MINDS AND ISLANDS: an interview with erika J.Scott & timothy p.kerr (2009)

Jacina Leong I would like to start by discussing the relationship between the respective works presented in Minds and Islands and earlier works made, such as: Early Machines Such as the Commodore 64 Were Tape-Based, and Hence Had Their Games Distributed on Ordinary Cassettes (Timothy P. Kerr) and The Outgoing, either side of land (Erika Scott). I mention these works because of the formal similarities they share with the works presented in Minds and Islands. Erika, the paper-come-iceberg structure explored in your earlier work was redeveloped for this show, and Tim, your work, an assemblage of cardboard boxes held together with brown packaging tape, also reappears. Did Minds and Islands provide the opportunity for you to reinvestigate what occurred in these original presentations?

Timothy P. Kerr Well, every time I do one of those box works it’s different simply because of the nature of that kind of work. They always relate to and explore the architecture of the space. The process is always slightly different, as well. With Minds and Islands there was a really strong divide that developed between a really messy side on the right and the clean, organized side on the left, which is a new development for that work. Usually, it’s a mess of intensely un-organized areas and then really constructed areas all mixed in together.

Erika Scott It was originally meant to be a rock, but the paper I used leant itself to an iceberg type of shape. I think Minds and Islands allowed me to spread out a bit more because I had a lot more paper and a lot more objects to work with. But, it’s still a new thing I’m working with – working with new materials and introducing these elements to the work. Living in the space and knowing the space was a good thing too – I could spend ages on it (the installation). I was pretty familiar with the space and wasn’t worried about using anything – it was a pretty different experience to making it from The Outgoing work.

JL Boris Groys proposes that ‘the installation demonstrates a certain selection, a certain chain of choices, a logic of inclusions and exclusions. Here, one can see an analogy to a curated exhibition. But that is precisely the point: here, the selection and the mode of representation is the sovereign prerogative of the artist alone’. I wonder what your own experiences are of these working processes implied here by Groys? (1)

ES I guess in my work I’m interested in what the viewer does – I’m interested in creating illusions, upturning space, making it harder to get through and move around (the space) …

JL Some people were a bit apprehensive traveling through your work, unsure if they were allowed to move around the work. Are you conscious of setting up that kind of ambiguity or uncertainty?

ES I think so. I didn’t really monitor people that closely. It’s hard to know what people want to do. I sort of form it around what I’m thinking at the time, how I feel around it and how I want to interact with it. And I suppose I expect other people to do the same, but you never know.

TPK I think with that sort of work it’s in the background of my mind when I’m actually building it. But, the way (the work) protrudes all over a given space forces the viewer to interact with it on some level. Whether they’re conscious of that or not … But within these messes, I do try to build in subtleties so that if (an audience does) spend more time and move around (the space) they’ll get more out of the work and see other things in there. There are cutouts in the boxes that lead to tunnels, for example …

JL Erika, how does the selection of certain materials operate within your practice?

ES Well, I guess there are a lot of things that I don’t use. I started off with the idea of the paper, so the (other) materials I used were in relation to the paper being a clean, white material. From there I was interested in materials under the house like the dusty spider-webs and frame boards – I thought they worked well with the paper.

JL And Tim?

TPK The boxes came about because they were free material and it stemmed from a video work I did with the boxes. The installation was a way of framing the video. I question things around me like, why do people choose to use cardboard boxes instead of plastic ones? Or, why are they box-shaped instead of circular? It would be easier to move around because you could just roll it. So, stupid queries like that that I find really interesting. That’s kind of why I had this interest in the cardboard boxes.

ES Is that where the title comes in?

TPK Yeah, just to throw people a bit. I do use titles and dates to make the works more absurd and in a way to try to get people to think about the work a bit more – rather than just stating the work is made from cardboard and tape. The titles are usually sourced from things around me – like a packet of chips. I’ll use the content from that or the flavours they use. Or, use the barcode like (the title) in this work.

JL What is your interest in assigning impending dates to your works?

TPK Again, for me, the dates add to the mockery aspect of a lot of my work. They work in combination with the titles. I try to date them just slightly into the future so that it almost reads like a misprint – when you work with more formal institutions they often correct the dates. The first time I did the box work, I dated it 2009 and in a lot of the catalogues they changed it to 2008, assuming it was a typo. I guess again it’s a way of playing with the art world and the ways things are usually done within this context. That’s what I find most interesting about the titles and dates – it comes back to a low-fi type of aesthetic that I’m interested in.

JL Erika, how do titles operate in relation to your work?

ES Well, I suppose working with different materials I think about text and image and how these things fit together. I don’t want (my titles) to seem too overly serious … I like the real life versus illusion mix of installations and recreating this tension through the text.

JL Erika, I’m interested in the discrepancies – the thundering expressions compared with the discreet and muted tones – you establish in your work. The theatricality elicited by your use of light, for example, as well as the monumental scale of the paper structures in Minds and Islands offered a stark contrast to the un-emphasised elements of the work, like the pocket-sized projection streaming onto a torn piece of paper. What is your interest in creating variance through both presentation and production?

ES For me it’s pretty intentional. In my drawings I have competing areas of interest and I like to experiment with quite intense detail against flat, larger shapes. When you spend a lot of time with it (the installation), you don’t get bored but you just feel like working on an area more and get a bit carried away and get a bit intense with it and other areas you feel more confident and think it is ready to go. So it just depends on how much time I spend with different areas of the work.

