This interview with Noah Fischer occurred at his gallery exhibit, “Monitor,” at Claire Oliver on November 12th. Interesting to me was how an artist who is accustomed to larger installation-based work turned to the discrete object in a gallery context.
What follows is our conversation, lengthy but focused. So get that cup of tea, and enjoy!
NF: Sure, I didn’t think of that but yeah, sure they are, like in Buddhism how idolatrous is an altar anyway? How much are you really bound to that statue? You can put a basketball on the altar and it can still be serious about the world.
CS: Yeah, it’s attending to it, it’s a matter of intending.
NF: Exactly, it’s attending, it’s a commitment to things.
CS: You used that word commitment earlier and in theory the word comes from Sartre’s reaction to the nouveau realiste writers in France. It was literature he was writing about, a politically engaged kind of writing, which is a very sort of specific argument to make about what commitment is.
NF: Yeah, I think Adorno wrote about commitment in the context of the political in an artwork, but I wasn’t actually thinking that way when I use the word, words are, words can be a little full of baggage, and I’m interested in that, I like to engage with the different meanings when they come up, but I was thinking of emptying that word to mean a constant practice, constant engagement. In that sense it’s more like not idealizing or allowing objects to become ideological but also getting personal with them. This is my life, my studio work, and in that sense the objects are more in the tradition of Morandi in the sense of objects that speak to a constant commitment to being an artist and to making work, and the physical nature of that, the commitment to having an artistic life. This is one reason the hand appears persistently in the work.
CS: I used to have a fascination with the word conviction, I was so fascinated by this word because it is so double-sided, such a personal thing but it also means the state and the law. For a long time, like you’re using the word commitment, I was using the word conviction, it was something I thought I could really hold on to. Then I discovered what was -even meaningful and powerful don’t fall into line here – but, beyond conviction, something being beyond conviction is what supports the energy that I put into things.
NF: Those are really…commitment, conviction are good words to think about. I think that Adorno writes about works of art as a crossing line between supporting a cause and just being art. It’s about watching out that your art, that it doesn’t support the wrong cause, to have a certain consciousness of politics in the work. With “Monitor,” it’s simple, it’s a problematic object, in fact it’s hardly an object at all because we don’t notice it, we have a very strange relationship with it…
CS: Yeah, I sleep with my Apple! There was an essay that Lacan wrote, and I’m not a big Lacan reader, and this was written during the Vietnam war, so there’s always a lot of anti-American sentiment, but it’s a great description of the American ego and the automobile, about how the American is attached to this thing as a prosthetic extension of themselves, and looking around the world from their little automobile ego. My Apple feels like an extreme relationship to an object, I’ve never had one like that before. It can have me spellbound for a day straight. And the politics of the iPod, there’s been a lot of really good writing about the danger of such commodities.
NF: Oh yeah, there is a danger, and it’s why I got into Apple design specifically because the Apple campaign has managed to insinuate itself deeply into the lives of people who wouldn’t consider themselves to be materialistic.
CS: Oh, it’s kind of uncool now not to have an iPod.
NF: That’s really important, that’s the thing that’s going on that we don’t know, give it ten or fifteen years it’s going to be whole different thing. Talking about Obama and how he won, by the internet, by the interface, it’s an Apple generation thing, he’s like an Apple, he’s not PC, he’s Mac, and it’s based on an Apple type of interface, and now that he’s President he’s keeping his web site up, I don’t know if you’ve noticed…
CS: I’ve been getting email after the election letting me know that we’re all still a part of it, and they’re keeping their members aware. I think the last email I got was to purchase t-shirts. That’s the first time a presidency has had that kind of connection, and a public.
NF: Well, y’know Facebook, the Obama site is basically working like Facebook now, you can have your own – I have my own page on the Obama web site.
CS: Yeah, me too, but I haven’t really done anything with it. It’s more than Facebook, though it’s a blog.
NF: Yeah, it’s the US President, blogging, right? It’s a huge resource, that’s just sitting there, it’s like the fireside chats with FDR on the radio, that era where this squarish object called a radio became the manifest president for a moment. That was a technological era where this one piece of progress embodied the President.
CS: You had to be in a space probably with more people than your one lone self, in a room, listening to sound, and the thing about this is that the president can make his speeches at any place and any time of day, and it is something you do by yourself.
