Methodical Handprints: An Interview with Stephen Lapthisophon

The following interview was originally published on Bad at Sports.

Once a resident of Chicago, Stephen Lapthisophon has since moved to Texas where he continues to write and make work while teaching at the University of Texas at Arlington. His ties to Chicago remain strong–what is most recently evidenced by his exhibit, The Construction of a National Identity at the Hyde Park Art Center. Running concurrently in Dallas, Stephen exhibited a second body of work, Spelling Lesson, at Conduit Gallery. In both exhibits he investigates the source and strategies of identity, integrating text and found materials. Recently I had a chance to ask him some questions about his work–Devin, Stephen and I have been working together over the last several months compiling a series of Stephen’s essays for The Green Lantern Press. In the midst of that process, I did not steal an opportunity to ask him about his visual work–what continues to play such a prominent role in his life. The more I learned about his practice, scouring through older publications, (Whitewalls published Hotel Terminus in 1999, as well as an artist catalogue, Writing Art Cinema 1977-2007 ) the more I began to wonder how he negotiates his own identity as an artist, particularly when his work seems so porous. It’s a strange idea, I’ll admit, to think of an art practice as being porous. What I mean is that Stephen seems to pass through accumulations of objects and ideas, undeterred by the cultural status of those materials (whether based in popular culture, day-to-day banalities or philosophy). He collects certain elements, one-liners and imagery, in order to then recompile those remnants through his own lens. Throughout everything he maintains a steady, personable voice. His work is warm, messy, I’d even say generous in its accessibility and boasts a consistent character–which of course points back to identity. Stephen is the author of Writing Art Cinema 1988-2010 (Green Lantern Press).

Caroline Picard: At your Conduit Gallery show, “Spelling Lessons” you address the question of a “signature.” As I understand it, you employ a variety of mediums, as well as text, to undermine/explore the question of a concise artistic identity. Can you talk a little bit about that? And maybe what you think a signature represents? (I’m also interested in this because of your regular incorporation of text, which seems to become it’s own kind of signature…

Stephen Lapthisophon: Yes.

First of all, I have this difficult, hard to spell (and hard to pronounce) last name. So names have been on my mind for a while—the way that names are not really words but instead serve as markers of a sort. I am interested in the way we mark ourselves, mark our place and mark our moment. I am also interested in drawing. And for me writing is closer to the act of drawing than it is to Painting which carries with it a number of assumptions and heavy background. Drawing is mark making, notation, surface and hand.

Also, as we move away from the hand we move away from a different kind of object. Picture making, works of art are no longer “signed” in the same way as they were in the past. Yet artists persist in making works that carry a recognizable identity, via repeated form. I am aiming for an everydayness of experience, signing, marking, making a notation, drawing, scratching and spilling.

I am also interested in the signature’s ability to call into question our thinking about the idea of authenticity. Signatures should not be pre-meditated, forced or over thought. They should just “happen.” We expect signatures to be “natural” and part of our selfhood. Odd then, that we sign a work of art “potentially full of artificial marks” to mark its authenticity.

CP: Following up on that last question, do you think of “text” as a kind of medium in and of itself? One not necessarily relegated to the page of a book, for instance, but even a free standing element? I suppose another way to ask that question is what is your relationship to text? How does that compare with your relationship to an art object?

SL: I am not sure if text is another medium but it is the element that makes certain media unstable. Is a drawing with text the same as a sign? I mean like a hand painted sign for a yard sale? Is a drawing/ painting with words an agreement, a caption for something else…or a list? I think text in visual works of art chips away at the solid place where we see a work of art as self contained and whole and moves it to an in between place–an object without a home.

CP: You have a show, “The Construction of a National Identity” up at The Hyde Park Art Center right now. Here too, you seem to examine traditional ways of locating a self in space and time. On the one hand, it seems like you rely on those traditional mechanisms (i.e. national identity, which relates to place and, even more basic, I think, a kind of “naming” or identification of a particular aspect) and on the other deliberately undermine their integrity (in so far as you point to Paella, for instance, or the idea of hybridity in general). Can you talk a little bit about that tension?

SL: Definitions always fall apart. Either breaking away into tautology or crumbling under the weight iof their own defining terms. We are given many terms with which to define ourselves yet none of them match perfectly. We don’t really add up. Given the hallway space at HPAC it seemed to make sense to push the transitory, ambulatory nature of identity, and the walking nature of the way that we exchange messages with each other in public. The installation is a poem with recipes written on colored walls or recipes for poems drawn on walls or walls marking overheard pieces of recipes signed by a writer. The food materials used to make the piece (saffron, rice, salt, coffee, olive oil, sesame oil and tea all hold associations with place and are part of our everyday lives. We build our sense of self through the repetition of daily rituals of food and drink and mark the day with words and gesture.

