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© Doris McCarthy Gallery, University of Toronto at Scarborough, 2006 Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication McKay, Sally. A beginner’s guide to quantal strife: oscillating dichotomies, cognitive assemblages and the multivalent nature of communication when people look at it: but without all the big words. Essay by Sally McKay; round table between the curator, Sally McKay, and the artists, Scott Carruthers, Crystal Mowry and Marc Ngui. Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Doris McCarthy Gallery, University of Toronto at Scarborough, Jan. 19-Mar. 5, 2006. ISBN 0-7727-5401-2 1. Art, Canadian--21st century--Exhibitions. 2. Carruthers, Scott, 1961- --Exhibitions. 3. Mowry, Crystal, 1977- --Exhibitions. 4. Ngui, Marc, 1972- --Exhibitions. I. Carruthers, Scott, 1961- II. Mowry, Crystal, 1977- III. Ngui, Marc, 1972- IV. Doris McCarthy Gallery V. Title. N6545.6.M325 2006
Designers: Sally McKay and Marc Ngui Illustrations: Marc Ngui Copy Editor Alana Wilcox Director/Curator: Ann MacDonald Curatorial Assistant: Erin Peck Printer: Kromar Printing Ltd.
Quantal A Beginnerâ€™s Guide to
Table of Contents Introduction by Ann MacDonald, Director/Curator Doris McCarthy Gallery UTSC Quantal Strife by Sally McKay, illustrations by Marc Ngui Scott Carruthers, Out Of Time Or Out of Space? Crystal Mowry, Ongoing Ideal Forms (After Versailles) Marc Ngui, A Thousand Plateaus Drawings
8-46 17 27 37
Round Table with Scott Carruthers, Sally McKay, Crystal Mowry, and Marc Ngui Alfred Jarry Sir Thomas Phillips Marx and Freud Google’s Information Network Milstein Hall of Ocean Life Aerial Points of View Tao Te Ching Rabbit Diorama by Walter Potter Sharpie Marc, can you walk us through one of your diagrams? Crystal, why did you pick Versailles? Scott, why do you do so many drawings?
48-75 50 52 55 57 58 60 62 64 65 66 70 74
by Ann MacDonald, Director/Curator Doris McCarthy Gallery The Doris McCarthy Gallery is pleased to present the Quantal Strife exhibition and accompanying catalogue. Sally McKay, Scott Carruthers, Crystal Mowry and Marc Ngui have embarked upon a collaboration that reveals a shared commitment to the value of intellectual curiosity and sense of wonder. Their investigations open up a world of enquiry that is ardently shared with the reader/viewer in an invitational manner that encourages the ongoing quest to seek and create meaning. Sally McKay’s essay introduces and translates complex ideas into a readable voyage, oﬀering theory as adventurous discovery after discovery. The round table discussion, where the participating artists were asked to bring in a person, place and thing, and to answer a simple question about their work, paradoxically both demythologizes the artworks and opens new realms to marvel about, evoking unlimited considerations. The exercise serves as a generous acknowledgment of the inherent reciprocity involved in making and in viewing art. Elemental to this book are Sally McKay and Marc Ngui’s collaborative and insightful design and Marc Ngui’s thoughtful illustrations. The exhibition itself is intertwined with the ideas discussed in this book and oﬀers intense visual satisfaction in many forms: Carruthers’s unstoppable images — each embedded with an imperative sense of uncensored honesty and immediacy, Mowry’s skillfully-crafted version of Versailles — a multi-layered investigation of memory, ornament, and shifts in perspective, and Ngui’s graceful and sweeping schematics that develop new visual thoughts based on a text that is described by many as ungraspable I am grateful to the curator and to each of the artists for their dedication to their productive obsessions and for sharing their ﬂuid ability to move between inner and outer worlds.
by Sally McKay, with illustrations by Marc Ngui
Art is like people. Ever found yourself attracted to someone you think is ugly? Or compelled to interact with the person who gets on your nerves the most? Ever look up in a crowded room and meet a stranger’s eyes, knowing that you’re sharing something in that moment but never really understanding what it is? Of course, art and people can be predictable: a kind friend can give you comfort, and a cold-hearted enemy can do you wrong. But it’s the more complicated relationships — the ones that make us feel like there is something else we need to say, or something else that can’t be said — that keep us coming back for more.
All three of the artists showing in Quantal Strife have complicated relationships with their work. Scott Carruthers attempts to bypass his own consciousness, dumping hundreds and hundreds of images from the nether regions of his mind out into the external world where he must then contend with them. Crystal Mowry’s project is a personal recreation of a very famous place that she has never seen. Marc Ngui shows a work in progress, a series of drawings designed to help him understand a complex philosophy book. All of these works are investigations, the projects are ongoing, and the art itself is the by-product of a larger quest. Like an interesting new friend with hidden depths, the art in Quantal Strife is an invitation. Looking at art happens in a public context, but it is very personal. The active ingredient of any art experience is the viewer’s mind. Without interested people, nothing interesting happens: paintings sit on walls, sculptures inhabit 8
three dimensions, video screens spit photons into an empty room. In a very real way, art is the ideas in the minds of the people who see it. Luckily, people are good at sharing ideas, and so we have a cultural context, developed over history, that lends meaning to everything we do; from playing video games to studying philosophy to cooking noodles for dinner and shopping for shoes. The images of fashion, religion, television, product design, textbook illustrations, newspapers, birthday cards, and websites all combine into a shared language that is nuanced and historical. This context of daily life is the same context that art comes from, making everyone, regardless of education, a qualiﬁed, expert art viewer. Art is diﬀerent from most other ﬁelds of study because, unlike biology or engineering, it is possible to be an artist without any training whatsoever. 9
Nonetheless, there are a lot of rigorous theoretical and historical studies of art available to us if we choose to turn to them. Most art can be appreciated on many levels without much background information, but sometimes the background helps us ﬁnd new mental connections that we wouldn’t otherwise make. Some people go to school for years and years to study art theory, some people pick up what they need from books and websites, some people ask questions of friends and colleagues. Sometimes art gallery staﬀ can provide bits of knowledge that add to the experience of an art show; sometimes there are publications — like this book. The purpose of all this information is not to explain the art or nail it down to any one meaning but rather to add more ingredients to the mental stew.
Why is this show called Quantal Strife? We chose the term “quantal” because all of the artworks involve two or more ways of seeing the world at the same time. According to the Collins English dictionary, “quantal” means “something that is capable of existing in only one of two states.” It is related to “quantum” which means a very small quantity, such as an elementary particle. One of the key ideas of quantum physics is that as we attempt to determine and measure reality, we see that mutually exclusive states must both exist at the same time. This acceptance of conﬂicting realities is something that contemporary art and quantum physics have in common. Each of the artists in the exhibition is striving to grasp a breadth of information that is probably impossible to fully communicate. Each of the projects fails and succeeds at the same time. Scott Carruthers is attempting to draw everything, to somehow encapsulate all knowledge. Crystal Mowry is trying to physically manifest an impression of a historically loaded tourist destination. Marc Ngui is trying to make a visual version of a multi-layered text. Each of the artists is consciously pushing the relationship between personal knowledge and shared cultural information. The conﬂict between internal and external states remains unresolved and it is this strife that gives the work its tension. Carruthers 10
could never actually draw everything, but his installations propose the possibility. Mowry cannot deliver a full perception in material form, but she can try. Ngui cannot produce a visual image of a theory of nonlinearity, but he can make a close analogy using diagrams and symbols. All of the artworks are simply signposts to the mental processes that they ignite.
