Iterations: Dannielle Tegeder in conversation with Sharmistha Ray
Dannielle Tegeder was preparing for her new solo exhibition,Chroma Machine Suite: Forecasting Faultlines in the Cosmos, at H&R Block Artspace at Kansas City Art Institute, Missouri when she met up with SHARMISTHA RAY at the Elizabeth Foundation, where they were studio neighbors
SHARMISTHA RAY: What constantly surprises and delights me is your revisionist approach to the interpretative systems within which your work is viewed. You started as an abstract painter, and then added mobile sculptures and spatial installations, and have most recently added sound, performance and collaborative strategies to your evolving methodology. What drives you?
DANNIELLE TEGEDER: There are a number of things that drive my work, one being the actual site-specific response to the architecture and communities of the places I visit. That continually informs and shapes my work, and the history within spaces and communities shapes how my work is created. For example, my new exhibition Chroma Machine Suite is set at H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute, which is one of the oldest art schools in the country. There is a pedagogical element to the work I created there. Students took part in the exhibition and worked with me for a week on a large wall installation, and the exhibition will culminate in a workshop and performance that we will develop together. I have also invited guest artists from Kansas City to perform iterations of the deconstructed paintings.
Another element present in the exhibition is the idea of translation. I have always been intrigued with the idea of language – what happens when you translate to another language? What do you gain or lose? The same idea can be found in artwork. What happens when you translate painting into sound or sculpture, and then back into painting? There is a continual loop of translation that causes my work to form and evolve. Finally, there is the issue of dealing with the long, continuous history of modernism. Why make a painting today, in 2018? How is this informed in our interconnected world and interdisciplinary world of art now?
I can’t help feeling that your engagement with language, the need to speak in many tongues, also has personal agency. You are a born and bred New Yorker, which has exposed you to cultural diversity your entire life. And then of course, there’s the connection to Mexico through your husband, and building intimacy with that country and culture. That must broaden your horizons beyond America and Eurocentric Modernism. What else do you look at when you’re traveling?
One experience that has broadened my scope outside of the traditions of abstraction and modernism has been studying the history of abstraction in Latin America, especially in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil. That has been an interesting new source of inspiration, especially since I was only taught Western and European abstraction.
I have always been interested in people that do not neatly fit into one category, and have somehow been shapeshifters throughout their lives. Coming from a very working class union-based culture myself, going to art school, becoming an academic and interacting with people I was not able to before, and then traveling to other countries has been a form of transformation to inform my work. In the past decade I have spent a large amount of time in Latin America, especially Mexico City.
There are just layers and layers of architecture, from ancient to very modern in Mexico City. It is a vast, layered city with many buildings and areas under construction and in transition, which is something that I definitely look at. Latin American architects such as Lina Bo Bardi, Alejandro Aravena and Oscar Niemeyer have also informed my work in different ways.
The major impact on my work has predominantly been within painting – artists I met while traveling were making videos alongside their paintings, which I felt was a less commonplace occurrence in New York.
It’s a more porous and hybrid approach to art. In a way, spaces that exist in the “global south” – including postcolonial countries like India and Mexico – are less informed by the market, because the market behaves differently and relates differently to art. I recall being astonished by Brazilian artist Lygia Pape’s retrospective exhibition at Met Breuer last year. Modernism is presented as a construction of multiple and contradictory possibilities through her work which is very different from Eurocentric Modernism, which I see as a pursuit of a unitary ideal, a singular utopia born of a heroic impulse if you will.
Pape’s exhibition was very inspirational, and I agree, it really showed a completely interdisciplinary approach to painting, as did Lygia Clark’s 2014 retrospective at the MoMA. Seeing painting, printmaking, performance, and video together is something that really inspired me when I started going to Mexico City fifteen years ago. A good friend of mine, for example, Omar Barquet, has explored sound and abstraction, and Mexico-City based Argentinean artist Mauro Giaconi runs a multidisciplinary space in downtown Mexico City.
Being privy to your worldview has enabled me to understand the impulses from which you work. In one of our many conversations, you had also talked about a one–person exhibition in which you presented the exhibition as a group show of different artists. You said it gave you permission to make work that looked different. I remember you feeling quite ambivalent about that project, almost as if it was a cursory detour. But when I look at that body of work now after getting to know you and your work better, it makes total sense to me why you inhabited other identities. It’s a subversive act of un–being yourself, while locating yourself again through invented perspectives.
Yes, sometimes your work knows more than you do at that moment! Silver Bullet was an exhibition I agreed to curate at a gallery in New York in 2011, and after numerous issues trying to curate it, just decided to make the show completely myself. It included seven personas, including a younger Vietnamese woman artist and an elderly Norwegian male artist who had made work in the 80s and was forgotten about. The show was presented as a seven-artist exhibition, and was written about before it was basically outed on Artnet for being comprised of fictional personas.
