Bruce Hainley In the past few years, you’ve spent a lot of time looking at the videos and films of George Kuchar and Nathaniel Dorsky. The longer one considers the work of either artist, qualities such as Kuchar’s diaristic loopiness or Dorsky’s intense meditations on the play of light, occur differently but definitively, in each: Kuchar has heartbreakingly meditative intensities and Dorsky can shift, quietly, into the autobiographical, say, when the viewer’s eye is guided to dwell on the stuff in his partner’s kitchen after a dinner party. I wonder if you could say something about dailiness, intensity and abstraction, and how to broach their connectedness in your work?
Vincent Fecteau There are few things that have inspired me more in the last few years than the films of Kuchar and Dorsky; I actually find it humbling to think about the way their lives seem so integrated with their work. I feel like my work commandeers my life, rather than just being a natural part of it, but I’m probably romanticizing their relationship to what they do. In any case I love the way they both seem to be led by their eyes. Their work begins and ends with how they visually negotiate the world around them. Which I think is kind of rare today.
BH No small part of what is compelling about your new wall-mounted work is that it demands an ‘eye lead’. The pieces would seem to have a front and back and also really do not have a definitive front or back, quietly insisting upon the difficulty of apprehending the world by sight. By this I mean they trouble quick viewing and literalize what cannot be seen, in that at least half of what potentially could be seen is unavailable in a single viewing. The works exist in some actual between state, not normatively sculpture but also in no way painting, despite being quite specifically painted and sculptural. This is not the same as your other recent papier-mâché sculptures, situated on pedestals: anyone could walk around them. Their bases were not meant to be accessed, even if how they were positioned was at question: for instance, some rose up from ‘points’, while others have rectilinear foundations. Could you say more about the challenge of ‘being led by the eye’ and how this relates, if it does, to Kuchar and Dorsky?
VF I’m not trying to be cagey, but I’m not sure what I can say about the challenge of ‘being led by the eye’. I’m ill-equipped, or maybe reluctant, to try and write or talk about something that seems to be so exclusively about the visual experience. I think what makes Dorsky’s films, in particular, so amazing is that they resist translation. They are irreducible. I am, however, willing to take a stab at talking about the new work. First of all, I want to correct part of your description. I would not say that ‘at least half of what potentially could be seen is unavailable in a single viewing’ – rather, that for most of the pieces only a small portion is unavailable at any given time. However, because they are flipped front to back and top to bottom when they are shown in the other position, there are elements that probably weren’t seen due to being below or slightly out of view or look very different due to the different orientation. That’s what makes these pieces kind of irritating. Although they have what we could call an ‘A’ side and a ‘B’ side, parts of a ‘B’ side are seen (in a ‘backwards’ or ‘upside down’ orientation) when one is looking at the ‘A’ side and vice versa. This problem recently reminded me of some ‘limited edition’ candies I saw last year called Junior Mints Inside Outs. A normal Junior Mints candy has a white minty interior covered by a chocolate shell. Junior Mints Inside Outs, however, consist of a chocolate mint centre and white candy coating. So they’re not really ‘inside out’. This drove me crazy and I kept trying to figure out how to diagram the relationship between Junior Mints and Junior Mints Inside Outs. I’m not sure it can be done. They are not opposites of each other. After you left my studio a couple of weeks ago I thought: maybe these pieces are like Junior Mints Inside Outs.
BH Junior Mints Inside Outs got the design (not to mention the interior design) wrong. All of which makes me think of the interior designer Hasi Hester. At one point, his swatch books presented a possible colour scheme for the new works. Did any of his palettes or patterns remain?
VF Ha! I’d forgotten about Hester. The colours weren’t consciously influenced but now that you mention it there are some funny overlaps. I’d love to see the work hanging on some Hasi Hester original wallpaper!
BH How does design, interior or otherwise, influence your work and/or process?
VF These days I’m more excited about watching runway videos on my computer than interior stuff.
BH Oh, URL, please, of your current favourite runway vid!
VF There is something really sculpturally interesting – volumes, textures, materials, colours – about clothes in the theatrical context of the runway show. I’ve never been to a one, but I imagine they’re distilled theatre with only the things I’m ever actually really interested in: sets, lighting, costumes, sound. I just watched a Givenchy one that I thought was quite exciting (www.tinyurl.com/y8fjflc).
BH Riccardo Tisci adores ruching and soft falling ruffles as a way to accent or conceal the body. Your last group of sculptures all started by cutting apart, working, and reworking papier-mâché initially shaped around a beach ball – whose ghost form, because of certain arcs, declivities or concavities, could still be, somehow, felt in the final pieces. The starting-point for the new works arrives via florists’ flower-shipping boxes, a cardboard rectilinearity almost impossible to discern. In each piece, the papier-mâché curves around and carves out from cardboard tubes that not only provide structural support but also allow the works to be mounted on electrical-tape-padded nails. Could you say something about the engineering? What logistics get the pieces to balance, rather than sag, off-kilter? Does their complex engineering change or become their ‘meaning’? Is it somehow akin to the ‘sets, lighting, costumes, sound’ that interest you?
VF These most recent pieces started with papier mâché scraps from several years worth of cutting and reworking sculptures. I glued these scraps into cardboard flower boxes, cut some of the boxes in half, joining the halves back to back and started my usual process of adding and subtracting forms, shapes, with papier mâché. Several years ago, I made some relief pieces for a public art project and decided to revisit the problems of wall-mounted sculpture. I thought that it might be interesting to see if it was possible to make sculptures with no front, back, top or bottom. When I decided that these pieces would be hung on the wall and be reversible, I knew that the mechanism of this movement and installation should be clear and simple: hang from one post, no extra support. The forms and the fact that they were reversible – that was complicated enough. It seemed important to me that the ‘how’ was as honest as possible. The cardboard tubes cut through the form and, I think, suggest that there is another side, another way to hang, allowing you to see the nail and the wall. As with everything I make, the engineering part was all trial and error. I figured out how to get the pieces to balance just by altering them over and over. So, yeah, the forms were definitely informed by the physical limitations of hanging on a wall and being reversible. The inside of the tubes expose the raw papier-mâché and the mechanism of the piece, so I guess it’s like a ‘behind-the-scenes’ view. Maybe the insides of the tubes are the pieces’ true ‘backs’ or ‘bottoms.’