NF: And it’s not only that you’re by yourself, it’s stepping outside of the physical reality and into a world where there’s many many more options going on and that you can get lost in, and you meet other people, but you’re meeting them in this cyberspace.
CS: And they are real relationships, that will never become in real space. So the other thing I was interested in when I was looking at these objects, I guess I’ll call it an “issue” of facingness. Much of the glow of the Apple computer is in that facingness. I was noticing that of course in the wall pieces you have to do that, but in every single one of these, this one is revolving, that one is awry, this I call the ass monitor…
NF: That’s a great name for it, I would have called it ass monitor if I’d thought about it.
CS: And here the monitor is a little too high for the face to face thing to happen…these are in a way social objects differently in their facingness than these. So obviously, there is a space issue, these are on the wall, but still there’s something abut them belonging to a category of space differently than the things that are in the room and the avoidance of facingness that occurs in these more everyday objects.
NF: Well, that’s a very good point, obviously I knew that these wall pieces were doing their own thing aside from the furniture studies. It’s a good point you bring up about facingness.
NF: Maybe unconsciously insistent, y’know. This work is really, the ideas don’t come first, put it that way, it’s just art work.
NF: It’s just studio, it’s developed in the studio, there’s a lot of ideas behind it, I’m always researching, but I have to let go of that stuff when I’m making the work, instead of pointing things in a certain direction.
CS: Well, we are being asked to attend to the objects, and in attending to them I found this thing about facingness.
NF: It’s a good point and its true that even this is hung high. Well there’s two things going on with it. Everything is about interface, that’s why the show is called “Monitors”. It’s kind of funny, y’know, interface, two faces, your own face facing the face of the thing.
CS: Also face-to-face meetings.
NF: Right, and if the computer is facing away from you there is nothing happening there.
CS: You still try to go in there.
NF: In a way there’s a space in the show I was working with, and I knew about it but you put it in a very good way, and the idea is that…These things here are sort of just barely sculptural, there’s not too much going on really, it’s like a stand-in, almost, for what’s going on here, you’ve got the light, you’ve got the thing…
CS: But the light does a lot, you’ve got this empty casing, and I was saying something earlier about hollowness.
NF: It’s like Donald Judd, y’know, it’s a sublime space in there y’know, and a sublime shadow very crisp, adding a new dimension to it.
CS: The word hollowness is something that, I teach the history of contemporary sculpture at Purchase and we were reading Fried’s essay last night and he uses the word hollowness as a very strong condemnation of Minimalism, something can ring hollow, apart from being descriptive, and so there is something about the interfacing that is occurring in this really quirky place in the history of human consciousness let’s say, where this kind of facingness is a subjectivity that’s real, but it’s constructed and fake and not there.
NF: Right, a whole election happened in this space, so how can you argue that’s not real. At the same time it’s so new, in a historical sense, it’s so new, nobody gets it, nobody knows where its going and what it means, nobody can make an ethical, final argument about whether its a good thing or a bad thing in that sense, the jury is out.
CS: One of my favorite zen things is the Sandokai, form and emptiness, the absolute and the relative, and so there is the sense of something that is empty and hollow being where the world is, where it’s happening.
NF: Well, I like that you can use hollowness and emptiness and accept them both in a way, emptiness is good.
CS: In relation to a history of sculpture hollowness is useful as a way to get to emptiness, which is what you started with.
NF: Yeah, it’s interesting to think about those words and the history of those words, the thing is that in this work I don’t think there’s a strong moralistic condemnation of this type of interface, of the hollowness of a sublime digital age for example, because there’s a warmth, this is a beautiful lantern, I chose to use the incandescent bulb, a yellowish glow.
So this is talking about re-presenting, but not much changed. These sculptures here, all in a different way, I was chasing after a space, some kind of interaction, in some sense of the violence of that…
CS: Right. Smashing the monitor.
NF: It makes me think of the rubbish piles where the computer monitors are processed, in China for example, so just looking at them even in their pre-junk manifestation as nasty; the toxic part of them, the low kind of, in a way just putting your ass on them, the low chakra aspect, the bodily shit reality.
CS: And sitting on glass and putting yourself at risk in some way.
NF: A little uncomfortable and wanting to bust through, this is not accepting that reality and wanting to bust through it and pop the concept, really,
CS: Wait the violence thing, I want to stop there for a second, because, um, uh, the violence, as you descibed was located in the act of busting these out of their frame and putting them in the chair, but I think of them as violent in the sense that on the one hand these monitors are opaque, they’re shut off, and they’re in some cold but sexual relationship to the body, perhaps, on the other hand you can’t decode them as monitors, so there’s a thing about surveillance as well, so there is a sort of violence about opacity and surveillance that…? I’m playing with this word violence and finding where it is.
