Ojac interview Patrick Kelly, Curator of Exhibitions, email interview with JUSTIN BOYD
PK: American folklore, sense of nostalgia, cultures, subcultures, traditions, music, etc. are themes that you have explored in your work. Can you tell why these interest you?
JB: It comes from a desire to make work that shows what I am passionate about, to make artwork that speaks to where I’m from and what I’m about. I grew up the son of two West Texas farming families and that landscape and way of living I feel really resonates with me. So it has been a thoughtful investigation into what I’m made up of, and can that notion be expanded beyond myself to see how it jives with what it means to be an American? And when those two patterns overlay, what lessons are learned; what stories are told? We really have such an amazingly complex country that I just want to explore what constitutes our American landscape.
PK: How do you narrow down that search? Maybe you could describe a past project that illustrates something you have investigated or explored pertaining to these subjects?
JB: Good question, narrowing down the subject matter list seems vital within a country as story-rich as ours. So, to begin with, I was using the model of Western expansion. I put together a show at Sala Diaz in ‘05 with work that felt more colonial and domestic in spirit. The next show at Arthouse dealt with the Mississippi River, where the following show at Art Palace used Route 66 as its guide. Looking forward, the goal is to have one to two more shows that speak to Western and Space themes. However, interspersed within these larger shows have been several smaller shows that deal with subject matter that is much more localized to my current landscape as opposed to the broader American landscape. For example my Windowworks installation at Artpace was a site derived sound piece about the Grackle, and how those strange birds affect our local environment. These local investigations really excite me, as I see that what happens here at home on a small scale, begin to resonate out to the larger American landscape.
PK: The titles of exhibitions are intriguing. Since that is the first thing that most people encounter, I think they are very important. Tell how Time Has Slipped Rows came about.
JB: The title came more from a mental image that I had as I was thinking about changing the water during irrigation. About how much work ahead of time has to go into the simple act of directing water along a certain path. Along with that train of thought came the notion that we have constructed lines for time to run along as well, and how difficult it is to have time jump the tracks and flow into a new channel. So for my installation, I feel like I am taking stock and beginning to chart a course of where I am currently and finding where it is that I want to go. So the fence side is there to slow my speed down. Once I've slowed down, the sounds from the fence envelope me in a sound field conducive to future thought. The wagon will then be a vehicle that I have prepped to leave home permanently. It will be loaded with items from home and things that might be needed for a trip to an unknown destination. Time slips its rows as I overlay the past with an unknown future and I make this metaphorical move from a place of comfort and isolation to a place of uncertainty and wonder.
PK: I would guess that you are also referencing the settlers of the American West and their similar plight from comfort to uncertainty. Do you think artists (at least the ones that want their work to evolve) make a similar choice—constantly leaving established comfort zones to seek what is out there or what has yet to be discovered?
JB: I am definitely referencing the American West. I love thinking about our constant Westward stare and currently how it resonates with where I am personally and creatively. The second part of that is how Space has replaced the West as a metaphor for the uncertain Promised Land. My hope is that all artists want their work to evolve. And I know all great work does, it may just be a question of speed. Some could argue that Ellsworth Kelly's work might not have showed an evolution, but if viewed in totality, he seemingly pursued a singular vision through all possible permutations for the span of his creative lifetime. In contrast, my own work seems like it progresses quickly due to the fact that I employ a variety of mediums and locations, but conceptually I feel centered by the anchoring lines of Americana and the American Landscape. The various mediums and installations always supply a challenge due to the specifics of the location or finding which material complements the idea most effectively, but it is through those challenges that I have been able to produce a thoughtfully varied body of work. (BTW, I am in no way comparing myself to the great Ellsworth Kelly, that fine gentleman searched ‘til he found the perfect balance of form and a space that could hold it).
PK: Do you believe that that quick visual evolution and varied body of work makes it difficult for your regular museum/gallery visitor to sometimes “get a handle” on your work as well as others who employ various media? There is comfort in the familiar and an ability to categorize the work…do you think that is why some “fear” or have displeasure in some contemporary art?
JB: I think that if one was looking to my work for consistency in form or medium, that I would steer them instead toward the ideas within the work. Most of the mediums I use are chosen based on which one can best help to articulate the concept within its materiality. So the forms and materials change a lot, but as I had mentioned before, I feel the vein of ideas I'm mining stay fairly consistent. But if pressed I would say that almost all of my work begins as sound or incorporates it in some way, which I know can be really challenging to a viewer. But I always leave doors open in my work. Those doors are usually text or titles but, if paid attention to, they make all the difference. It is cool that the wires of the fence make a noise and create a weird sound in the space, but if you know that the wires are vibrating with the sounds of winds from Jupiter and from West Texas then it changes your headspace immediately, and then you start to question “why did he choose those sounds” and hopefully that line of questions would provide a doorway into the piece. As for contemporary art, most of the time I don't feel it is intentionally trying to alienate an audience. It is just that most audience members may not have a completed guidebook on where to look for meaning. The current of art has been a rapid one over the past 150 years, and if you are just stepping into it, it may seem to be rushing by too quickly to pick one thing up over another. It would be a bit like stepping into a neuroscience lab and expecting that just because you have a brain, you would understand what they are researching and all the jargon they use to describe their process. So that is why I try to leave open doors of entry into the work, small footholds that once used, they can leverage a viewer up and into the full meaning of the work.
PK: I envision the rows of fence in the first gallery as a labyrinth gently leading viewers into a smaller gallery. Can you briefly describe the object they encounter and how you conceived of it relating to the labyrinth of wire?
JB: I guess it depends on how many fence posts go into the first room, but I'm not exactly sure the fence room will be all that gentle. It is meant more to be a slowing down force than a lulling stroll. I'm imagining it more like the crowd management at Six Flags, where folks are forced into switching direction back and forth. It will help to map out that space, make one aware of it, and set the tone and pace for the next room. The sounds of the two different winds (West Texas and Jupiter) are meant to bridge the gap between those two locations, as is the sculpture, Chasin a Drownin Sun, in the next room. Chasin a Drownin Sun is a vehicle that was assembled quickly out of found materials and its purpose is to transport only the most valuable items from this spot we are having to leave to the next spot—we don't know where it is or how long it will take to get there. So what would one have to pack for a journey that won't bring you back home, and will take you headlong into uncertainty? I'm packing the sculpture with some personal things (like recordings from home), some things to trade (gold from a river in California), and some necessities (like fire and gunpowder). This piece is mostly personal, but I feel it speaks to our long running nomadic thirst to always leave one place for the unknown promise just over the hill. Chasin the Drownin Sun is my Voyager. Certainly that spacecraft is lonely and facing the uncertain, but it seems to be relentlessly optimistic, constantly offering up new possibilities and horizons.
PK: I guess we should be thankful to those that take chances (regardless of “success”); otherwise, we would still be in our caves admiring our wall paintings.
JB: For sure, I'm so happy to be in a discipline that encourages chance taking. That we get to make things that can push at the boundaries of imagination and form, with so few requirements, really makes me thankful to be an artist.