BH Or oculars. When we were standing in front of the forms in an almost completed state, the two tube holes, even though they’re never situated like eye sockets, took on aspects of ‘eyes’ – like masks, while clearly not being masks at all. I’ve always found reference in your work as compelling as it is oblique: the single half of a walnut shell shifting into lone testicle; the ‘stains’ in certain works suggesting piss or cum on underwear; a pattern in relief becoming a sneaker tread and just as quickly ‘mere’ pattern. I’m fascinated by how and why something abstract takes on referential specificity and then ‘loses’ it. You have an ongoing commitment to what is often called abstraction. How do you think about abstraction and/or non-representation, given that no small part of what’s bracing about it is how it escapes or shrugs off language?
VF Language is a major part of the way we negotiate the world, but it’s not the only way we think. Shapes, colours, spaces, textures inevitably invoke specific references but the inverse is also real. The world around us, even our emotional or psychological world, can be experienced as a continually shifting arrangement of shapes, colours, spaces, textures. I like to think of this reality as some sort of messy continuum rather than an ‘either/or’ problem. It’s kind of like these new pieces with their shifting double-sidedness.
BH It reminds me of something you talked about a long time ago, the singular lighting effect of a gay bar in San Francisco, which, if looked at one way was just a vertical line of red light and another way spelled out, briefly, magically, the name of the bar, THE DETOUR. You proposed it as a diagram for the creative process, and at the time I took that to mean the lighting effect itself. Now I’d be tempted to say it was the effect, but also the context and atmosphere of where the effect took place, and maybe even the suggestiveness of detouring, that made it such a provocative diagram. Without getting all early 1990s identity politic-y, I’ve been trying to consider what sexuality, its potential hot mess and comic bite as much as its elusive and allusive specificities, has to do with aesthetics. How these matters are bound up with AIDS and its cultural ramifications complicates any thinking … I’m starting to drift, so let me try to anchor things. You participated in a retrospective show, organized by Chris Perez at Ratio 3, for Kiki, a short-lived San Francisco gallery, founded and directed by the late Rick Jacobsen. In 1994, you had your first solo show at Kiki, ‘Ben’, named after Michael Jackson’s rat. Any thoughts?
VF I’d never really thought about the word that the sign was spelling out which seems ridiculous but is kind of typical for me. And you’re probably right. I’m not sure it would have had the same impact had it not been in a very old school style gay bar (all black interior, chain link fences etc.) and had I not usually been drinking when I was thinking about it. It’s funny because the space that the wall-mounted laser defined was a semicircle. Now when I think about seeing that sign and moving around the space it seems related to these most recent pieces. They’re also on the wall and require a half-circle of movement if one is really to ‘see’ them. I think who I am, where I’ve been and what I’ve seen absolutely makes its way into the work. In fact, I think that’s all there is. After the ‘Ben’ show, I decided not to approach content directly but to trust that it would follow me as I moved around the room.
BH Speaking of moving around the room: the Christopher Wilmarth sculpture, New (1968) that operated as a centre both for ‘Not New Work’ (the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art show you curated from their collection – a selection of 25 works which had rarely, if ever, been displayed before) and for the set of postcards published to document it, does a lot with the half circle. Although a freestanding sculpture, New provides an intense consideration of two-sidedness and of the paradoxical management of magic and revealing the trick of materials (the clear glass slab supporting New’s wood elements appears and disappears), among other things.
VF Despite the number of images, and the fact that it’s a symmetrical ‘two-sided’ form, the postcards fails to capture the strangeness of New. A 360-degree tracking shot cannot approximate the way a human body moves around an object or within a space: heads turn, backs slouch, eyes shift. It’s that conflict between a desire for some kind of magic and the inevitably limiting material reality that keeps sculpture so relevant.
Two lesser-known facts about Vincent Fecteau:
1) His contribution to the first issue of Charley magazine was a newspaper clipping about Jeff Smith – the best-selling cookbook author and television personality (not to mention Methodist minister and chaplain at the University of Puget Sound) – a.k.a. The Frugal Gourmet. On PBS from 1983, Smith abruptly left the airwaves in 1997, having settled out of court to pay an undisclosed sum to seven male plaintiffs who accused him of, in one account, ‘variously of groping, kissing and raping them when they were teenagers.’ Apparently: ‘Smith died in his sleep in July 2004 of natural causes […] survived by his wife Patricia, and sons Channing and Jason, as well as daughters-in-law Yuki and Lisa.’
2) An early series of collages consisted of pages from Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970), with a bottle cap centring the sun around which the seagull soared.
Having long ago moved from working with foamcore to papier mâché to make his compelling and yet recalcitrant sculptures, Fecteau has recently completed a body of brightly painted, wall-mounted papier-mâché works. Although a shift of only 90 degrees, from pedestal to wall, the consequences of the change in vantage become too difficult to explain and are made even more mind-bending because all the works can be flipped, ‘back’ for ‘front’, top to bottom. The new pieces are now at at greengrassi, London and Inverleith House, Edinburgh in May 2010. In early 2010, Fecteau and I talked in person, via email and even via text message to produce the following conversation about some of his work’s core concerns.
First published in Issue 131