The strange conﬂicts in quantum physics are speciﬁc to the location and momentum of particles, and so we should be careful not to make too many philosophical connections, but the ideas do feel familiar to contemporary daily life, especially in culturally diverse environments such as cities and universities where people of all backgrounds ﬁnd ways to interrelate. We proceed with respect, knowing that we cannot climb inside each other’s minds to share a point of view, but when we all acknowledge that we don’t know everything, we can begin to open up and share a lot with one another. This frame of reference, the turning away from the authority of absolute truth in favour of a more open-ended process, also occurs in art theory. Postmodernism is a diﬃcult phrase that few people really understand. It is useful, however, as a catch-all for some cultural shifts that have been happening throughout the 20th century. If you could rip art out of its context and jam it in a 11
nutshell, an over-simpliďŹ ed version of recent Western art history would look something like this: Modernism was the evolution of a formal language for art, separate from daily life. In some contexts, this is seen as freeing. Artists at the end of the 19th century started allowing gestures into their paintings, letting the paint itself and the energy of the brush strokes carry some of the meaning, rather than leaving it to the narrative content of the picture. Abstraction developed further until recognizable pictures were no longer necessary at all; the meaning was embedded in the shape, colour, line, and presence of the work. Eventually, even the material of the art was discarded in favour of the idea. This was the beginning of conceptual art. With this new focus on the idea, the viewer suddenly became a key 12
player whose own thoughts and preconceptions would necessarily contribute to the meaning of the work. Since there are as many diﬀerent minds as there are diﬀerent people, we must accept that the experience of art will be somewhat diﬀerent every time. In this model, the meaning emerges from the complex cultural contexts that people bring to the work rather than emanating from the inert object itself; this shift is sometimes called postmodernism. We see this postmodern shift not just in all the arts but also in many other areas of our culture in the form of open-source technology, knowledge sharing, and community-initiated projects, for instance. But for all this communal cultural activity, each of us can still feel like an isolated individual, locked inside the private world of our own mind. Throughout history, artists and philosophers have struggled to deﬁne the dynamics between the interior world and the exterior world. Artists often wonder “Does my work need to be recognized by the external world in order to be art?” Philosophers often wonder “Can we be sure that the external world exists at all?” In recent years, the study of consciousness has become quite popular due to technological and economic interests in artiﬁcial intelligence.
Understanding the human mind might help us understand computers, and vice versa. In the old days, common sense dictated that the mind, so diďŹ€erent from matter in every way, must exist on a separate, special plane. Now, philosophers and scientists pretty much agree that the mind is a functional aspect of the material brain. Various patterns of brain activity directly correlate with various feelings and experiences; but the relationships are not one-to-one, nor are they entirely predictable. As the brain is mapped in greater and greater detail, consciousness is revealed to be more and more complex. As in other ďŹ elds, linearity breaks down in favour of multi-layered networks. 14
Philosophers and neurologists use the term “the explanatory gap,” which means that no matter how much we understand the function of the brain, we can never see inside another person’s mind. You and I may agree that cherries are red, but we can never prove conclusively that what you see as red is the same as what I see. Through language, myth, and communication, we negotiate the meaning of the world together. Art gives us the opportunity to pry into the mechanics of meaning. All three of the artists in this show are exploring the relationships between language and thought. Art provides a rich territory for this sort of investigation, because visual languages can do things that written languages cannot. When we read a text, our eye travels from left to right, and we can only absorb the information over time. But when we look at an image, we take it all in at once, and the data hits the rhizome of our brain in a single download. Then our synapses go to work, ﬁring all over the place, and we see an open-ended myriad of connections — strange, surprising and inﬁnite. Meeting the complex challenges of a human relationship opens new territories for us to explore within ourselves. The meanings of artworks are as diﬀerent as the people who make them and the people who see them. Unlike mass media, which is hampered by the need to communicate broadly, art can be surprising, challenging and reciprocal in very intimate ways. The artwork in Quantal Strife may not be easy, but it is friendly. The complexity is an invitation to explore your own private and public mechanisms for creating and discovering meaning in the world. 15
Scott Carruthers, Out Of Time Or Out Of Space? (detail), black marker on transparent mylar, 2006
Scott Carruthers’s installation Out of Time Or Out of Space? may be disturbing to some people. As with most of his installations, he crams the walls with graphically potent icons and pop-culture dystopias, oﬀering too much to see at once; the eﬀect is overwhelming. The images are private, like our own strange thoughts and nightmares, but culturally familiar at the same time, like extreme graphics from comic books and video games. Temples crumble while naked hordes stand expressionless in the public square. A pair of bloody dismembered forearms types at a keyboard, giant eggs drop from the sky and crush a city, a werewolf in restraints reads the morning paper, a baby growing a ﬁve o’clock shadow ﬂoats like a balloon on the end of his umbilical cord — each image is individual and unique, but there is a sense that the collection depicts a shared body of knowledge, almost as if Carruthers were channelling our collective unconscious. 17
Scott Carruthers, Out Of Time Or Out Of Space? (detail)
One writer, Von Bark, said this about his work: “Carruthers re-creates the fragile ﬁrst moments when language choked out of us, from when we ﬁrst came together from disparate huntergatherer tribes to form organized hierarchical societies, from when we ﬁrst experienced conﬁdence and delight with the new technologies with which we could more eﬃciently exploit each other. Scott Carruthers evokes the age we live in now.” - excerpt from Von Bark’s essay for Scott Carruthers’s exhibition, Beyond The Scope, shown at TRUCK Gallery, Calgary, 2005 So, where do these images come from? The process is frenetic: Carruthers draws scene after scene, fast and furiously, on sheets of Mylar with indelible markers. For consistency he only uses one kind of marker, the medium Sharpie, and tries to get as many diﬀerent marks and lines as he can out of the single-sized tip. He draws quickly to conjure up images from deep in his own brain before the self-censoring parts of his consciousness can stop them. Flow is everything. He explains, “I’m always striving to come up with a diﬀerent image each time, and that’s a challenge. Sometimes a drawing will look familiar so I’ll erase it. Of course, sometimes they do repeat. I’ll realize later that I did the same drawing three years ago. It’s an impossible task, a bit like a game.” Here is an artist, inﬂuenced by both Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx (see Round Table Discussion, pg. 55), who is intentionally tricking his brain into coughing up deep personal imagery, then applying his learned manual skills and shared cultural knowledge to render those images in pictures that the rest of us out here in the external world can relate to. Daniel C. Dennet, philosopher of consciousness, might be very interested in this project: Dennet believes that consciousness is a multi-layered continuum, that the mind is constantly spinning multiple versions of our experience. Our memories draw and redraw connections, allowing narrative threads to emerge and then to continue to change as memories fade, and suggestions, ﬁctions, and dreams combine into the “oﬃcial” life story as it accumulates. There are earlier 20th-century artists whose work relates to Carruthers. The painter Philip Guston springs to mind because of his thick, black, energetic lines 19
