Synthesis Artist Talk
The following is an excerpt from an artist talk on July 17 at Ash & Elm as part of the opening of Synthesis, on view until August 4th. Many thanks to our moderator, Sarah Urist Green, and artists, Lauren Zoll, Victoria Manganiello, and Julian Goldman.
Sarah Urist Green: Hi everybody. It's nice to see you all and I feel very lucky to be able to talk to this great group this evening. I hope most of you have been already next door to see the show... It will probably help inform the discussion. But if you haven't, you'll be intrigued and can go immediately after. There are a lot of processes happening two doors down, but there is also a very clear interest in materials.
Victoria and Julian, I'd love for you to talk about the project that you collaborated on for the show, Computer 1.0. I know that you have made different, earlier iterations of this, but could you walk us all through how it works?
Victoria Manganiello: I'll start by saying the part of how it works is because it comes from our two brains. We have two different backgrounds, but also a lot of common skills; it's something that's sort of been born out of collaboration. More technically, I'll just describe it as a textile. It's woven by hand and what you see [on exhibition] incorporates nearly 4,000 feet of tubing. It's a hollow polymer tubing and we're pumping, as Julian mentions, a series of air and liquid all the way through it. And actually, for this exhibition, we decided to do something different with it than we've done before. I'll let Julian talk about it.
Julian Goldman: In the past it's always been kind of a closed loop system; it's been very insular, to itself — and we wanted to open it up, interact with it, manipulate it, have an effect on it. We added a third box which has a button on the top, and when you press it, it will incorporate two different colors into the two different systems. Starting from clear liquid, both systems begin incorporating color into them. We have an orange and a blue, and that opens it up to the user to have a role in this. When we're making this, we're talking a lot about the role of data and the way that we upload ourselves onto the internet. I guess in this way, we're pushing that algorithm to let people upload their data to this piece.
Victoria: We were inspired by the history of the computer’s relationship to textiles and weaving, in particular. Some people don't know that the first automated task production tool was invented to automate the production of cloth — the Jacquard loom in 1801. Invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in Leon, France, it went on to inspire the computers that we all use today. We like to think of under-over, under-over which, if you've ever woven anything before, you understand as a way to think about the way that we're using code in our computers today —0-1-0-1.
Sarah: How did your collaboration begin? How did you cross paths?
Victoria: We didn't know each other before we started collaborating. I'm a weaver and I was interested in telling this story. I knew I wanted to weave something that would have movement, would be able to tell a story, be interactive. But I didn't know how to do that, so I had to go through a few people before I found Julian, and it turned out he was thinking about similar things simultaneously so we sort of dove in. We've been working together for about two and a half years now, and this piece is the eleventh one that we've made together. It's also the largest one we've ever made. Certainly more ahead of us, as well.
Sarah: Lauren, I would love it if we could focus on the Prototype for the Nano Chandelier and the painting with light (the two installations that are in the exhibition). You described your interest in beans and the anthocyanin dye, but I'd love to hear a little more from you about what you've set up, how it's functioning, and what everyone is going to see.
Lauren Zoll: First off, know that I'm not trained in chemical education. This, to me, is what artists do: push materials and boundaries. So [in the image to the left], this is nano titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide is regular white paint — it’s what artists have used for centuries upon centuries, and now it's nano sized. Nano is the size of your hair to a billionth, and so I'm almost working in negative scale here. I've used nano titanium dioxide on glass, and then I stained it with black bean ink. It’s new tech stained glass — a ‘new tech’ that glass artists discovered centuries ago, before it was called nano technology. Working with something that was discovered by artists long ago, but is also the forerunner of technology, is what I feel like the description of an artist is.
Here on the voltmeter, each cell is handmade. Two inch glass pieces, black bean stained nano titanium dioxide. In the sun, they make 0.4 volts. It's organic and operates like a battery, but it also operates like photosynthesis. Any gardener knows that the technology of the plant is photosynthesis, and so I'm attempting to make paintings through the process of photosynthesis.
Sarah: Victoria, you have another work that's on display next door that was made independently, not through collaboration. I'd love it if you could tell us a bit about that piece and how it relates—and doesn't relate—to the Computer 1.0 work.
