Project Series 35: Evan Holloway
For over fifteen years, Evan Holloway has been producing art that investigates the history and theory of modernist sculpture, perceptual and psychological phenomena, and the ways context and intention can affect the reading of artworks. Holloway considers the relationship between his objects, the meanings of those objects, the viewer’s body and perceptions, and the social environment and physical spaces surrounding these elements. Holloway’s practice—including sculptures, drawings, sound works, and videos—is as diverse as his personal research, material choices, and the objects themselves. Grounded in Conceptual art, art history, pop culture, funk assemblage, and music, Holloway’s works—from the abstract to the figurative—are fabricated from materials such as steel, plaster, rope, wood, and often include found objects—batteries, furniture, musical instruments, etc.
The artist’s creative process reflects a more humble approach to sculptural materials than the traditional modernist view of sculpture as a solid, unified object. Moving beyond the purely formal, Holloway employs a funky, handmade aesthetic that begins by collecting found and scrap materials, continues in the intuitive process of designing and fabricating the objects, and culminates in the objects themselves—a thoughtful consideration of material and formal properties with astute commentary on sculptural issues.
For Project Series 35, Holloway has transformed the gallery into a sculptural and perceptual installation that expands on ideas found in his earlier work. Holloway states his intentions for this exhibition as the following: “This was an opportunity to make an artwork with different parameters than the sites I normally work within: the gallery, the art fair, and the museum group show. These locations often require works with portability and clearer boundaries. In this exhibition, the artwork is constructed over a very large and varied terrain. I see the work as the interrelationship of the publication, the installation, the downloadable mp3, the students, and the college as a location of discourse between ideas.”
Drawing on sources such as Minimalist sculpture, Light and Space art, Op art, and Conceptual art, Holloway’s untitled installation creates dramatic optical—almost psychedelic—effects from the most ordinary of materials—steel panels, newspaper sheets, and painted cardboard. The artist-designed book that accompanies the exhibition not only documents the exhibition—with a conversation between the artist and critic Bruce Hainley—but it is in fact an integral component of the exhibition—dot pages from the “newspaper” cover the gallery walls. Available free of charge, the newspaper serves as art object, artist’s book, and, potentially, wallpaper, gift wrap, or craft material, linking the viewer directly to the artist’s project.
Evan Holloway’s exhibition is the thirty-fifth in the Pomona College Museum of Art’s Project Series, an ongoing program of focused exhibitions designed to introduce experimental art with new forms, techniques, or concepts to the Pomona College campus. I extend special thanks to Professor Mercedes Teixido and students in her class Installation: Art and Context for their assistance in creating the installation: Jessie Bigelow, Margy Boll, David Brynan, Kendall Fleisher, Janelle Grace, Elly Harder, Kayley Hoddick, Casey Hood, Naqiya Hussain, Becca Lofchie, Rody Lopez, Leia Steingart, Nancy Townsend, Amy Vazquez, and Anna Wittenberg.
Let There Be Light #1
An Email Conversation Between Evan Holloway and Bruce Hainley
December 2007 – January 2008
Evan Holloway: Shall we start with the poem?
When I began thinking about this Pomona project and its relationship to Turrell, another part of my mind, coincidentally, was engaged in thinking about poetry.
I was thinking about contemporary poetry, and trying to figure out what it is supposed to do, what people expect it to do, etc.
It appears that contemporary poetry, not entirely, but in the popular mind and in the practice of many poets, is engaged with conjuring poignancy.
I know there is more than this, but twentieth century poetry really got this idea going—“so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow...”
This is not a fair evaluation I’m making, but it got me started.
So, then I started reading Alexander Pope. I liked that poetry could be a display of wit and clearly outlined ideology, with pleasure in rhythm and rhyming.
I took the opportunity to write a whimsical verse while working out my thoughts about Turrell. It’s a pretty crudely manufactured poem at this point, but here it is:
What sort of man builds monuments
For light effects and sentiments
To conjure the transcendent?
To tweak one’s sensing apparatus
And give the tweaking God-like status
(All Nature’s truth is in the skies.
Why would our senses tell us lies?)
I’ve read a bit of Robert Bly
So I mistrust an airborne guy.
Marie von Franz read Exupery
and saw Puer Aeternally.
But what’s with me? Have I some tumor
’Bids me attack a baby-boomer?
And call astounding works mere junk
Like an aging, Gen-X, bobo punk
Who won’t admire but just attacks?
Because my lifetime’s work still lacks
Such clarity and simple Truth
I wrongly pose as angry youth.
This man in question has great vision
While I just have half-assed derision.