CP: Here too I am interested in how you incorporate those elements into tactile mediums. How do you characterize your relationship to your work–in a physical sense? Like when you’re looking at what you make, in your studio, or in a gallery–even when you first approach materials with an intention to “fashion” them–what is your experience of yourself in those moments?

SL: I want my experience and the audience’s experience to be of the moment–in process and in flux. An experience of everything around and in the piece. I want the experience to be heightened by a sense of the transitory and fleeting and of the potential for change. Not that the pieces change but that they have changed. Materiality is important as it claims or sense of space and makes us aware of our body and all aspects of the sensory world. I use a lot of found objects and like to call into question what makes one object “art” while excluding another object from being art. I am drawn to material, older physical objects made by hand, objects that contain handmade marks.

CP: When do you find yourself most “the artist”?

SL: I guess I enjoy the making and the time and place when the surprise happens. I am an advocate of the irritation, of mystery and of ambiguity And I need to have a sense of discovery as I return to the work. I like being in the space.

 

Clouded Points of Access: Phantoms in the Dirt at the Museum of Contemporary Photography

Clouded Points of Access

Phantoms in the Dirt at the Museum of Contemporary Photography

Recently I got the chance to write about a photography exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It was published on Artslant

What first reads like an astral constellation is in fact a photograph whose blackness is broken only by the erratic swarm of dead insect bodies. Greg Stimac’s Santa Fe to Billings (2009) documents the choreography of the countless lives his windshield intersected on a drive between locales. The momentum of each smash is evident—guts smear and spray across the surface, recording innumerable tiny accidents. To create this piece, Stimac placed an 8 x 10 inch sheet of Plexiglass on the hood of his car. Upon arriving to his final destination—Billings, in this case—he used the car’s cigarette lighter to scan the resulting plate, thereby producing the final 20 x 30 inch photograph. This piece—its documentary mode, its gritty surface, its use of technology—is the perfect beginning for the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s Phantoms in the Dirt, a group exhibition curated by Karsten Lund, which currently showcases sixteen artists. In each work lies a theoretical straw: something the viewer grasps with sudden exuberance and recognition—Yes! Bugs spatter on my car too!—only to bump into larger questions, mysteries, and catastrophes thereafter. Stimac’s insects might provoke anxiety in the viewer about her own mortality, or encapsulate an expression of violence both sickening and banal, or even illustrate humanity’s omniscient relationship to its environment. Like the early efforts to prove the existence of an afterlife by capturing spirits on photographic paper, Phantoms in the Dirt presents the enigmatic trick of landscape photography, stirring up powerful questions about authenticity, mechanical illusion, and existential meaning in the process. read more

Robert Burnier

The Matter of Invisible Energy

An Interview with Robert Burnier

I was happy for the chance to extend my conversation with Burnier; this interview went live a couple days ago on Artslant —

Chicago, Sep. 2014: Robert Burnier has a large body of work on display this fall at multiple locations all over the city. In addition to Inland Deltaa solo show in the West Loop at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, he is part of The Chicago Effect: Redefining the Middle at the Hyde Park Art Center on Chicago’s South Side, and presents a separate collaborative project, Inside Space, with artists Jason Lazarus and Molly Brandt at the Riverside Arts Center. As Burnier describes it, this latter project “investigates what is hidden and elusive” in material experience, isolating “what is activated for us by voids and gaps.” It’s a bundle of themes that reoccurs throughout his work. Finally his IN/SITU presentation will open at EXPO Chicago this week where the artist was curated by Renaud Proch.

Clearly Burnier is having a moment. It is exciting to witness. With a background in computer science and painting, his sculptural works interrogate material and philosophical concerns. In one ongoing series, he begins with a flat piece of aluminum, folding it methodically until further folds are no longer possible. The resulting elegantly crumpled objects are covered with a layer of matte paint, and thereafter appear like crumpled balls of thick paper; they evoke the residue of vibrant energies — sitting like cast aside experiments whose original purpose is not longer accessible. Burnier’s work reintroduces the process of thinking as a final object in and of itself.

Caroline Picard: Is there any synergy between the different contexts and sites where you are currently presenting work?