Victoria: This is the first time that I have shown Computer 1.0 alongside any of my other work that I'm making in my own studio. It's a real pleasure for me to see them in conversation. Like I mentioned before, it's made all by hand. Hand-spun yarn made with a mix of natural and synthetic materials, and I've chosen to use them to help us understand the binary that is offered to us by the words ‘natural’ and ‘synthetic’. The synthetic materials that I'm using, and that any of us uses, don't come from the moon. They are also coming from the earth—we just force them to behave in a way that they might not have otherwise without a hand. We're very quick to identify something as either natural or synthetic, since we live in a world that loves binaries. We're very happy when something falls into one category or another, but not necessarily when it falls somewhere in between.
So these works, by using those types of materials together, is exploring that. And I've literally made space between locations, so I'll invite you, if you haven't already, to go and sort of find yourself between the panels or around them, or sort of explore what it might mean to be in a place there.
Materiality is very important to my work and I've constructed everything by hand to, again, explore what making something by hand—by my own hand—means. We're quick to assume that something that we buy at a store is not made by hand, but actually that's naïve. You can think about it, instead, as: we're not valuing the hands that made those things. So I've chosen to make everything by my own hand to also offer us a chance to think about that, and to remind us that we are really capable of making things.
Sarah: I think when I experience the show and I walk around, for me, my thought process is a lot about ‘technology’ and how we tend to associate that word with various high and sophisticated technology. Artificial intelligence, really complicated things, where you can't necessarily see all the inner workings, or where the work behind it is invisible in a way. I'd love to hear from you all about how you think about technology. What you think about the relationship between technology and your work.
Lauren: I have a very experimental process. [Image of hotplate in her studio to the left.] So this is technology, but it's also just happening in an artist’s studio. I'm using a scientific hotplate to heat glass up to 800 degrees to fuse what is now scaled super nano white paint onto glass. And I'm throwing blackberries and mulberries, that are by the studio, onto this piece. I feel like we have this organic approach to technology and the piece. [Next image] This is called Solar Panel (Black Bean Photosynthesis Screen). I'm looking at those beans as each is coded with technology: all the systems say, 'Sprout, sprout. Live, live'. When we're stringing them up onto strings, their code is to keep living. You'll see 40,000 black beans strung up on a... well, it now feels like a beast living sculpture in my life. To me, that is technology and that's how I think that this show [Synthesis] is successful, because we're looking at it in an organic way.
Victoria: Lauren, it was a real pleasure to watch you and your team work on weaving the black bean sculpture, because something I think about a lot in my work, and part of what Julian and I are thinking about together, is the way the technology is sometimes not what you think it is. I've been learning a lot more about modern technology since I've been working with Julian. I'm learning about coding and circuits and things like that. But I've also come to more directly realize that technology has been around much longer than electricity — or at least longer than our control of electricity.
When we think about coding, we think about computers, but there have been people coding much longer than that. Often they're indigenous people, often they have been women, and often they have been people working in textile. But it's very on-topic these days to talk about women in tech and how that's a new idea, when actually we've been doing it for thousands of years. So this is something that I'm enjoying, seeing our work together. All three of our work together. Helping us to understand that technology can be more than an LED screen.
Julian: Yeah, I agree with that. I think, by default, we consider technology something that has some sort of computation. And that might just be a utilitarian thing that humans do now, to differentiate something advanced like that from something that we've done for a long time. But technology's really just, at its base, humans transforming matter into something else. So paper is technology, and all these chairs you're sitting on are technology, our clothes certainly are technology. At the end it's just whatever we can make.
Victoria: And the Computer 1.0 project is also exploring the future of technology, so I'd say we're both optimists but it's certainly a scary path ahead of us, and technology is making things not so easy or fair for everyone. We're hopeful that by offering a project that explores the history, it might allow someone to contribute to a better future.
July 17 - August 4, 2019
Ash & Elm Event Space, 2112 East Washington Street
Gallery Hours: Thursday, 3-8pm / Friday, 1-8pm / Saturday-Sunday, 1-5pm
Extended Hours: Friday, August 2, 1-10pm
Parking is available in the Auto Value lot across on Washington Street or directly behind the building. Street parking is also available on Hamilton or Jefferson.