I can’t afford to buy a crater
So I’ll just be a Hoodoo hater.
Bruce Hainley: Well, you’ve certainly gotten to the heart of things important to both of us, whether or not that was your first intention.
Yikes! How to respond? I’m tempted to start antithetically, far removed from everything immediate. I may leave it hanging, an open question, perhaps to be returned to, perhaps not. A brilliant friend of mine, Jack Shamama—who works in and around the gay porn industry with his ally, Mike Stabile (they helm gaypornblog.com and long ago were my students at Wesleyan; when they won an award for best porn script, I couldn’t have been prouder than if they’d won an Oscar!)—sent me a link (thesword.com/2008/01/francois-sagats-youtube-identity-crisis.html) to his brainy, funny analysis (accent on the anal) of the homemade videos of François Sagat, a gay porn superstar going through what Jack calls a “YouTube identity crisis.” For the past year or so, Sagat has been making these simple but nevertheless quite remarkable music videos set to tracks from Marilyn Manson, the most recent Britney Spears release, and Nine Inch Nails, among others. He uses masks, simple special f/x, and his astonishing physique to create strange, elegant interventions, at least as good if not better than most videos I’ve seen anywhere in the art world. Sagat posts them, and I sense that he makes them to amuse himself and to not go crazy. So let those Sagat videos and Jack’s loving, smarty-pants critique float like thought bubbles above my opening gambit.
Always good to remember Marianne Moore’s opening line about poetry, from her poem, “Poetry”: “I, too, dislike it.” Don’t we all? Doesn’t any thinking person (poets, too!) dislike poetry? Moore continued:
“…there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a
high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are
That is my Plymouth Rock: I dislike poetry, don’t know what a poem is, and yet…few things interest me more than trying to engage its “usefulness.”
Nothing is worth less than a poem. No one wants a poem, no one asks for a poem, no one pays for a poem. John Ashbery, one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, still has to teach, while all his artist peers (I mean in age, not quality [Ashes is a much better artist]), Brice Marden, etc., worry about their dozen or more homes, staff of assistants, and investments. The topic of poetry fairly quickly becomes a consideration of economy or of differing economies. Moore wrote her great work in syllabics, counting each syllable of every word and arranging the accumulations in idiosyncratic snaking lines of stanzas.
Too many people replace “poignancy,” tugging-at-heartstrings, for usefulness and economics. That wheelbarrow of Dr. Williams had been used, painted, and repainted because it was too expensive to buy another one.
Your and other people’s difficulty with contemporary poetry is akin to the problem many (most?) people have with contemporary art; either “I don’t understand it” or “my kid could do that.” Because everyone uses language to communicate, every day, every night, in the kitchen, in the classroom, at a pick-up bar, most people have, at some point or another, written poetry, or, as that kind of thing is usually condescended to, verse. And they do this without shame, because we all enjoy the happenstance of our speech falling into rhyme or double entendre or rhythm (Look, I’m a poet and didn’t know it!). While I know there are a lot of people who throw pots and paint pictures, very few people would call themselves artists with the same, um, aplomb.
There’s a vast range of and in contemporary poetry, perhaps rangier than even the modes of contemporary art. While there’s a lot of poetry that capitalizes on poignancy and godsiness (there’s always a bull market for epiphanies), not every contemporary poet is the equivalent of Shirin Neshat, the art world’s Ethel Merman and Esther Williams of alterity, belting out and choreographing otherness and cultural empathy like some Paula Abdul-wannabe; or Jim Hodges, knitting those flowers into funereal (sadly, rather than venereal) wall-hangings of mournfulness; or Tim Hawkinson, Willy-Wonka-ing his gee-whizisms. There’s nothing wrong with poignancy or venom or flamboyance or smuttiness: it should all be available. Frederick Seidel, Anne Carson, John Ashbery, Susan Howe, and Dennis Cooper, to mention only a few living poets, couldn’t be more different from one another, each conducting their experiments in an array of emotion and language, murmuring and blankness, wit and plangent cries.
Turrell stands for some kind of epic quest—for man (gender specific in his form, right?) and his striving for the beyond, communicating with it. This age of ours has little truck with greatness, with masterfulness, with authoritativeness—and I, too, dislike those things. But certain (male) artists and architects are allowed to channel the epic: recently, Turrell, Serra, and, certainly, Frank Gehry (there are plenty of others). And yet, and yet, I crave the well-made, the person who really knows something and is not afraid to express it. So many contemporary artists seem to have abandoned the idea that art could strive to be something bigger and/or older and/or deeper than any person. Poetry’s epic quests have been into the interior of language itself; women have gotten there (?) even more quickly and brilliantly than men. Of course, because the topic is Turrell, I’m trying to think about the epic; if the artist were Morandi, we’d be having a very different conversation: There’s something about how to negotiate the monumental at stake for you in confronting Turrell, right?
