Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Studio Update I

So, for my first official studio update, I thought I'd post a few fun pictures of my process thus far!  Remember to click on the images to enlarge them :)  

Okie, here we go: 

First study - dubbed: Cyberspace I

Detail of Cyberspace I

My Snake is Your Ladder (Cyberspace II)

Study of Cyberspace mechanics

My process wall!

And the diabolical plans that I will be posting soon regarding the content of my new work...

One big happy family!

My Snake is Your Ladder II

The Living Painting got a facelift! 


THE END.  (For now!)

Stay tuned, more details and better pictures soon - thanks for viewing!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Senior Thesis: Postmodern Tectonics

Zoë Shulman
Professor Aaron Van Dyke
Senior Project: Fine Arts
11 April 2013
Position Paper: Postmodern Tectonics
My work employs painting, drawing, printmaking, live art and performance to explore subjectivity within an ever-changing world.  This work ranges from deconstructed landscapes, to multiples, to time-based abstraction.  I am interested in drawing attention to and confusing a viewer’s awareness of their own body’s movements within different spaces.  To achieve these aesthetics, I combine unconventional materials and techniques to activate unique surface qualities that emphasize the viewer’s physical relation to the work and enhance its overall illusion of movement.  By carving and sanding on wood panel, applying polyurethane, plaster, quartz powder and living material (such as grass) I create materiality and contrast within a painting’s surface. 
Using geometric forms, ranging from concentric squares to complex fractals, I compose formal painting elements into ordered and chaotic measures of time and rhythm.  By contrasting layers of illusion, flatness, dimension and physicality, I create optical tensions within the viewer’s perspective that enhance these rhythms.  As a result, the viewer may experience recognition, confusion, order and a chance to decipher space, yet be overwhelmed by flatness.
The idea to use geometry in my work was inspired by my Fall 2011 semester in Ballyvaughan, Ireland, where I observed erratic weather creating dramatic ecological contrasts within the landscape.  Turbulent transitions of rain, wind, hail and mist perpetuated the mystery of immense stone hills, vast green pastures and churning seas.  Experiencing these chaotic contrasts allowed me to see variety within sameness and ultimately understand the complexity of change.  I began to see nature as a dialectical whole in which a relationship of order and chaos was occurring throughout the micro and macro that could not be defined by a static summation of parts.  In order to conceptualize, quantify and expresses a visual relationship between contrasting proportions, I turned to geometry as a metaphorical language for measuring nature.
My studies of linear and complexity theory lead me to take great inspiration from academics René Descartes, Michel Foucault, Benoît Mandelbrot, Elizabeth Grosz and Michel Serres.  Engaged in their various philosophies, I gleaned conceptual content from subjects like linear perspective, maps, dialectics, panoptic vision, order and chaos, Fibonacci sequences, surface roughness and fractal dimensions, architectural spaces, territory and nonlinear spatiotemporal paradigms.  Invigorated by a new cocktail of ideas, I began to identify with the difficult duality of modern linearity and postmodern complexity that currently exists within art and design discourse. 
In today’s postmodern world, where context and inter-subjectivity have created a multifaceted understanding of art, the methods for constructing meaning are seemingly infinite.  With the breakdown of canonical thinking, I began to wonder: what are the dialectics that have defined painting today?  With regard to art history, how have the politics of painting adapted out of the formalist authority of modernism?  To address these questions within my work, I investigated themes such as subject/object relationships, dimensional multiplicity, contradiction and presenting painting outside the context of the wall.
In my excavations of art history, I found several sources from which my themes have been addressed in painting.  From the caves of Lascaux to the frescos of church interiors, painting has had a rich history of existing within different spatial contexts.  During the reign of American modernity, the rise of the neo-avant-garde of the 1950s and 1960s provoked painters to react against the draconian politics of modern formalism.  With the birth of Robert Rauschenberg’s Combines, painting and sculpture shared the same domain and gave found objects new meaning within the context of the painting (“Robert Rauschenberg”).  Concurrently, painting was relatable to outside contexts and no longer an individual object restricted to the spatiotemporal boundaries of the frame.  By questioning the authority of the “flat” painting presented on the wall, the neo-avant-garde brought about a sea change toward the legitimacy of multimedia methods.  In tracking this trajectory, I found great conceptual and aesthetic inspiration from the careers of Richard Diebenkorn, Sean Scully and Frank Stella:  
