Rebecca Farr Artist Talk 11.26.16
DKM: Thank you so much to all you for being here. It’s wonderful to see such a great turnout for Rebecca’s show. Rebecca is one of my favorite humans, and one of my favorite people to talk to about art, and many of you know she’s also the first artist that I worked with when I opened the gallery. My first grader was six weeks old when we did our first studio visit so there’s a lot of history, and I’ve had the extraordinary honor to getting to watch her work develop over the years. This is our fourth show together so it’s pretty wonderful to get to do this.
This is also a really special body of work. The word that keeps coming up for me when I am trying to explain to people is that this is very very generous work, and I think that most people who come in and spend time with the show are feeling Rebecca’s very personal story behind the work, but they are also really able to bring their own.
For those of you who don’t know our usual format, Rebecca and I will be having a discussion but your questions are also welcomed and encouraged.
To be honest, I’m a little bit nervous—I’m going to shake it off! —Because I’m about to do something that I don’t usually do at the beginning of our talks. A couple of nights ago I decided to take some time in the space with this show. A few hours just to myself. It’s one of the real gifts of having a space like this is that I get to do that. I get to come in early in the morning or stay late at night and see the work in different lights and different impacts, to feel it in all kinds of different ways. For me, as somebody who through most of my adult life has had a real struggle with existing in a physical form, this work resonates on many levels. I have had a lot of my own issues with physical pain, with my body being someplace that is not an easy place to be. In the last few months, I’ve been dealing with a different facet of that dynamic for myself, with pain that is actually focused around my head. And so that has been a really impactful time to experience this work. I’m going to read something I wrote that night. Warning: it includes a little bit of swearing, and mentions sex. Hey mom! [laughs] And I’m going to ask Rebecca not to respond to it at the outset. We’ll just let it be an opener. It also references a number of things that I’m interested in touching on as subjects during our conversation. After this, we’ll start the dialogue and questions. So here we go. I wrote this to Rebecca as an email while I was in the space and definitely did not intend for it to be public, but I haven’t changed any of it.
I’ve spent the last three hours in this space by myself, burning sage, listening to music, listening in silence, sitting in silence, crying on my knees, allowing myself to touch some of the paintings just a bit in the paces where they felt like a tiny bit of direct physical connection and the briefest hand oil might be a risk worth taking. This work is so extraordinary, so very generous that it is hard for me to make my thoughts and questions linger in a way that can be contained by the shape of this font. This work is born of such deep recognition in you that I feel like it can only bring others more awareness of themselves. And what a fucking gift that is. Magic.
Paint, paint, paint, paint. Your love of oil is so palpable, and this oil is the body—over and over again. The body without the weight of what we should… do sit see act carry. I sit here thinking about your stories of the anguish of learning to read (I felt that same early anguish about the knowledge that I would someday have sex, that there was an experience that I knew would arrive but that I couldn’t’t see around, some idea of my outlines no longer being my own, the fiction of containment, maybe the inescapable reality of the body). I think of your description of that anguish because this feels like its release. Even in struggle, the struggle is not to a discipline of independence or of unity, but to the opening of presence. I wonder as I look at them if the self (portrait) you see in them is in the figure, the pairing, or if the self is in the water.
I want to know about these three dimensional forms. I want to know how they began in your hands—I remember early visits in your studio where there were just small circles hanging on nails of your studio wall, near your computer, music playing and small items waiting to be burned however you needed them. At the time they felt halfway between wound and bandage, and I remember you calling them alphabets even then. Memory is such a tricky thing, so it’s hard to know if I’m imposing that recent terminology onto those past shapes as I saw them then on your studio wall. (A studio that you contained and warmed and grew in until you got so bright it needed to take over your entire yard.)
Did you think of bandages? Did they feel like comfort, like cool cloth from a mother/a nurse/ a spirit/ a cloth that is itself and you at once? Did you know right away that they needed to be white? How did you find this fabric, how did you soak and set in the right timing to allow form to be set and yet always still open to its own movement?