Above and preceding pages 20-23: Scott Carruthers, Out Of Time Or Out Of Space? (details) Right: Scott Carruthers, The Dangers of Time Travel (installation view), black marker on foam core panels. Solo exhibition, Katharine Mulherin Gallery, Toronto, 2002 Photo by Peter MacCallum
and dark, personal subject matter. You could also look to the American painter Leon Golub, who depicted images of violence from mass media in a personal and aggressive painterly style. But the real artistic friends and relations are video games. Although Carruthersâ€™s drawings are technically static, the eďŹ€ect of looking at them is immersive, disorienting, and dynamic. Carruthers makes us dizzy on purpose, intentionally creating a physical experience of vertigo for the viewer. Because the drawings literally ďŹ ll up the room, and because each little frame has such potent narrative impact, we have to navigate them, as in a video game, charting our own path through the imagery. Unlike a video game, however, which usually follows a linear narrative, this experience is open-ended. No two people will make the same set of connections or link the images into the same story. 24
Scott Carruthers, All At Once (installation view), black marker on transparent mylar. Solo exhibition, Hamilton Artist’s Inc., Hamilton, 2004
Scott Carruthers, Beyond The Scope (installation view), black marker on transparent mylar. Solo exhibition, TRUCK gallery, Calgary, 2005
Carruthers’s artwork is satisfying as pure entertainment and as social commentary, documenting the oppression, violence, despair, humiliation, and humour of our world in a recognizable way. The installation is also a physical experience, more interactive than most artworks, despite the fact that there are no moving parts. Conceptually, Carruthers’s mesh of potent, activated nodes is a model of the human brain itself. For more on Scott Carruthers’s work in his own words, turn to page 74 in the Round Table section of this book. 26
Crystal Mowry, Ongoing Ideal Forms (After Versailles) (detail from work in progress), foam, ﬂocking, sponges, sand, paint, plaster, toothpicks, soil, spices, dried plants, resin, plastic, glue, model railroad track, wireless camera, and miscellaneous electronic and motorized components. Dimensions variable, 2006
Crystal Mowry models information the way some people sculpt with clay. She is making her own model of the Gardens of Versailles, titled Ongoing Ideal Forms (After Versailles). Mowry has never been to Versailles, but that doesn’t hold her back. In fact, it’s the point. The gigantic palace at Versailles is a symbol of power and decadence, of the extreme disassociation between the ruling class and the people that eventually erupted into the French Revolution. Hundreds of acres in size, the gardens show nature tamed and cultivated with abstracted, ornamental designs: a hedge-trimmer’s paradise. Rife with historical signiﬁcance and a legacy of subjugation, it is a world famous tourist destination that still has the power to strike awe in its visitors. 27
Crystal Mowry, Ongoing Ideal Forms (After Versailles) (detail from work in progress)
How would you model the Gardens of Versailles? An obvious method would be to start with a map or aerial view, make a scale grid and then block it in. Mowry’s process, however, is completely diﬀerent. She does not use overviews, but instead starts with various clippings and magazine photographs, mostly shot at an angle, slightly from above, or at head height. She makes a corresponding ﬂoor panel for each image to represent the visual information that she chooses to include. Using hobbyists’s modelling materials, she fashions tiny trees and hedges and arranges them in ornate patterns. The scale of each panel is diﬀerent, and so is the point of view. Mowry’s Versailles will be somewhat diﬀerent every time it is installed, as the panels can be assembled in any conﬁguration. A low, tiny camera circles the diorama, broadcasting to a nearby monitor the view you would see of Mowry’s strange gardens if you were a very small aristocrat, riding in a very small carriage. Mowry’s point of view is partly inﬂuenced by taking road trips as a child with her family. Imagine a thoughtful child gazing out the window as unknown landscapes zip past her eyes. Her mind is free to wander as she watches, but beyond her imagination there is little chance to grapple with the meanings of the places as they pass. In one sense, this detachment remains in Mowry’s work. After all, she has never been to Versailles! It’s the idea of Versailles, the cultural construction, that engages her imagination. To engage us as well, Mowry shows us many steps between the original gardens and her gardens. The point of view includes a concept of the garden itself, the camera that photographed the source image, the photograph published in a magazine, Mowry’s eye looking at that image, her concept of the garden, her hand applying her modelling craft, the physical model she created, the tiny camera that spins around that model, and the image it broadcasts to the screen. Unlike the child in the car, Mowry’s adult investigations are fully engaged: researching, reading, looking hard at images and gathering content as she goes. Essential to Mowry’s point of view is the investigation of scale and the role of miniaturization. In her MFA thesis, Mowry wrote “...I want to evoke Wonder for the visitors, but also to demarcate it from Awe. Awe, as I have come to understand it, is inertial understanding. It permits speechlessness, but more importantly cognitive miserliness. 29
Above and preceding pages 30-33: Crystal Mowry, Ongoing Ideal Forms (After Versailles) (details and screen shots from work in progress) Right: Crystal Mowry, The Airport Imagined (After LAX) (detail), paper, acetate, reclaimed packaging, balsa wood, styrofoam, glue and pins. Dimensions variable. Exhibited at the ODD Gallery, Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, Dawson City, YK, 2005
Wonder, though it may be instigated by similar stimuli and have the same sensory eﬀects as Awe, might be thought of as a state of falling into. When in a state of Wonder I may be speechless, but only because I am too busy thinking about what was beyond immediate understanding for Awe. Wonder neither rests at the surface nor refrains from criticality.” Mowry is a rigorous thinker and her artwork is complex. There are many fascinating writers whose works relate to her projects, and a few of them, coincidentally, have names that start with B: Jean Baudrillard, who wrote on simulacra — meaning constructed ideas or things that stand in for original ideas or things, sometimes obscuring them; Jorge Luis Borges, who wrote a story in which a country set out to make a map in such elaborate detail that the scale grew until the map itself physically obliterated the country it was designed to describe; Roland Barthes, who explored in poetic detail the ways that our minds use myths to process; and Gaston Bachelard, philosopher of science, who decided that poetic thought was essential to scientiﬁc discovery and who valued poetic imagery as another kind 34
Crystal Mowry, Inverted, Shrunken, and Reorganized (after the parking lot at West Edmonton Mall) (installation view), 20, 000 hand cut pieces of paper (each approx. 1” x .5”), and tape. Dimensions variable. Exhibited at the ODD Gallery, Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, Dawson City, 2005
Crystal Mowry, Sprawl, (detail: map of Eastern Massachusetts), polystyrene, Sharpie markers, pins. Dimensions variable. Exhibited at String Gallery, Toronto, 2004
of understanding, one that involved letting go of literal knowledge in favour of something more instantaneous and transcendent. Another inﬂuence is the feminist art critic Lucy Lippard, with whom Mowry shares an analytical understanding of the political implications of imagery. Both are skeptical about big spectacle. Unlike the original Gardens of Versailles, Crystal Mowry’s installation is not designed to overwhelm and belittle us. Instead, it is an open invitation to let the mind speculate and roam, to ﬂex the brain itself a little and see what brilliance might result. For more on Crystal Mowry’s work in her own words, turn to page 70 in the Round Table section of this book. 36
