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Los Angeles
Interview with Michael Genovese
by Natalie Hegert

Los Angeles, Jan. 2013: As I drove up the 5 freeway to meet Michael Genovese, my car radio was tuned to 88.9 FM. Between Anaheim and Norwalk, the radio transmission began to flicker back and forth between the two college stations that share that frequency in Southern California. For a few miles the radio was caught between KUCI and KXLU, between mellow beats and experimental noise. I let it play through, enjoyed the give and take, the struggle.

Michael Genovese, whose solo exhibition Lines and Cracks and Zebras and Horses is currently on view at OHWOW in West Hollywood, makes work out of fragments and fractures: fragments of histories and conversations overheard; fractures found in all manner of places, from the walls of antiquity, to a crack in the floorboards of a house in Los Angeles. These lines, derived from a combination of research and serendipity, appear as faults in the architecture of the gallery, yet reveal themselves as something between sculpture and installation, zig zags of mirrored metal bolting across the walls. Some of the works cause gaps in perception when viewed from particular angles; some are reflective and come alive as you walk past. While he installed these works in the gallery space, we talked about these fragments and fractures, and about gesture, value, fear, and Metallica.

Michael Genovese, Ford by the cliff (Detail),2013, 99 x 6 inches, Nickel plated steel; Courtesy of OHWOW and the artist.

Natalie Hegert: How did you go from text-based works to line and drawing? What’s your relationship with drawing essentially?

Michael Genovese: What interests me is how the written word is direct and communicates through a filter of handwriting analysis and cross cultural comparisons. The space between words, the direction of how they are written, how paragraphs and columns are divided, the space and tension between things – these aspects are what pulled me in closer to working with just the line, void of text. 

Focusing on how, where, and why cracks and lines appear was a cathartic solution to help dissolve a lot of the clutter. To express a direct statement about what I have learned, and pose new questions about the work I am making.

NH: How does this work relate back to your interests in society and history?

MG: I recently completed a project (P.S./P.P.S, 2008-2012), wherein the public was asked to write and draw on surfaces I provided. They were placed in social spaces in different regions of the country, and given specific themes. As the final part of the project, I researched, transcribed, and produced subjective works born out of the unedited information and compositions I discovered. Lines were extracted from images I found through that research, or which correlated with the text and interests from the project.

The work represents a sort of symbolic meaning to me. From what I’ve recorded, the sentiment is that of disrepair, signaled by a change – some willing to go with it, some not. It’s also worth looking at what is not there. What people are not talking about, or what is removed, scratched out, or redacted from the dialogue.

NH: I’m curious as to how you’re translating those lines that you find; how do you reconstruct them?

MG: An example is in Augustine Mihrab, where a traced segment from an image of a fractured Mihrab in Iran from 720 A.D. is coupled with a mortar line from the outside of Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida. The work wasn’t designed to be that piece, it’s by working with these fragments individually that it evolved. By placing them together I am creating a time line and a combined history of place that wouldn’t ordinarily exist. What made it work for me is how it looked aesthetically, what I learned from both of them and the questions they pose as a combination. What does it mean to have a damaged area of an old Mihrab recreated and situated with a line copied from a monument of early American history?

Michael Genovese, Manicured Fields of Failure, 2013, 110 x .25 inches, Nickel plated steel; Courtesy of OHWOW and the artist.


NH: So where do you make the connection between Pompeii and Metallica, for instance?

MG: Sifting through images of fractured antiquities, I arrived at the Pompeii frescoes. What I was drawn to were not the paintings or the decorative elements, but the cracks in the wall. They felt as if they were the most prominent part in the narrative, and the most natural and visually compelling line that summed up the story. I extracted those moments and coupled them with lines or fractures from my environment to create this sort of time line of particular situations.

NH: Well you see passage of time, disintegration…

MG: Passage of time, disintegration… Or how about: something happened bigger than the work itself and how painting or the environment is shaped by what is going on outside of the work at hand. The work is a byproduct as a signifier of a story.

NH: So what about Metallica?

MG: ...And Justice for All, for one, is a brilliant album. It’s a record I grew up with, but never imagined that it would make its way into my work. Everything about that album cover was highlighted because of the research I was doing. It embodied what was going on at the time. Lady Justice blinded and tipping, her breasts exposed and money flying around everywhere, the walls behind her cracking. So, I paired it up with what I was working with from the Pompeii frescoes. For me, it becomes this relic of time. In my mind, if someone were to trace this and find its sources, using a Google image search, or whatever they have in the future, is funny to me. People in smocks sitting around listening to ...And Justice for All trying to make sense of it, is a great fantasy.

