Works on LPP
★ MEET N‘ GREET ★
I recently got to meet up with artist Christine Kesler at NOMA gallery in Union Square, and viewed her current solo show there: in a world where you are possible. It was Tuesday, December 22nd, and on that day the gallery was a calm haven tucked inside San Francisco’s nexus of Christmas shopping insanity. Handfuls of bags batted my calves as I steered my bike through the sidewalk throngs, and locked up next to what I would later find out was Christine’s ride. It had a huge basket, which I wouldn’t be surprised to see her hauling found objects around in sometime. Read on as we talk about living in a shell versus living in a town, logical feelings, a strange and wonderful collaborative art-making experience, and twins.
Christine has lived a lot of places, among them Virginia, Baltimore, Brooklyn, and now San Francisco, where she came for graduate school two and half years ago. Of her current location she laughingly says: “I like it here. It’s a lot different from New York, so I feel like I’m going to stay for a while.”
JW: Does that mean you ‘escaped’ from New York?
CK: Not really, because I loved living in New York. But since I’ve been here, I really see the difference from the grind. You know, everything is a little more difficult in New York in a way that you get used to. Living here, you see that everything can be a little easier: the weather, the transportation... everything about living in California is more relaxed. So you get spoiled. I miss New York and feel like it instilled this East Coast work ethic in me, though.
JW: Yeah, I felt it too when I came back from a month in New York last summer. Life here felt like a pleasure cruise at first. But at the same time, having to deal with the grind can be motivating. It takes a lot of optimism and perseverance.
CK: Yes. You get a shell there too, that lets you be completely anonymous. That’s one thing I like- the anonymity of being in a huge city. You see people sometimes, and it can turn into a little bit of a small town, but San Francisco is such a small town compared to New York.
JW: So how or when did you start making art?
CK: Ha, we can go back to 3 years of age. I’ve been doing this my whole life. There’s never been anything else. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. It’s kind of boring.
JW: No... it’s great.
the invisible writing on the wall, and in the air
JW: I know your show title is taken from a Frank O’Hara poem, and you say writing is a generative process for you. Could you tell us about the relationship between writing and your work?
CK: Yeah. The writing I’ve been reading a lot lately is the work of poets. I like the abstraction of the language of poetry, because it’s often very suggestive- there’s a lot that is left up to the reader. I think that writing and reading is about the construction of us, and the construction of our identities. I think art works in a similar way, in that an artist is constructing their own reality through working- they’re putting the pieces together, and naming this that, and creating a language. You create your own vocabulary for what you call ‘important’ through choosing highlights and focal points for your work. Writing is limited in a way because you can only use words, but it’s also much more expansive, because you have those boundaries that you have to work with.
JW: Limitations can be pretty freeing.
CK: Yeah, exactly. I heard Andrea Zittel say one time that restrictions and boundaries can be freeing. They are what you structure your work around, because otherwise you can make work about anything!
JW: Work like yours here can appear to be a lot of unrelated things collided together, unless the viewer is aware that you have a poetic background and sensitivity. Knowing this suggests your selections are very specific and meaningful. I’d be trying to figure out what was happening all the same, but reading your poetry and knowing you’re adept with words- signifiers that people already have a familiarity with- turns this installation into a big visual poem for me. Is that how you think about it too?
CK: Yes, it’s all about structuring these things in a way that calls up the physical experiences we have every day as humans. Whether they’re phenomenological or extremely subtle, I’m taking advantage of how people feel about materials and how people think about and interact with the world around them, and how I can bring peoples’ awareness to those specific parts of life. It was really nice to work here at NOMA for this installation because I had free reign. This space has so many little interesting things and architectural details. When I saw the little ledge that pokes out I knew I couldn’t ignore it. There are so many things that people take for granted- that it’s there. But you can also highlight it and bring attention to the fact that it hits right at my hip, and references the human body in that way.
JW: How do you choose your materials, then, because obviously your materials are serving metaphorical and spatial ends.
