Alyse Archer-Coité

2 Stories


SOFT AS STEEL

Scrapyards & architectural icons

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Like all artists, Daniel Turner’s upbringing influences his creative output. But maybe a bit more than most, Turner’s development backdrop — he grew up in the industrial city of Portsmouth, Virginia — feels somehow directly present in his work, as if both Turner and his art alike are, as they say, products of their environment. He sat down with Editor in Chief of MAKER Magazine, Alyse Archer-Coité to discuss his childhood and settling down in New York City, and the way each of those phases of his life have effected his process. 

 

ALYSE ARCHER-COITÉ: You grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia, a city with miles of waterfront and shipyards and a rich industrial history. How much influence did the industrial environment have on your childhood?

 

DANIEL TURNER: As a child I was always fascinated with the scale of the surrounding industry, particularly with the shipyards, although the entire area seems to carry an invisible weight—in particular, the Jamestown Settlement, which was America’s first English colony.

 

AAC: I read that you used to help your father, a scrap metal merchant, in the city’s industrial dockyards, picking up a lot of trash and recycling materials. This offered you the opportunity to interact with objects that most people might consider disposable. Can you tell me about any memorable objects you encountered in the dockyards? Have any resurfaced in your practice?

 

DT: The most memorable objects for me were the burn barrels. Early on, I incorporated the barrels in true Rauschenberg-like form.

 

AAC: What effect has moving to New York City had on your work?

 

DT: Since I moved to New York in 2008, the city has made me pay more attention to architectural nuances, the way the body navigates an object or an environment. That’s something I paid little attention to prior to living here. Formally speaking, it’s cleaned up my work.

 

AAC: You live in South Street Seaport and your studio is in Greenpoint. Are there any parallels between the town you grew up in and these neighborhoods? Do you think that you have either consciously or unconsciously chosen these areas in search of familiarity?

 

DT: You know, I’ve never thought of that. It was an unconscious decision on my part.

 

AAC: Your show at Team Gallery last year was titled “PM.” What do the night hours mean to you or your practice?

 

DT: It’s simply easier to work at night, as there are fewer distractions and fewer demands. I think a great deal of artists work this way.

 

AAC: What’s your process for choosing materials?

 

DT: I have a piece of pipe and faucet lying on the floor in my studio that I had been really frustrated with. Then I applied some chemicals and pressure, pulled back the stainless steel exterior and uncovered a gilded inside. Materials surprise me daily.

 

AAC: What is it about a sterile and neutral aesthetic that interests you?

 

DT: Clarity.

 

AAC: I know you’ve mentioned in the past that the rubbed steel wool works were inspired by your time as a guard at the New Museum, where leaning against the wall (which was prohibited) would inevitably leave a mark. Have other jobs directly influenced a piece?

 

DT: Yes. I’ve worked as a roofer, which led me to use roofing cement in a series of wall-based works, titled “5150.” The key is to explore environments that your work has led you to. This way, a continuous rotation occurs.

 

AAC: I read a book in college called Wanderlust about how the best ideas in history have come to their creators while on a walk. Walking has been considered the greatest conduit for creative energy and manifestation. You also have a similar relationship to walking. You’ve said that you could walk around the city for six months dwelling on an idea. Where do you walk?

 

DT: I’ve walked from my studio in Greenpoint all the way to Bridgehampton, and to Dia Beacon. I walk all over New York when I’m developing an idea.

 

AAC: One final thought—stone house in the woods or glass house on the beach?

 

DT: Stone house in the woods.

 

Artwork: Daniel Turner

 

A Flash of Light
to the Head

Ed Atkins on Symptoms & Effects

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The psychic tensions and twisted cyphers of artist Ed Atkins.

 

 

 

ALYSE ARCHER-COITÉ: The titles of your pieces are, to say the least, evocative: Bastard, Even Pricks, Ribbons, No-one is More “Work” Than Me. What’s in a title for you?

 

ED ATKINS: Titles are important to me. My titles are not exactly hospitable. The titles don’t explain what it is you’re seeing, nor do they give any explicit information about the work. I suppose I want the title to loiter in the viewer while they watch, interpellating the video throughout its duration; or at least, to provide the beginnings of frustration. The titles might also introduce a figurative possibility. Ribbons was always about a certain conflict of style, how insufficient and apparently unrelated the title is to the video, which might actually encourage a deeper investigation.

