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Andy Graydon: Methodical Scratchings

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The Press Release to „Untitled (plate tectonics)“ mentions the analogy to Robert Smithson. Was he a direct influence on the installation?
Smithson has been an influence on my work with environmental art, and with sound, in general. His work certainly informs my thinking about the displacements, both material and imaginative, that operate in Untitled (plate tectonics). Smithson's projects that effect mutual transformations of material (places, volumes of stuff, objects) and concept (histories, categories, perceptual frameworks) are very interesting to me, and a continual touchstone. And it's an approach that's very much in the air we breathe right now, not exactly a niche interest of mine.

When I was talking with Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga and Carson Chan (the co-directors of PROGRAM) about how to introduce this work, Carson wondered whether it made sense to begin with a reference to John Cage's opening of compositional processes, or rather to discuss the piece through the lens of Smithson's conceptual and environmental work. Immediately I responded to the Smithson connection. It helped clarify some of the terms of this work, in that for me this is not a composition, or even a sound work first and foremost, but rather an environmental work that explores how mediation opens channels for the transformation of the materials and concepts of a place.

For „Untitled (plate tectonics)“, you „obtained the ambient sounds of eleven “natural” art locations in New York“. What were criteria for choosing these locations?
I was interested in listening to a range of exhibition spaces in the city. I wanted to include landmarks like the Met and the MoMA, but also a range of other approaches and uses of exhibition, like the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Public Library's galleries, the Natural History Museum, and even the Scope art fair. The important thing was to capture the sound of this volume of space that was offering up a coherent environment designed to create certain effects on a visiting public. When you pull this sound away from its context you get a noise that is coherent in a way, but also very complex and chaotic. It's an index of the place it claims to represent, but also something far more strange and plastic. And of course art spaces are infamous for their bad acoustics, the murky reverberation of bare white cubes that makes sound work in galleries so difficult usually. I was interested in transforming this apparent weakness into a key feature of the work, into its focus.

Then I watched these spaces for shows that might be interesting in relation to the concept. At the Met I found a show on the history of photography which not only reflected this interesting mix of documentation and art making, but was installed in a room where the low-frequency hum of the climate control was almost unbearably loud, imposing a very strange unintentional continuity on the entire show. At the MoMA I recorded rooms from the Olafur Eliasson retrospective, as his work is so involved in perception and staging. At the Guggenheim I was able to capture a unique moment, where in the rotunda the sound of jackhammering was deafening as the facade of the building was being restored, while in the topmost gallery was a show about the failed attempts to restore an Ad Reinhardt Black Painting. The contrast of construction and decay, of noise and sublime silence, created a fascinating aural environment.

You also worked with Sound Artists like sawako and Pe Lang. What kind of specifications did you provide them with for their contribution?
Another idea in the work is that authorship is always distributed. It's the case with any work, but especially with projects that deal with the complexity of environments, or with the diffusion of sound into a social space; there is noise, contamination, resonance, productive interference. So I wanted to make this process overt by asking other artists to contribute their own interpretation of a space. we discussed the concept of the project and I let them choose a space and a show that fascinated them.

The introduction of other artists is also a feature of the ongoing system of the work: in the exhibition at PROGRAM, I cut eleven records of New York exhibition spaces. A twelfth record was then cut from a recording of the installation at PROGRAM itself, feeding the sound of that exhibition space back into itself. I invited Pe Lang to set up the installation the way he wanted and to make a recording of the room which became that record. In each space that Untitled (plate tectonics) is exhibited, this process will be repeated by an artist from that local area, adding more records to the body of the piece that reflect each space that it has traveled to, and through.


The dubplates used for the installation will gradually wear off. From an artistic point of view, why is it important that these recordings wither over time?
It is important that the recording is a material, an actual object that you handle and that you can see moving and making sound. It is not abstract or eternal like a disembodied loop played from an mp3 or CD. The recording is a marker or index of the space it recorded, but it can't genuinely conjure it or recreate it. The recording is itself, while at the same time opening up a space that suggests this other place and time. I wanted to work inside this contradiction that a media object is very much an object that has a life cycle of its own while representing a moment that is still or closed with respect to time. Acetate records are a great material to work with in this way, because on the one hand they are unique objects, you create just one of them and I have no intentions to create multiples of the records. And on the other hand they are very fragile, scratching and wearing down easily. When I have gone to the show at the end of a day I've found deep blue acetate dust along the grooves of some of the records from being played so much and wearing down. The record is becoming more and more itself, less and less a representation of something else or of another place/time. Again the system of the project enters in: as new records enter the piece, there will be new records alongside old records, even though the new records will be recordings of the sound of the old records in a new space. The installation should become sonically more and more self-similar even as materially it renews itself with each exhibition.

With regards to this process of collapsing, can you already feel how the installation has changed over time since it was opened?
Oh, yes. My resolve to engage this process of dissolution and transformation was immediately put to the test at the opening. A man came in, someone that no one seemed to know, and started to scratch methodically into one of the playing records, either with the needle or with his finger nail. Carson saw it happening and called out for him to stop but the man was gone before we understood what was happening. The record, a recording of the New Museum, was so scratched that it will not play all the way through now. The natural inclination is to replace it, but that cuts against my interest in the development of the records as objects. So it stays, and I will watch the work's continued development with that particular scar. I'm hoping that doesn't happen again, but it's interesting. There are many levels of decay and migration that occur when you open materials up for use in this way.

In Sync with „Untitled (plate tectonics)“, visitors will also be able to check out „Scaffold (Invalidenstrasse 115)“, another installation of yours. Would you say there is a connection between the two?
Yes, as soon as we agreed that I would show Untitled (plate tectonics) at PROGRAM, I thought that this video work should be shown as well, as they share a logic and reinforce each other. In Scaffold, lines of a space's architecture are traced and then slowly vibrated by animating lines of white light from a video projector. The room's structure and dimensions are literally highlighted, only then to be complicated by movements of the light which suggest that the space itself might be an image. The pieces share an interest in the space of exhibition, and indeed are both generated from their exhibition sites. And both are involved in processes of mediation that shift the space away from itself, or twist it on an axis perhaps, without delivering it to any other definite place but rather leave it suspended and unresolved in a way that I hope is productive.

In your artist statement, you provide a counterpoint to the lament about a lack of engagement. So are you, ultimately, an optimist with regards to the state of the arts?
I'm optimistic about the potential for multiple levels and modes of engagement with our world, and I think aesthetic engagements are often the great training ground for our work in the wider world. I think we have to give ourselves the credit that we often have responses and ways of working with things whose logic we do not yet comprehend rationally, and that must be worked out over a longer evolutionary process. Art work is inherently exploratory, both in its making and in its reception, and I think through it we are always transforming ourselves as producers and perceivers in ways that in time effect transformations of the built environment, the natural environment, our universe. That's the science fiction impulse in my work talking, but in that I think there's another reference to, and inheritance from, Smithson.

Homepage: Andy Graydon
Homepage: PROGRAM

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