CK: I like to have a lot of time to search. I do a lot with found materials. If something felt right, I’d bring it up here. But it didn’t always make the cut. I brought 70 or maybe 100 pounds of drywall up here to make a sculpture that I had in mind, and it just didn’t work, because of a lot of things. I also had this pile of concrete rocks, that were raw, and really jagged, but they had this incredibly noble quality to them too. I saw them on the side of the road near my house, where there’s a construction project, and I went out one night and put as many as I could fit in a suitcase, and I wheeled them back home with me. I kept thinking about how ridiculous it was to wheel a suitcase full of rocks up to a gallery where you’re making a ’fine art installation.’ It felt appropriately ridiculous. And each of these rocks has this weight to it. If you look really closely you can see that each has color flecks. I thought about all the material that went into them and how many lives they’ve passed through. It’s pretty interesting. So I started with that, and then started searching for other materials. I’ve been thinking about ribbons and textiles, and their feminine quality, and had a lot of found vintage metal thread that I wanted to use because it has a very rich quality. But it’s also very poor, because it’s fragile. It broke quite a bit.
Wrapping the threads around the concrete rocks seems to suggest an alchemistic transformation of material, this turning of baseness into something more valuable and precious. I wanted to create a poignant change and/or linkage in the distinct qualities of one material or another.
It was also raining a lot the whole week I was here, and there was a big struggle to get through the rain and get all my materials here in the rain. I had a big piece of paper that I covered with graphite, so I cut that up into raindrops, and made those intersect the other work.
JW: I noticed that the most recent body of paintings that you have on your site also has a lot of raindrop shapes, and was wanting to ask you about that.
CK: The drop is just one of those symbols. Everyone calls it something different: raindrop, teardrop, etc., but it’s a very physical representation of something that happens all the time in the world. Those symbols have pretty specific meanings that I don’t want to spell out in any kind of key. But the drops have a lot of humanity in them to me, and also point to the physical world. There’s also something very elegant and musical about how they can be spaced from each other, formally.
JW: Besides the thread, the drops seem to be the element of this show that bridges the gap between 2d and 3d parts, because they curl off the wall.
CK: Ever since I did a project with the Present Group two and a half years ago, which had all these little dashes laid throughout the space of the paper, I’ve been wanting to put them in a 3 dimensional space.
listening to objects, and not thinking about commodity
JW: How do you choose how much stuff to include? Are you done when you’ve highlighted all the little intricacies of the space that appeal to you?
CK: I don’t know...it just tells me. I listen to the materials. It’s a hard thing, because you can always push things too far. It’s probably not ‘just right’ in here, and if I’d had another week or two, I probably would have discovered the perfect amount. It’s all about subtle harmonics of space. The particles of the piece add up into something more mysterious when taken into account with the architecture and the subtleties of that room. I like to think about the logic of the room or gallery or studio within which I work- that combined with the logic of material, and ways that geometrically I can satisfy the space formally.
JW: I think it feels right.
CK: It is a feeling. But I know intuition is a bad word these days.
JW: Ha, yeah, but if we’re not using intuition then what are we using?
CK: Ha ha.
JW: So, how do you deal with compartmentalizing your work when it makes up an installation like this? Is this show one big work or many works? If someone was interested in buying it, how do you think that transaction could go?
CK: That’s a tough thing. I talked about that with the gallery for a while, and it was a weird conversation because we’re in a commercial gallery, and you want to be able to sell things, and they want you to sell things. The pieces that are obviously separate (the framed works that are incorporated into the installation), can be sold separately, although that sounds corny.
If someone wanted to buy this whole installation, they certainly could. They could put it in their house, but it’s site-specific. So they could place these elements in their house, but obviously none of the elements would line up perfectly unless they wanted to recreate this room. A lot of the framed pieces were going to end up on the wall and have a price, but since they’re part of the installation, I thought they should have the same price. But that’s a lot more than the sum of its parts. It’s tricky. I was relying on the gallery a lot to say what they thought was appropriate, but they had never really sold a work like this before.
The Last Day of Magic
JW: What’s been your best or most interesting showing experience?
CK: I’ve been really interested in working collaboratively, and in opening up my practice to include other things and other people. I made a video for this show, which I’ve never really done. Things became more sculptural and split-open with this show in a way, too. Part of that had to do with working collaboratively this past year. I worked for a number of months with a group of people I was in a class with, and we ended up working on a project that ended up taking on way more significance and way more power than we ever imagined.