NF: Yeah, I kind of threw that out there. I think that there’s a violence in objects, period, and it kind of has to do with the fact that violence of the body has its symptoms, it’s always breaking down, it’s not a story with a happy ending, put it that way. Things ending.
CS: So is planned obsolescence a delusional relationship to death?
NF: Yeah, you could say that, I mean sure,because the idea of continuous new generations of technology, you’re never watching your object slip all the way into death – you’re supposed to replace your cell phone constantly… although I do let mine go all the way to their slow death.
To go back to the surveillance thing you brought up as in “Monitor” – to most people that word right away means surveillance, but I avoided making that obvious show.
CS: So you wanted to return it to this obdurate object…the monitor, without carrying the burdens of surveillance technologies.
NF: I made a monitor for a previous show that had a big eye on it, so it was really directed surveillance, mid-century, ’80s surveillance, the problem with that is that it gets very black and white, you’re pointing a finger and saying “big brother is doing this to us, it’s watching us” and no, actually we’re watching ourselves, you can’t really point the finger at surveillance. I’m more interested in saying “nobody’s watching, we have to watch ourselves interacting with the world and ourselves creating strange and destructive relationships. So when I use the word “monitor”, it means monitoring consumption, we are definitely consumers.
CS: How does the use of the word monitor show up in the history of television, do you know, I mean it’s curious that this object would be called a monitor.
NF: I have to humbly say that I didn’t particularly do research of the development of the word.
CS: It’s interesting, the history of this word, I think its right to pull it way from surveillance technologies and give it back to its original meaning, which is more about attending to things, registering things, right, when you monitor your own behavior, labeling.
NF: Right, as you say labeling, monitoring your thought process as it arises in relation to this object. That’s how I use the word to guide the show, actually.
CS: [looking at the map installation on the wall] This really interested me a lot, can you tell me about this specific piece of furniture?
NF: These are things that I grabbed off the internet mixed with snapshots I took. This one was, like, it was a futurist, actually it was contemporary they just labeled it as a futuristic, domestic computer environment.
CS: And this an Apple..
NF: Yeah, that’s an Apple, I was interested in it because it’s a strong Mac aesthetic.
CS: It also looks like a dentist’s chair…
NF: Yeah, it also has that, it’s this complete interface with the body…
CS: A pod…
CS: [pointing to another image] This is the console.
NF: This is the entertainment console, true, in the ’60s, the moment in the past where you accept it as a sculptural object in your environment, y’know, it’s kind of like the sputnik everybody used to have.
CS: The sputnik was a spaceship or something, what was the sputnik?
NF: It was a satellite, a completely beautiful polished orb with just antenna legs coming out of it.
CS: I totally remember sculptures and design.
NF: Yeah, because there was such a heightening of technology at this time, the late 1950’s, and 1960’s, because of space travel and stuff, people were really accepting of sculptures, quasi-sicence-art-objects into their space where the function in question could be opened up a little bit because there was such an elation over this strange object up in outer space, so it was almost religious, an object…
CS: connected to us all…
NF: So people wanted one in their house! That’s the context that this comes out of.
CS: Well they’re so different, that one is in relation to the body in a way that that one is not, the connection to the body here are the dials, that’s what was going on then, dials…
(It’s rarely mentioned, but this 1964 Oldenberg, “Soft Switiches,” was an example of what Donald Judd referred to in his own writing as a “specific object.” People usually only think of Judd’s Minimalism.)
NF: This piece, the desk piece which is called “Information Platform” was picking up from my thoughts about furniture and interface, short-circuiting any possible function while at the same time presenting function. You put your keypad on this wooden keypad, so it’s already like a double obsolete thing, and this is the light source and it slides… I was thinking it’s like a typewriter- another obsolete object that became part of today’s computer.
CS: So you want these really to be in this weird ambivalent space, not like when Donald Judd started making furniture straightforwardly as furniture, alongside of his sculpture. But these are, as you were talking about it, also intended to be used as furniture but they’re not really that straightforward as furniture, so there’s this kind of weird space that wasn’t available to Donald Judd but that is available to you.
