Thursday, April 14, 2011

de Young Museum: Julian Cox in conversation with Collection Connections artist Marco Breuer

In the midst of the 48-hour installation of Line of Sight, Founding Curator of Photography and Chief Curator at the de Young, Julian Cox sat down with Marco Breuer to discuss his artistic practice.

Julian Cox: Tell me about the origin of the title Line of Sight.

Marco Breuer: Line of Sight is a starting point. It’s about having two or more objects interact within the gallery. Once you follow one of those lines of sight within the installation, you’ll see that it connects to others. Line of Sight is quite literally for me the starting point, thinking about how two objects relate, in this case one that I made and one that I found.

JC: Talk about the kinds of tools that you’ve used to create this installation and how you approach the space and transform it through different kinds of gestures or interventions.

MB: A lot of it is very straightforward, positioning the object and then creating relationships between the works. There are some, what you could call “interventions” into the space. I drill holes into the wall to reveal a layer underneath. I use pencils and markers to write on the walls. I made a couple of rubbings in the space, where I used the grates and a power sander to lift off a pattern from the floor that I could then pin up on the wall. So, it’s about finding connections between how I work in the darkroom or how I work in the studio and pulling that into the exhibition space.

JC: How does the experience of working at the de Young change or enrich your existing practice?

MB: Here, I had the challenge of matching my work with objects that already have a good deal of history behind them. So how does your own work hold up in that context? For the last fifteen years, I have made discrete objects that get shipped off to the gallery and from there on they have their own life- a life that I have limited control over. And so what I do here is take into account how these spaces are designed and what they mean and what the context of the work is going to be. And then I allow myself to address that right on the spot by writing or drawing on the wall.

JC: You came here to visit for a few days to look at our collections and you made some selections. Then you went back to your own archive and chose works that you felt you could establish a dialogue with the pieces from our collections. Can you describe how that relationship of selection works, the things you are thinking about when you’re matching work from your archive with works from our collection?

MB: There are essentially three parts to this installation at the de Young. The first part was going into the collections of the museum and selecting work. In selecting work from the de Young’s collection, my interest was in the life of the objects within the institution. Having access to the conservation lab and to the storage facilities, I was able to see objects in different stages of their “career” in the institution and that to me was interesting. I then made a selection of my own work in response to the de Young objects based on how I experienced them. I intentionally did not create new work in response to the de Young’s work, but instead went into my
archive, going through the drawers, pulling things out. I was looking for destruction, abrasion; physical marks that in my mind related to the deterioration that is happening in the works that I selected from the de Young. I chose a lot of somewhat peripheral work from the de Young: the dress is deaccessioned, the painting is in mid-conservation, and so on. Once I had those two groups established, then the third component was to bring it all together in the present installation, working on the walls, writing and commenting on it. So those three parts make up the installation.

JC: I’m very interested in the physicality of your process. Can you describe how you approach your work in the darkroom and the way that you push the boundaries of the materials?  

MB: Generally what I try to do with photographic material is to strip away everything that is not absolutely essential. By taking away the camera, the negative, by interacting with a simple light sensitive sheet of paper, I have already discarded a lot of the distractions that are usually associated with the photographic process. If I can reduce photography to the immediacy of a pencil drawing where it’s a direct interaction, where it’s my hand, maybe a tool, and the recording material and that’s it. I might work on a piece of already processed photo paper but then use that as a negative to make a contact print and rework that in the darkroom. It’s a quite fluid process going in and out of the dark. But it is all focused on the concrete physical properties of photographic material, what it is able to record, and what its sensitivities are. Photographic paper is sensitive to heat, it’s sensitive to pressure; it’s not just light sensitive. It’s able to record a lot more than what the package tells you.

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