Is work still romantic if there is only presence in it, without nostalgia? What if a painting tells you that the definition of the extraordinary is that it is everywhere? Is it still narrative? Or maybe the question is where is the narrative located? Or does the very idea of narrative require a separation between body and spirit? Are the stories we tell ourselves only a defense against what happens when time is no longer our compass?
This last hour I have been sitting with the paintings with the lights off, remembering how you talked about years in which Simon asked you to paint in the dark: value, value, value. And I can read them this way, the surface and its movement, the water and flesh almost more so. I think about discipline transforming into liberation, but one that loves its own body. No scraping, only acceptance.
Now, where I really would like to start the conversation is to go back to when Rebecca was first forming the concept of this show. At the time, the paintings that she was moving into were very, very different than the ones that we see here. It was a smaller body of work, or rather smaller paintings in a body of work that was focused around images of a war. Civil War photography, and The Disasters of War by Goya. So Rebecca, I’d love to ask how you got from that place to this place.
RF: I had returned back to oil painting after the last show made up of collage and acrylic paintings. I love American history and was continuing to use it as my source of content and so I had this long, fairly complicated, layered process of reading texts and gathering images, looking at mythology and looking at the connections between these sources. For the last ten years, there’s been a pretty consistent study of place and embodiment, and the question of the abstracted self within spiritualism, and specifically, within the construct of Christianity. Even though I don’t necessarily identify as Christian—if anything I have more of a reference to Buddhism—I felt a strong sense of the American culture’s migration West went through that lens by either devotion or persecution and that there was a rupture and a drama there. A conflict between body and spirit found within our shared history of that mythology.
That has been my subject for a long time, so in my last show at Klowden Mann, Sweet Broken Now, there are those familiar themes in the study of the migration West and I seem to be moving backwards in our shared history. For these oil paintings I was looking at early American photography from the Civil War, and the Disasters of War from Goya. His prints are so moralistic and gruesome and have a feeling, this sense of crisis present now in the world. I felt these prints were a perfect expression of mind over body that can cause harm.
I was doing these disruptived figure-esque kind of studies, beginning by drawing from Goya’s prints into the paint and then scrambling around until there was almost this sense of physical form coming out of myth. Some of those paintings are here in the office. I was really excited to be back in paint and feeling this freedom… a lot of the collage disrupting I had been doing prior with Sweet Broken Now had set me free to be a little bit more ruthless with the oil and less literal. Loosening up the rendering that you kinda need to learn to destroy in order to make anything—or at least I have.
Then my dad was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor, which was reeling, shocking and very disruptive to the flow of everything. And so there was a lot of time going to the Northwest with my family, and a lot of spending time with my dad, and as I returned back to art, it just shifted. And the first place it shifted was in meditation, which I do a lot of. I kept seeing these white forms just in black space and so I thought oh I haven’t done sculpture in years and I haven’t really professionally presented sculpture. I was trained with sculpture, but didn’t present it before. And so I just thought oh maybe it’s going to end up as a reference for a painting or who knows what. I felt I just hadto make these things, they’re relentlessly coming at me. Once I did, then I fell in love with making them and I knew this is going to be an anchor for the show. And then the references of the war paintings just didn’t seem to make sense anymore. As my dad’s process progressed, I felt much more of an admission of the fact that this has been autobiographical the whole time, and a lot of that content of struggle or tension between embodiment and enlightenment is a conversation between my father and I. It just became a hundred percent autobiographical. I abandoned the war paintings. I knew that the new sculptures were driving the train, and that there was a painting component to come of it but that It had to come more from that lifelong conversation with my father. So all of the paintings in the show began with under paintings of the Disaster of War and slowly evolved to the bathers. Because I realized as his body was shutting down, and it was becoming evident that he was going to die, and when he did pass away in March that he was being set free of a lifelong battle with body and spirit. In a way, so was I. I was invited to fully come into the body with spiritualism and him to let go of it. So the paintings came really from the sculptures, which were the first admission of the personal in my work. It has felt almost like an admission or a coming out. I’m actually painting personal content here and realized I always had been.