NH: Well but in a way, it’s not really important when you view them, where these different fragments were sourced from. That’s what you, the artist, get out of it.

MG: Right, the idea that this information has the possibility of being something else. The installation of the work in the space as a whole transformed into a room of quiet passages or moments that escaped their original meaning.

NH: What I thought of when I first saw these works was Richard Serra, splashing lead.

MG: Right, the nature of the material. The slag, the thickness, its materiality being presented as something that “is” but other. How to compose this material with integrity was something I looked to Serra for. Seeing Serra’s Band (2006) at LACMA, and the beauty in where the seams of the slabs join and meet, stuck with me.

There is a piece I made in the show titled Seam of Band, where one of the pieces is installed perpendicular with the unpolished slag facing the viewer and it floats above the floor. It starts from the bottom wide, and makes its way up to a point. The front view as a 3/16” line is a positive relief inspired by a modern work of art from where the weight and tension rely on one another to exist. From the side is a profile that reveals the cuts.

NH: Were some of these pieces made with the gallery space in consideration?

MG: Combination #6 activates the architecture. It starts at the top on the face of the wall, and makes its way around, over and down a window sill to continue on the face of the wall to the floor.

Michael Genovese, Lines and Cracks and Zebras and Horses, Installation View, 2013; Courtesy of OHWOW and the artist.


NH: They’re so reflective.

MG: Most of the work made, except for three pieces, were finished with a nickel plated mirror polish on the face of them. The [gallery] space has large windows framed in ivy and facing traffic, some with direct sunlight. I like how the work is activated by movement and shimmers when alone. Some appear as if the wall is scored and you are looking outside through the wall. With the audience in mind, I wanted you to catch a distorted sliver of a reflection of yourself.

NH: In your artist statement you say that your work is an “investigation of worth.” What does that mean exactly?

MG: How do we transform an object into something of value? Not monetarily, but of true personal value and worth that can be shared as an expression of existence. I did a project where I started taking all my invoices and bills and overdue notices…

NH: Your negative value…

MG: Yeah, so what I would do is I would take them down to Kinko’s and blow them up, and then treat them like artworks. In a way it was like my way of exercising power over something that’s supposed to cause fear. 

NH: Make it into art…

MG: Yeah, well make it into your own art and see how you deal with your own situations with objects. So those works were created and then sold for the amount that the bill was for. So it creates its own economy, creates this value. I look to scenarios that evoke fear, isolation, or anxiety to process them in a way to where I can better understand them, and use them to an advantage, rather than a deficit. The crack and hair pieces in the exhibition are a good representation of that. There is a process that considers the art canon, uses an expression and documents a time and place. It is shown under the umbrella of fine art and its history of display, but my work doesn’t fit neatly into a category like painting or sculpture or other work I do that may be blurring the lines of public practice or teaching. I am dealing with my own situations with objects and what’s going on around me. When you’re looking at a crack, what we typically see as damage, I’m making that negative a positive. So, this is a recurring theme in my work. A hair I found in the bathroom: what does a hair mean when you find it in the bathtub? That’s what I do, what I’m thinking about [laughs]. Designating value to that sort of stuff.

NH: It’s funny you say that, because for me personally, I’m always staring at hairs I find in the bathtub.

MG: Are you really? Or are you being sarcastic?

NH: No, really!

MG: There’s something about that…

NH: What do you think you’ll do next? Continue making these?

MG: I am working on making more subjective work born out of the information I gathered over the past four years through my archive project. Yes, I’m into the constraints this process has had for me. I have a few more ideas about this work I am fleshing out.

NH: In the show title, what do you mean by zebras and horses?

MG: It refers to a time when I used to go to the hospital a lot, because I would get these chest pains, and I kept thinking I was having a stroke. So I’d zip over to the emergency room over and over again. And eventually they just told me, “Mike, you’re healthy. You’re thinking zebras instead of horses.” And just the use of that language made me realize that it was all in my head. I was freaking myself out, my diet was way off, too much coffee, not hydrated, very basic things were jolting me. I was able to put it in perspective and see it as it was, at its most basic form, and work with it from the bottom up rather than top down.

Natalie Hegert

ArtSlant would like to thank Henry Lyon for his assistance in making this interview possible.

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