TPK I guess it comes down to what we spoke about before – inclusions and exclusions – but also the formal composition of a work. To make an interesting composition I try to find areas that are going to be a lot busier and other areas that are quieter, so that as a viewer it gives you more to look at rather than just a clump.

JL How much does chance or premeditation play a part in your making processes?

ES I don’t go (into a space) thinking about what I’m going to do. But I don’t know whether it’s called chance. I don’t really know what chance is, whether you know you’re doing something or you’re just doing it or someone else is doing it. It’s more about the initial communication with the materials and the space and thinking about what I did that day or what materials are at hand and how they might work together.

TPK It sort of comes down to conscious and unconscious decisions. When you’re setting up a work I think chance does come into it in a way. For me, I start by reacting to a space with the materials and (from there) see if it’s going to work or not. Often I tear down and rework areas. There’s always a chance element there. I don’t really plan what I’m going to do but when you get into a space you start working and whether the work is going to be successful or not comes down to chance, I guess.

JL The essay from your exhibition (the Timothy P. Kerr Memorial Show) (2) discusses the tendency for viewers of art to establish an intellectual engagement with a work and assign a specific reading to an artist’s practice. Can you explain your interest in the role of the viewer in an exhibition context?

TPK I’ve always found it interesting how people read almost absolutely anything into an artwork and everyone gets something different from a work. I like to play with that. So, constructing these sorts of confusions that people will be able to make up their own mind about – the work will cue to something but won’t completely do that. It will skew off into different tangents. And in a way I think it makes a joke of the viewer in the art world and how art is read. Yes, there are a lot of things that you can read into my work but whether they’re there or not, my intention about making the work is based on a different matter. I like to leave (the work) more open-ended.

JL Olafur Eliasson is interested in luring a spectator through his works into a position of awe and wonder only to interrupt their absorption by disclosing its artifice.  In doing so, the artist invites an individual to intervene in the work and become aware of the mediated experience that they are witness to. What are you thoughts on this type of reflexive construction in terms of your own work?

ES I think even if I do try and pull off the best illusion that I can it will almost always fall short. It’s kind of like watching a movie, you can look back at it and think that was really badly acted … I’m interested in doing that myself. I do try to create that dramatic light, something that is entertaining. But at the same time you can see all the sticky tape. You can see the paper scrunched up and the junk that is pushed up against it.

JL How do you view the documentations of your works? Do they merely serve as some type of record? Or are they an integral aspect of the work?

TPK I think with my work it really is just a way of documenting. Actually being in the space of the work is what I’m mainly aiming for the viewer to see. So the photos are secondary to the work. And that might be because of the different types of elements to the work. It’s hard to get these elements into one photo. It’s the subtleties of these works that I want people to spend more time with. They can do that with a photo but I guess for me it’s about being in the space with the installation.

ES I think the experience of the installation is important but a lot of the time I use photos of previous installations in present installations – so it’s kind of like putting all of these different areas of spaces together. I do actually prefer the photos because they’re more intense – they’re like small intense areas of information. It’s not necessarily that (the photos) are more successful, it’s just … the reality of the installation is not always as magical as the image. Sometimes I prefer the reality. Sometimes I prefer the superficial, flat photograph. It depends what I’m working on and what (materials) I’m using.

TPK And that’s it. A photo can really change the work. It’s always going to change the reading of it. Whether that’s problematic or not …

JL Erika, video and light is used in your work to elicit a sense of dynamism and disrupt the otherwise immobile expression of the installation. What is your interest in this type of contrast?

ES I’m interested in bringing as many spaces into one space as possible – movement is really important (in my works). It pulls you out and creates interest in areas that maybe aren’t so interesting and it’s another way to activate the space and to make the space seem larger than it is or smaller. I can play with projecting still images … It’s another (medium) to work with that I find exciting and challenging to figure out how to work it in with still materials.

JL Tim you mentioned before the importance of dating your works. What is your interest in assigning impending dates to your works?

TPK Again, for me, the dates add to the mockery aspect of a lot of my work. They work in combination with the titles. I try to date them just slightly into the future so that it almost reads like a misprint – when you work with more formal institutions they often correct the dates. The first time I did the box work, I dated it 2009 and in a lot of the catalogues they changed it to 2008, assuming it was a typo. I guess again it’s a way of playing with the art world and the ways things are usually done within. That’s what I find most interesting about the titles and dates – it comes back to a low-fi type of aesthetic that I’m interested in.

JL In terms of the curatorial directive of Minds and Islands, do you think the show was successful in determining the differences and similarities between your practices?

TPK If we did it again, I would like to work more closely with Erika and try to combine the works a bit more to see how that would operate.

ES That might have been a better idea to establish how the practices are different or similar by putting the works together. I think it worked well, though.

Minds and Islands was presented as part of the 2009 Accidentally Annie Street Space Exhibition Program / March 3 2009.

Images courtesy of the artists. 

  1. Boris Groys, Politics of Installation, e-flux Journal, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/31.
  2. The Timothy P. Kerr Memorial Show was held as part of the 2009 BoxCopy Exhibition Program at Metro Arts, Brisbane.