A CONVERSATION BETWEEN AMY BEECHER AND ALAN LONGINO ON THE OCCASION OF BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL ROSE!
Alan Longino - So it's probably the most beautiful day in New York yet, cool and warm not so hot, and the other day I remembered I wrote a text about flowers and the caring of them for an artist's catalogue last summer. Thinking then to the title of your show, considering roses and the different stories you weave together without definitive endings or beginnings, I was wondering what you were considering in the title of your show and the consideration of flowers with the carpet and video works.
Amy Beecher- It's funny that you bring up the act of caring for flowers, their actual earthly existence...I have around 55 dozen red roses sitting on top of carpet in my studio as I type. I'm waiting for them to shrivel up because I like the sound of the crunch under my feet and am going to weave that texture into the installation somehow...we'll see... during install.
It's not so much the physicality of the rose that I'm interested in...it's the paradox between its earthliness and its iconicity. I’m more interested in the idea of red roses. I like the tension between the physical reality of the rose- that it came from the dirt, that its life is already over the minute we're admiring it in a bouquet...and its overdetermined semiotic existence. You know if you read reviews of roses on Amazon all of the reviews are ridden with this anxiety about the durability of the rose. “How long will it last though???” I think there's something so romantic and absurd about that.
The meaning of the rose is so bloated through repetition in Western culture yet it has not lost its allure. So I knew I wanted to do a show that used the commodification of the rose, the rose in popular culture, as raw material (Amazon reviews as raw material for sound pieces, dialogue from the rose ceremonies on The Bachelor as building blocks for a poem) and to create images and passages that felt artificial, monotonous, repetitive, but still sensuous. The carpet is another formal passage in the installation. It's this artificial fuchsia nylon that feels right against the sound of the crunch of the roses in Catching Lead...and also linguistically related to the cheesiness of the red rose...it feels like a teenager's bedroom...I hope it feels kind of wrong but indulgently right in the gallery....
Stories without clear beginnings and ends...I guess that is a thread that runs throughout my work. And not just my writing. I've made prints that were too big to see all at once (uncut, 2012)...images that are so repetitive and pattern-like that that feel like wallpaper but are unique (Iceberg..) And yes that character Susannah in tbh is a rambler and this poem XO could really go on indefinitely... I guess there's something kind of subversive in formlessness to me...quietly aggressive about rambling on... like resisting the impulse to "sum it up," "push up against a frame," follow an arc, or worship the aura of a singular object.
AL - Well, I think just rambling on and talking without beginning or end is not only necessary these days, but obligated these days. It demonstrates some type of delay in understanding or learning or rationalizing, and though it may not be immediately fruitful, rambling--for the person rambling and the person listening--could be another allure that you mention: that is, concise, definitive meaning and language has equally repeated and circled in on itself that even the most clear-cut presentations are essentially rambling. [In your exhibition tbh you created Susannah] a fictional character, seemingly real enough, who is equally an alluring figure. The rose, the rambling, the character, it's all very close to painting also being "bloated through repetition in Western culture yet has not lost its allure."
Amy Beecher - Ha! I have a pretty fraught relationship with painting. I suppose rambling is productive if your listener is generous. Watch two minutes of a Kellyanne Conway speech and you see rambling masterfully employed toward the most sinister means...I made tbh pre Kellyanne. Susannah is a character that became the voice through whom an audio sculpture featured in my last solo exhibition, tbh, was written. She's a yoga instructor/pot head. She tells a rambling story about her body that gets projected from an enormous, velvet covered wooden platform.. Basically she gets a boob job that ends up being too big, and she realizes, over the course of a a hall-of mirrors-like few days of looking at people looking at her, that the agency that she has over her body is up for grabs. I think this show engages with questions of voyeurism and the female body in quieter ways. There is no narrating body. I suppose the rose is a stand-in for a body, but it also becomes an object for my body to wrestle with, endure, reject, etc.
AL- You've noted that your works and words are often large, or without a point of beginning or end, unless zoomed out and from afar. Do you think the same would happen--as in completion or development occur--if the viewer zoomed in or was right up close to the work?
AB- Oh yes- that’s my intention- to create something that is satisfying on a granular level as well as from afar. I want you to be in that deep. In fact, in tbh, I built the platform, Susannah, so large that you were forced to walk quite close to the prints. I print my images the same way you would print a fine art photograph- at incredibly high resolution for something that scale. This sets up a trompe l’oeil effect. The lettuce sort of pops off of the page. In the more abstract prints, closeness brings up questions that don’t exist from far away. I think the same can be true of some of my sound work. Even if you don’t listen for the full 20 minutes and understand the complete story, you get the sense of a character, of a world, by listening to a minute or two. It’s certainly true of the poem I just wrote (xxok). Each interaction is a like a molecule in this big formless puddle.