Marc Ngui, intro-paragraph 26 (detail), drawing from the text of A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari) coloured pen on paper, 14”x17”, 2006
Marc Ngui is skilled at compressing basketloads of data into his images. Though multi-talented, he is primarily a graphic novelist, diagram expert, and comic artist. (He drew all the cartoons and diagrams in this book and collaborated on the overall design.) He has created many characters, including Lordie Jones, the boy with a pig living in his ass; Boy Ugly, a cheerful round guy who is battling globalization; and Baby, an existential creature who speaks in rhyme. Ngui’s ambitious project, A Thousand Plateaus Drawings, is a work in progress. He has been reading one of the most challenging books of postmodern theory, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix 37
Guattari. Ngui has been making schematic diagrams as he reads in order to help him understand the text. At the time of writing, Ngui has completed approximately ﬁfty drawings, which takes him to page 36 of this 600-page book. It may seem like he hasn’t gotten very far, but, like the book, each drawing is multi-levelled and conceptually complex. A Thousand Plateaus begins with the concept of the “rhizome.” This is another key phrase in postmodernism, and it plays directly into many aspects of contemporary life. The term comes from biology, where it means a root system or a network that is laterally connected. Think of a web, or mesh, or any other structure that has many interconnected nodes, and you are picturing a rhizome. The internet is a rhizome. Deleuze and Guattari wrote this book as if it were a rhizome as well. “In a book, as in all things, there are lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories; but also lines of ﬂight, movements of deterritorialization and destratiﬁcation. Comparative rates of ﬂow on these lines produce phenomena of relative slowness and viscosity, or, on the contrary, of acceleration and rupture. All this, lines and measurable speeds, constitutes an assemblage.” - Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1987, pgs. 3–4 The writing is full of paradox and it references a wide range of cultural sources. It is rewarding, but daunting. There is a lot of text, and each sentence requires all of your attention. Luckily, Marc Ngui is not afraid of paradox, and he is a patient man. Rather than rushing to ﬁnish the task, he is digesting, exploring, and thinking, giving each paragraph as much time as it takes before he is ready to move on. Why hurry on to something new if the place you are in seems to oﬀer endless possibilities? Marc Ngui, intro-paragraph 25, drawing from the text of A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari 39
Preceding pages 40-41: Marc Ngui, intro-paragraph 16, drawing from the text of A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari Below: 1914-paragraph 14 Right: 1914-paragraph 15 (detail)
Above: Marc Ngui, legend for drawings from the text of A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Right: Marc Ngui and Magda Wojtyra, Love, Peace and Unity: Typical Robot Landscapes, Soft sculpture and digital print installation, 30”x30”. Digifest, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, 2004 inset top row: front view of installation and detail of interior inset second row: detail of interior, background: detail of drawing
The drawings were initially done as a tool for understanding. Now that they are in a gallery, there are many nested ways to read the work. You can literally decipher each drawing as it relates to the ideas in the original text; this will introduce the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari, and it will also make you somewhat aware of the shape of Ngui’s internal world. Each of us would draw these paragraphs diﬀerently, according to our own internal lexicon of imagery. By following an art map like this one we get a hint of how another person’s thoughts are structured. Just as Crystal Mowry’s version of the Gardens of Versailles is a new creation, Ngui’s drawings are 44
Marc Ngui, Velo-city (detail), digital collage, 22” x 9” Published in Spacing Magazine, 2005
Marc Ngui, Enter Avariz, 112 page graphic novel, published by Conundrum Press, Montreal, 2000-2003
not so much illustrations of the text as they are a new instance of ideas, and they have an internal coherence that doesn’t necessarily require the source text to back it up. Ngui provides a legend to explain his symbols, but the viewer may choose to forego a literal reading and simply gaze at the pictures to see if they spark any new shapes, associations, or conceptual trajectories. While Deleuze and Guattari ask us to see their book as a web of connections, Ngui’s drawings may achieve that goal better than the text itself. Each drawing only represents a small piece of the whole picture, but the overall structure may be embodied in the parts. The explanatory gap in philosophy dictates that we can never really know what is inside another person’s mind. In this project, however, Ngui works with the words of Deleuze and Guattari to give us a hypothetical model for the shape of the human mind. While neurologists plot out the physiological networks of the brain, artists like Ngui (as well as Carruthers and Mowry) study and model the shape of thinking. Personal stories and images mingle with cultural knowledge and shared iconography to hint at underlying psychic structures, too complex and multi-dimensional to pin down, but exciting to explore. For more on Marc Ngui’s work in his own words, turn to page 66 in the Round Table section of this book. 46
The following pages are excerpts from a round-table discussion held by the artists showing in Quantal Strife and moderated by Sally McKay. The discussion began with a show and tell for which each artist was asked to bring a person, place, and thing. Then the artists answered simple questions about their work.
Marc: The person I chose is that Alfred Jarry dude. He was a French writer at the turn of the century. These three books, Exploits & Opinions of Dr. Faustroll Pataphysician, The Banquet Years, and Alfred Jarry, The Man With The Axe really got me thinking. He’s a very eccentric character: he spent a lot of time in brothels and he spoke like a robot all the time. Eventually, he drank himself to death. And he invented the character of Pere Ubu when he was in high school! I think he’s an early instance of Monty Python–type satire, over-the-top and ridiculous stuﬀ. He inﬂuenced the Dadaists and the Surrealists. Scott: I read a comics biography of him, and he seemed to believe in what he was doing. Marc: He came up with this thing called pataphysics, which is the science of imaginary solutions. It’s brain-bending surreal50
ism. For example, in this book, Doctor Faustroll gets evicted from his house, and he sets sail on a golden sieve through the streets of Paris trying to avoid the bailiﬀ. There’s a baboon named AssFace (that’s Bosse-de-Nage in French) who rides with him. The imagery is wonderfully psychedelic; it’s all bright and colourful and shimmery and strange, and nouns are verbs and verbs are nouns. Scott: In what way has this inﬂuenced your work? Marc: It’s just a very complex sense of the absurd. It’s subtle, reﬁned, able to deal in paradox without blinking an eye. When I was ﬁrst reading it in 1997, I was just thinking, “Wow, this is really trippy... I love it.” And then over the years I started thinking more about Jarry’s work and trying to understand it.
Right: page scanned from Roger Shattuck’s, The Banquet Years, Vintage Books, New York, 1968
Sir Thomas Phillips
kitchen because all the other rooms were so full of books and paper that they couldn’t move around. Scott: That’s insane! Crystal: When he died, there was the hope that the collection would remain intact because it was an incredible representation of ﬁrst-edition publications, especially given the time that he died. Marc: When was that? Crystal: He was born in 1792, and he died in the late 1800s. The mature collection consisted of approximately 120,000 pieces. This was just after the Industrial Revolution. His collection ended up getting dispersed because nobody could aﬀord to take the whole thing. I think about him from time to time whenever I come close to acquiring too much paper [laughter], but also I like the idea of understanding something just by acquiring an object and having it near you physically.
Right: Sir Thomas Phillips in 1860.
