May 19, 2012. Vancouver, BC Canada.
Jasmine Reimer; psychoanalytical obsessive intellectual thinker interviews Jasmine Reimer intuitive, passionate, inquisitive artist. May 19, 2012. Vancouver, BC Canada.
Jasmine: You recently viewed the Matthew Monahan exhibition at The Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver, what are your thoughts on Monahan’s work?
JR: I was instantly excited by this exhibition. The best part of experiencing it was that I didn’t think. I forgot about my brain and just felt. I didn’t simply look and calculate a rational response according to my art education, theory or history. I spent a few hours in the gallery and could have spent much longer like I was worried that the minute I turned my head it would disappear and my feelings with it.
JR: His work employs a kind of materialism that I don’t often get to see in Vancouver. The crude/raw materials like industrial foam and pieces of glass immediately turned me on. I really appreciate that his language as an artist, seems to coincide with the materials’ language. He lets his materials be what they are and speak through their inherent properties and identity.
JR: The foam truthfully describes the volume of body parts used within his figures and the drawings on paper are like skin. It is true to form but without being expected or representational in a conventional way. The glass, transparent, acts as a barrier not to obfuscate the content but to shelter the forms and the viewer. It traps the content inside and the viewers outside. It allows formal elements within the work to ‘see’ (each other) and be seen but establishes and maintains segregation from the viewer. This is part of the hierarchy that I love so much; hierarchy of materials, formal objects and audience all at the same time. Everything is one on top of another, on top of another….I did my best to absorb what the work told me.
Jasmine: I attended the talk by Nikki Levall on Monahan’s work…I saw you there as well. I am curious, what did you think of Levall’s approach to the work? She also addressed hierarchy.
JR: (She had fab eye-shadow.) She mentioned a hierarchy of materials, quoting Monahan and his rules in his studio. She said he does not allow any ready-mades, photographs, pre-formed materials or drawing from life. I saw this hierarchy but, without knowing those rules, I saw it enacted in the work. The figures were all made by him, carved, drawn… The heads! I loved how the heads in his work seem to look at each other with interest and empathy. There was usually a larger form looking down on a smaller form or vice versa– like the oppressor and the oppressed or a guardian and a child. And they were usually, literally, bound together with canvas straps. Binary opposition was consistent. Opaque vs. transparent, soft vs. hard, looking vs. being seen; dualities.
Jasmine: The ‘looking and seeing’ that you are interested in recalls classic sculptural (art) composition and Monahan’s use of glass and the figure references museum archetypes. Could you speak about that?
JR: Well, I think that it’s interesting that his work and his rules imply that he is trying to make something from ‘scratch’. And that is seen as very Romantic. He is taking a self-reflexive approach to museum and art historical conventions. This is interesting because it’s both personal and public simultaneously and addresses the ways in which we (the audience) view art. It’s a new-old approach. I’m not so interested in this aspect of this exhibition though…the Romance of it, maybe.
Jasmine: There seems to be more contemporary artists interested in intuitive, studio-based practices or what could be classified as ‘old’. There is a shift from intellectualized, research-based methods and approaches. Is this the Romantic quality that you are thinking of? Why do you think this is occurring?
JR: I didn’t think it was, at first, Romantic. I just saw it as great because I am so into materials and my own studio process. But then the Romance was brought to my attention and I suppose that I agree. And it makes sense given the trend of most things outside of art turning to a softer, more ‘natural’ and subjective condition. Like the local homegrown food movement, fashion that epitomizes stereotypically feminine clothing made from natural materials, and even ideals about what is masculine and feminine. There is a lot of pluralism happening in art and in people. And in general, a more personally dictated approach to life. I describe it to myself as soft.
Jasmine: Right, Romantic art takes interest in nature and individual emotion and imagination. But it also rebels against social rules and conventions. How do you see this as relevant to Monahan’s work when this work references so many art historical standards and therefore could be seen as observing, not breaking, tradition. Not to mention that it doesn’t look “soft”
JR: It rebels against the intellectual, academic art. Doesn’t rebel, is just different. It’s also a very rough, anti-production kind of art. It’s not ‘finished’, doesn’t look designed like a product so it breaks from a very popular, minimal aesthetic. I wonder if…-
Jasmine: -…it is just another shift that art ‘naturally’ takes in order to be constantly fulfilling that which isn’t currently being done?
JR: (laughs) Yeah! Totally. That’s just what I was thinking.
JR: I also saw a narrative in his work in which the figures find strength in the defeated, they struggle. Which, I guess, could be translated in the context of art history to display a re-birth of certain methods that have already been classified as dead.
I think that this is shift is happening because artists my age were brought into a world of really expensive, almost cold, art. It was highly impressive, monumental in effect, if not in size, and therefore really intimidating to emerging artists. I really want(ed) to make art like that but it’s impossible for so many reasons and maybe not necessary at the moment because that kind of extravagance is so visible in every other area of life.