The Point of ‘Différence’

The Point of ‘Différance’: Marta Pierobon and Brett Williams

The Luminary and Duet, St. Louis, US, July- August 2014.
Residency and exhibition.

Curated by Rebecca Harris
June 27 – August 16, 2014

Press Release

Only at this point have either Brett Williams or Marta Pierobon decided exactly what works they will present and how, for the culmination of a project that is set to continue beyond this exhibition. The thematic premise has become lost and then found in the wilderness of engagement, of moving in the other’s physical working spaces.The show acts as an attempt to engage with what practice might be as well as approach forms of engagement as a method for testing the assumptions of reading around and interpretation of art.

Seeing this an opportunity to test their distinct practices based on the experience of working far away and then very much alongside one another in St. Louis, the decision of what is being presented – or in the case of Pierobon, made in the week running up to the show – has come out of conversations, studio visits, and the experience of recognising and ignoring the disparities of experience as much as the issues of activating that thinking and working space, based on geographical location. This exhibition culminates after several months of scattered online conversations, emails, and instant messages: aspects of which one might recognise in each artist’s work as presented and the way in which the show is curated in the space. While Williams presents examples of his practice that might be familiar to viewers here, one can find something unexpected by this pairing with Pierobon: the possibility for both artists’ practices to evolve is therefore based on a form of non-participatory collaboration. Specific conversations that have come up over the two week have evolved around the the functionality of the contemporary art world and its markets, with discussions on how the art world shares images, videos and writing, resulting in a shared value of direct engagement as much as an understanding of the impossibility to grasp an encompassing sense of either practice without direct engagement with the work, and perhaps as well as the artist in person. This show therefore acts a testament to difference and collaboration without the activity of constructing or assuming sameness.

The exhibition has come out of an invitation to match an artist from St. Louis with another from Europe. Rebecca Harris first met director Daniel McGrath in London in 2004 and has since worked intermittently with McGrath on projects, mainly offering written responses to the work presented in shows at Isolation Room, as well as continuing conversations of shared and distinct experiences found in St. Louis, the US, London and Europe. As a response to this Harris invited Williams to present works as the first-half of this duet. She then met Marta Pierobon, and established a dialogue with each, which has continued over a four-month period. Only now are all three in St. Louis. The choice to bring these artists together is not based on similarities in practice, but rather to engage with the disparities in which artists can work and then create artworks through an engagement at home and far from their usual working and living spaces. This has resulted in a number of conversations concerning studio space and the psychological as opposed to the physical spaces of making art.

This is part of a larger project that considers and challenges the idea of practice becoming dependent on points of references, as much as an attempt to rethink methods of how the viewer, critic and art historian engage with artworks. By engaging more with a conceptual space when the working space becomes something unknown we can consider the possibility of becoming free or at least positively unsettled from the conditions of of artistic, curatorial or writing practices.

Conversation with Brett Williams: Thursday 20th June 2014

Rebecca Harris: I just want you to tell me about your studio, because I’m totally intrigued. It’s just not what I imagined…. I mean, I know this work (that your showing at Duet) kind of relates to what we were saying: that it is very difficult to engage with the art practice without being present with the work. And I think that really speaks of your work, but it is also very interesting to see all these references that you’ve got going on behind you. So I was just wondering if you could maybe just talk through some of these?

Brett Williams: “Sure. Well the way I go about making work is that I always come up with an idea; I always liken it to a scientist coming up with a hypothesis and figuring out how to do that. So I come up with an idea and then I start amassing bits, you know, electronic pieces or books or drawings I have done or other bits and pieces from other exhibitions and then I start putting these bits together. And with that experimentation comes a million failures before there is some success, and sometimes those successes don’t work for the pieces I am doing so I set it aside and work on it for something else. Or there’s an ‘aha’ moment when there is a bit of that piece which is a jumping off point for something else. So then I have a bunch of different things, a bunch of dvd players, or a soldering iron or microphones, so I can kind of combine those things and play with it for a while, and let it work in my studio and leave it set up so I can live with it. So I have to live with it, have it set up next to me while I work on some other piece. I can refer back and forth to them. That way it gets stuck in my mind and I’m kind of thinking about it all the time. So that when I’m driving or whatever, I can be thinking about that piece. And usually when I do that – if I can visualize what is already in my studio, I can either come back to it, or think about it there and something usually pops into my mind. Like “oh that’s what works” and then I come back and I start working on it and I build on that. I may need to make a soundtrack, so I’ll hook up my keyboard and start playing that. Or I might need to sort out a soldering problem so I’ll buy a readymade circuit board and figure out how to make that kit. Or I might just need to clear my head, so I’ll make a little drawing that doesn’t mean anything. So I need to have that stuff. I might need to cut some stuff. I’ll have a saw, or I’ll have an old computer that I may want to try something on that won’t mess up my actual laptop that I do the finished work on. I have a collection of cables and old TV sets and various video cameras because my practice has changed from being in the computer or just being video or sort of computer based to going back to structural sculpture and electronic sound and recording matter and manipulate that in some way. So I may be playing with this piece and think there’s a really nice rhythm and I can bring out my digital recorder and record that and maybe bring that in the computer later on for a video piece or for something else.