DKM: When you say that the sculptures are driving the train, can you take us through a little bit where they started? Because I remember coming by your studio, and at first you would call them alphabets, and then I would go into your guest room at your house and there was a whole family of these fantastic creatures hanging out on the floor, and I was like, “I don’t know what’s happening, but I love it and I want to see more of it!” And then they would expand, and they were outside, and then they were hanging. So I’d love to have you talk about the material as well, and how that worked.
RF: It really started with these little plaster of paris bandages that you get for kids art projects. I was working with LACMA doing a large-scale installation with eighth graders, and I brought some of that material home thinking oh maybe we’ll end up doing some little thing. So I just started playing with it, and felt this interesting language about it in terms of it feeling ceremonial— like wound, and bandage, and like the holy garment—I started feeling flooded with different excitements, the material was really loaded with meaning for me. I was just making these little sculptures, and at first they were historically referencing the dustbowl and the thousands and thousands of rabbits that would come to land when the water dried up and crops died which might be a show yet to come. But those were just small little things all over the studio, and then as I was spending time with my dad these images were coming through my meditations that were not little sculptures in my mind; they were giant white sculptures that were like flowing water, and these kinds of bundles, and I was like what is that made of? I tried all these different grades in cheesecloth, because it would really take to the plaster in varied and beautiful ways, and I built these armatures out of various chicken wires. My amazing wife just let it happen. My studio’s really small in the backyard of our house and it started to extend to the entire backyard- it was just filled with hanging, crawling emerging, falling apart cloth and jute and burlap in plaster.
DKM: Was there anything you were looking at? I feel like you and I have such a history of talking about your references in your paintings, whether they are historical or art historical. Was there anything sculptural you were looking to in that way art historically, or historically, or was it really just finding the form for the vision you already had, and trusting that?
RF: Inside the paintings?
DKM: Specifically with the sculptures.
RF: Oh yeah, for the first time I did not have a specific historical reference in mind. For the paintings yes- Goya’s Distaster of War, but the with the sculptures it was really choosing an image that was coming from meditation and then as it would come, I would push into it and the next development would come. It just built upon itself. I was very aware at that point to just totally surrendered to the autobiographical nature of the show and I felt a little terrified because really in truth the way I want to always work is a little bit out of control. But this felt like jumping into an abyss. I didn’t know if I could pull this off, it did not feel safe in that way, but it felt like there wasn’t another choice—there was no other thing to do—so I felt this gutsy confidence to mess with it and it just fed itself; the more I made, the more I knew the material and the way to wash it, and how to dip it and triple dip it, and so on. It just started building its own language. They all feel like the body in different states of form, and letting go of form, and coming into form.
DKM: When you started with the paintings—because you had gone from a smaller scale—did you just instantly know that you had to go bigger, that these had to have more reference to the physical body?
RF: Yeah these were made without studies. Sometimes that kind of process works for me, but a lot of times my style of painting is for lack of a better word is kind of violent. There is a lot of destruction inside of them and a lot of finding and almost getting it and falling totally in love with it, and the next morning feeling like it sucks. I go over and over that process in cycles and layers of paint. So there isn’t a lot of this careful rendering of something that can be translated into a larger scale once its figured out in a small work. And I knew I wanted it to feel engaged with the scale of the body, so that there was a presence that felt human and not something diminished, or larger than what we are. And I felt the same about the sculptures. With these I wanted it to feel like they were at a level of the body; always in direct reference. So I knew these were the right shape, and I would start with under drawings which were scenes of violence on the Spanish battlefield, but it had in its content a dialogue of: is it ok that we’re in a body, should we suffer? is it our fault?, are we free?, are we in trouble for all this? Really these were the questions I was asking my father as I was feeling my grief and watching him let go of his body. The paintings just started crumbling towards their conclusion, which was ultimately about both of our freedoms.
DKM: Did that happen with one painting first and then the others followed? Were you working on a couple starting with this sort of battlefield imagery and then slowly it emerged?