Crystal: My person is Sir Thomas Phillips, a 19th-century book collector. I came across him when I was reading about collections and eccentrics a few years ago. He also collected maps and all sorts of paper ephemera. Some of the details of this story may be fuzzy, but that’s the way it is with storytelling. He was a nutty collector and he would purchase anything he could ﬁnd. His interest wasn’t so much in reading to understand the information as it was an issue of just being able to have it... all. He was a member of the minor nobility, not a signiﬁcant knight or anything like that, but he ended up with a large estate home and he ﬁlled it with books. By the time he died, he had one of the largest book collections known in the world. They had to clean it out with wheelbarrows. He’d pilfered away all his earnings on these books, and he’d driven away his family. At the point when his wife and children left the house, they had been living in the
Sally: When were books themselves available?
side topic: books
Marc: Soon after the printing press. Scott: I think it took a long time for books to get into the middle class’s hands. Crystal: I wonder how long it would’ve taken for literacy to develop beyond the upper-class nobility. Marc: Oh, that’s true! People would’ve had a very limited vocabulary. Crystal: I wonder if literacy, and the fact that people could get access to words on a page, changed the way they understood those words? Marc: It’s almost like a feedback loop: you see something on paper and it goes into your brain. That gives you an idea, you put it on paper, and then someone else reads it and it goes into their brain. It expands from the people who had the original idea.
Marc: Graphic design is another stage of the development of that original written language. There is information in the way things look. Crystal: The most universally successful graphic design is the creation of symbols that we recognize across the board, regardless of language. Like the man and woman icons for washrooms. Scott: I always mix them up. [laughter] Scott: In web design, you have to convey information so people can use it intuitively. Marc: I get excited thinking about the archetypal web page layout, with the repeated information/menu structure. I wonder if this is how our brain likes to think about things.
Scott: It’s a deﬁnite change from an oral tradition. Putting it into a tangible form abstracts it. That can expand the meaning. Crystal: The meaning also becomes informed by the ornamental aspects of typography. 53
side topic: games Scott: The most interesting interfaces are in games. A lot of websites are borrowing from the work that’s gone into making games intuitive. No one reads manuals in games! You expect what’s in front of you to tell you what to do, to guide. It’s a diﬀerent language. Crystal: I’m probably going to be the least vocal person here, because I don’t have the game experience. Sally: It’s not all about games. Marc: It’s about the point of view. Crystal: Well, I don’t like video games but I do like board games. Scott: I recently played my favourite non-video game. It’s like charades but you make stuﬀ out of play dough as fast as you can. Half the fun is just mocking the amorphous piece of crap that your teammate expects you to interpret. 54
Crystal: I have a game called Taboo which is similar. If you are paired up with someone you speak to often enough you can skip some of the steps. But if you’re playing with someone you don’t know very well then you have to use more generalized language to describe the secret word. Scott: Those are interesting communication games, where you have to hope that you are on the same wavelength. It’s amazing the number of jumps you can make where the other person guesses something you’ve only hinted at. Marc: It would be interesting if someone studied the fastest ways to convey information in every particular media, like clay, drawing, speech, charades. They’d develop this ultra-eﬃcient language, and they’d just go “beep” and you’d receive two paragraphs worth of information. Crystal: It’s the same people who are coming up with icons in airports. [laughter]
Marx and Freud Scott: Okay, it’s not really a person. It’s a drawing [holds up drawing, see illustration pg. 56]. I don’t know if you can guess who these two gentlemen are, but — Crystal: It’s Marx and.. Sally & Marc : ...Freud. Scott: Yes! These guys are the grandfathers of 20th-century thought. I was thinking about how much they’ve inﬂuenced me, and that I hadn’t realized it until recently. I read a lot of Freud when I was in my 20s, and I read a lot of Marx when I was in my 30s. I haven’t read either of them since. But I was using these two to work out art problems. I respect both of them and their works, and they were very inﬂuential conceptually — but mostly just thinking about these two thinkers has advanced my work. I should deﬁne what I found important about them: they are both materialists. Freud has this very down-to-earth idea of how the psyche works, based on the physical processes that they knew of at the time. Marx is a materialist too. He took Hegel’s ideas
of the dialectic and he applied them to the ways that he thought capitalism and society worked. I perceive both of them to be saying that the truth underneath is different from appearance. Marx was talking about what appears to be a fair deal between the capitalist and the worker. Freud was talking about what appears to be a joke or a pun. He brought it all down to these primal impulses that were quite the opposite of what you would say or how you would perceive something. I like reading books about things that debunk other things, and these two guys were the greatest debunkers. What it came down to with enhancing my work was that I was making images I felt were completely subconscious but at the same time I was developing a vocabulary — comics were the perfect venue — to use more universal symbols. I was trying to make an image that was completely personal and at the same time looked like a political cartoon, or something someone could read and apply a meaning that was of the world and not psychological. 55
Marc: That’s cool. Coming from a comics background, I ﬁnd that political cartoonists and personal autobiographical cartoonists are from opposite ends of the spectrum. One is deep in the mind and the other one is looking at the big picture. Putting them together does nice things to my head.
Scott: Well, that’s why I drew these two [Marx and Freud] this way; it’s almost like they’re chained together. Each of my drawings is about trying to do a distilled version of these two impulses. Scott Carruthers’s drawing of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud
Google’s Information Network Marc: This is where I stretch the deﬁnition of place, because my place is a thing. [laughter] I chose the network of information that Google is assembling, which makes me totally freaked out.
about it. They just said something like “we don’t know anything about that” or “that’s not our priority.”
Marc: I recently got a laptop and we were looking at Google Earth. That’s mind expanding.
Marc: Yeah. When I step back and see everything that they’re doing, the things they’re connecting, the implications, it gives me a weird buzz. Recently, there was a story that I thought was very funny, about this A.I. intellectual, George Dyson, who went to visit Google. One of the technicians, talking about Google Print, told him, “We’re not scanning the books for humans to read, we’re scanning them for an A.I. to read.” It freaked this guy out and so he asked a Google higher-up
Scott: I wish I could get that on my Mac! Marc: Well, Google is my “place.” I know it’s a stretch. Scott: No no, it’s cyberspace. That stretch of making a whole bunch of information into a perceived space is pretty mind blowing. It’s something we could never have imagined in the 60s and 70s.