Ball’s in your court.
EH: Thank you, Bruce. I feel put in my place regarding my thoughts on contemporary poetry. Not that I was craving being reprimanded, but I did want someone to explain it to me. Asking a question like “is contemporary poetry just about conjuring poignancy” is a sort of bull-baiting approach. But, maybe that’s my style.
So, you’ve reminded me my knowledge of poetry is pretty much at an undergraduate and NPR level and I should probably read more poetry before I start having opinions. Also, you’ve made some clear statements about poetry that will inform any study I do in the future. But, that’s how a blunt and obnoxious question can be useful.
Yeah, it is something about negotiating the monumental, and the epic quest, that compelled me to respond to Turrell in this context. The museum certainly didn’t ask me to. I must be something of a believer, since it really sets me off. Part of what upsets me might be the dissonance between what I consider important (artistic, poetic) work and populism. I really don’t have any significant complaints about the art objects Turrell produces, but I did have a few of those simultaneous jaw-dropping/cringing moments watching the recently produced videos about his work. The Indian chanting, sped-up flying clouds, and endless desert footage—talk about conjuring poignancy! Blechh!
Maybe these cheap signifiers were used because you can’t really get the Turrell artwork, which happens in real time and space, in the format of video. So who needs a video?
Recently, I realized that the greatest punk rock band, with the most purely expressed ethos, is a completely unknown band, because promotion of any sort would destroy the project. I’m sure that the greatest nihilist philosopher is also unknown. It also occurs to me that most of the people I have heard of and admire are probably megalomaniacal self-promoters who fall asleep planning their next career move.
Maybe this sets up an old-fashioned bohemian and romantic dialectic that participating in the world compromises the art or the person. I think this might be true. It is possible to harness the energy of populism to do something interesting, (Paul Verhoeven is my personal symbol for this form) but, in my lifetime, in my world, it mostly diminishes everything.
I am lately coming to the idea of keeping things secret. Not giving it away.
Scarcity creates value. This is not just an economic rule. Beyond a doubt, Richard Serra is an interesting artist, but now that every new, oversized museum must present a Serra brand object prominently to establish pedigree, the work doesn’t interest me.
You and I share an interest in lesser-known artists. Should we be telling people about them?
I’m really worried about what will happen to Ree Morton’s work as it is re-discovered by the art world. I’m afraid all of its loose ends and non-hierarchies are going to get tied up and put into order. The work will be summarized in a few paragraphs, which will be repeated until they cut deep channels for a few certain meanings. It’s going to take so much away from the work.
BH: Are you sure you’re not Justin Timberlake, because we’re very ‘N SYNC.
Verhoeven is a genius: I don’t say that lightly. He really gets at the perversity of populism, perhaps its sadism as well. Funny: The Fourth Man was really important to me as a young faggot because it was advertised, in its day, as a gay movie, when explicit gay films were, well, unusual. The film came out the year I graduated from high school. It’s thrilling that Verhoeven’s mainstreaming should grow out of or channel that raunchy energy. I remember very little of The Fourth Man, but Casper Van Dien in Starship Troopers, crucified and whipped, the delicious CGI slashes of his flesh, bleeding—that’s still one of the most perverse scenes in any Hollywood movie.
But I’m losing track of our, um, topic. Which is? Secrets, scarcity, and how to communicate?
As I teacher, I feel responsible for making students aware of alternatives to the dominant modes of art history and of making. I guess I feel it’s my job to tell them some secrets. I completely understand how popularity and the market can bend things out of shape—beyond recognition. It would be sad if Morton’s loose ends and non-hierarchies were tied-up and put in order, but there is another possibility: if Morton (and Lee Lozano and Paul Thek and Christopher D’Arcangelo and Leslie Thornton and George Kuchar and many others) were insisted upon, her loose ends and non-hierarchies might fuck up the gears of the current system.
What if no one wrote or talked about or responded to Murakami? Didn’t say it was bad (it’s beyond bad), didn’t say it was great (it isn’t), and didn’t say it was important because Warholian (I don’t think so): just ignored it. I wonder if it all (the show, the artist, the works, the curator, the publicity machine) would fade away. That’s my hope. The cranky and brilliant Dorothy Dean (she insisted on not being called a fag hag but instead a fruit fly) would say something along the lines: “Save your gay pennies,” meaning, know what to spend your money (and thinking) on and where not to spend it. The great Ethyl Eichelberger had a similar expression: “Don’t cross the street for that.” He told me once that he saw a poster for a kind of drag show that he found not only demeaning to drag but to women and men and homosexuality—and he wouldn’t cross the street for it.
