Eve Andree Laramee
Interview with Jordan Crandall













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Matters of Invention: Jordan Crandall  Interviews Eve Andrée Laramée

16 January 1995


JC: So, Eve, what is your household dust doing offered up for observation inside a bell jar?

EL: Do you think that's strange? That piece is about examining my private universe as much as creating a model for a cosmological system.  It's presented as an isolated scientific relic or artifact.  That has something to do with the methods of modern science, in terms of separation, specialization, and breaking things down.  It's about measurement, and a kind of analysis that I find so appealing and yet so questionable.

JC.- You're dismantling that paradigm, those methods of inquiry.

EL: Yes, and I see it as a poetic process.  And there is also part of me that wants to dismantle certain belief systems, and analyze them.

JC: Would you say that certain elements of your work operate as interfaces?

EL: Yes, like a semi-permeable membrane, where certain things flow through and other things don't.  You can control it to some degree, and to another degree you can't.  I'm interested in how matter transforms from one state to another--this again is related to my earlier work, where I'm working with very slow-moving fluids that appear to be solids, or fluids turning into gases, solids becoming liquids, dissolution, evaporation, all of those material processes of nature.  It's the interface-zone between state changes that I'm interested in. This ambiguity reveals my delight in absurdity, in human fallibility, in my own fallibility.  Metaphor operates through absurdity.  The more illogical the connection between two concepts, the deeper the resulting metaphor.  Metaphors are mediators between the mind and culture.  They change the way we use language and the way we perceive and understand things.  The Greek root of metaphor means "to carry between," and "meta" means "beyond." One could say the metaphorical interface carries meaning beyond or between, involving a transfer or alteration that bends language, or whatever, beyond literal absoluteness.  Metaphors convey partial truth by intentionally expressing fallacy. In art and language, metaphor and metonomy operate in this ambiguous, interstitial space between concepts or images.

JC:This metaphorical falsification brings to mind your installation, Instrument for Communicating with with Kepler's Ghost.

EL: Yes, I'm fascinated by the fact that Johannes Kepler falsified his observational data to prove his theory on the harmonic/musical relationship between the planets in his treatise Harmonicus Mundi.  It's a beautiful theory but it was wrong--although I've heard some dispute of this of late.  So in a sense Kepler was really making art, and not doing astronomy.  Interestingly, the High Museum audience thought it was a real functioning device, but of course that's absurd.  The reason they thought it functioned was because it had the appearance of a scientific instrument or apparatus.  And it's interesting to me that the word "appearance" is related to "apparition" is related to "apparatus."

JC: Kepler was asserting a male, objective, authoritative stance, but he was really-

EL: --being subjective, romantic, and poetic.

JC: Your work is subverting that authoritarian structure of observation and determination.

EL: As with the use of flowers...

JC: What specifically with the flowers?

EL: In just about every culture in the world that cultivates flowers, they're a symbol of female sexuality and romantic love.  In having them be a part of the laboratory apparatus of the installations, which refer to analysis and study, I'm disrupting that power structure and alluding to a feminine science, a science inclusive of desire and guess work--the "Physics of Venus," to borrow a term from Michael Serres.  Interestingly, when I was recently reinstalling Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions, I could hear the sound of a lawn-mower in the background.  While I was twisting copper wires around this glorious ginger flower, I was thinking to myself, why does this feel more perverse to me than a lawn mower? There is something very uncomfortable for me about connecting up flowers and leaves electrically to scientific apparatus.  Here we have cultivated nature--this ornamental flower.  Here we have a lawn--another cultural construct of nature, a way in which nature is controlled by us.  Why does the sound of lawn-mower, which is a very brutal way of a human being interacting with nature, not disturb us? And why is it disturbing to hook up an electrical circuit to a flower? There is an uncomfortability zone that I cross in doing that.  There's something that feels so perverse but so incredibly--

JC: Liberating?

EL: And informative about cultural attitudes towards nature.  And engaging.  And seductive.

JC.- Is it an uncomfortable sense of domination--of domination over nature?

EL: Yes.  For centuries we have cultivated nature through domination and control.  We frequently treat it like a kind of pet.

JC: A curiosity.

EL: So to use a flower, a symbol of sexuality, romantic love, emotion, and memory, and to make it part of an apparatus or mechanism has a kind of Frankensteinian aspect.  I was recently accused during a public lecture of being "sadistic" for doing this.  I think that the flowers are read as being very vulnerable in those pieces--as being subjected to something unpleasent.  However it's really no different from the act of placing flowers in a vase: the sexual organs severed from the body of a plant and put on display.

JC: Flowers in a vase are ok because they're divided.  To hook something up foregrounds the interconnectedness of things, and marks a dissolution of autonomy.  You're hooking up when you're supposed to divide; it's more comforting to have something divided.  What "you " are is that which is "not you," and thinking otherwise is a kind of assault on the self.