RF: I usually work with two or three, sometimes up to four paintings at a time because of the tendency to go too far. So I need a couple big meaty things to chew on at once otherwise I’d pity that one single painting [laughs]
DKM: This sort of scraping destruction, knife through it [laughs]
RF: It’s like it’s very hard to let things rest, and a lot of this show was really kind of about mercy on the body and an acceptance of the state of suffering in the body. This one was actually the first piece that happened [Bathers] and you know I could tell you the sequence and you can see they’re getting wilder and more colors coming at the end. There was much more of a color than I normally use, I like a really limited palette, I like a strong light and dark relationship. But it does feel like something is going to continue and shift with color – that my palette is on the move a bit.
DKM: I’m about to enter into a different subject so if anybody has any questions you want to jump in.
Audience member: Rebecca can you talk a little bit of the two forms in the paintings?
RF: To me there’s a certain state of mystery to why, and I tried to get away from it sometimes, I was not always comfortable with a pair as my composition. I’d work with three figures, or just one, a couple more or a group and it always thinned down back to a pair. It just didn’t work unless it was two. I think it has something to do with this body spirit conversation with myself. It was like a reunion or recognition of two parts of myself that were finally touching. Sometimes with conflict, I mean, not all of them feel necessarily harmonious, but most of them to me feel like they’re coming into peace with a state of being. I also know you often see pairs in creation myths and these paintings do feel like a rebirth. I can also see in these narratives a mother to a child, I can see lovers, and I can see twins. So it feels like there is a level that is familial. It’s still a bit of a mystery to me too.
Audience Member: I was just wondering if it was you and your dad.
RF: In some ways I think so. But in general, I think that most of these feel like it’s a self-portrait. I think that it is undeniable he is all over this work, because that’s the whole show. The show could be called my dad and me. [laughs] But really I would say I feel the figure paintings on the whole are self-portraits of my individuation from my father and my grief.
DKM: As you were saying that, I was also thinking that if part of what is communicated in these pieces is moving into a peaceful state, then even if it’s a self portrait having it be a self portrait in which you aren’t alone changes it from something that looks like it’s moving into— it takes away the fear of it. Because I can imagine these pieces with a single body, and that part of the equation for me standing in front of them would be a lot of the struggle, a lot of this beauty, but also the awareness of being alone.
RF: My father really shared with me a deep love of Buddhism and Eastern philosophies. So like at age six I was reading Taoist Tales and having mythically and religiously oriented education from him, and then went on to practice in a Zen temple for ten years. I really really love meditation and I am so grateful for the foundation he shared with me and at the same time there was some tension in it. I think my father’s experience of embodiment was complicated and a source of struggle. He identified the body with the nature of suffering and I think was ashamed of that suffering. As he was moving towards his own body shutting down, he was not that sad about it. There was grief to let us go, but Lisa heard him one night saying near death, “what’s it going to be like?” with sincere excitement. I mean it was like bags are packed. He wanted to let go of this. And I got to say, I don’t want to let go of it. I’m totally into being Rebecca Farr, the specificity of flesh and the taste of water and sitting on this chair and being with you all and that it gets too cold and too hot, all of which is inherently infused with the state of suffering. And how I commit to sitting with the body is what this show is about for me. So I think that the two-person element in the paintings is just me finally connecting after feeling alone or feeling a suspension or a kind of abstraction of self. A sense that I’m kind of not supposed to be here so much. It wasn’t something my father consciously presented to me. It was more of a contract that we created through our life conversation, and in many ways we became polarized, He encouraging liberation from suffering, and I documenting suffering and being an advocate for the body. I think that is why there are all these war paintings: It me pointing out, it’s here, it’s here and here. Painting so you can see it. So a lot my work in the past has been almost standing up for suffering in the face of spiritual dogma.
Audience member: Do you always work large? I don’t know your work from the past.
RF: No, but it’s my favorite. . I work small and large. This is probably one of my favorite sizes; I do really like 60x 48”.
Audience member: The ones in the office in the back were smaller.