RH: Okay, so you’ve talked about the images. I like the idea based on what you just said that you like to have things out, so these are maybe like memento mori. I don’t know if you can really use that in the plural, but your thinking process is actually a visual process. You are actually putting, or activating them in this space where the realization is taking place. I was wondering, just generally, about the photographs as well. It strikes me how many photographic images you have and the breadth of the subject matter. I don’t know if you want to talk about that?

BW: Yes, well some of the images that you are seeing… I mean, this is my photography. But this is like, my wife’s stuff: works in progress for her. But the pieces that were outside here: these big, erm, (we’ll go outside and come back to talk about this). These large pieces are mine from a series I call ‘Monuments.’ They exist on Instagram but they are all taken with an iPhone. So I’m taking banal objects and turning them into something else.

RH: It’s interesting because there is an Andreas Gursky element to that, but it is interesting because at one point we were talking about the sound and repetition. I immediately thought of Thomas Demand’s exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery (2006), because those photographs remind me of his work in this context. Visually they look like they are almost constructed, but you have turned the banal into an object: an object to be looked at and viewed. Which is, in many ways, similar to what you were talking about before in terms of how you create your sculptural pieces. I don’t know if you want to first talk more about what is in this space first, but maybe there is a sense to that, which can be discussed.

BW: Yeah sure. So thinking about sculpture and how things work together and how they would work individually, the images you see behind are from an exhibition I had at a college I worked at. That still of the boxes is actually an animation still of an animated piece. The other one is also from that exhibition, but is just a memory of that place. Putting these together, I do wonder how these objects would function if put together with other things and even piles of stuff from the studio. Frankly, it has never gotten to that point, but I often think how that would be exhibited. So would it be a cluster of wires, shelves, cardboard and pictures. Then the sculptures and some of ephemeral stuff, or the equipment, just as a sculpture. I think of that in relation to other contemporary artists. Like the ones you mentioned, but rather than Demand, and how he reconstructs, becomes more about the reconstruction. I’m rather thinking in terms of where the object becomes the relic.

RH: You know who that reminds me of? Gabriel Orozco maybe. He left a shoebox in the corner of a room and the idea was that it was kicked… but it’s a very similar idea. That when a everyday object is placed in a gallery, how does the function of that object change? Another thing, to see someone’s work in the space and to see it as something visual. As a visual artist you are thinking visually about the actual space you’re working in to allow it to be a visual object, I suppose. How about the deer pictures over there?

BW: They are also from my wife’s project.

RH: I keep forgetting that you share this space….but it makes it sort of fascinating.

BW: Well the stuff you’re seeing…. I mean we share similar interests

RH: Yeah… I mean you must cross over?

BW: We do. This is all from a series she’s doing called ‘Souvenirs project.’ It comes from souvenir potters and stuff like that, but they are like a travel log of the places we have been. So I can recognize them, and the different states where we were at. But she also did an exhibition where everything that was taken on her iPhone and she had six tables set up and the tables were laid out with these 2 by 3 images taken on like Instagram or Hipstermatic, which is like instagram.

RH: On my god: Hipstermatic? I have to take that and patent it in the UK!

BW: (laughs) And you can make your own collections and I think they are based on 4 by 4, so you can box them. So when you see them you can see our travels for about two years. You can see how the seasons change because of the color. So when I am seeing these things I am also living with her work too. The conversations we have…there is no way that it can’t influence my visual language either. In the same way for her, although we’re still yet to collaborate on anything, but there is always that give and take.

BW: Yes, I think for now. We can continue the conversation. We don’t want that file to be gigantic anyway.”

RH: No…..”

recording cuts off.


Processes of Making: Subtitle
Rebecca Harris in conversation with Brett Williams and Marta Pierobon Friday 21st June 2014

RH: “I haven’t really planned this conversation as I don’t want it to be too formal, but maybe we can start by thinking about…, or in terms of the studio visit, and the experience of working here in St. Louis. Maybe Brett wants to discuss a bit about how he works, what he does and how he does this in St. Louis. And then maybe Marta, you can speak about how you work in Italy and how you’ve been working here so far. Is that all right?