NF: Yeah, I would be happy if someone were to use this as furniture for sure, all of this stuff, I could imagine it not being used but i’d much prefer, the best thing somebody could do is use this computer table. Whoever buys it is going to have the newest computer monitor for sure , but then it will be beside this old micro-film reader I found on the street, making the constant nagging comparison.
CS: Helluva name, “Eyecom.”
NF: Yeah, “Eyecom,” like iPhone or iMac. It’s function is light, and a double function is this drawer where you can keep your documents.
CS: The secret spot.
NF: There’s layers of obsolescence. I’d be interested in interviewing someone who has had this piece in their life for a few years and asking them, what’s your experience working on this station? I think this is a pretty good station to use. There is a strong invitation for people to use it and for people to bring it to their lives because this show is about consciousness in people’s lives so I think these objects, work better at home in use, than in a gallery. I’d like to see people live with this obscelete laptop thing here…to use it somehow…
CS: as light…
NF: As art, as light, that’s the zen part thing.
CS: Okay, that’s that’s well, here’s the thing, when Turrell and Flavin and all of those things started coming out there was really harsh criticism against all those light people and it was regarded as inviting this kind, well with Turrell this kind of piety – in ’68, in the ’70s people were very concerned about this use of light in sculpture because the dialogue of the time was about “the real”, the “specific object” and when you introduce light into it all of the sudden you get, y’know there’s that book Downcast Eyes by Martin Jay, a history of philosophy that is about privileging the eye, enlightenment, as a real sort of problem, a tradition, I’m glad that you’re mentioning it, it’s also a problem for zen discourse, ‘enlightenment,’in terms of relating with a public, when people talk of enlightenment it’s often regarded as this purity of achievement. So there’s something about light, you can talk about this in an interesting way, in a way that is importantly there in your work.
NF: Of course I was thinking about that, yeah, sure, James Turrell, I was thinking of Flavin, so the question is about sublime light, it stands for enlightenment, also that type of sublime is transcendence of the material world, an optical transcendence of materiality, I’ve had the experience with James Turrell where I was caught in a space…
NF: Suspended, not sure what I was looking at.
CS: I get something different from Flavin, a colder technology.
NF: Flavin’s been kinda overrun by the last decades of the way lighting works now- the way we see it in malls sometimes looks like Flavin.
CS: They don’t even make those bulbs any more, it’s a real problem for anyone who owns one, they can’t turn it on anymore! Obsolete.
NF: I’m not transported by Flavin very much but I saw a Turrell that, I was suspended and it’s a strong feeling, I can see that it’s almost like a religious experience, a little cheesy…
CS: That was in this criticism that I remembered, and it was specifically in relation to, and this is important, the discourse it was competing with at the time was the concrete, a big word in the Minimalist crowd, the real was a big word, object, objecthood all those words were about being invested in the materiality of our everyday space, something that remained in an art context but was nonetheless an address to an actually lived daily experience. So to bring light, y’know, this is like a hauling it back, retrieving it from the piety let’s say of someone like James Turrell, only there’s still that facing thing that’s going on that can be really powerful.
NF: In general these things don’t have one meaning, they’re sort of cross-referencing meanings [points to the hole behind the monitor and in the back where the light appears from]
CS: That’s a nice touch. It’s fake!
NF: I always work with demystification, In a way, in all my earlier work, all the drama, all the cinematic moments are demystified, because you can see, your watching the illusion at the same time as you’re watching the machines that create it, so it’s kind of like this Plato’s cave thing, so it’s important that there’s immediate demystification of what’s going on.
CS: But it’s not immediate, you have to be drawn.
NF: But you can figure it out. That’s important, but essentially you do get this kind of sublime light. In one sense it’s a little sublime as opposed to a big sublime, like a mini-sublime.
CS: It’s like an incidental sublime. And you lose it, too, you sort of be in it and then have it vanish.