Milstein Hall of Ocean Life Crystal: For my place, I could just say all zoos and museums, but I think speciﬁcally I’ll cite the Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I didn’t bring a picture, but I like the possibility of just telling you guys about this space. The Hall has a scale model of a blue whale, and it’s massive. Marc: It’s a one-to-one model? Crystal: Yes. It was initially made from visuals of a dead blue whale. It’s the largest living animal, so nobody ever really sees all of it when the animal is moving around. There were certain aspects of this big model that were not true to how the blue whale looks alive. There was something about the eyes — they were bloated — so recently they remodelled it. Anyhow, it’s in this space that has a mysterious, dramatic lighting, very theatrical. And they have a huge collection in which they try to represent every organism living in oceanic waters. All these models are around the perimeter of this huge, vaulted space. Marc: Are they all one-to-one? 58
Crystal: I don’t know, but the whale sure is. You all know how huge a blue whale is. When you walk in, the sensation is overwhelming. You just think, “Wow there’s all of this.” This massive whale is suspended from the ceiling — it’s quite an impressive feeling to walk into that space and see all the oceanic wildlife. There’s a sense of vertigo in the possibility of all of this being there without anyone knowing it. We don’t live in oceanic waters, we don’t live in that landscape, and we don’t see that stuﬀ ﬁrst-hand. Tanya Read [Scott’s partner and also an artist]: I’ve been scuba diving, and you can only go down about 30 metres. If you start going down any further you need special equipment, and you might not have enough oxygen to get back up. It’s dark, and you don’t know what’s down there. You get this feeling that you just want to keep going and going down to the bottom of the ocean, but you can only stay in this upper crust of the ocean. It’s overwhelming. Crystal: And even being in that upper crust already seems in itself quite captivating and overwhelming because
Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City. Photo © D. Finnin/AMNH
you know that you aren’t even seeing everything that’s there. You can’t imagine there being so much more. Scott: It makes me think of archaeological reconstructions of human beings and dinosaurs from fragments of bones. You imagine the model changes constantly as it develops — “Oops, we found another jaw.” Based on the knowledge we have at hand, we try to make these whole models. Kids read about dinosaurs in books and say “that’s what they looked like,” when potentially they could have been a whole lot diﬀerent. Sally: Crystal, how much of your interest in this place has to do with the
whale being ﬁrst represented as it was dead, and then revamped? Crystal: It doesn’t have as much to do with the dead whale. My experience of wonder was more to do with how the space was constructed, the theatrical elements and the scale of everything. That museum is a fantastic example of a natural history museum. They have the oldest dioramas on the continent and they are in absolutely impeccable shape. The presentation is very thorough and all the cabinetry is just so. Sally: It’s really old-fashioned, true to that old-style museology. Scott: It’s a diorama museum. [laughter] 59
Aerial Points of View Scott: I couldn’t think of a place, so instead I thought of a viewpoint that really intrigues me: an aerial map. Google Earth makes me want to buy a PC so I can spend entire evenings tracking down the minutiae of Toronto, or describing to Tanya where I went when I was doing deliveries that day [Scott is a bike courier]. That’s what I’m like. If someone is telling
an anecdote and they’re describing a street corner, I have to ask them which way they were facing and what they were looking at. It’s just because I do what I do. When I’m working, I often have the impulse to go into really tall buildings. I’ll just stand there for ﬁfteen minutes—even if it’s busy—and I’ll look down. It’s very comforting for me to see things on the level of a
Below and Right: details of Scott Carruthers’s collage of his drawings inserted into an aerial map
grid. So what I did for today was put my drawings into a map. Sally: Oh my god... Scott: Not everyone says my work looks like maps, but once a courier I know went by when I was doing a realtime drawing in the window, and he said later, “Oh, I was really busy but I went by the window and you were drawing a map.” I always tell people the simplest interpretation of my work is that the lines are the streets and the boxes are the buildings and they have people inside. I’m being a bit facetious; it’s not the main focus of my work, but it is a way that I like it to be seen. Crystal: That’s really interesting, considering that each one of us picked people from the 19th century, which was the time when there would have been a lot of attention paid to stereoscopes and panoramas and all kinds of devices for shifting our sense of perception. Marc: That’s right. Those people had to deal with a scale shift in our understanding of the universe. Suddenly they’re saying, “Oh, there’s so much more there — how do we make sense of this?”
Tao Te Ching Marc: My thing is a book, the Tao Te Ching. That’s the thing for me.
Tanya Read: It’s almost like all the versions of the bible condensed into one.
Sally: Okay, can you summarize that really quickly? [laughter]
Marc: It’s a ﬂuid text that’s been combined and recombined over centuries.
Marc: Well, the Tao Te Ching prepares you for not understanding. And that, for me, is really crucial. It presents a vision of reality that is ﬁlled with paradox, and it puts you at ease with uncertainty. This is a good version because it breaks it down in a number of ways. [ﬂips to a page with a big chart] Here it gives you the character and its Chinese pronunciation. Then it’s like a thesaurus, because each character has about six meanings. That’s what doesn’t translate well: the idea that the characters have multiple really subtle nuances. In this book, they give twelve translations of the ﬁrst verse, so you get diﬀerent points of view. The Victorian translation, for instance, tries to make it Christian. They basically talk about the Tao as God.
Scott: Does anyone know which language is commonly thought to be the easiest to learn?
Marc: I took a few Mandarin lessons and the grammar is really easy, but not the accents. You can have these words that look the same on paper, but there are so many diﬀerent ways for the accent to go: up at the end, down at the end... The grammar is simple: you just throw all these words together and because you know what they’re talking about, because you know the context, you can understand what’s going on. I think. That’s pure speculation... almost. [laughter] Scott: I like that! “Pure speculation... almost.”
Right: page 100 of Lao Tzu’s, Tao Te Ching: the deﬁnitive edition — translation and commentary by Jonathan Star, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, New York, 2001
Rabbit Diorama by Walter Potter Crystal: This is a postcard of a diorama by Walter Potter. He’s another 19th-century guy. Potter used to make little dioramas with domestic animals that he’d set up in these very Protestant-looking scenarios. This one is the rabbit school, and there are all these little rabbits sitting at desks. He was another dude with weird collections and he was rather
eccentric. When he died, his collection was auctioned oﬀ and dispersed. There used to be a small museum that had a number of the dioramas, but the collection has been sold oﬀ. The most popular one, apparently, is The Kitten Wedding, which is a bizarre scene with these little cats getting married. It’s so strange to see the activities of humans placed on animals in this way.
Walter Potter’s diorama The Rabbits’ Village School, 1888 From A Case of Curiosities, www.acaseofcuriosities.com/potter.html
Marc: It should be called the Kitten Massacre. Crystal: I know! It’s a massacre. But there is still a quirky sense of humour. Scott: Okay, here’s the joke that I see: they’re doing division, but rabbits multiply. Crystal: In the context of my work, what I’m interested in is the absurdity of human activities being placed on nature. Scott: Anthropomorphizing. Crystal: It’s the discrepancy between what’s considered civilized and the ridiculousness of making these animals do it! The Kitten Wedding, c.1890. From A Case of Curiosities, www.acaseofcuriosities.com/potter.html
Sharpie Scott: The thing I chose is my Sharpie marker. I use only this type of marker in my drawings and I can’t use anything else. I get a lot of utility out of it; you can make a lot of variation with the tip. Sally: He’s got a lot of Sharpies, all at different stages of bluntness. Scott: I waste a lot of them because I leave the caps oﬀ. It’s a given that when I’m working I’m going to wreck some. Marc: So, you’re after the Sharpie because of the ink ﬂow, because the ink never stops. Scott: It’s like graﬃti for someone who is actually too scared to go outside and deface other people’s buildings. But you’re right, I can’t work with something that I have to constantly dip. I like the idea of just using one material and trying to get as much variation out of that as possible. I was thinking I might ask them to sponsor me. 65
Marc, can you walk us through one of your diagrams? Marc: It’s tricky because each drawing builds on the others. That’s the way the book [A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari] is structured. The introduction describes the “rhizome” by using diﬀerent images and metaphors, like memory or the ways that plants and wasps function. In this part, they are talking about the difference between long-term and short-term memory. This is paragraph 16 of the introduction. Here’s the picture. [laughter] [pg. 68, colour version on pg. 40]
short-term memory is of the rhizome or diagram type, and long-term memory is arborescent and centralized.” Throughout the whole book, they make diﬀerentiations between a rhizome and a tree. A tree comes from one stem and it branches out — bifurcation. But the rhizome is a continual relationship between everything all at the same time. “Long-term memory is arborescent and centralized,” so it’s like a tree.
Marc: It’s pretty obsessive stuﬀ. I’ll read a couple of sentences. [A Thousand Plateaus, pg. 15]
“Short-term memory is in no way subject to a law of contiguity or immediacy to its object; it can act at a distance, come or return a long time after, but always under conditions of discontinuity, rupture, and multiplicity.”