Artwork prices in the exhibition were also tied to the rate of silver in the stock market and fluctuated daily, another way of destabilizing the idea of a stable commercial art market. In retrospect, this show does explore a lot of pieces of my practice, including conceptual writing and other work that was coming to be.
On a similar note, I had an exhibition in Berlin over a decade ago where my artwork was stopped in customs, leaving us with no artwork at the time of the opening. At the moment it was devastating to me, but by serendipity the work showed up during the opening and was opened up then and there. It became very performative, and in retrospect, informed a lot of my ideas of this practice today, testing the notion that painting must be solitary and stable. These ideas were further built upon in Silver Bullet, my exhibition at Johannes Vogt last year, and now at Kansas City.
I gather that your solo exhibition at Johannes Vogt Gallery last year set you up for the new show at the Kansas City Art Institute.
There were essentially four exhibitions within the duration of the traditional one-month long show format at Vogt, causing the show to constantly change even though the work being shown did not. The work included five large-scale drawings which were placed upon unanchored, easily moved pedestal-like objects reminiscent of Brancusi. The first iteration was done by me, when the show opened. Then, in the middle two weeks, artist Peter Halley, who I have had a long dialogue with about art and architecture, and art critic and poet Barry Schwabsky came to perform iterations. The last iteration consisted of me rehanging the show for the final time. After this exhibition I was interested in exploring the idea of performance and collaboration more fully, as well as working with the community – in the case of my new Kansas City exhibition, this meant working with the students.
In a way, gallery display can’t be extricated from market economics. It’s pretty bold to destabilize that equation by rearranging the exhibition every week, and using actual ‘actors’ in the art world. I quote you as saying: “There were four different exhibitions, four dramatically different shows.” There’s something transgressive about that statement. It’s not just a formalist enquiry. There’s something else going on, too.
Yes, I do think that there is. One thing that continuously happens with all forms of art, but especially in the world of painting, is commercialization to the extreme. Continuously shifting, reinstalling, putting painting within the context of video and performance, and engaging with the community helps to deflect the commercial aspect.
As an artist, it’s incredibly difficult to navigate the economics of art and find a balance in the studio. These structures support art and exhibitions, but within them also exist systems of racism, capitalism, sexism, and so forth. Painting in general is so much more easily commodified, which presents an extra challenge – unlike performance, which is more seminal and not as object based. In my past few shows I have attempted to subvert traditional models of looking at painting and include performance as well as re-contextualize painting.
Undoubtedly the need to subvert comes in part from traveling and looking at invisible systems and hidden structures across different geographies and giving them form. Even in the paintings and drawings in the two–dimensional format, you’re not only creating highly coded descriptions of internalized and externalized systems and structures. You’re also, at times, describing imaginary architectural spaces. There’s a constant slippage that is built into your approach. These are mobile systems that have the ability to reconfigure endlessly.
I agree. I have always been attracted to systems. The hard external systems are the physical systems that surround us, like developing architecture in cities, highways, flight maps, and railroad connections. On a smaller level, they include the invisible architecture inside buildings such as plumbing, heating, and electricity – the things I was familiar with growing up in a family of steamfitters. These larger systems that surround us become metaphoric for all the invisible systems that connect us to each other, like cell phone connections, serendipitous events, and metaphysical connections. Each of these finds a role within the schematics of my work.
And then there are the actual “mobiles” you create. They are not in the show at Artspace in Kansas City, but they produce a critical set of connections so I’d like to touch on them briefly. They speak to me of hypermobility, of crisscrossing vectors of human exchange and of decentralization of power structures, ofcollapsing centers.
The mobiles were the first system of three-dimensional translation to come out of my drawings and paintings. My mobiles are often hung in front of my painting and drawing works, so as you look through space you are able to make connections with the pieces behind you. This collapses the idea of painting and drawing and moves the work into other fields and ideas. It is like a constellation of events, systems and fictional spaces, except it exists in actual space. The shapes in my paintings and drawings are translated into colored glass in the mobiles, which gives them a further look of being permeable, and the viewer can look through the glass to what is behind it. This idea of painting and drawing growing out from two-dimensional picture planes has always intrigued me. I am inspired by Eva Hesse’s Hang Up and by many other women artists who explored the space between painting and sculpture in a very visceral way, such as Lee Bontecou and Gego
At Artspace, how aware were you of the location and how much did you predetermine and then leave open to chance?
Although the show has a very analytical, architectural, and mathematical underpinning to it, the work was mostly produced on site. There are always numerous things that come up during installation that inform the work made in situ. For instance, when creating wall drawings, the architectural barriers, columns, unexpected windows, conditions of the wall, changing light conditions and group dynamics come into play. In the project at Artspace, there was a site visit involved, from which I developed a model of the gallery working from floor plans, but there are always the unexpected challenges of a new site.