NF: But the sublime is very important at the same time because that’s essentially what the thing is presenting to you is a sublime experience, that’s what they have to offer, and if you put the lights down in the gallery or room you’d be even more sucked into the light. So they’re sort of offering you this sublime experience that you can demystify on the next take. And its going right back to the artists of the ’60s and ’70s because I think that this is a strong tradition coming very directly from the work of Donald Judd and Flavin and James Turrell going into the Mac design. And the people who invented Mac knew very well about that type of art. What I think about art is that people think it’s a canon that stays in the art world but its really not, the strongest part of what was developed in the ’60s ended up having nothing to do with the art world, maybe the so-called art world went on a totally different track- almost more of an economic development thing- the art is the fairs and market today , not the discourse that the Turells and Judds had back then…
CS: As we were talking a word was niggling at the back of my head, we were talking earlier about Fried and Minimalism and all that and a word that was really important and that he didn’t find in those sculptures was absorption, and he found that in the history of painting, Diderot’s criticism and Chardin and painters like that, and the distinction, he was trying to make sense of this word theatricality by returning to painting and talking about absorption. Which is a really a good word…
NF: I like your theme of coming to different words, it’s great, so tell me about absorption.
CS: People like to take him down but I like him a lot, and I don’t want to turn him into some kind of “zen” guy because he isn’t, but he infamously ends his essay with the statement that “presentness is grace,”and theatricality is presence. Absorption, it turns out, is going to be presentness. And so he talks about paintings in which pictures are not…there’s a way of painting a mass of figures as part of a scene where they’re performing for you and they’re all very actively engaged with each other but the presentation is theatrical precisely because they’re not really acknowledging you at all but they’re very aware of you being there. Sometimes there were will one pair of eyes, y’know, a stand-in gaze. And you can think of it as some kinds of people, we were talking earlier about how you didn’t want this to be overdetermined by ethical moral concerns. but this can be a description of people as well, that theatricality extorts complicity from people. Fried doesn’t describe it this way, but I do because this is how people can be. You can be at a party, I’ve been this person at times, we all have…someone will walk into a room and they’re kind of ignoring everybody but in a very theatrical way they’re kind of drawing attention to themselves, it’s very intentional but in order to pull it off they’re refusing the acknowledgment of others.
NF: Performing rather than interacting.
CS: So that word theatricality, I’m not so interested in that but absorption, like a face-to-face meeting, it’s not theatrical, its that…
NF: Absorption is a little Martin Buberesque, the I and Thou thing.
CS: Hm hm, right. But Fried was talking about paintings, such as with Courbet, where not only the artist in front of the canvas, his experience in the working of the material, but that artists experience in front of that object was really not different than the beholder’s experience in front of the object in terms of materiality and absorption. The success of a good painting is that it hauls you into that space so there’s no distinction between the artist and the viewer.
NF: Great, that’s awesome, I don’t really have anything to add to that. Absolutely.
CS: It’s a way of getting at the problem of enlightenment I think and your issue of light, its something like absorption.
NF: What’s strong to me is the materiality part of it. Courbet goes through a filter of working and struggling with this viscous material to bring to your eyes the image, right, and that is the same with Morandi. The struggle and honesty with that material are specific to art.
NF: Yeah, thank you. The work with that material in a way diminishes the facility by which you can create an illusion but at the same time it presents the same relationship with the artist and then it goes back with the viewer ’cause the artist takes time, and if you are really looking at that kind of picture you have to invest time. So there’s the two things going on: the materiality which stops you and then there’s another layer that creates the conditions for absorption. Consciously that’s what’s going on here. Y’know what, a lot of its about time. When you spend time working on a surface and letting things build up…It’s great that you bring up this word absorption and I think it’s also related to the word I was using, commitment, the way that I meant to use it, because it’s about slowing down. Really what’s asked for is to cut through a certain media attention span cycle, that’s not fast forward, because this is how people consume not only products but also art. What’s needed, especially when you’re working with contemporary objects or products is to slow that superspeed process down a little bit. So the way I thought to do that was to personally slow down the process in the studio.
CS: So with these pieces something that is definitely going on that is not going on with these others are kind of big things, there’s the facingness thing, the enlightenment thing, the absorption thing, but there’ also painting here, yes, there’s sort of Rachel Harrison painting over there, but this is like painting. And it’s very deliberately there, as painting.
NF: Yeah, well, when you think about these as Steinbach objects, in that tradition, which they are, I wanted to continue this project, relate to it, not only thinking about the monitor but thinking about Steinbach and what it means to put consumer objects on a shelf in the Modernist tradition.
CS: And to never change,with Steinbach, it’s to never change, he’s not in the studio, he’s sort of gone into production arrest, which is kind of curious about him.
NF: Frozen in time.
CS: Yeah, there was an exhibition at Sonnabend not too long ago, and I think that the way it works for him is that you purchase the shelf, and then added to the value of the shelf are the receipts literally form Walmart
NF: Is he buying from Walmart now?