EL: Yes, this is a fundamental part of the way that I look at the human within natural phenomena.  I don't see human beings as being separated from the rest of nature.  The separation between humankind and nature is a concept put forward by science and is linked to Romanticism.  Science is supposed to present itself as rational and objective, which of course is an impossibility for humans.  Nature, which is thought of as wild and in need of being controlled, is the perfect object for scientific study.  Nature offers itself to the scientistic gaze.  Nature has been relegated to the position of "other," which relates to the notion of women and marginalized peoples being "closer" to nature.  The separation of women from key metaphors of science happened with the birth of modern science.  Evelyn Fox Keller has written about this, how the primary gender metaphor in Alchemy was the conjunction of opposites: the chemical marriage of the King and Queen.  Woman was part of the equation, so to speak.  With modern science, that gender metaphor shifted to Man over Nature.

JC: In your work, rather than seeking a reconciliation of opposites, you employ them in a complex dynamic.  This is interesting in relation to the prominence that passages, zones of transition, and interstitial areas in your work which dissolve and refigure boundaries and institute a circulatory dynamic.  It dissolves the binary, oppositional cognitive modes.

EL: Right, it blurs the poles.

JC.- Your piece The Eroded Terrain of Memory addressed this blurring of boundaries. 

EL: Yes.  The metamorphic stone used in that piece was collected from a site along a geological fault, which is an interstitial zone.  And what's particularly interesting about that fault is that the stones on one side are two hundred million years older than the stones on the other side.  The older rock is thought to be a fragment of Africa.  You know, a portion of the northeastern seaboard is thought to have once been part of the African continent.  The stones match perfectly to stones in Morocco.  I think it is great that Connecticut is "really" Africa. That piece addressed the idea of interstitiality, of the arbitrariness of boundaries, of our will to create dividing lines--looking more at grey areas and ambiguous zones, and seeing just how wobbly they are.

JC: You had written that when you were young you liked to stand on the ocean shore and think of its as a black line on a map--that you liked being in that fluctuating, in-between place.  Instead of being either on this side or that, you're in a nomadic passage that is itself a formational, gathering place--as Heidegger writes, "the bridge gathers as a passage that crosses within which new identities coalesce.  This relates to "nature culture " debates, and their way of thinking, that you disrupt.

EL: Right, looking at that zone between.  It's a highly dimensional interface.

JC: This relates also to the opposition between essentialism and construction.

Interestingly, Judith Butler's notion of "matter" is very close to your own--that of a verb rather than a noun.  She calls for "a return to the notion of matter, not as a site or a surface, but as a process of materialization that stabilizes over time to produce the effect of boundary, fixate, and surface we call matter.  " But she's very Foucaltian, and although matter comes from somewhere else for you, you meet there.  You have common ground It's a very rich territory.  What's missing in constructionist discourse is the biological.  It is a very problematic area for them because they can't allow it any primacy--biology is a discourse.

EL: Yes.  I am reminded of Frederick Turner's thoughts on biology and beauty.  He believes that life itself is a response to contradictions inherent in matter, and in how cultural evolution, such as one's attitudes about "beauty," cause behavioral changes that effect biological evolution.  Cultural change happens fast, but sets into motion slower biological changes, such as natural selection.  Another metaphor I am reminded of is Deleuze and Guattari's assertion that language and knowledge are rhizomatic rather than like a root system, which is based in bifurcations--linear, predictable progressions.  Rhizome systems are underground, completely interwoven networks that have clusters or pods or constellations within them--they're ever-spreading webs.

JC: This is very present in your work--that sense of networks of correlations, these rhizomatic constructs that interweave materiality, nature, language-

EL: --and cognitive processes--

JC.- Yes, because you can think of things like this as being very linguistic--hypertextuality, for example, is very oriented toward such language constructions--but there is a whole other area of the "matter" of it.- the materiality of it.  The natural, the biological, the blood and guts--

EL: The wet stuff

JC: And your work engages this in a hypertextual, rhizomatic way.  Discourse dances on the surface of something, but your work penetrates that "surface, " traverses it, deepens it. You've written about this "deep writing" in matter, and a dynamic cross-fertilization of substantiality and code--a mutually transformative process.  "Body" and "nature " arise out of this cauldron.  So your work has this sense of hypertextual materiality, this deep wiring..

EL: Very much about substance.

JC: Yes.  There is a sense in your work of nature asserting itself, sneaking back in, seeping out from underneath.

EL: Uncontrollable.

JC: Yes, that sense of out-of-controllness.  This is very powerful because the grid of textuality that we were just talking about, along with its power-constructs, is imposed on things, overlaid on them, but yet there is this.. ooze...

EL: Right! It's all going to fall apart anyway! [laughter]

JC.- Yes, exactly.  You stage a reflection of this power dynamic only to subvert it, to escape it.

