Interview with artists on the term Actionism? | Exhibition Opulent Landscapes by Rachel Vancelette | Curating Around the World
“What is your definition of ‘Actionism’ today?”
The question was posed by the curator, Rachel Vancelette, in an effort to have the term redefined in a contemporary context, rather than in a historical context. The artists’ studio practice, artworks and the action of creation in each studio can help define such a term within this particular select group of artists. You will find that the different answers vary and provide an overview of the direct voice of each individual artist. The title “Opulent Landscapes” derives from the profound rich materials, artistic process and artworks seen directly in many recent studio visits this past year that have been selected for this exhibition.
I always define my work as action painting for the beholder.
That is, the brain, gut and literal body activity of the beholder.
The “Paintant” notion already implies action, mutation, and evolution.
All my works from the beginning try to define a more complex notion of actionism.
The choice to not perform a scripted role in life and to allow life to unfold, pay close attention to one’s environment and engage thoughtfully. To move and think from this perspective is not the norm and requires discipline to push aside distractions and focus on one’s sincere priorities. For myself, I pay attention to balances of power and representation – looking for what is not there and finding ways to inject the parts of myself that are not represented in the environment, ultimately seeking balance and shifting things in hopes of opening up new spaces for myself and others. This actionism breaks down barriers, loosens the rigidity of definitions and generates critically necessary mental and sometimes physical space.
My Urban Memories are large-format artistic installations that aim at recreating the spirit of heroic stories. Time does not exist. The only reality are the extraordinary happenings that have or will occur in one place. What originally triggers this process is the identification, as an author, of my conviction and individual vision of the soul to be rescued from a project that “must be done”. This same romantic mechanism leads others to join and push projects by spontaneous natural affinity with their ideals and their conceptual and esthetic greatness. A collective vision can add up, but a chain of compatible individual visions multiplies. “Think separately, get together to act.” To raise Urban Memories, unusual structures that defy convention, a large series of obstacles must be overcome. That energy of similar individual thoughts is unstoppable. A real urban revolution. An actionist phenomena that creates a new scenario.
Actionism is actually not a term I have ever used to explain my aesthetics, working process, or values in general…so I lack a personal definition, or an interpretation that has any emotional investment. Mostly it is a term I see used in various circles, artistic and political and philosophical, meaning a variety of things that I have not seen as having a direct correlation to who I am and what I do. That doesn’t mean there absolutely isn’t some overlap with the reality of my work. It is just that I don’t really wave flags or banners, wear uniforms, or stand up for a movement. I am just living and working, part of a variety of strange exchange systems as a person and artist, and thinking, in images more than words, about how it all makes sense.
Many artists today are concerned with individual approaches to their work rather than trying to fit into or invent some kind of ‘movement’. Approaches and materials can be traditional but some artists may use the computer or machinery or outside elements that remove the artists’ touch. Just about anything goes! What’s key is the internal logic that fuels and drive us. What we portray we deem as important to us individually and perhaps on the bigger scale, to humanity.
Artists make assignments for themselves and pursue these branches of inquiry which can be short or long limbs of the tree of their work, of their oeuvre. It is essential not to mimic the past but to fuse tradition to the present.
My involvement with my work and the process is more than active. Studio time is precious and must be utilized efficiently. Though there is never a pre-set plan of action before entering, the directive is an intense focus to accomplish a lot in a short space of time. To this end, I have my material ready, sit down, look at what’s happening on the walls, get geared up and actionate. I usually have 3 or more paintings going at once. I start scooping large amounts of resin that looks like marshmallow fluff into containers, adding color, adjusting color, adding thickeners and manually whip the material until it has the desired consistency. This requires a lot of torque, to my physical detriment. I use mounds of gloves and make a huge frenzied mess. Once the material is thickened, I stretch and twist it to lay down marks as well as stuff pastry bags with various tips and extrude the paint to build up a dense surface. I move quickly to lay down as much paint as possible to achieve a sense of depth. The imagery represents all the unseen action and movement that is continually happening under the surface of our perception and very often takes the form of layers of branching networks that may represent neural patterns or botanical growth. The painting detail that happens on top as the last component is slow, peaceful and meditative, serving as the cooldown from the action of the more physical session.
A Dream Deferred
What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action”
– William Shakespeare, Hamlet 3.1
Action was the root of my beginnings in art when I started practicing in my studio. Though artworks were conceptually created in my mind, they were always precise and did not come from the raw energy found in action but rather the more conceptual realm of creation and its explorative way of thinking.
I began to work in chrome and in vandalizing actions, which showcased the more traditional sense of action in terms of physical creation. It became about creating a new physical space while also losing control through the act of making art. Some might call this a “happy mistake” but in the end, it is with purpose and not a mistake at all. It becomes an action process that you can lose control in, be obsessed with, and let the action of creation take you over as well. The talent of action is not a one-way relationship, it becomes you as an artist and you become one in the process of creation.
It is a powerful and captivating process, as it releases the built-up energy from my mind in both physical and conceptual aspects of art, which in the end turns into something grand and sublime.