 

AAC: You cite the writing of Bifo Berardi—his ideas of detachment and vicarious living as symptomatic of a life lived online—as an influence on your work. In his novel After the Future, he describes a system of virtual life and death. He argues, “Our future has come and gone; the concept has lost its usefulness.” Is this reflected in your work—a lost or never arrived future?

 

EA: Not solely. Berardi does a fantastic job of outlining a particular set of symptoms and effects—socially, psychically, traumatically—of vicarious, so-called “immaterial” labor situations. It’s something that parts of my work certainly perform or speak to. My work is concerned with a retrieval of immanent experience; neither speculation nor memory is particularly present. More often, those sites of optimism or regret are retarded by an embodied presence. Insofar as Berardi speaks of loss in relation to something that we never had, there is an element of that in my work. Though again, my work isn’t barometric, nor is it essayistic. It’s worth talking about form because I want my work to be holistic in regard to its structures, its concepts, and the way I con- vey meaning. I would venture that the form of my works, their constitution as wholly computer-generated things, affords something like a therapeutic surrogacy. The figures can despair; they can be trapped and immortalized through technology so that we don’t have to.

 

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Artwork by Ed Atkins

AAC: In Ribbons (2014), your protagonist, Dave, can be described as skulking, needy, vulgar, a volatile drunk. He often lurks around bars and glory holes. His desperation is palpable. How much of his character is derived from your own experiences?

 

EA: Some is derived from my own experiences, but not too much. Mainly, I think Dave’s proximity to me is through the performance itself. In other words, it’s me performing, singing, and reading. It’s me making all the choices, the edits, and the music. The character is a cipher—a hollow figure—but filled with desires and frustrations.

 

AAC: You’ve said that Dave can only exist now, that he is the site of power, a white Western man who is shaped by the aesthetics of capitalism. When I see your films I am never quite sure how to feel about him. Should I loathe him, pity him, or just be glad I don’t know anyone quite so terrible? I was in a room with other viewers who were brought to tears by Dave and other characters you’ve created. How do you want the viewer to feel about the men you’ve introduced us to?

 

EA: Well, I suppose I want the viewer to feel all those things. Dave is repulsive, and most repulsive in his desperate pleas for empathy or sympathy. His emotional maneuvers echo the way in which the video is cut. It’s bipolar editing. So the push and pull, solicitation and repulsion, result in a constant movement of feeling. Importantly, he is a construct. His construction is never sufficiently hidden— never really pulled off—which means that his moves feel disingenuous and conceal a horrible sincerity and vulnerability. Yet the sincerity itself is a defense mechanism. The categories he is placed within—white, Western, man—are real, and categories that I fit into as well, but here, because of the CG, the animation, and the mutability of the piece, the categories become hysterical, hyper, and excessive.

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Artwork by Ed Atkins

 

AAC: Dave is an avatar that can be purchased and customized, and he doesn’t come cheap. It’s important to you that he be generic, and yet despite this quality, he has a strange appeal. He’s simultaneously repulsive and attractive. He’s nude. He has a muscular build, and his perfectly straight teeth gleam behind his symmetrical lips. On the other hand, his eyes sometimes dart around uneasily and there is something unsettling behind his blue eyes. The doodled tattoos across his brow and cheeks bring to mind the white supremacists in Tony Kaye’s American History X. Why did you choose this particular avatar?

 

EA: The “look” is complicated. Dave’s look is informed by a lot of things: skin- heads, freaks, and the recuperation of that specific style in homosexual culture. He is hairless for the simple reason that it would be too difficult to render him with hair. Dave is also such a “man.” His avatar was, at the time, the best quality I could get on the open market. Now he’s been replaced with a later model who looks a little more reconstructed if I’m honest.

 

AAC: Dust on the fake lens, shadows, smoke, and the hum of chatter in the background make the setting for these scenes so familiar, so real. But just as we begin getting comfortable, the script loops or the score hiccups. How do these deliberate interruptions influence the viewer?

 

EA: All that is conspicuously there to further convince the viewer of the image and the location. The effects confirm the reality of what you’re seeing. Of course, it’s excessive—too much dust, lens flare, focus-pulling—which sort of pushes the verisimilitude of the image over the top to a place where it’s still able to cite an authenticating gesture, but also point to its artifice.

 

AAC: Approximately how many hours a day do you spend online?

 

EA: No idea. Lots. My phone is never offline. Does that count?

 

Artwork: Ed Atkins
Photography: Kate Friend