CS: Oh, I don’t know, I’m sure that he buys from a variety of places, but he’s got an interest in the commodity and its value that’s different than yours, you’re much more, I guess I want to say that you are much more phenomenological in your orientation than he is.
NF: Yeah. But the thing is that he’s talking about objects of desire and repositioning them formally in an art tradition.
CS: Butbutbut..hmm..he’s in a place where you’re not really seeing them that differently, I mean you can take that box of Fruit loops, I mean I’m sure if you owned one of those you’d put on those Hulk boxing gloves that make a noise, or..I think the piece that does it for me the most are those black chewy dog toys, you fill them with dog food and if you were to take those of the shelf they’d be flying around the house! So there’s something about the mobility of those objects from the store to the shelf, by the force of desire being driven into the space of the room, y’know, flying off the shelves at either end. And your work has a quality of absorption or “holding power,” if you will.
NF: The work relating to the Steinbach, well the painting on the bottom is there in a very conscious way, because the shelf thing he does is kind of flat glossy paint, a perfectly rendered shelf, and then I realized these Steinbach shelves have this big surface on the bottom side that could be used. So it could be a painting.
CS: Actually he’s using laminates, they’re’ sheet goods. They are totally pristine.
NF: he doesn’t even make them himself, so a part of this is about efficiency, contrasting with the world of production and wasted space. For one thing, crafting the shelf, whittling it down and exposing the materiality, and taking advantage of what art can be done in the space.
CS: He used to do this kind of vintage shopping, he’d buy a funky lamp with deer hooves as the base and put next to it a pair of Nike sneakers. I don’t think he does that so much anymore, so you’ve got an obsolescence thing going on here, this monitor with the blackout – there’s something that’s explicitly about planned obsolescence here that doesn’t exist in Steinbach’s work.
NF: Even without the obsolescence physically being the work, with these and almost everything else in the show there is that knocking on the door of the death of these products, kind of turning the corner around materialist desire and planned obsolescence. You’re kind of seeing around the thing because the object is presenting a kind of phenomenological version of itself, without its normal function really there. Probably why Steinbach came upon his project in the ’80s is because that was a very materialistic moment in history. I like his work. I thought it was weird, I came upon it for the first time in an old Art in America or something, when I was at school at RISD. You could see he was the big deal in 1985, and it’s so strange to come to these previous art histories . Jeff Koons sure got a little more into the art history books than Steinbach did, but his basketball and vacuum cleaner work is very parallel. So it’s very much reacting to this Reagan era consumerism. Now, in the same way, we’ve come to the end of a very similar boom except that it’s a tech-boom, I mean, now, everyone needs an iPhone, information is being sold to us as lifestyle, connections, immaterial things, and it’s sublime.
CS: An important word that came up for me again as you were talking is this word complicity. Haim Steinbach is regarded as a complicit artist.
NF: Understandably so.
CS: Hal Foster has the most scathing criticism against commodity sculpture and what he refers to as “cynical realism.” Complicity is in his text and it’s in a lot of other writers at the same time, it suddenly became a term that re-appeared, and now Johanna Drucker has written a whole book about complicity as what defines the art of our time. I don’t see what you are doing as involving or critiquing at any level this notion of complicity, which is I think another difference between what you are doing and what Steinbach is doing. It has a lot to do with planned obsolescence, that things fall away.
NF: I just have a problem with that word, complicity, because it sounds pretty moralistic.
CS: But it’s been written about as a positive term, that’s what Drucker has done is to take what Foster and all these other people were projecting as harsh negative criticism, and with Foster there is usually a bit of a seething Marxist tone. I do think you can charge Steinbach with a level of complicity and that is a zen thing too, I mean how do you deal with judgment and criticism? I do judge.
NF: Of course, we all do.
CS: So I don’t want to run away from the word complicity as a negative word, but to investigate what can be earned from it.
NF: In that sense, I ‘m thankful to Haim Steinbach because artists have to work with all this stuff they didn’t have to before, to work with that material and be involved with it. He set up this thing in his moment that artists like me can react to. I suppose his was a complicit gesture. But I don’t feel like what I’m doing is judging his work, just working off it.
CS: You’re not critiquing Haim Steinbach by doing this.
NF: I’m not doing that at all. Steinbach’s is a different project that is at this point I think quite historical actually. It really does belong to a specific time period, even though it’s sort of frozen and as you say, he is still making these shelves. But when I see his work I think of Reagan.