The project was about ritual, and about all of us creating a series of rituals around the idea of loss and transformation. What artist doesn’t work with those concepts all the time. But it was really cool, because there were 12 of us, and each of us designed a ritual very specifically in our heads. We found where it came from and what it meant to us, and then we made a performance in the landscape of the Headlands in Marin.
It was very much a derive. We all went up to the Headlands one day, on 2 scooters and in 3 cars, and we brought a film crew. We had no idea where we were going or what we were looking for. But this place in the barracks appeared. We found it perfect and stayed there. We reenacted all our rituals. It took 8 hours because we all had somewhat lengthy behaviors that had to take place for it to all come to fruition. And now we are all bound together, and not only emotionally. One person’s ritual involved tying a red string around our wrists while sitting in a circle through her ritual. We were telling each other things, and it was like a confession. We all still have these red strings around our wrists, reminding us of that time. We were tethered together then. And after, we made a video, and we all helped edit it. I semi-learned Final Cut Pro to help people edit. The video got sent to Italy, and I actually went to Italy to see it. It was called The Last Day of Magic, and it was a trip how it all worked out. It was such an involved project, and we all got along, and we all had a very unique input. That was probably the most unique art-making experience I’ve had so far, and made me really excited about doing more stuff like that. But it’s hard to find a group of people who can do that.
JW: Yeah, that’s amazing. And rare.
CK: We didn’t even all choose to be in the class together. But it worked out.
JW: Did that performative experience lead you to this video?
CK: Well, in a certain way. After editing that video I had some knowledge of Final Cut, so that I could teach myself to edit this video. Oh! The other part of it is that we all gathered one person per classmate, so there were 12 people that were total strangers, and we had them gather in a garage in Orange Alley and reenact our rituals for 3 hours. It was so cold, and they were so miserable, and they had no emotional connection to each other, whereas we did the rituals together after we’d been in class together for 3 months, so we were much closer. That was bizarre. It was really awkward. That kind of multi-faceted-ness is unique to me so far, to the degree that it was so expansive. Who knows how it could live on.
an identical twin surprise
CK: I think something pretty interesting that people don’t necessarily know is that there’s an energy of duality in my work. Some of it might come from being a twin, and having a sister on the other side of the continent from me, and feeling like there’s a secret communication between her and I. In a lot of ways we’re opposites, which is funny because in a lot of ways we’re closer emotionally, and closer in looks, and closer in a lot of things than anyone else in the world.
JW: Is she an identical twin?
JW: So that plays a role in your practice?
CK: Yeah. Especially when writing, I always feel like there’s another part of me that’s somewhere else out in the world. It’s really interesting to think about how your Self can be split up that way.
JW: There are some cool twin art-making teams, though I don’t know their names.
CK: Yeah! There was one at Stephen Wolfe a few months ago. Maybe there’s something in my future with making stuff with her. The poster I made for the show had to do with her, though it’s hard to say what everything has to do with specifically. She’s not an artist, though, She’s a writer.
JW: Oh, what does she do?
CK: She’s just an excellent writer and editor. She does ad sales right now, but has done a lot of press and newspaper writing too. She’s really talented at it. The one thing here that she has a big part in is the video. When one of us has something really important to say, or really important to write, we’ll write it down and practice with each other. (Note: the repetitive voiceover in Christine’s video says “I think about what I am going to say, and I practice.”)
JW: Like over the phone?
CK: Yeah, or over email. We just have editors in my family, and it’s a really good thing to have her to practice the really important stuff on.
JW: That’s great. I actually had a job interview a couple blocks away this morning, but had to do the talk-to-the-mirror thing before instead.
CK: Well that’s really good too.
To view more of Christine’s work, please visit www.christinekesler.com
Christine Kesler is an artist, educator, designer, curator and writer interested in abstraction as a means of interrogating semiotics and their ambiguities. Her work explores the poetic and the ephemeral qualities present in the physical environment. She holds a Masters degree in Painting from California College of the Arts.