Topography

Interview with Paul Glabicki. First Part

9 MARCH 2017,
Paul Glabicki - TOPOGRAPHY #1 2016, detail
Paul Glabicki - TOPOGRAPHY #1 2016, detail

Paul Glabicki is a multi-media artist represented by the Kim Foster Gallery in Manhattan. His work has been shown at the Whitney Biennial, the Venice Biennial, MoMA, the National Gallery of Art, the Tate Modern, Cannes, and the New York Film Festival, among other prestigious venues. His work plays with the ‘delicate thresholds between abstract and figurative form’ and he has used animation as a way of ‘constructing or reconstructing perceptual experience in time’. His work often seems to deal with the inevitable creation and use of language or symbols as signifiers, while also pointing to the limits of these signifiers in the exploration of our inner reality of emotions, motives and cognitive processes.

Tell us a little about your new Topography series you are working on. How is it similar to or different from the last two series: Relativity and The Light?

The genesis of a new series tends to emerge while one is immersed in a current project. I like to write down ideas that come to me while I’m working, sometimes a simple word or potential title. The concept of the Relativity series was generated while creating the previous Order series – in part because the Order works were a relentless collection of expressions and interpretations of organization, classification, and categorization of data.

Einstein came up during research and a search for Order data. Light was a central element in Einstein’s relativity research and experimentation about space and time. I was fascinated by the imagery used to convey complex notions of physics – in Einstein’s own writings and in various studies of his work. After reading so much about the properties of light from a scientist’s perspective, I began to think about light in religious symbolism, as visual experience, in the theories of Josef Albers, as expressed in the history of art. Botticelli’s drawings of spectral spirits in his Dante’s Inferno drawings, memories of orbs of green light representing spirits seen during Kabuki Theater performances in Japan, and the prismatic angel wings of Fra Angelico’s frescos at the San Marco in Florence all became key references.

Alber’s studies with yellow hue (luminous, especially with yellow on white) set a goal of working primarily with yellow – a color I tended to avoid. All of these ideas emerged while working on Relativity. The first drawing of each of my series really sets the premise or thesis of the body of work to follow. At that starting point, I had a list of concepts and parameters ready and waiting to take form.

While working on The Light (and while looking at work uncovered during my university studio exit process), I really began to think about recurrent compositional and technical strategies in my work that focused on surface, layering, and strata of information. The idea of geologists or archeologists analyzing layers of earth and sediment - to navigate through signatures of time - appealed to me. The notion of topography, examining the nature of surfaces, provided a conceptual framework to consider landscape, pigment and mark making, other surfaces – skin, layering of surfaces, and other associations. Topography #1 features imagery and graphic form, as well as interaction between the properties of paint, pencil, and ink on my prime surface – paper. Topographical maps also inspired the use of contour drawings of my own hand, references and play with scale, and new compositional strategies.

Can you explain the relationship between your experimental films and drawings?

My central body of work in 16mm experimental animation was essentially constructed by drawing. Each successive film moved toward an aesthetic of making each drawing/each single frame a work that was unique and which could be viewed as a unique work of art. This is most apparent in Object Conversation (1985) and Under the Sea (1989), both of which introduced color, as well as collage fragments and other data unique to each drawing. From my very first look at an actual strip of 8mm film, I loved the unique character of each individual frame. I studied how the camera documented motion – everything from a slight blur, to degree of change from frame to frame. Drawing each frame made me the camera, but working from my mind, eye and hand. I usually constructed my animated films as a series of cycles or as a specific compositional space, adding and layering detail by adding new information behind or on top of other completed layers. I never moved the camera position (zooms, pans, tracking). Each shot was a self-contained motion composition. I loved working on a light table and viewing transparent successive frames and degrees of change simultaneously, guided by my motion templates on the bottom layer. My non-film works on paper and canvas are often analogous to this process.

Is your work process art, does your art represent cognitive processes or something else?

The animated films, which were designed to fit into a temporal context using image and sound, were anchored by cognitive processes, specifically perception and memory. Film theory – especially the formal realm of Eisenstein and the analytical world of semiotics provided models for giving form to personal experiences and awareness of cognitive processes. I was really fascinated by perception as a simultaneous selection and processing of information – intuitive or conscious, subjective, responsive, reactive, objective. A memory can recall a sound, touch, or smell, one’s gaze can be deliberately fixed on a specific point while recalling a completely different image/thought/association, sounds can suggest space or a visualization of an object. Language can become image, and images can become language. All of this happens while walking down the street: looking, listening, and allowing the incoming data to sift through one’s layers of consciousness.

I’ve always played with delicate thresholds between abstract and figurative form. Film permitted endless ways to process and present input to the viewer. Film-Wipe-Film (1983) constantly shifts between abstract and figurative uses of image and sound. An abstract sequence may be accompanied by the sound of birds or water. A moving geometric shape might generate the sound of a chair being dragged across the floor. Working within the static space of a piece of paper or canvas, sound input and motion can be implied or suggested by other visual associations or text. I’m very selective and I always considered the gestural physicality of Pollock to be very selective. Pollock’s work is an accumulation and history of a relentless process of layering pigment on a surface. My work has its own relentless process, but it’s centered on the layering of information, graphic form, and data. So, your question is very perceptive, my work is process, cognitive, representational, and abstract, and at (for me) it’s most effective when it’s all happening simultaneously.

You’ve experimented a bit with the ‘narrative’…

My last handmade animated film Under the Sea (1989) was indeed an experiment in bringing narrative into my non-linear and abstract universe. I extracted narrative fragments from five classic novels. There were several scripts for each novel – one included extended text and dialogue, another key phrases, another had lists of places and props, another translated into German, French, Japanese, and Indian Sanskrit. Actors and narrators recorded vocal interpretations of the scripts – some in character, some in foreign languages. The film featured some of my most complex animation (in color) and sound editing, cryptic/coded animated alphabets, sub-titles and text compositions. The narrative fragments interact and overlay, but (most) audiences can identify all (if not most) of the source novels. That’s the closest I’ve gotten to an approach to narrative in film. I did do a drawing series in the early 2000s called All at Once that transcribed the entire text of Jung’s book SYNCHRONICITY from start to finish. The text was systematically woven between and around images and other visual data collected at the time the drawing was made. An amazing number of Jungian “meaningful coincidences” occurred as the text was transcribed. With patience and effort, one could also read the book from start to finish.

Can you tell me about the impact of music on your work?

Music has always had an impact on my work. Classical music is central, although I like to sample a variety of musical forms, especially as I work. A concerted effort to listen to opera while making FILM-WIPE-FILM helped shape the film’s rhythms. I especially like composers who play with narrative or cyclical repetition: Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley. I’m attracted to composers who also play with language, including the diverse, ambitious and often non-linear works of Stephen Sondheim (his recent two volume publication on writing lyrics is a great look at a very specific type of language quite alien to me). Music of other cultures is also important.

Can you give us a hint as to what insights you are conveying into the use of language in some of your work?

Language has always fascinated me – the look, the sound, the connection to things (names, signs, symbols, cultural context). It’s at once descriptive, subjective, objective, rhythmic, and beautiful to look at. My undergraduate school had a not-so-popular course in calligraphy that was a revelation to me. I’ve always liked to look at ancient writing, writing from various cultures, mathematical equations, font designs, and forms of calligraphy. Not being capable of reading or understanding a written or spoken language made it all the more interesting. I envisioned my work as a singular, personal kind of language (image and sound) that represented aspects of my own admittedly eccentric mindset and voice.

Continues on the 24th of March.