On a larger level, working with this team of art students informed the work in quite a performative way. Working with groups to create installations – and in this instance the student community on the wall drawing at Artspace – has been one of the main inspirations for me to introduce a performative aspect to my work with the iterations. It became clear that there was a hidden aspect to working with a group where the energy and collaboration becomes a choreographic experience in itself, and I wanted to represent that in a more physical way during this exhibition by working collaboratively with the students.
I was struck by a particular statement you made in your 2016 interview with Sarah Goffstein in the Brooklyn Rail . “One thing about my work is that it is completely devoid of people.” And yet, systems and structures are built by people and for people. In this new exhibition, you talk a lot about choreographing experience, about participation and collaboration. Is the compulsion to be inclusive, to allow others to participate and become co–authors of your project, part of a new set of impulses for you?
Paradoxically, by including the presence of people in my work – especially in paintings and drawings that deal with architectural systems – the work actually becomes about the human presence. It is a new development to have this in my work now. In many ways, adding people becomes messy. Things are no longer controlled the way they are in the studio. This element of surprise interests me and puts my work in a position where it is open to both potential failure and new developments, and, in many ways, working with people is also an attempt to destabilize the market. After making safe paintings for twenty years, my work is now in a more performative position where events can happen and many other variables can influence it.
I’m going to borrow from the title of your exhibition at Hamilton College in 2013, “Painting in the Extended Field.” The phrase effectively brackets an otherwise divergent and migratory practice. How has your practice of painting in the extended field shifted, or developed, in the Artspace show?
In this show there was a deliberate effort in collaborating with the community of students for the wall drawing, and making that process visible. The interaction with guest artists in Kansas City for the various iterations of the deconstructed paintings, the visits to local metal and stone fabrication companies to source materials, and performing the final iteration with the project team of students that worked with me on the wall drawing further developed this idea. For the first time my sculptural objects were used as performance objects and pedestals became stages
I’ve been an educator and professor for the past fifteen years, so this is something that has always interested me, although it is only with more recent developments that I have started to incorporate the process of teaching and engaging students into my art. This feeds into my teaching practice as well – for example, I have a gallery in my faculty office called “Faculty Office” where I am working with students and installing shows. I had done wall drawings together with students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Hamilton College, but in a very traditional way where the process of the painting was always kept hidden.
I further developed this practice in 2015 when I was an artist in residence at the University of Hartford . For the first time, I decided to show the process of a site-specific wall drawing. The show opened with nothing on the walls, only scaffolding, just as you would see during the beginning of an installation. The students were invited to come in and make marks every day responding to the architecture, and in turn, responding to each other. I traveled to Hartford once a week, and on the final day of completion we painted over the wall drawing, reversing the process. It brought a very choreographic feeling into the show, and on a pedagogical level, bringing students into what I am making very much became an element of the work.
Blaiire from Dannielle Tegeder on Vimeo.
When you were making the animations, you came over and apologized to me about the sounds emanating from your studio, which is next door to mine. Having most recently lived in the bustling city of Mumbai in India, I am probably desensitized to environmental sound! Can you address the new animations in the exhibition and how image and sound correlate to produce a spatial experience?
I am amazed that we spent six hours breaking glass on the other side of your wall and it didn’t disturb you at all! These videos in the exhibition are a little different in that they are stop motion animations that come from shapes of stained glass. The glass was sourced from mobiles, which then informed the videos, which informed the paintings, and so on! The videos really became the formal source of a palette for the exhibition, as well as the source of everything that was translated from wall drawings and sculptures. There is a faint soundtrack of breaking glass throughout the exhibition that further emphasizes the materiality of the assemblages within the space, which include marble, copper, Plexiglass, Styrofoam, wood, and satin.
When did you first start to make animations.
In some ways my animations were accidental – when I had my daughter eight years ago, I was home for a few months for the first time in years! I had to figure out how to still make my work. For a long time, I had been thinking of the relationship of movement and sound in my drawings and paintings, but they had always remained in their traditional static format. Learning animation at that time was something that could be done in a piecemeal way, and I never had any intent in showing them. They were purely experiments. Along the way, those then became the foundation for a large new body of work that included a collaboration with composer Matthew Evan Taylor last year, a five-year long music project where my drawings were translated into sound, and other more performative disciplines. The movement in them perhaps foretells a more performative aspect of the work, simply by putting paintings in motion.
I have been invited to do a solo exhibition at NC-Arte in Bogotá, Colombia, where I will be collaborating with students from Bogotá and Bogotá-based choreographers. In the studio, I am continuing my practice of painting and drawing. I am also completing a Percent for Art project in the summer of 2018 that has been in process for the past four years.
Dannielle Tegeder: Chroma Machine Suite: Forecasting Fault Lines in the Cosmos was at the H&R Block Artspace, Kansas City Art Institute, 16 East 43rd Street, Kansas City, January 27 to March 17, 2018.