AL- In our discussion on rambling, you said it was only productive if the viewer was attentive. Can attention be willed or forced within the viewer? Research-based practice quite nearly enacts this. Particularly in our state of high attention-deficit, or instantaneity, the requirement to go deeper into something--even if the work is not particularly desirous--is needed to complete the work. What would you want the viewer to research from your work? Or what research do you think your work would beg?
AB- I heard at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s low-residency MFA program, your first class that you take is on attention. It’s all about how to harness and purposefully engage with a viewer’s routine habits of attention. That’s really exciting to me: a curriculum that champions that artists are attention engineers. But once you have a viewer’s attention, how are they going to navigate what you are presenting? I suppose that’s why we talk about research, because research implies some sort of method. And sometimes, and maybe this is true in my work, the artist presumes or slyly presents a sort of method of interpretation inherent in the work. So the artwork is at once the primary source and the method of interpretation all curled together. But I think the verb research in an art context is tricky. It’s hard for me to shake the idea that “research” necessitates conclusions. I want my art to be without conclusions, to leave gaps in understanding-- even in the text pieces when the language is the most purposefully clunky, mundane. “Conceptual” art or “research-based” practices can appeal to our Dionysian instincts. I really believe that. It’s not all Apollonian.
So anyway, what’s the method? I like thinking about the work that I present in groups, like the pieces in Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful Rose!, the way an analyst might think about a dream. Each element in the dream may be interesting in and of itself but it’s how they interact together, the linguistic and spatial relationships between the elements, that create the meaning. So your understanding of the poem on the floor will get richer as you listen to the sound piece, which will mirror or reiterate something formal about the video, all of which changes because it is on the carpet, and so on.
AL- What is your favorite rose/flower? (describe its genus and species and any other details)
AB- Favorite rose is a cabbage rose. They are fat and fluffy which is personally what I want from my roses. Also, if you google “cabbage rose” the first link to come up is “Cabbage Roses- A Cabbage Rose Must Read!” which reminds me of another favorite of mine: trashy spam articles. Although I feel like the person tending to a bed of cabbage roses is not reading spam. They are probably reading One Sip At A Time: Learning to Live in Provence.
And Cockscomb! Cockscomb are the fuchsia carpet of the flower world- the floral equivalent of a Shar Pei puppy. The colors are vibrant and the texture is like velvety labia. What’s not to love? All of my understanding of flowers exists as “other details.” I grew up and live in cities so the majority of my contact with flowers is running my hand over them at bodegas.
AL- Can a painting/exhibition be a rose/flower? (not as in can it depict, but can it actually be) If yes/no - why?
Yes. Paintings can be roses because paintings can be anything. I have an expansive, promiscuous view of what painting can be so absolutely a rose can be a painting. In fact, most good art is as synesthetically sensual (and I don’t mean pretty) as a rose. I was ripping petals from roses the other day and I could not believe how indulgent and erotic it felt. I got the same feeling in front of Nicole Eisenman’s paintings. I don’t think indulgence is a bad thing. Good exhibitions should linger in or leave a stain on the viewer’s consciousness, but I don’t think exhibitions are roses. The rose needs no display. An exhibition displays.
AL- I've been wanting to think about paintings and art (thus exhibitions and the formats of displays) as things that are not art qua art as we know it, but as an entirely new language of being and understanding. What is this exhibition then, if it could be anything what would you have it as?
AB- That’s a great question. I sometimes play with semantics to help me think about the individual things I’m making- to find a logic to them. “These are pads of paper.” “This is a stage.” So, offering up an object as a heightened, estranged cousin of an everyday one. I suppose you could do that with exhibitions. “This is a Montessori classroom.” “This is a Noh Theater.” “This is a waiting room.” This exhibition might be a chill space for a party thrown by a wedding planner in NJ who just got her masters in contemporary art. (I kid. Kind of.) More sincerely, this exhibition was conceived of and created in collaboration with so many artists...in its adapting or rewriting of previous works and also in the collaborative nature of all of the pieces. So in that way, it really is this sort of love fest with other thinkers and makers. So maybe it’s some sort of a rose ceremony! Without the heteronormative bs.
Alan Longinois an art historian and writer, continuing his graduate studies in art history at Hunter College.