RF: Much smaller. And I’ll do that because painting gets harder and harder, especially representational paintings get harder the bigger you go. So you can pull some stuff off that with a smaller brush or smaller painting that you can’t the same way at a larger size. Your eye demands more technical skill and content when it gets bigger, so small is great for flowing in that way. So I love both, I really love them all, but I like this size in the larger works a lot. I think I feel most comfortable with larger scale.
DKM: Also makes me think a lot about the conversations we had about earlier bodies of work where you were talking about documenting suffering and the push West and white Western privilege. But I also remember you talking about—as you were looking at historical references—that it was hard to make the painting not feel like a document. And that was part of the reason why collage came in, into some of the past bodies of work, because you felt that bringing in the paper broke up that feeling of this is about a static object. I feel like I wonder if some of that size was also another way of breaking out of the feeling that this is a document, and making it something that was more.
RF: Absolutely. And with the collage I was giving myself constraints around not duplicating or manipulating found image or material so that was easier to work smaller, but I felt a great ahhhh to get painting again when I returned to oil. But in terms of disrupting the documentation of representation… I feel the collage work taught me a lot and I have been able to bring that back to painting in oil. Scale seems to matter less in terms of disrupting narrative it feels about the same process if it is small or large.
Audience member: I don’t have a formal question, but I was thinking about meditation and then you talked about those little pieces and thinking about the white forms. These feel really theatrical, and I feel like mostly they occupy space that I’m not sure I’m part of, but I gained physically in terms of presence because they are not complete. But they’re also total abstractions, fragmented abstractions, or whirlwinds. I was curious about that, because with paint you kind of just do the same thing, there’s kind of like physicality and I feel that part about the paint—the brushstroke—but then they are representational, there are figures in them. So I’m thinking about the choice of the figure, and how you just fully turn into those sculptures or full abstractions with the paint.
RF: Well I think the sculpture appeared because of a liberation/crisis around my relationship with the figure. And so it’s almost like I didn’t need to go outside of that, It felt complete as they came. But with the paintings maybe they are on the move towards a greater abstraction, or a freedom from needing to document the body. That may be coming, but I do have so much love for drawing, and for rendering the form, for experiencing and telling a narrative of the body. Maybe it is a form of loyalty to the figure, but that tension is exactly what I think was being baptized in those paintings: the tension between not wanting to have eyes, and ears, and a nose, a mouth, a body and this really hyper focus on the narrative of embodiment. I think I was seeking to disrupt that desire for release while letting it be present at the same time. Some tension surrounding that paradox, with those kinds of edges, feels like what the work is actually talking about. So in that way the figure really does need to be there in the mess of disruption and abstractions. Does that make sense?
Audience member: Yes totally, and I just wonder if it’ll start getting more in one direction or the other because it feels very much like it’s in transition. My formal question is that you painted these walls dark and I keep thinking about that choice. Could you explain the reasoning behind that?
RF: The most important thing to me—and it’s probably more simple than I should admit—is that I knew these pieces needed to be nested in empty space, like I felt them in meditation, and when I feel them up against the dark, they felt stronger. But I wanted it to be a warm and human. A nest, and so the wood and the dark brown and warm black coloring feels like a space that was not something scary or dangerous, but more like an “ahhhh that’s a nice dark space.” I knew with the rest of the space I didn’t want a lot of nuances or confusions with the walls. I didn’t want you to become so aware of a currated space that it was distracting. With the paintings, they don’t need a nest; they are the nest themselves, They are nighttime swimming, like inky black whirls. So if anything, I wanted to make sure you can see them [laughs] So that was it, I just knew that these walls were kind of referencing that empty space.