BW and MP (consensus reply of yes.)

BW: “So you want me to go first?

RH: Yeah, you go first.

BW: You want me to discuss how I work in my studio?

RH: Yes.

BW: It usually depends on the project. It starts off as an idea. Usually a sound or something that triggers a memory, and then I think about how I’m going to do that. So, sort of like a scientist: I come up with an idea or a hypothesis and then I experiment to figure out how I’m going to make that a reality. At that point I start gathering items or cannibalizing old artworks, so in that bit of my studio where you were, you can see there is a bunch of stuff around, like parts of other things: A dvd player, other electronics….things like that. Or I’ll pick an object and think about how that works. Like a microphone and find all the sonic properties you can get out of that microphone to see what you can do to manipulate that. And then I’ll add another element to that and sometimes that becomes something that I build on, so it becomes the object or the piece, and I build on that. And if not, it becomes something I set aside and I bring something else in and work on that. And then it might be that those two things are combined to become a piece, a more concrete piece. Or maybe it will be set aside again and it will get cannibalized into another work.
So sometimes I might have an idea that I work directly towards, that I get to quickly. Sometimes I might have to work on it in several different ways: so I build some things, set it aside, live with it for a while, get inspired by some other things in my studio like some of my other works, old works, my wife’s work, or just having to scrap it all and go to a movie, or something completely different. Or see some art somewhere else, or go to speak to some other people and come back and work again. Many times I have left the studio, kind of frantic and trying to figure out why it doesn’t work and then I’ll wake up at three in the morning and have to go to the studio to solve an issue and then when I get there it seems there is another issue I have to solve. And so, sometimes those things come together and work and sometimes they don’t. It is an intuitive way of working, but I have never had any other way of working. I don’t sit down and sketch or set out and say, ‘this is how it is going to be.’ It kind of develops organically over time. So that’s one way of working (laughs) in the studio.

RH: Okay, so I have a lot of words that I hope to come back to… alright, Marta.

MP: “So it depends if I am working on a specific project or just experimenting. So it is a bit different. If I am experimenting, it is a bit like brainstorming, so I allow myself to do whatever I feel like in that moment and then I can go back to painting or drawing, or just sit down and look around; I can totally just sit around and just look for two hours. But if I am working on a specific project and it is already decided, I can know exactly what I’m going to make and why. If it is for a specific exhibition, I’m very like, how do you say…?

Dana Turkovic adds: “linear

MP: Yeah, you know I’m very organized in a way. I know I have to do this or that. In a way it’s very scientific: it is a process that I have to go through and there is no other way I can do it. I need to be organized, especially when I work with sculpture because of materials. You have to allow a certain amount of time depending on the materials that I work with. It’s sort of as if you take your brain out and just go with the science and the mathematical idea of everything you have to do… that’s really about when I make something. When I think of something it doesn’t have to be in any place, it doesn’t have to be in my studio: actually it is everywhere. And it can come from any situation or moment. So I guess it is the two different ways. My studio is very much like my factory. My studio, in terms of my ideas, is more inside me, inside my brain. So there are two spaces that I work: a physical space and a mental space.
I need to be out of my studio also. I love to be in my studio when I actually make things, but I like to be out when I need to get other ideas, to think about things.
Sometimes it’s just about getting very far from my work, to not think about it because otherwise I tend to become obsessive, and then I realize, ‘I got stuck.’ I’ve learned this with time: I’ve had a lot of moments when I was so stuck. It can be that I work every day for two months and for one month I don’t go to my studio. Sometimes I need to be very far away from it.

RH: That’s very interesting. So what I might do is go backwards and think of some of the things you both said. You have both talked about being in spaces and being away from spaces. So for example, you have both been talking about a kind of a psychological space, so a kind of space that exists in your mind but also a physical space, and maybe the things around you.
   Brett you speak about other people in a way that maybe Marta, you didn’t, but I’m assuming there are conversations…

MP: Yes. RH: So that’s really interesting. And one of things you speak of is about being there and being able able to move away. So one thing I am interested in is that you are here now in St. Louis, and you’re away from your usual environment. How do you travel with that conceptual way of thinking in terms of the studio – maybe the factory in your mind –and how do you think this has affected your aim or intention for this exhibition at Duet?

MP: Yes. RH: So that’s really interesting. And one of things you speak of is about being there and being able able to move away. So one thing I am interested in is that you are here now in St. Louis, and you’re away from your usual environment. How do you travel with that conceptual way of thinking in terms of the studio – maybe the factory in your mind –and how do you think this has affected your aim or intention for this exhibition at Duet?