Robert Burnier: Given the theme of Inland Delta, my solo show, it’s been serendipitous to have different views of my work in disparate locales. To me, it all gathers around the solo show at the gallery, which becomes a kind of central node. I hope people will get something special out of piecing the different locales together if they happen to see my work in more than one place. read more

 

Excerpts from The 1821 North Georgia Gazette, Winter Chronicle nos. 1-3

Originally POSTED ON  on the now-defunct Lantern Daily blog

In honor of the most recent Green Lantern exhibit, Isolated Fictions, this week I’m going to post a variety of smaller bits and pieces from the December 9, 1819 issue of The North Georgia Gazette. Also, I’ve been culling images, in particular, from this site which contains a history of expeditions for The Northwest Passage.

Winter Chronicle No. 1

To The Editor of The Winter Chronicle.

Sir,

A remark which appeared in your first Number, that you were willing to “admit questions which may exercise the ingenuity of your readers,” &c., has encouraged me to propose one, which, perhaps may be considered as answering that description. It is said that instances have occurred of the sinking of ice, and this in seas (for example of Spitzbergen and Davis’ Straights) nearly as salt as the main ocean, and which the temperature is seldom or never more than ten degrees about the freezing point of salt-water. It is evident that the ice cannot sink till its specific gravity exceed that of the fluid in which it is immersed. I should be glad to be informed by any of your Correspondents, by what possible combination of circumstances so unusual a condition might be brought about.

I am, Mr. Editor,

&c. &c &c.,

SCEPTICUS.

To The Editor of The Winter Chronicle

Mr. Editor–I wish you well–indeed I do–but the more I try to compose anything for the paper, the more stupid I find myself. Being desiroius, however, to offer my humble services in some way or other, this is to inform you, that I am a tolerable hand at making pens, though but an indifferent one at using them; and I cannot help thinking, that I might be of use to several of your Correspondents, for I judge by their styles, that some of them write with too hard a pen, and some with a very soft one. I could mention three of four, whose cramped manner indicates a devilish stiff nib, Mr. Editor, and as many whose pens have certainly no point at all. i confess thatthepens of most of your Correspondents require little or no mending, but even the best of them would be be the worse for a fresh nib, which might, perhaps, set them a-going with fresh vigor–so if you choose to employ me in this way, you shall be welcome to the humble services of

TIMOTHY QUILL-SPLITTER

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Winter Chronicle No. 2

 

Bill of Damages Referred to in the Foregoing Memorial

To a sever fit of headache, on receiving news of the said affair.

To a two-hours’ lecture from my wife, for daring to be sick without her leave.

To pay of six strong-lunged hawkers, for crying about the “Defense of Reporter Trim,” for two days.

To the hire of two female ballad-singers, a bankrupt bellows-mender, and a dog without a tail, roaring a song calledTrim and Trim’s Ghost, through various streets, lanes and alleys.

To the loss of forty-eight hours’ sleep already, and the probably loss of as many more.

To the cure of a brooken nose, two black eyes, and a scratched face, received from my wife for letting her and the children starve.

To total loss of business, impediments, obstructions, &c. &c., cause by the said fraud.

Winter Chronicle No. 3

ADVERTISEMENTS

WANTED, a middle-aged WOMAN, not above thirty, of good character, to assist in DRESSING the LADIES at the THEATRE. Her salary will be handsome; and she will be allowed tea and small beer into the bargain. None need apply but such as are perfectly acquainted with the business, and can produce undeniable references. –A line addressed to the committee will be duly attended to. –N.B. A widow will be preferred.

WANTED immediately, a few BALES of READY WIT, done up in small parcels for the Winter Chronicle. This article being scarce in the market, a good price may be depended on. Samples will be received by A.B., Agent to the Editor. Please apply on or before Thursday evening next.

LOST, on MOnday evening last, between the two Ships, a PART of a LETTER, giving an acount of the proceedings of the Expedition, with other matters of a private nature, and beginning “My dearest Susan.” –Whoever has found the same is requested to address it, L.A., Editor’s box. N.B. The letter is of no use to anybody but the owner.

FOR SALE BY AUCTION,by NICHOLAS KNOCKDOWN, at the Observatory, on the Coldest Day in January next, A QUANTITY of NANKEEN, the property of a Gentleman, who expected to get into the Pacific in September last.

**Flannels and furs will be gladly taken as payment.

Institutional Garbage: Rowland Saifi

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Rowland Saifi, “Statement for a Configured Curriculum,” 2016


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