In the installation Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions, a sense of imminent collapse was evident, not necessarily physically--but yes physically, because things were precariously placed--but also ideologically and experimentally.  There's a sense of being outwitted by the very processes that one seeks to dominate.  There's an earnestness and also an absurd hopelessness--

EL: Yes, or "doubtfulness"... or futility or fallibility.

JC: Yes Life and process asserting itself, seeping through the edges.  You've written before about "the ooze of art"... There's the image of a boundary, and this ooze seeping under it--

EL: It's a semi-permeable membrane.  Well, you know the brain is like that, it's like gelatin.  It's the consistency of a ripe avocado.  I think that is such a fabulous metaphor.  It's such an intricate network of neural connections, and yet it's just this wet stuff, encased in this calcium shell -it's like a remnant from mollusks. It's just this mush, and it's capable of this amazing function of thought..

JC: Of techne... You know the Greek root of technology, techne? It roughly means "a system of making or doing, " and in this sense thought itself is a techne.  But technology is fetishized, in the Marxian sense, reified as this "thing" which does something apart from us, detached from its cognitive and social networks.  Technology, in and of itself doesn't really do anything: we do things through technology.

EL: Right, it's vehicular.

JC: Yes.  So what I want to say is that in your work there is the assertion of that sense of technology--in its basic function as a "system of doing, " of thinking, of extending of the body, perhaps in the sense of McLuhan, who saw electricity as an extension of-

EL:--the nervous system--

JC: Yes.  Here I think of your Left-Handed Data Glove, and in general this "wiring up" that your work stages, which connects body, nature--

EL: --and technology--

JC: --through a technological means or construction--

EL: As a continuum, really.  We think of technological forces as not being "natural." We think of electricity as being a technological force, and it's a natural force, in the same way that acts of human beings are a natural force.  But we tend to designate or relegate them to different zones of how they play themselves out in the world.  I want to draw attention to that circuitry.

JC: Yes.  Resisting that reification.

EL: Right.

JC: Especially today, when technology is so seductive.

EL: And we think of it being a purely human created thing, yet there are animal technologies like beehives and termite mounds.  These are also forms of techne.  The Left Handed Data Glove is connected to a palm leaf rather than a computer and is powered by a salt-water battery.  It's about a kind of poetic valence.  It's also a very feminine fetishistic object, and there is this humorous aspect that addresses the male fascination with techno-gadgetry and "virtual reality." Practitioners of certain belief systems would say that reality itself is virtual!

JC: Which brings to mind the theatricality of your work. This was particularly evident in the Apparatus installation, which was staged as a kind of social arena, even the shadows cast on the walls becoming somehow a part of it.  For the first time perhaps I was acutely aware of others' interactions with the apparatus--in a Duchampian way, seeing through the apparatus to the "other side, " resisting that locus where the gaze is trapped. It was fascinating to see this social dynamic in addition to that which is "internal" to the work. 

EL: This was even more evident in my installation The Science of Approximation, because it was installed as a theater stage, with black velvet theater curtains.  The other half of the gallery was left empty except for one piece, Salt of Sweat, a tiny deposit of the salt of the sweat of the glass blowers who made all the glassware used in the installation.  And it was setting up a dynamic of "the work" being the residue of labor and the intelligence of the body that produces it, played against art's theatrical presence in the world.  It also referred to the theater or spectacle of science.

JC: It's quite Marxian--constitutive relations of production and this staged apparatus, this theater of operations...

EL: I didn't really intend it that way, but more as a devotional object.  One of the invisible parts of art is the labor part of it, and the devotional part of it; and the intelligence, not of the mind or ego of the artist, but the intelligence of the body--of the maker.  I'm trying to pay attention to that and to give it as much importance as what goes out into the world.  Because that's really the transformative part of it.

JC: Transformative for you, and for the spectator, for the people who participate in its creation?

EL: Yes.  It has to do with seeing the unseen or unseeable.  The material, this salt of sweat, is a record of time.  It has something to do with human activity within duration.  It's process.  And that often gets left out of the equation.  I'm trying to reinsert that thing that is part of the body which is also part of love which is connected with the spiritual part of art making, which has something to do with creating a cosmological system.  This has something to do with examining the role of art.

JC: In all of this, what is your role and purpose, as an artist? 

EL: Jordan, I have no idea! I don't know!

JC: That question arises in the construct that you sketched out..

EL: Right.  What is my ... ? Well... the first word that came to my mind is an "agent" of some kind.  Just the word "agent"... But I don't know.  That's a big question and I feel funny answering it.  I like to make stuff.

JC: It's like asking, "what is art? " It's so strange, someone asks you a question like that-they seldom do, thankfully--and it just throws you, you just go, um .... ah.... And you think, why can't I answer that? Have I--

EL: --spaced out the last 15 years? Those are the questions I respond to with two letter words.

JC: Hmm.

EL: I guess I'm just trying to pay attention.

[long pause]

[sighs of exhaustion]

EL: You know, we didn't really talk about memory.

JC: We forgot to talk about memory.

 
















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