“Neurologists and psychophysiologists distinguish between long-term memory and short-term memory (on the order of a minute). The diﬀerence between them is not simply quantitative:
I’ll describe what the symbols are in the picture, then I’ll continue reading. Each of the frames (ﬁg.1) is like a movie frame or a comics panel. There’s a person here, same person, same per-
Scott: You do like Monty Python.
son. In this symbol here (ﬁg.2), the bar is on the right side of the circle, in the middle, or on the left side of the circle. These represent three diﬀerent seconds of time, same person. These brown square boxes (ﬁg.3) represent long-term memory. It starts here and branches out. The long-term memory goes back to the past and connects to everything. This box is not directly connected to that box, it has to go through a chain or series. These green circles (ﬁg.4) are the plateaus or the nodes of the rhizome. They exist in the moment. The frame on the right is the present, although it looks like the future. [laughter] The green river (ﬁg.5) is one node. The blue lines (ﬁg.6) refer to the lines of ﬂight, which is another relationship, or action, in the authors’ deﬁnition of reality, or, rather, their deﬁnition of how we understand reality. As I read the text, the drawings build up a vocabulary. I should make a legend. Basically, these frames are the moments in time, this is the same person, the tree-like bit is long-term memory, and the short-term memory is spread out all at once and has these lines that connect to the past. But you know what? I should change this drawing. [laughter] Just imagine that these connections between the green ones are a continuous mesh. That’s
Marc Ngui, intro-paragraph 16, drawing from the text of A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. For colour version see pg. 40
my understanding of it now. Anyway, I’ll read a couple more sentences and see if anything clicks. Scott: Or snaps. Sally: Can I ask you a question ﬁrst? Is this red stuﬀ indicating the present? Marc: This red line (ﬁg.7) was developed in another series of drawings and it just represents life, or consciousness. 68
Scott: Have you ever contemplated using a legend before? Marc: Not until this very moment, actually, when I tried to explain it. Scott: It wouldn’t oversimplify your work, it would just add another level. There’s so much ambiguity here, and people would still want to read it in their own way, but the fact that you do conceptualize these images would add another element.
Marc: I think it would be very useful, and I think it would deﬁnitely further the communication. A legend already exists in my head. Each thing means something in particular. I’ll read a couple more sentences and see if anything comes together in your head. “Furthermore, the diﬀerence between the two kinds of memory is not that of two temporal modes of apprehending the same thing; they do not grasp the same thing, memory, or idea. The splendor of the short-term Idea: one writes using short-term memory, and thus short-term ideas, even if one reads or rereads using long-term memory of long-term concepts. Shortterm memory includes forgetting as a process; it merges not with the instant but instead with the nervous, temporal, and collective rhizome.” That’s why I would add lines to the drawing. “Long-term memory (family, race, society, or civilization) traces and translates, but what it translates continues to act in it, from a distance, oﬀ beat, in an ‘untimely’ way, not instantaneously.” Long-term memory is always referencing the past, while short-term memory is more in the moment. The key thing is that the short-term memory isn’t tree-like. It’s always expanding and relating. I could do an animation possibly. It’s interesting that, looking at
this now, I realize I could probably make this drawing more accurate, which is maybe something I should do. Sally: No, I don’t think so. Scott: I think you should! Go ahead. It should be more accurate. Marc: I think so too, because the more I read, the more I understand. Sally: It’s a question about your project, though. I don’t really think that you did this necessarily as a ﬁnished work. Marc: No, it’s more for learning. Sally: If it’s a tool for understanding, then even if it doesn’t exactly reﬂect the text it has done its job. Scott: But if you’re doing it for those reasons then you should redraw it in order to pursue your idea. These are very engaging but they completely baﬄe me. It seems to me that you’re translating time into space. I am intrigued by diagrams that attempt to convey something about time but they have to translate it into space. You do it by using three-dimensional lines in this case. In reading this, and studying the text, it’s very rich. Whatever your process is, if you think you could make it more accurate, then do it, absolutely. 69
Crystal, why did you pick Versailles? Crystal: I was in New York for a dog show. The Westminster is the largest dog show in North America and the oldest one in the world. I was interested in ﬁnding a way to describe everything that was happening there in a distilled, elegant, simple language. Eventually I created balsa wood structures that represented groups of dogs in the show, according to their population numbers. While I was in New York, I only had time to do a whirlwind tour. I really wanted to see a panorama of Versailles that they had at the Met. It was one of the few examples of a really good early panorama. But I ended up missing it, and so I became ﬁxated. I did a bit of research and found that there used to be a menagerie at the Gardens of Versailles which was organized in a very similar way to a panoptic stadium: the animals were arranged in cages all around a central viewing point. Louis XIV and his court could go in to see the animals all around them and get a centralized perspective on biodiversity. Scott: So they wouldn’t have to move. 70
Crystal: They wouldn’t have to move! The world would come to them. Scott: [drawling] Wipe my ahss while I view these ahnimals. Crystal: Right. So then I became interested in the conundrum of understanding a diﬀerent species through viewing. I started to think about Versailles itself in this way. I was really interested in ﬁnding a way to describe this place I had never been, in a visual language that I could understand. It would function as a tool for me because I would have a legend, and I would know where each hedge might be. But for anyone else it would become more of an ornament, just compressed green lines on a surface. I started making it in sections and found that it was really hard to make something that is so expansive, that’s supposed to occupy 2,000 acres in a space that’s equivalent to 300 square feet. I’ve been making it in my very small apartment in sections that can be assembled and reconﬁgured in different situations. That’s something I do in all my work, it can always be
Crystal Mowry, Ongoing Ideal Forms (After Versailles) (detail from work in progress), 2006
rearranged. I’m interested in the potential for reconﬁguration.
Sally: What are some speciﬁcs of your source material?
Marc: It’s kind of like a DJ resampling culture, but you’re doing it with the Gardens of Versailles.
Crystal: I’m working pretty much entirely from photos, and there’s always this problem of perspective. The photos are taken at angles that are not entirely aerial, but just aerial enough that you can get a sense of the design. The hedges and trees of a certain panel make up what you would see in one photograph, or what I think is the
Crystal: I was interested in the possibility of describing something that’s constantly changing, and working with images that are taken from all diﬀerent times and all diﬀerent perspectives.
