Interview with Joseph Nechvatal – Part 5

by Taney Roniger

sOuth pOle.  2011. by Joseph Nechvatal. 44×66” computer-robotic assisted acrylic on canvas

TR: You clearly traveled a lot while doing research for Immersion Into Noise. Travel is incredibly immersive.

JN: Yes, it’s inherently immersive. Couple that with reading about what you’re doing, the history of where you’ve been. I think that’s true knowledge. And then having physical experiences in space, and the cultural things – the wine and art. The art is key for me. Looking at this painting here [points to painting in studio], it’s easy for me to wrap it around my head. It’s very easy. It’s like this rectangle becomes a bubble that goes behind my eyes. And that’s what I’m hoping that people can project when they look at the work – is to get into it.

TR: That’s the thing. It doesn’t have to be an installation environment for you to experience immersion.

JN: Right. I don’t feel it has to be. It can be, and that’s obviously the most literal. But the literal way isn’t always the only or the best way. For me, I tend to use all-over compositions – not always, but often. That suggests that it could go on forever. I think in the chapter on Pollock I tried to make that clear. With the two museums that were proposed of his work – one by Tony Smith, a hero of mine. But they took that idea – the derogatory comment that Aldous Huxley made about Pollock’s work at the Museum of Modern Art, saying “Oh, but it’s quite a bit like wallpaper. It could go on forever!” You know, disdainfully.

TR: Aldous Huxley said that? Wow.

JN: Unfortunately, yes. And actually that’s the power of the work. That’s what Allen Kaprow saw in Pollock’s show at Betty Parson’s gallery, where he said: “Okay, I understand. It goes around the whole room, meaning it’s all the world, meaning it’s the street, meaning it’s a happening.” That’s where he got his idea to create the happening, it was from seeing this exhibition of Pollock’s. So this idea of expansion, of distribution, of availability all around us is really a suggestion that has many applications.

TR: So these new paintings, these are still part of the Computer Virus Project.

JN: Yes. Almost everything is now to some extent. Everything has something to do with the technique, at least. It’s my vocabulary. I don’t necessarily forefront that aspect of it all the time, but it’s impossible to leave it out at the same time. Because I just find the viral techniques very valuable for getting unexpected results.

TR: To what extent is it important that people know how the paintings are made – your process, your involvement with artificial intelligence, etc.?

JN: Very important, and then I hope they’ll forget it. Because I want them to go to their own place with them. I don’t want to over-determine the interpretation of the work. At the same time I don’t want to deny where it came from or how it’s done – the viractual materiality it’s embedded in. But it’s more than that, so I don’t want to be self-limiting, and I don’t want to limit the viewer. It’s complicated.

TR: I see such a consistency across all your various media. Your prose style in Noise, for example, is characteristically syncretistic, non-linear, “all-over” – in other words, it’s noisy.

JN: Yeah. I thought it would have been silly to do a strictly academic style, when you’re exploring something that is the opposite of that.

TR: It’s not like it’s stream-of-consciousness, with no punctuation…There’s certainly a structure there, but the voice is ecstatic, personal, mercurial, even. And the text moves in unexpected directions.

JN: I agree with you. I think it’s my allover approach to life that provides a moveable aspect that we’re talking about.

TR: Speaking of your “all-over approach,” you’ve also been involved with music.

JN: I have to say, I’m very excited about the re-mastering of the audio piece, my symphony, into a 5.1 surround-sound concert. Because I think when we’re talking about immersion, and we actually physically re-master something into an immersive environment, we’re getting closer to the book. Again, how form and content are trying to come closer together. I thought of this when you were talking about my method of writing the book. Because I think I brought my music closer to the book also, oddly enough. I realized some of the ideals in the book through this re-mastering of the symphony.

TR: And we will hear that soon?

JN: We will hear it as an audio concert, the night of the opening on the 12th of April at Harvestworks.

TR: You make it explicit that your subject matter is ideology.

JN: Yeah. That started back with the early drawings. And that’s why I started to draw these cliché images. When you look carefully at some of those – most of those – early gray drawings, they’re pile-ups of biblical imagery and Playboy imagery and military or “macho man” cowboys. Because I was trying to work on cultural ideology and the visual language in which it’s spoken.

TR: I know a lot of artists who wouldn’t want to admit that their work carries with it an ideology.

JN: Right. Because I think we’re talking about our own upbringing, our childhood, our relationship to our parents. Our relationship to our church, or synagogue, or whatever. Whoever – our boy scout master. Baseball coach – what else is there? All the adults that teach us how to live. Which is not a bad thing, obviously, but it’s something to be scrutinized. Particularly when you reach maturity. That’s just the power of scrutiny, of self-reflectivity. That’s how you can get to reprogramming yourself. First you have to get to what you don’t want to do, and stop doing that.

TR: So that’s what self-transcendence means to you — moving beyond our unreflective cognitive habits, our conventional notions of the self, our utilitarian consciousness.

JN: Yes. And a kind of connection to the immanence of nature and materiality, the full vibratory spectrum. That is where it gets back to Speculative Realism, to understanding the limits of our perceptual spectrum and at the same time acknowledging that reality and being are beyond us while we still try to understand.

TR: That seems crucial.

JN: Yes. I think that’s an important understanding, particularly in urban life, for people to reflect on. I hope that’s what they’ll get from this show. That’s what my intention is –that urbanites, sophisticated art viewers, will for one instance think about the grander beyond that and have appreciation of it. The great outdoors indoor. Yeah, connecting the anus to the cosmos is for that purpose. To place an extremely personal, sensitive, human aspect, in a poetic marriage to that divine humongous “beyond us.”

TR: Huston Smith comes to mind: “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” Always expanding, but with full knowledge that there’s always that “magnificent more,” as you say.

JN: I see it in some young artists who are really trying to work with getting back to respecting the enormity of nature. And of course it has everything to do with a kind of dialogue with cyberculture. The insufficiency of cyber-interactivity and networking and all that. No one ever said that would be the be all and end all.

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