It’s important to let the young ones know what, perhaps, they shouldn’t spend their gay pennies on and what they shouldn’t cross the street for. Let them know that there are other things, other ways of seeing, in the world.
Videos of a Turrell piece, the “making of” a Turrell piece: I’ll save my gay pennies. I can imagine the “poignancy” factor—and the sped-up clouds. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Turrell, but I have seen pieces I thought were compelling. One at Barbara Gladstone in which he somehow gave light the texture of Wedgwood. I don’t know if I’d be so impressed today, especially now that Olafur Eliasson has Blockbustered that kind of moody special f/x. But something that struck me this summer, wandering through the Serra petting zoo at MoMA (I thought the point of his stacks and leaning pieces is that they might fall down. How could any sculptor sanction those Lucite corrals?) was that perhaps the popularity of that show was not a bad thing. Lots and lots of people were happy seeing his big works; he’d gone from being a sculptor for the cognoscenti to one who pleased almost anyone at all. Good for him. While it’s absurd that an internationally important museum with an astounding collection should manage its multimillion-dollar expansion so that it suits the needs of an egomaniac, Serra pleased the people.
While I wish other things, other art, and artists, could be given a similar imprimatur, I doubt that’s going to happen. And it is in this situation that I believe in secrets, in being off the beaten path. I hope that there are places that will support the outré and eccentric, but I worry about a Wal-Mart effect: the equivalent of one-stop shopping doesn’t allow for much difference or luxury—and too many become addicted to the convenience. I would hope that museums and certainly more galleries would resist this effect, but I’m not so certain that they will or do.
EH: Thinking about what you wrote about Serra at MOMA, I was looking for some appropriate summary line from Gertrude Stein’s “Composition As Explanation.” She addresses this topic of recognition and popularity and its affect on the lives of artworks. But her long sentences and long thoughts refuse to be cheaply distilled (which is a lesson in itself in how to craft resistance). I’m sure you know the section I’m referring to, but just to be thorough, I’ll quote a little:
“For a very long time everybody refuses and then almost without a pause almost everybody accepts. In the history of the refused in the arts and literature the rapidity of the change is always startling. Now the only difficulty with the volte-face concerning the arts is this. When the acceptance comes, by that acceptance the thing created becomes a classic. It is a natural phenomena a rather extraordinary natural phenomena that a thing accepted becomes a classic. And what is the characteristic quality of a classic. The characteristic quality of a classic is that it is beautiful. Now of course it is perfectly true that a more or less first rate work of art is beautiful but the trouble is that when that first rate work of art becomes a classic because it is accepted the only thing that is important from then on to the majority of the acceptors the enormous majority, the most intelligent majority of the acceptors is that it is so wonderfully beautiful. Of course it is wonderfully beautiful, only when it is a thing irritating annoying stimulating then all quality of beauty is denied to it.
Of course it is beautiful but first all beauty in it is denied and then all the beauty of it is accepted. If every one were not so indolent they would realize that beauty is beauty even when it is irritating and stimulating not only when it is accepted and classic. Of course it is extremely difficult nothing more so than to remember back to its not being beautiful once it has become beautiful. This makes it so much more difficult to realise its beauty when the work is being refused and prevents every one from realizing that they were convinced that beauty was denied, once the work is accepted. Automatically with the acceptance of the time-sense comes the recognition of the beauty and once the beauty is accepted the beauty never fails any one.”
In thinking about the famous baby-boomer artists, I often use a “classic rock” analogy. Zeppelin was amazing when it was new. Now all those riffs have been repeated and heard a thousand times, and referenced and copied so many times, that it doesn’t have any life at all. Continuing to listen to it is like living only in the past and it’s a little sad.
Enter anti-establishment aesthetics. This will not happen to Big Black. And, based upon what I’ve looked up about Ethyl Eichenberger, he doesn’t stand much risk of being mainstreamed either. So one can keep one’s work alive longer, by effectively building resistance into it. This is the equivalent of burying it in the desert. The public has a corrosive quality, it was the many many years that the wonders of the world were inaccessible that has kept them preserved, now that it’s all available to adventure tourists, their longevity is threatened.
Okay, I’ve had enough of my terrible analogies. A work of art is like a rock song by a famous band, a work of art is like a tourist site that is hard to get to, I really should just get to the point and stop it with the parables.
