Ten years ago, I came across the image of a room, devoid of furniture, containing nothing but a computer, a couple of laptops, a scanner and two globe-like lamps. Everything was scattered across the dark carpeted floor. A stark shaft of sunlight cut across the space revealing the carpet to be the sexiest deep purple. A soft, smooth, and self-contained egg, the computer, the first iMac, was propped up on two short stacks of books. It was so low to the ground that the only way you could work at it would be laying on your stomach on the floor in front of it. This fit with the arrangement of the other equipment, all accessible to someone lying in the center of the room. Or perhaps sitting cross-legged. The picture was really just of the floor, with a small strip of wall running along the top and right edges of the frame.
Looking back at it now, though, what is particularly interesting (beyond composition and form) is the way you enter the space of the image without even trying to. My visual memory is the same as if it were a place I’d been. The photograph was of Philippe Parreno’s apartment for a segment in the magazine called “Studio Visit”. I was so interested in the image I never really read the interview with Parreno until years later. For the longest time I thought the entirety of this “studio visit” was just the two-page spread. Which told you nothing and everything. Just a single caption explaining that it was the artist’s Paris flat and a short paragraph that started, “Who needs a studio? These days artists are as likely to work from home, from a café or on the road.”
I’ve held onto it for years, both the actual magazine and the image in my head. I read a lot into it, or made a lot out of it. It came to stand for an ideal. A possible way not just of making art, but of living. The thought of owning very little and having mobility was very attractive. I liked the idea of being a wanderer.
The only thing is, I love stuff. And I have too much stuff. Being an artist is an excuse to collect curious things, especially perhaps the true hoarder’s treasure: trash.
Having a bunch of stuff is hard. You worry about it. Not so much the junky stuff, but the accumulated books and sundry other items of aesthetic or intellectual value. It can be a burden that drags you down. It oppresses and hinders. Not just your creativity but your life. It prevents you from doing things. You think, “I can’t move, what would I do with all my stuff?” So around this time last year when a number of positive and negative things happened to me all at once, I decided to get rid of everything and go to Berlin. What remained I left behind in storage. It was more of a life project than an art project, but the motivation was the same: I wanted to see if I could do it.
One thing I brought with me: the magazine with the spread of Philippe Parreno’s studio. Had I finally achieved this goal? More than being “post-studio” it’s about being mobile and flexible. What is a studio anyway?
One very broad way to examine this is to separate artists into two ways they conceive of how they make art. This is intimately tied into the notion of the studio. There are those who look at the studio as a place one goes to make one’s work. While perhaps related, their art and their lives are distinct and separate. I think of Rebecca Quaytman, so wanting to bifurcate the two that she goes by “R.H.” to delineate her art-self from her everything-else-self. Then there are those, the category into which I fall, that can’t keep the two apart. Art and life can happen anywhere, so making, working, “studio time”, becomes very diffuse. It’s much more of a concept or state of mind than an actual place. It’s a verb.
Applying for the latest battery of grants and residencies I had a realization about my studio practice. Aside from two years during my BFA and the two years of MFA, the majority of my time as an artist has been without a proper studio. This is the case for a fair number of artists working today. I’d never really thought about it as more than a result of circumstance. Coming out of grad school like most, I was concerned about how I would continue working now that I was studio-less. I had the idea of using a portion of my apartment as a designated studio space but that never worked. I couldn’t afford to rent a dedicated studio but it never felt like a necessity either.
What do you call people making work wherever they find themselves? Contingency artists? Nomads? I guess I’m just uncomfortable with the term “post-studio.” Especially when I think about many a young artist that starts out in the kitchen and bedroom, the dorm room and the apartment. In those settings, I made my most traditional work like painting and drawing as opposed to when I had a classic studio situation in grad school. It’s not a question of rejecting the studio, or leaving it. It’s not “post-”, but a constantly changing approach to the making of art which at times might take place in a site specifically set aside for that kind of thing. It’s adaptive.
You could say “post-studio” art began when paint became available in tubes and artists went plein-air. You could say it was when Donald Judd and company started having their work fabricated. You could say it was when people started doing what came to be described as “site-specific installations”. But then you have to consider Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel as a post-studio situation (yes, I want to make that claim).
Perhaps post-studio ties into globalism and outsourcing. Artists are little corporations with leased facilities and partners, contractors and subsidiaries? Most of us are small scale, so rather than employ assistants or even take on unpaid interns we just use the consumer services like everyone else. This fits in well with our times when technology is marketed to the personal user as though we are all the CEO of the company called “Me”. My most recent exhibition included a series of large-scale prints made to cover the windows of the gallery. I took the files to Fed-Ex Kinkos and had them printed and cut to size. I wondered if at that moment this could be considered my “studio” and the people making my prints are my “studio assistants”.
Some artists dream of setting up the perfect studio to work in. Pollock had his barn in upstate New York on Long Island, Joan Miró worked with an architect to make his on the island of Majorca. For others, it is less a goal to reach or place to set up, rather it is a constantly mutating situation. In any case, the realization one comes to over time is that while there are plenty of ways to work, only one really feels right. “This is the way I work,” we say to ourselves as we sit down with our laptop and a cup of coffee or crank up the music in our rented room in a former factory.
(Image on top right: Scan from Studio visit: 'alien' Philippe Parreno, by Kate van den Boogert; Photograph by Jean-Pierre Khazem, TATE International Arts and Culture, Jan/Feb 2003)