Although Richard Diebenkorn harkens to modern formalist methods, our processes share an interest in observing nature to inform the contrasts that create complexity within painting.  When Diebenkorn began to paint the Ocean Park series in1967, he worked from aerial views of landscapes (Bancroft 22).  In A View of Ocean Park, Diebenkorn describes his experience of surveying the land:
The earth’s skin itself had a ‘presence’ – I mean, it was all like a flat design – and everything was usually in the form of an irregular grid...  Wherever there was agriculture going on you could see process – ghosts of former tilled fields, patches of land being eroded.  I also saw large areas where the fields were all planted in the same way for the same crop yet showed unlimited visual variety. (23)
Diebenkorn’s ability to identify a macrocosm of change within a distant and seemingly inanimate landscape alludes to the compression of spatiotemporal elements in his compositions.  Further, the perspectival shift of presenting aerial landscapes in a vertical format on the wall creates an illusionistic vertigo that confuses figure-ground relationships and weaves a space of perpetual flux.  Like a ribcage, the geometry structures the “breathing” within the compositions, relating contrasts at various junctures of time throughout the layers of the painting (Landauer 43).  The consequent nonlinearity of these compositions creates the optical tension of spatiotemporal contrasts that make the work mobile and complex.  Ultimately, the richness of these movements in the Ocean Park paintings inspired me to imagine journeys through pathways and overlapping territories that produce a sense of change.     
Sean Scully’s paintings also employ geometry and contrasting surface qualities to construct unique spatiotemporal experiences.  His striped compositions of the early 1980s fuse canvases together to form harmonious relationships through painterly and architectonic contrasts.  In Flesh (see fig. 1), the wedged interlocking of horizontal and vertical stripes creates an incongruous buttressing that grinds against the uneven surfaces of the canvases, adding disjointed movements throughout its illusionistic and literal spaces.  Further, the various physical depths of the canvases cast moody shadows that contradict the figure-ground relationships between color contrasts and emphasize a sense of compression within the overall form.  Despite its heaviness, Flesh frees the viewer to consider the composition from different angles by decentralizing the focal point and breaking down the frame via its sculptural surface and perimeter (Cooke 50).  This ongoing exchange between the viewer’s subjectivity and fragmented canvases speaks to the many perspectives from which pieces can be disassembled from a complex whole.  By using the painting’s sculptural dimension to engage the viewer, Scully has allowed his work to relate outside of its own context and exist in a state of perpetual change (50).  The measures of formal elements are thus under constant scrutiny, allowing various aspects of the same form to emerge at different times.  Altogether, these unpredictable paintings break down the context of formal elements, allowing for a simultaneous construction and deconstruction of the whole.
Frank Stella’s career from the late 1980s to present day has focused on meditating the spaces of painting, sculpture and architecture.  Severinda (see fig. 2) is the foremost example of Stella’s spatial eloquence.  The towering waveform is neither painting nor sculpture; rather, it remains in a state of constant flux within architectural space.  As the viewer surveys the waveform’s surface of patchwork grids and colorful shapes, the illusionistic and sculptural spaces shift in and out of contrast at various moments within the form.  Regarding a surface design he created for a BMW art car, Stella said:
The idea for mine was that it’s from a drawing on graph paper.  The graph paper is what it is, a graph, but when it’s morphed over the car’s forms it becomes interesting, and adapting the drawing to the racing car’s forms is interesting.  Theoretically, it’s like painting on a shaped canvas. (“Frank Stella”)
