San Francisco-based artist Brion Nuda Rosch uses an arsenal of knee-jerk wit, photographs of Henry Moore’s masterpieces and house paint to toy with both seen and unseen dimensions in his most recent sculptural works. In an exhibition that took place last April at Seattle’s Greg Kucera Gallery, Rosch’s collage-sculptures, usually made from cut-outs of layered book pages, punctuated his three-dimensional pieces, which are roughhewn essays in mass, material and history. In the following conversation, which happened in an exchange of emails over the course of a week, we talked about the precarious business of art about art about art, the sculpture in flux and the necessity to just feel it, man.
ES: In your two-dimensional pieces you flatten the sculpture, but then you add a structural element by invoking an intentional dialogue across space and time by introducing appropriated images, a dialogue that involves ideas as well as real objects. Removing one dimension (the implied gesture of flattening the sculpture) and adding the other (the historical dialogue) leaves us with what outcome in these works?
BNR: It results in conflict. This conflict occurs in a formalistic manner and within an intended historical conversation. In theory they are formalistic, simply a form over a form. However, a conceptual context takes precedence when making reference to the appropriated image and its loaded history, thus creating the ideological conflict. The manner in which a work is titled can offer an entry point within my intentions. In a work titled, Form on Form #17, the object (or “form” or “structure”) is central to the works function. In a work titled Imagine the World is Flat, an invitation is given to imagine history as being untold. You indeed must circle the earth in a boat yourself to come to such a conclusive outcome. A torn blank book page with the printed words The Grand could suggest the Grand Canyon can only exist while in presence of all its glory.
So it seems that, in a way, you are contending between objective and subjective realities. By suggesting that the formal components that comprise the object and the object’s history exist on separate trajectories, you strip away the mythic identity of the form, leaving the viewer with an uneasy sense of the banal, or le non fini.
My practice involves mundane materials. This selection of materials is followed by a set of rules. These rules are centered upon presentation. An object (or “form” or “structure”) is a movement or alteration away from displaying its inherent beauty. In a sense the movements of these objects could continue and works are potentially in flux. My use of pedestals or plinths as non-pedestals situates the viewer within yet another conflict of determining where the presentation ends and the “art” begins. This use of presentation is motivated by my desire to contemplate the monumental and non-monumental. In working with the mundane or banal I attempt to consider our collective concept of what value is. And in regards to history, what has been assigned value.
You also use humor to do this.
Humor is very important…
I actually found myself laughing aloud in front of certain works. Can you elaborate?
I am not an academic or a scholar. And I find most art to be rather serious. Common place and common language is important to me. Humor is important as well. The piece Richard Vs. Richard and a Conversation with Joe About AbEX is the classic joke; “So ‘blank’ walks into a bar.” In this case, ‘blank’ is three rather established artists walking into a bar and having an academic conversation about AbEX. The punchline is for the viewer to decide. If there is one. Sometimes there is no beginning or end to the joke, The History of Mankind as Dictated by a Line Chart is a bent metal rod, and depending on your disposition you may view our current location on the graph to be on the upward swing or the downward swing. I feel we are somewhere in between unsure of where to go. That is not funny, but it is a rusted metal rod. And nothing else. And that makes me laugh.
You also have a sculpture from 2011 titled, Bong Rips at the Community Ceramics Center. Is that supposed to be funny?
That piece encompasses the anxiety I find while attempting to operate within an academic frame of mind. It suggests the option to tune out and simply take bong rips at the Community Ceramics Center and just feel it, man. Yes, there is humor there.
But in that your art is so conceptual, in some ways you really are incredibly academic. I guess we can see it both ways—you could be poking fun at seriousness in art and academia with your oppositional dialogue, but when it really comes down to it, scholastic history comprises a lot of your content. You obviously read a lot, and you seem to even take some of your titles from art historical or anthropological texts. Maybe it’s worth articulating your intentions with pieces like your collage-sculptures—which are so profoundly conceptual that they almost operate as signifiers of post-modern theory—if only to more readily contextualize these works within the discourse of what has come before and what might be happening now. For example, are we supposed to think of Picasso when we look at these pieces? Or is that beside the point for you?
Art about art about art. In relation to history and current ideologies my intentions are rather reactionary. A fine balance exists between known knowledge and a well-calculated knee jerk reaction. The knowledge the viewer brings to each work can adjust the intended outcome, someone may view nothing but Picasso, while someone else may walk away with an unintended reference. Occasionally, the history of an image renders itself useless until I remove just enough to prove otherwise. Unfortunately, I am unable to make truly naive art, and many of my intentions are confounded within these contradictions. As much as I want to make for the sake of making, I have to contemplate what has been made before me.
These contradictions are exactly why your work has such a precarious identity. At the end of your talk at Greg Kucera, I think you mentioned that you conceive your pieces as to remain in a state of flux. Making art about art about art by using appropriated images and materials is one of the ways that you achieve this, but it’s also just the attitude that you, as the artist, maintain towards your own work.
The works are what they are. Found wood, house paint, broken ceramics, unfired clay and book pages. I understand that without the conceptual context (or presentation) many of these pieces are lost in a similar manner in which someone may walk by Tuttle’s 3rd Rope Piece or Rauschenberg’s Cardboards and Related Pieces without recognizing the “art.” The materials I use are often found in the trash, and on occasion the works themselves may eventually return. The first artists that truly inspired me when I was growing up were “outsider” artists. Shortly after moving to San Francisco I found myself at Creativity Explored. I visited often and eventually found myself working there for a short period of time. Talking to artists there they would relate; “I paint this because this is what it is to paint” or, “You know, it doesn’t really matter, I like color today and I am going to use it” or, “There is magic here, it just comes through me, magic, you know.” In this frame of mind you can truly create something.
Experimenting with anything special right now? Future projects?
I am working with images of food and making large paintings. The latter will not be shown for some time; however, the food is being exhibited alongside sculpture/collages and directional assemblages in Copenhagen this week. The exhibit is hosted by an artist-run space and is titled Fire Rock Food Fuck. The sculptural works were made in Copenhagen in my absence by Honza Hoeck. I provided documentation of works here in my studio and gave instructions for their recreation. I am confident our miscommunication will add to the allure of these works.