relevant information in the photograph. I’ll decide on site how they’ll be assembled. Marc: Are you avoiding looking at a ﬂoor plan of the whole garden? Crystal: I have looked at them, but I ﬁnd that when I look at plans, I lose the potential for intimacy within the space, because of the all-encompassing viewpoint. I don’t get a sense of the scale. Marc: You become disconnected from the experience. Crystal: Yes, because it’s too much information for me. I need to be able to access these smaller samples, and then re-situate them for myself. Part of that experience of seeing and understanding space comes from the road trips I used to take with my family when I was younger. We never ﬂew. I didn’t experience what the ground looks like from the air until I was in my early twenties. Lately, I’ve been more interested in sights I haven’t been to, and being able to remove them one more step from seeing them in photographs. I want to describe them in a diﬀerent 72
language. It’s like using balsa wood to describe an event, or furnace filters to describe a waterfall, or paper to describe a parking lot at the West Edmonton Mall. Those are some of the other routes that I have taken. Sally: When this piece is done, will you consider it a description of Versailles? Is that how you think about it? Crystal: For in-house purposes, I think of it as description. I use that language when I’m not at a state of completion yet. Things are still shifting, I’m still trying to get the ideas in a physical form. But when it’s complete I think of it more as a work, or an object, or a set of coordinates that can be reconﬁgured to create a certain experience. Marc: I have a question. Do you think the Gardens of Versailles particularly lend themselves to this type of exercise, or do you think it could have been done about anything? Crystal: Versailles is a particularly good place for this type of investigation because it is already so cultivated. It’s already an ornament in itself. And it’s gone through years and years of change. I’m interested in things that
already have their own history and have already seen a bit of evolution. I take that and play with it one more step. In the gardens, which are 346 years old, certain areas have burned out and new areas have been built. The aerial maps that you see of the gardens from the time of its inception are diﬀerent that what you would see now. The geography of the garden is not really reliable. That unreliability makes it interesting. Marc: It’s interesting to me that you’ve got the hand of man involved. It’s an ideal. There’s intention behind generating it, and that intention has to do with an increasingly civilized incursion into nature. Crystal: It’s the height of the formal French style of gardening, as well. English style is diﬀerent, more wild. Versailles is also the height of decadence in horticulture. There’s a lot of plants imported, whole forests were uprooted and transplanted because those particular trees were wanted by the king. Sally: It’s that collecting thing. Crystal: Yes, the element of collecting and preservation, and the problem of
knowing through collecting. And I am totally aware of the problem of me being involved in this... Sally: You have a bit of that avarice yourself. Crystal: I know! The attempt to describe for myself in a visual language places I’ve never been is part of that. Scott: Do you collect anything? Crystal: I don’t. I’m drawn to objects that have their own stories. But I’m also interested in scale and ﬁnding ways to miniaturize and make tangible a lot of the more overwhelming or sublime instances of landscape. Scott: Can I ask about the camera? Does it show a ﬁrst-person perspective? Crystal: There isn’t a consistent scale, but I use a bit of conjecture to keep the point of view somewhat consistent. It’s kind of a compromise, my own version. The track for the camera gets assembled on top of the panels. The perspective is a little higher than human size. It’s just a security camera, it’s a bit fuzzy. I like the possibility of that being taken as a nostalgic view on something that’s already quite speciﬁc to a particular period of time. 73
Scott, why do you draw so many pictures? Scott: Formally, I ﬁnd a certain level of pleasure in viewing tons of information at once. I ﬁnd it tactile. The whole idea of massive drawings came from crazy people’s writings, like this. [holds up example] We found this taped to a lamppost. The idea of a sign is that you communicate as simply as possible, but this person has got the whole page covered with all this information. It creates a really nice tactile pattern. When I made paintings they were the chunkiest things — very, very painterly. Now when I make drawings, that’s still what I’m attempting to do. I like looking at them from far away. Also, the way information is conveyed to us these days is all fragmented; there’s tons of it, and it’s all broken up. It’s a no-brainer to put my work in that format. I also like letting the viewer do a lot of the work. This way, the viewer can make a lot of connections and participate a little bit more than if they were looking at something they think they’ve got to solve. They can make their own bridges between things. Marc: Each panel is sort of like an im74
pressionist dot. And the thing you’re creating is an idea that’s created in the person’s head. You’re just giving them some stimulation. Scott: I do work really hard at my images and try to make them better, but at the same time I try to dismiss that and just think of an overall experience that I want people to have. It’s pretty abstract, I suppose. Marc: I like the way that when you get back really far from the drawings, they have the same sort of feeling as a map, like those aerial views. You see the densities of the lights and the darks. Scott: I want people to have a fairly intense visual experience, and also a fairly intense conceptual one. It’s restless. I’m always striving to come up with a diﬀerent image each time, and that’s a challenge. Sometimes a drawing will look familiar, so I’ll erase it. Of course sometimes they do repeat. I’ll realize later that I did the same drawing three years ago. It’s an impossible task, a bit like a game.
Left: Scott Carruthers, Out Of Time Or Out Of Space? (detail), black marker on transparent mylar. Dimensions variable, 2006
The work has changed a lot. I used to draw on foamcore and you couldn’t change it. In some ways I miss that, because it was more pure, but there was a lot of ﬁller. No one comes up with a great image every single time. Now I draw on plastic, and I do a lot of erasing [using Ajax to remove the indelible marker from the mylar]. Marc: You’ve got your rules. Scott: I had rules when I was a painter too. I would throw on the paint, and any time I made something that looked like a line I had to destroy it. I work with these self-imposed structures. Francis Bacon would do the same thing — he’d throw a paint-ﬁlled rag at the canvas whenever it became too illustrative. I structure these rules that I attempt to adhere to, but they’re impossible. Anyhow, that’s me. I’m done. [laughter]
Artists’ Bios Scott Carruthers is an artist
based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in 1995 and Sheridan College in 1999. Since then, he has been active in the Toronto art community. He was a cofounder and exhibiting artist in the Impure collective, a group of artists who organized exhibitions in Toronto between 1994 and 1998. In 1999, he and Tanya Read opened Fly Gallery, a storefront window which functions as an alternative exhibition space for artists. The Fly Gallery continues as an ongoing project. He has worked as a bike courier in Toronto since 1988.
Crystal Mowry is an emerging
artist currently residing in Guelph, Ontario. She is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design (AOCAD, 2000) and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University (MFA, 2002). Her work has been included in exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Calgary, The Khyber Centre for the Arts (Halifax), Queens Park (Toronto) and the Klondike Institute of Art & Culture (Dawson City). Her recent projects include collaborations with Panya Clark Espinal (as Liminal Solutions) for the Manchester Lether76
ium Ideas Competition exhibited at Cornerhouse Gallery (Manchester, UK) and “The Terrarium Project” at Harbourfront Centre (Toronto) in 2006. When not exploring subjective cartographies, she is the Curatorial Assistant at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. Her work examines wonder, scale, and knowledge in ﬁctitious versions of tourist-destination landscapes. Crystal Mowry is grateful for the Canada Council’s suppport of Ongoing Ideal Forms (After Versailles).
Marc Ngui (b. 1972, Guyana) is a
graphic novelist and artist whose work is ﬁrmly rooted in DIY/zine culture. He recently realized that he is on a lifelong exploration into the mechanics of visual communication. In the past year he has worked in illustration, comics, storyboards, animation, video journalism, exhibition design, sign painting, maps, diagrams, pictograms, and icons — all for reputable clients (or so he says). He is currently trying to balance an overwhelming surge of technology-inspired optimism with an understanding that the polar ice caps will no longer be frozen in the winter time by the end of this century. More information about his work can be found here — www.bumblenut.com.
Many thanks to our funders, particularly the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for their generous support of the Quantal Strife Field Guide and exhibition. We are grateful to Alana Wilcox for her keen editorial eye, and to the generous individuals who donated time to help with this publication: Rick Conroy, Hannah Evans, Nancy MacDougall, Sandra Rechico, and especially Magda Wojtyra.
University of Toronto at Scarborough
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Published on Oct 7, 2009
This is the art catalogue for an exhibition entitled Quantal Strife. The exhibit featured work by Scott Carruthers, Crystal Mowry and Marc...