CS: Right. You’re talking about the President.
NF: The President is a deep metaphor right now, it’s funny…Reagan delivered some unexpected and amazing speeches by the way. But it’s also that Steinbach represents a previous moment in the art bubble so thats another aspect of the history-economics.
CS: That moment when people were writing about Steinbach, and there were people who were in the media also, Foster was feeding from others who were also critical of Julian Schnabel, those two were propped up as the artists created by a collector-driven market. So it’s a perfect site to reach for from this moment in time. But I have to confide in you, and I think we’re already in a place where we can do something with this, I really cannot stand the rampant art historical quotations that are passed off in contemporary art as insider jokes or a flat delivery of a narrative only for the sake of hooking into that narrative.
NF: Right, it’s very common, it has to do with artists going to school.
CS: Well artists were going to school when the Minimalists started and they weren’t doing that exactly, it’s not that it’s something else…
NF: Well, it’s like everything on Broadway is a re-run now, right? It’s how people feel, it’s a market trend.
CS: It’s also because everybody else is going to school too and they are required to take those art history classes…
NF: Quotations are a value, they already have a brand name, people know about them and people feel good about knowing about that.
CS: Right, so what I’m doing here is looking at these and thinking about this deliberate and specific reach to Haim Steinbach, and that there’s something inside of these thoughts about planned obsolescence that has, not a critque, but a sort of moving inside of the operations of history, and not merely quoting them for the sake of quoting them.
NF: It’s the first show I’ve done where I haven’t been processing information in this way. Before, I was not referring to art history but to other histories.
CS: You’ve made ghosts of the information technology you were addicted to!
NF: I realize I’ve reached a certain point of making art where the fact that people before (like Steinbach) have done other projects that meant different things at different times-becomes to me so important, art history became important to me in a personal way. I wouldn’t have done that before because you have to arrive at this moment organically. I know exactly what you’re saying about a vogue to quote stuff but it’s kind of beside the point in a way because what is needed is perspective to make it a new thing. When you know about an artist long enough, for years say, you can start to comprehend the power in their project and you can really interact with it and have a shadow double of what you are doing so it becomes rich territory.
CS: Without recovering or salvation.
NF: I think it’s so important, I feel so good about evoking the Reagan-era ’80s, with this show in this time now, I feel very good about it and I think it’s a great thing to arise. People have different relationships to it based on according to who’s looking at it of course, right?
CS: But we can say something is over, I take comfort in that and it’s a lot of false comfort, I know, but..
NF: My work is about history, there’s a consciousness of time in history, that’s how I’m comfortable making quotations and interacting with art history. It’s about a history effect.
Image credits: (All works by Noah Fischer unless otherwise mentioned, courtesy of Claire Oliver and Noah Fischer) Green Essentials, mixed media, 29×16 1/2×29″;Giorgio Morandi, grabbed from Metropolitan Museum of Art: iRaq posters by Forkscrew, photo courtesy of Class Warrior; Beige Study Number 3, mixed media sculpture, 32 1/2x16x15 1/2″: Chair Study Number 1, mixed media sculpture,14 1/2 by 17 1/2 x35″; Grandfather Clock, mixed media sculpture, 144x12x89″; Perfect Lantern, mixed media sculpture, 18x 33 1/2 x 15:; Chair Study Number 1, detail; Surveillance object; Treasure Map, 56x86x0″; Sputnik lamp; Claes Oldenberg, Softlight Switches, 41 1/8x 11″, City Review; Information platform, mixed media sculpture, 60x26x45; James Turrell, Meeting, 1986, Photo by Michael Moran,Courtesy P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center; Beige Study Number 3, detail; Franz Xaver Winterhalter (German, 1805–1873), Florinda, 1853,Oil on canvas, 70 1/4 x 96 3/4 in. (178.4 x 245.7 cm), Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of William H. Webb, 1899; Family Portrait, Mixed media, 32 1/2×53 1/2x 15 1/4″; Haim Steinbach, Orient Point, plastic laminated wood shelf; rubber dog chew; electronic “Hulk” hands; plastic pumpkin lamp, 34 1/2 x 71 x 19″ (87 x 180.3 x 48.3 cm) from http://www.haimsteinbach.net/; New Codes, mixed media, 21x9x13″ detail; Family Poretrait, detail; Obama logo, Sol Sender; TV Kennedy, mixed media sculpture.