Audience member: I wanted to ask a question about your war paintings. I feel like for me the narrative is not just contained in the paintings, I think there’s a relationship between the sculptures and the paintings and how if they were both more similar—that if the paintings were more abstract or the sculptures more figurative—I think that narrative would not really contain the forms. And I think there are these layers where I view the sculptures as a lot of movements, a lot of things the figures are doing with their hands, it’s kind of churning of the water. I feel like the sculptures become the physical memory of the bodies of movements, so it’s like another offering. So like what Deb was saying, there’s a generosity of your work and I feel like you’re offering them both as sort of different endpoints. Like the figures’ movements and the sculptures are kind of like remainders, or the remnants, and it’s kind of held up to the viewer to be the same thing or not. So I actually like that they are existing in different places.
I had a similar feeling when I came in, I first thought the pieces were abstractions out of the paintings not the other way around… but did you ever take that form and try to apply it clearly to your painting?
RF: No. I thought when I first saw the imagery in my head I thought they were going to be a tool for painting, but then they were so clearly their own thing. They just bossed me around and said basically all the work you just created doesn’t belong anymore and you have five months to paint the rest of the paintings [laughs]. So the paintings definitely follow the sculpture, but I do think they have different tasks or endpoints as you said. And the sculptures do feel like the remnants, the shed cloth or carcasses.
Audience member: Reading the way you have the sculptures on the wood it’s like a boardwalk or something, but it’s not one that you can move through. It’s not very much this standard presented space, and I’m just curious what went into the choice to use those planks and that size and the lineup.
RF: That was really coming from Zen Buddhism. In my practice of Soto Zen Buddhism, you face the wall at about the distance of the sculptures. And so I was referencing something shared so strongly with my dad— he’s such a lover of Buddha and Zen meditation, and so I wanted to honor that practice between us. It feels like a meditation hall to me, or referencing a field or practitioners meditating. In general I liked the feeling of the many specifics of that which is the same. The specificity of each bundle having their own knots to work out, the distinct expressions and struggle basically all made up of the same material, everyone in the same boat, all of us in a state of sitting and bearing existing together. So that’s pretty much the reference.
DKM: I was going to ask you if you could talk about your process with the wood a little bit.
RF: I really wanted to have a feeling of burned wood in the show, and in Japan there’s this beautiful technique, shou sugi ban where you torch wood to seal and protect it. There are all these beautiful old Japanese temples and homes that have used shou sugi ban and they just weather beautifully. I wanted to be able to have that feeling in the grain, but also have this feeling of burnt. I torched the wood with a weed killer; it was this hugely seemingly dangerous thing that you could just buy on Amazon [laughs]. This giant dragon’s breath of fire would come out of this pipe attached to a propane tank, it was wonderful. I got two planks done and I told Lisa if you hear me scream, grab some water and when she came out, and said, “move over” [laughs]. She loved doing it and pretty much torched them all. It is a very satisfying process. First you burn them till they are a black mess; you sand them, water them and oil them. I think they really do have a look of a lot of time and energy, and they were.
DKM: I keep having this great pinching myself moment about the fact that we’re talking about Buddhism and spirituality in the middle of this artist talk! Because we have been talking about them privately for such a long time, and it’s such a wonderful thing to see this come out in your work in a way that is speaking both to the integrity of your work as this wonderful, conceptual formal practice that you have, and also your internal experience. It’s really exciting to me.
I was going to ask if we could walk through the spatial organization of the exhibition a little bit. You referenced the idea of “pre-form” earlier when you were talking about how those were the only pieces in the show that greater than body sized, and I want to clarify for people that those are the sculptural pieces that are hanging when you first enter the gallery space. They were wonderfully hanging outside of your house for months, and every time I saw them I was like “Ahh, those are going to come live in my space for a while!” In terms of the structure of the show, we talk about that front space of the gallery as being “pre-form”, and this central space and all of the dialogue that’s happening here of being “form”, and the smaller final space as being “letting go of form”. I was wondering if you could talk about that a bit, about the different dynamics that are happening.