By wrapping illusion around form, Stella creates a stretching and pulling throughout Severinda’s flowing curves that changes the space depending on the viewer’s perspective.  Observed from straighter areas, the surface remains stable, but as the viewer approaches the sides of curves, the form reveals itself from beneath the distorted illusion.  Compelled by the curious schism of architectural space, the viewer proceeds to the view Severinda’s other half of flowing illusions and forms.  Because Severinda can never be seen in its entirety, the viewer’s bodily movements and perspective are actively engaged in what is perceived and experienced.  This bodily engagement of fitting time and space together into an unstable whole inspired me to think about how our limited subjectivity could be used as a means of making art that exists as part of our complex, ever-changing world.  
In light of all my inspirations, the ultimate motivation for my final project was to use postmodern philosophy as a means to expand formalist methods and promote inter-subjective relationships through art.  As an American, I have been invested in trying to understand what it means to live freely as an individual, yet fairly as a pluralistic community.  With the advent of postmodern politics, our society is gradually becoming more aware of the need to keep an open-ended discourse that is not fixed to universal truths.  During our last presidential election, the effects of draconian policies caused frequent and divisive contrasts within the American political landscape.  The heat and friction surrounding the debates on economic policy, civil rights and national identity caused a great cultural uplift in which marginalized communities rose to the surface and fought against the established hierarchy for equality.  Being a part of America’s changing landscape lead me to question the relationship between contrast, hierarchy and subjectivity.
Thus, I created Postmodern Tectonics (see fig. 3).  The five and a half square foot arrangement of over one hundred twenty small wood panels forms the substructures of a sculptural and illusionistic Cartesian grid.  By carving various levels into the surface, I formed an overarching fractal that spans out from the center of the arrangement like a shockwave.  Using layers of paint to glean an illusionistic space from the individual panels allowed me to construct the metaphor of a bottom to top hierarchy in which the whole is subordinate to its parts.  In order to add an illusory tension that communicated a shifting hierarchy, I contradicted the literal space of each panel by exploiting the paint’s fiery color contrasts within their sculpted surface.  By placing the panels face up on the floor and activating the surrounding architectural space, I increased the dimensionality of the surface and created a topographical movement within the composition.  As viewers walk around the arrangement and change perspectives, the rigid Cartesian map becomes an aerial landscape in which the fractal’s emergent complexity bends various micro/macro levels of relief into shape-shifting territories.
In conclusion, my journey has taught me that all law is fallible out of context and that my way of understanding things is to question authority by working dialectically against assumptions.  I see art as a living document that must reflect the changes within our complex world.  I believe using geometry to give artful form to my concepts can provide the community with the empathetic experiences necessary to inform the zeitgeist of our era.


Figure 1.  Sean Scully, Flesh, oil on canvas, 1985

Figure 2.  Frank Stella, Severinda, mixed media on fiberglass, 1995

Figure 3.  Zoë Shulman, Postmodern Tectonics, acrylic on wood panels, 2013

Works Cited
Bancroft, Sarah. “A View of Ocean Park.” Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series.
Ed. Karen Jacobson. Newport Beach: Orange County Museum of Art, 2011. 15-37. Print.
Cooke, Lynne. “Sean Scully: Taking a Stand, Taking Up a Stance.” Sean Scully: Twenty
Years, 1976-1995. Ed. Ned Rifkin. New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc., 1995. 47-55. Print.
“Frank Stella.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 2001. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.
Landauer, Susan. “Significant Space in Diebenkorn’s Ocean Parks.” Richard
Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series. Ed. Karen Jacobson. Newport Beach: Orange County Museum of Art, 2011. 38-55. Print.
“Robert Rauschenberg.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 2001. Web. 4 Apr.
Scully, Sean. Flesh. 1985. Collection of Tom and Charlotte Newby. 
Stella, Frank. Severinda. 1995. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.