MP: Yes. I mean as were talking about that yesterday, I have one piece that is already done. So it is there, and I have something to hold on to. But I see this as an experience that is not just about making a new piece but having to make it in a different way, which is definitely going to interfere with what will come out. This is what interests me more than anything. I mean, I could have just brought another piece, but I found it more interesting and more intriguing for me not to. So this becomes an experience about learning from what I make. I’m given the possibility of my work to tell me something new and I can deal with that. You know sometimes, when you have problems making something, practical issues… these issues will open doors that never would have opened if you didn’t have those issues. Sometimes if I have a problem I see it as an opportunity to think, ‘How am I going to react to this?’ You know, and see what comes out.

RH: Given that you have talked about structure and being organized, about the linear process, I wonder how you feel working without that structure and not being organized? You and I have spoken about -­‐ and actually Brett and I have spoken about-­‐ how a lot of artists think tangentially. You’ve spoken about how your conceptual framework is quite tangential because you find one thing and then you’re leading from that to another, which in many ways is similar to Brett’s way of thinking and working. However, while you are doing that conceptually, your materials are kind of holding you to a formality of the linear… So Marta, if you want to talk about that? And then maybe Brett, I’ll ask you to respond.

MP: Yeah, I think it’s the two sides of the coin that I like. I’m forced to be organized, and I’m forced to create a structure. I wouldn’t want to be totally out of control, just picking things up and putting them together because that would not be interesting for me. I like the idea that I have restrictions in terms of materials, time and organization, especially when you’re working large-­‐scale, or working with other people. I have a lot of things printed on my work so I have to make the images, I have to have people print them. I have to control the timing of when they’re going to get them back to me, because that will interfere with the other materials. That holds my work and gives me a sort of perimeter… that I have to get stuck inside. I think that challenges the other side, which is the more emotional and intuitive side of my work. It’s almost like rationality and something that is out of control mixed together so you actually have to have a specific idea to work toward in order to make something, you know?

A woman in carnival costume faces the viewer head-­‐on, sitting assertively on a table with legs spread wide and wearing a cat-­‐like mask. Beckmann depicts this woman as a strong and powerful figure who tosses men aside, suggested symbolically by the image of the Jack atop the discarded playing cards in the foreground. Beckmann structures his composition around a pyramid of black, represented by the stockings, outfit, and the mask.

Production notes:
“Being a ‘memory play,’ The Glass Menagerie can be presented with unusual freedom of convention. Because of its considerably delicate or tenuous material, atmospheric touches and subtleties of direction play a particularly important part. Expressionism and all other unconventional techniques in drama have only one valid aim, and that is a closer approach to truth. When a play employs unconventional techniques, it is not, or certainly shouldn’t be, trying to escape its responsibility of dealing with reality, or interpreting experience, but is actually or should be attempting to find a closer approach, a more penetrating and vivid expression of things as they are.5

“Another extra-­‐literary accent in this play is provided by the use of music. A single recurring tune, ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ is used to give emotional emphasis to suitable passages. This tune is like circus music, not when you are on the grounds or in the immediate vicinity of the parge, but when you are at some distance and very likely thinking of something else. It seems under those circumstances to continue almost interminably and it weaves in and out of your pre-­‐occupied consciousness; then it is the lightest, most delicate music in the world and perhaps the saddest. It expresses the surface vivacity of life with the underlying strain of immutable and inexpressible sorrow. When you look at a piece of delicately spun glass you think two things: how beautiful it is and how easily it can be broken. Both of those ideas should be woven into the recurring tune, which dips in and out of the play as if it were carried on a wind that changes.”6

“The lighting in the play is not realistic. In keeping with the atmosphere of memory, the stage is dim. Shifts of light are focused on selected areas or actors, some times in contradistinction to what is the apparent center.”7

Marta Pierobon Rebecca Harris Artist Writer Statement

Theory and art history supports an already established and slowly worked specific practice. Practice supports an already established and slowly worked specific practice embedded in theory.

The materials that I use contain a narrative found in a play with their consistency, corrosiveness, colour and texture. The process may be like painting, of applying and taking away, but the play of these materials creates something painterly through a technique embedded in sculpture, so maybe I just imagine this painterly quality because drawing is so much part of what I am doing. Montage is a more apt phrase to use perhaps, as I mesh these forms together, bringing found Internet imagery with other more worked at and activated forms that refuse the verbal. My practice is very much about images and the perception of these images as much as the perception of volumes. As a sculptor my experience is always physical and about a presence: of being very small or being very big. We are part of the scenography of a place and here we are viewers watching the encounter between two of the same, paired together to create a scene that we are witness to.

5 Tennessee Williams and Robert Bray, The Glass Menagerie (New York: New Directions, 2000), xix.
6 Ibid, xxi.
7 Ibid.