RF: Well, in a lot of the talks with my father, we would talk about karmic bundles, and the tension of working through these karmic bundles. I kind of unwound them in my mind for the show… I asked myself, what was the bundle before we get here into form?, and my thought in relation to this tradition is that we kind of have an imprint, or edges of distinction that we come into the world with. When a baby’s born and you just know…
DKM: I’m going to interrupt you for a second, so karmic bundle being…
RF: [laughs] So just the idea that you come into this lifetime just as another cycle of reincarnation- it is a Buddhist thought—and if someone in here is truly a scholar on this subject please interrupt, I’m not afraid of being wrong or corrected—but you come into this lifetime working and unfolding this karmic bundle gathered through various lifetimes. And so the thought is that you come in, you become this form, and then it unravels and you are set free, but that there’s this imprint or this material of you that will continue and gather and drop in and out of different embodiments in your evolution. And so, we all are having very specific and unique tasks and experiences of existence that are connected to cause and effect and how we move and function as ourselves is related to that cyclic process
So I was thinking about before we get here, that space of imprint. I was envisioning that bundle stretched out and longing to become form, like I don’t think you get here if you don’t want to be here. I wanted it to almost touch the ground and be reaching, just feeling that sense of longing for the experience of body. So preform felt like a waterfall of that life force and specificity waiting to express itself. Like a row of beings lined up and waiting to come into form. Form felt like the space where the actual experience of being embodied is and resides. I wanted that conversation between my father and I to open up here so these [Form: Body Poems 1-8] feel more like that Buddhist text we talked about so much, and specifically representing that idea of karmic bundle.
And this [Form: Body Poem 9] felt more like referencing the Christ imprint inside of our conversation. It was interesting because there’s lots of ways I have spent a lot of time looking at Christendom through a painful lens —with colonization and oppression. Exploring how the concept of Christianity was used to destroy many things, and to present a kind of center that denies or overlooks the “other”. As I was working with some of the Christian content that was really present in the story between me and my father I actually had this unbelievably sweet experience with the idea of Christ. I loved the idea of his commitment to sit on the cross and not move, and to choose to bear it all. Enduring the suffering just as it was with Buddha sitting under the tree. Both of them intent to bear and endure the suffering and intentionally resist squirmming or wiggling, no trying to get out of it. Theirs is so much I don’t understand about Christianity. So much still that confuses me and feels uncomfortable, but that piece was unbelievably wonderful. I think that it’s also very present in the obvious reference to baptism in the paintings. Which again, I felt I was looking at these emerging bathers and thinking, “Can’t there be Pagan in the water?” because there’s something in me that’s a bit squirmy to identify this budding sense of love in the Christian tradition, but I think it has to do with reconciling and healing that trauma in my lineage.
And in the last space of the gallery it felt really like an ode to my dad. The main parts of the exhibition space are reflecting my relationship with body and spirit and this event of his passage happening to me. But Letting go of Form was really about honoring him, and a prayer for him to experience that ecstasy that he so passionately pursued his whole life. It is my memory of his joyful exit. As I watched him shed his body at his deathbed there was an undeniable light and awesomeness to it and also horrible grief. It was incredibly painful and hard, but it was beautiful. That painting [Holy Land] moves horizontal into landscape because there the form is falling away, and the kind of collapse and the calamity of watching a body fail, fully fail and at the same time have nothing be wrong, is the most phenomenal experience ever. So I wanted to give that feeling of his release and of our experiences in that moment becoming very different and individuated.
DKM: Can you talk a little bit about in relation to that about that final sculptural piece we see on the floor [Letting Go of Form: Body Poem 1]? Because a lot of people have asked me about the process of that piece for you, if you could speak about that at all.
RF: Sure, I knew that I wanted it to be something about rubble and the brokenness. I knew it wasn’t meant to be tidy or organized, and I knew I wanted it to have this reference of intimacy and tenderness and also violence. I set the plaster on plastic over chicken wire to give it this kind of subtle feeling of a cushion or a bed to reference his deathbed falling away and the body falling away. I began with drawing my stories and Disasters of War came in a bit too and I did portraits of him. I kind of just let myself talk on the wall until it sorted itself out. And it actually wanted to be very simple in the end. Just a huge body of water rising upward.
DKM: And this is chalk on the wall?