I am making this installation at the Pomona College Museum of Art in direct relationship to the other works now on display by James Turrell. Since his works are installations that completely surround the viewer and are based upon sensory phenomena, I thought I should do the same. With the potential viewers of my work primed for this kind of experience, I thought that my usual free-standing sculpture might not be an easy transition and might not leave the impression I would like. Often, in the things I make, I engage very specific perceptual or psychological phenomena, and in doing so it is my hope that the strange tricks our organs and language training play upon us as humans, and as a cultural group, can be built into the work. I want these experiences to induce a mistrust of perception and language as informant to reality. I think I know what I’m saying when I say that, as a sculptor, I’m quite engaged with epistemological concerns. It was quite irritating to me that Turrell is often framed within a soft-core, new-age belief system. I always present my work in a context of skepticism. I wanted to highlight these differences.
BH: Those quotations from Stein make my head buzz, like good scotch. I’ve thought about that essay for years, and it doesn’t lose its punch. The impossible was Stein’s horizon line. Would that many more artists made it theirs.
Someone told me that your installation might employ (deploy?) moiré fabric. I hope that’s true.
Skepticism, shouldn’t it be creative bedrock? Something along the lines of Huebler, not wishing to add any more objects to the world: this is a skepticism that yet produces something intriguing. Every time I start to write I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s not the same not-knowing that it was more than a decade ago, when I started writing, but the process remains doubt-ridden and full of questions. I don’t want to romanticize doubt or gild it (much of what I write is doubtful in the sense of being not-really-interesting), but I’d rather have doubt as a primary motivator and procedure than rationality or certainty. I don’t trust when an artist or writer seamlessly or rigorously can explain every move made. Perception should trick us—our own perception most of all. The shimmer of moiré, perhaps it can be a sign for the wavering, alluring possibility of doubt.
Perhaps this allows me to boomerang back to François Sagat and his homemade video routines: while they might seem mild-mannered to many in the art world, his mesmerizing antics (the fact that he staged them and goes public with them) throw into doubt and/or derange what many think a porn star is or does, what he might think about—allowing a zone in which a porn star can conjure or embody thinking. The, um, spunk of intellect allows anyone to ask: do I know what this is? Men watch Sagat in his professional videos, thinking that he enacts what turns them on, and that it’s what turns him on; but by filming himself—creating a homemade oeuvre that operates in both opposition and apposition to his professional one—with various masks and self-styled skimpy outfits, he reveals that it’s, perhaps, only by donning such rhythms and outré costumes that he can approach what a representation of his own desire might look like or how it might appear.
Your epistemological concerns, inducing a mistrust of perception as well as a mistrust of language as informant to reality, invite anyone who cares to become a part of what Avital Ronell has called the community of the question. It is a community at risk, even as it itself questions the relevance or value of community. It is a community I endeavor to be a member of—or at least have a green card to visit.
EH: When we started this discussion, something about YouTube and my operating system was not agreeing. Now, it’s working again, so I was able to watch the Sagat videos. I think something of their context is lost on me, but I also think I know why this is a reference here, a collision between expectations, public and private and “geniuses” and creative fun, and insiders and outsiders and pleasure and business. As Sagat’s better known public product occupies the same space as his body, his homemade videos do seem relevant to discussions about how talent and irresistible appeal could put one in a bind regarding one’s own authenticity.
And, speaking of self-styled skimpy outfits, I don’t know that I do myself any favors by publicly displaying my ignorance of poetry, my crankiness, and my contradictions. I’ve referred to myself in the above text as both a believer and a skeptic. And I’m sure I’m going to be plenty embarrassed by this publication in the future. When I lived in Tacoma I learned by watching Dale Chihuly’s public persona that a big part of being an artist is constructing the illusion of genius. This is really what gets one’s place anchored with the public. And all presented public information should support the illusion/thesis/brand. I’m always in a fight with this idea, so I publicly show doubt and contradiction and ignorance. And then, again contradicting myself, I’m so proud of myself for opposing the big boys with my humility. What a twisted stance.
As a way of getting out of all of this, and as a sort of summary and battle cry and special reference for the cognoscenti, I am right now going to shout ORTHOGRAPHY!
BH: Well, nausea and embarrassment remain this writer’s staples, the milk (slightly soured) and bread (a little moldy) on the breakfast table. Your skimpy outfit becomes you. Me? I’m mulling over a muumuu phase.
Bruce Hainley is a writer who lives in Los Angeles. A contributing editor of ArtForum, he has published two books: Foul Mouth (2nd Cannons) and, with John Waters, Art—A Sex Book (Thames & Hudson).