits, unsystematized lines of acquaintance, projected horizons, typifying examples, alternate routes, blockages, incommensurate geographies. World making, as much in the mode of dirty talk as of print-mediated representation, is dispersed through incommensurate registers, by definition unrealizable as community or identity. Every cultural form, be it a novel or an after-hours clubs or an academic lecture, indexes a virtual social world, in ways that range from a repertoire of styles and speech genres to referential metaculture.”
I see a relation between your project and this understanding of queer world-making in that you provide space for creation, destruction, projection, and inspection. Do you have any thoughts on how your work queers itself, and finds queerness in its viewers?
As a child I was constantly asking myself, what is “normal”? But, even at a young age, I knew that the word “normal” really meant nothing at all. It’s like trying to say what is cool and what is not cool. The work, much like myself, others, and the world around us, is ever evolving.
In terms of finding queerness in viewers, maybe it’s their own confusion about what they are seeing that reflects this queer world as a space of entrances and exits. There is no exact way to figure it out because it is all matter and that is representative of something, regardless of how one tries to define it.
Before we move on to the other work in the show, can you briefly talk about the physical process of making these works?
I began by making mock-ups on my computer. I would test out colours for the squares and figure out how I wanted to situate them along with the text in an application called Sketchbook Express. This was necessary at the time because I was painting with acrylic directly onto the canvas. Now I am using mouse-pad material that I cut squares from to paint on instead. In having these individually cut-out squares I can move them freely over the surface of the canvas until I am set on fixing them. Colours are mixed on a whim. Sometimes I will paint over certain squares multiple times. A grass green could become a forest green or even a ravishing salmon. Now I try not to rely on the computer at all. I do use a word document to type out the abbreviations though. These are printed on an iron-on transfer paper.
‘Untitled (Bundle)’ seems to be another attempt to call into question how we formulate, assemble, and collect information. How does the work add to this conversation? why choose the form of a green onion?
At first the green onion did not come across my mind at all. (I’ve also heard ‘bamboo’ put out there which is interesting considering it’s one of the fastest growing plants. The immediacy of things today is like that of the bamboo’s ability to grow at such a rapid rate.) For me the colour green was a symbol of growth. Even though the green disappears along the way, the bundle is constantly coming into being and can be added to. Everything we encounter can be taken as information, it is how we approach it that we then start to form a flow between things, make connections, realisations, metaphors, etc. The wooden dowels together form the bundle; the paint on them serves as a system. Together they act as a metaphor for information.
These works reference a logic of information assembly. Do you have any thoughts on dis-assembly? You’ve given us the tools—the letters, swatches, collected sticks—to add, but what about to subtract? What does it mean to lose, erase, forget information in the contemporary everyday?
Well, anything assembled was once disassembled. For these works, I started with something assembled, disassembled it, and then reassembled it to make something new. The components have to work hand in hand. Without one, you can’t have the other; together, they maintain a balance and create something at the same time.
Since this show, you’ve been working on a new body of work, and I’d be curious to hear about how these works approach similar ideas of assembly, disassembly, reassembly, and more?
Since graduating I have moved to New Mexico. It’s open out here and full of color. It’s dull, but when the sun sets everything turns a shade of pink, purple and orange. It’s quite beautiful.
I just started a series of small oil paintings that depict a single flower stem with a leaf and numbered petals that have sporadically fallen across the surface. They are framed with white, iridescent glass. I think these works definitely have a specific place, but I am not sure where that is. I imagine that—in their rightful place—the light would touch the glass and allow for rainbows to dance throughout the space. But, maybe that isn’t even the rightful place for them? When I hold the painting in my hands or arms I am always able to see the iridescence of the glass.
I am also working on another piece that includes almost 1,000 white feathers (one pound), a white Nylon garden trellis, and two double-faced white satin bows.
James’s gizmos, bundles, and newer petals and feathers, question and analyse assembly, as it relates to art-making. As a young, emerging artist, he is critically engaging with various components of the history of art (particularly painting and sculpture, their parts and pieces) that stand before him, in an attempt to better understand his own contribution. Interestingly, James lets us see this; he does not explore and play privately, in a studio, before presenting a “final” or “complete” piece. Instead, we see an active thought-process, pieces laid bare, awaiting our touch. The letters require our vision to become words (the gizmos); the sticks are stacked and assembled (the bundles), empty until we see/read them as green onions, bamboo, faggots (“faggot-gatherer” originally referred to a bundle of brushwood collected by those of a lower class, which eventually became used as slang for homosexual men); numbers and petals, a pound of feathers, they mean nothing until a viewer imbues meaning, approaches the work with a history—personal, political, cultural, or otherwise—charging the work with new life.
As such, it seems important—to me and to James—to highlight the queerness embedded within his practice of art-learning/art-assembly. In the Berlant and Warner quote mentioned earlier, queerness is understood as a collective, or plural, world of horizons; it is a space of “...entrances, exits, unsystematized lines of acquaintance, projected horizons, typifying examples, alternate routes, blockages, incommensurate geographies…”. They emphasize the collective over the individual, the fluid over the static, the diverse over the homogenous; there is no Queer World, but a process of performing-selves, being-queers, becoming-worlds. This is, to my mind, what is most exciting about James’ practice, and the future directions he is headed in. His works revel in the performing, being, becoming of art-making. He exposes process, not to explain or teach, but to invite and entice the infinite approaches of assembly made by viewers. The matter is given so that we become.
Berlant, Lauren and Michael Warner. “Sex in Public.” Critical Inquiry 24 (1998): 547-566