RF: Yes, and first I referenced my own private journeys. I would just draw in memories and experiences and slowly it turned into an ocean. There’s was a huge slice of this process that’s not intellectual, that was intuitive. To get to the conclusion of this work I had two days to do it and I did not know where it was going to end and it just ended up in this water passage of rising up with letting the body fall.
Audience member: You’ve used the term waterfall, you’ve used the term baptism, and you just used the term water in the back. I think there’s definitely something aquatic here to me they feel like waves there’s no question to me that there are moments of waves and dark stormy skies. Is there any conscious or subconscious aquatic reference here? The context for your body experience and all the forms in the room is aquatic. Is that a device? Is it thoughtful? What is it?
RF: It’s a found device. It’s like intuitive thought. But I have to say that piece [preform 1] I did not think that looked like a waterfall. When this came [form 9] I was like ok this is getting watery [laughs]. So a lot of it was discovered when I arrived and had a few days to install. As with the paintings where there’s a real wandering around and finding, that is true I think with the whole space. That there is a water aspect was discovered and I think it’s undeniable now. There’s no way I can say it’s not present and I agree these feel like static liquid in a way.
DKM: I’d also like to say that in the history of your work, when we are talking about past bodies of work, so much of what you were focusing around in terms of the historicism of the work was about land, and so it makes sense to me that when you were going to go into this other space that the containment for that would be in water.
Audience member: The water feels to me like the subconscious.
Audience member: Ok this is going to get a little bit nerdy, but recently the interferometers at LIGO lab were able to observe and measure a gravitational ripple as it passed through Earth which had resulted from two black holes merging billions of lightyears away. Since then, scientists have hypothesized that waves in the fabric of spacetime leave a trace, which is to say that spacetime is more like a “memory foam” than a “fabric.” So say you and I are floating through space and a ripple comes through us, then the distance between us will become different. And so what’s interesting about that is that space and time seem to display a physical representation of memory. When I look at the physicality of this water as depicted in the paintings, I’m not necessarily certain that it’s water at all because the rings or ripples seem to move differently or possess a different physicality than water, which is to say that the ripples seem more important and more physical than the space or the “ocean” that the figures occupy. I remember this poem by Mark Strand
“Keeping Things Whole”
In a field
I am the absence
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.
We all have reasons
to keep things whole.
The poem is talking about how the body is itself an absence. So the wholeness, the physicality in that sense, has as much to do with where the body isn’t as in where it is at any given point in time.
Audience member: Going back to what he said it didn’t feel like water to me, it feels like primordial ooze. It’s constructive to be deconstructive. And based on what we shared earlier, primordial ooze coming out of all these things and then today in form. Him having said that, and you being so connected to it, and it’s just beautiful.
RF: Come on!!! [laughs] Thank you.
Audience member: I can’t stop thinking about these sort of serene paintings have underneath them paintings of war and with the connection of that, I just find that so beautiful especially how I feel that all paintings of our parents should be under paintings of war. It makes me think about the way that you’re talking about this new work, that this letting go and sort of the way that sometimes those who are close to us die it gives us like this ‘fuck it freedom’. I care about that; I don’t care about not making personal work. There’s just this comfortable sense of it opening, and I think it’s really exciting, and I’m really excited to see what happens next because I feel like it was a shedding.
RF: Absolutely. Me too! I feel so excited and liberated and it’s a really weird thing because I honor and love my dad and that whole process of his death. I worked ridiculously hard to save him and I could write a whole book about— it was hard. I wanted him to stay. I wanted him to be here. And really miss him, and yet I am absolutely feeling that liberation and freedom, a dissolving of a contract that my mind could never sort our or even know was there to some degree.
Audience member: As your mother, knowing how present you were, to me this was like a baptism, almost like a new birth for you as an individual and for everything you’re going through.
RF: It totally is. It’s very sweet you’re here by the way. Absolutely. So, I’m very curious to move forward, I feel quite brave and willing to go forward. It’s good.
DKM: Does anybody have any other questions for this wonderful woman? Thank you so much.