You use some interesting materials in your work, including manhole covers, solar panels, coins with their centers removed, window tints, and fire hydrants. What draws you to those materials?
There are different reasons why I'm drawn to different materials. So with the solar panels for instance: I was initially drawn to these objects as active things that convert the energy from the sun, which are often applied onto existing architecture, and that create a gridded power system that's meant to be tapped into. At the time, I thought the solar panel as an object would be an interesting thing to further complicate by bringing them inside, hanging them in a line on an interior corner of a space, and connecting them to one another, yet not harvesting any possible energy produced. This work changed when I purchased these solar panels from a family of doomsday preppers trying to sell and update their equipment through Craigslist as they prepare for the New Madrid earthquake.
How did you incorporate those solar panels into your work, then?
They became a baseline — or created a tempo — for a larger installation titled bad times all the time. What I mean is that they were a focal point both conceptually and formally in a larger group of objects.
So the solar panels were set in relation to a pair of manhole covers which I had polished the rims to a mirror finish and had slightly stacked on the floor, as well as a drawing of architectural drafting paper that I had traced a number of times then inlayed into a structure of steel. This drawing was held in place by a bunch of spherical magnets. The wooden frame around this piece was created from two pre-existing frames that I had made into one, and connected them with a pencil as the joint — which was stolen from the reference section of the Ryerson & Burnham Library in the Art Institute of Chicago.
Brought together in an installation setting, these works carry multiple points of references and different methods of thinking. Allowing for these inherent belief systems, frameworks of value, and power structures to all relate, connect and contradict to one another along a spectrum of labor, infrastructure/material circulation, and access.
What have you been working on in Wassaic?
I've brought a few things with me. But I think I'm really looking inward during this time — into aspects of myself, and into the studio as a process of making — which leads me to some things that are already hanging up in the studio. One being this drawing here, which is, I think, maybe number 14 or so, of an ongoing project called the (EDIT, REVISIONS) series. I begin by notating any scuffs or discrepancies on a piece of filmed plexiglass in a red maker caused by shipping, handling, or from just floating around the studio. Then I go back and draw these lines and dimensions for another project in black marker, indicating where to cut down the material. The gesture, or act of semi-removing the interior film, compresses this hypothetical drawing of suggested notes and measurements — which solidifies this moment of touch, the notations, and materials as an image in the process of framing.
I have also been currently adding bits of blue painter’s tape to a couple points along the frame that loops onto the backing of the image: adding some color and an additional sense of immediacy.
These drawings are fun to produce and fool around with as the system of production is one based in fiction. This being pretty important, because I use a lot of things that are actually the real thing. This allows me a little freedom to make other hypothetical situations.
Fictional/hypothetical in the sense that there isn’t actually another project that comes out of them?
Yeah. They remain suspended in this looping effect. It's kind of this thing that oscillates. Which is another thing that I think about often: things being able to do multiple things at once.
I've also been polishing these rulers to a mirror finish. Which is another way to allow materials to oscillate between an image of the object and the materiality of the thing — where I'm leaving some aspects of the rulers as footnotes for the viewer; so instead of coming across as these very austere strips of metal. You realize, Oh okay, these are/were rulers, a tool or unit of measurement.
Why did you want to work with rulers in particular? What interests you about that process of taking this utilitarian thing and defamiliarizing it, making it less useful by polishing it?
I think it's another way to talk about value. The function of these objects are compromised through the act of removal, therefore, it becomes something other, right? The ruler is also a basic tool, one with a set formula and intended use — it is in itself a unit that describes and dictates. Yet it's also just painted aluminum, and therefore is no longer a ruler, but something even more than it was before. And I think that rarification and shifting that happens becomes exciting and useful to me.
You mentioned earlier that you wanted to turn more into the studio as a site for making, as opposed to using primarily found objects. What led you to want to make that shift?
I think it's because I have been relying on found objects quite heavily as a way to talk about these things. It's a stronger understanding for me, and a quicker way to compromise value or talk about material systems and power structures that constitute contemporary life: the actual thing is present, and performs directly to the viewer, while directly implementing the systems that they were displaced from, right? Why always point at or illustrate something, when you can get closer? And, in return, get your viewer closer?
I think I'm at a moment, however, where I want to complicate this thought process a little bit more and loosen up — as I am beginning to also investigate aspects of myself and my own identity. This is starting to allow me to reintroduce my hand, and to introduce different methods of making into my practice.
It's more difficult than it sounds, because I feel like I've built up a certain kind of philosophy that I've been abiding by for a while now. And I think I just want to stress that, to see other possible outcomes, and to see if it currently holds up. [Laughs.]
I want to shift a little bit. In response to the questions I sent along before this interview, you said that you “make art to question notions of authority, authenticity, and archetypes of gay-specific masculinity.” Can you talk about how queerness plays into your work?
I think it’s latent throughout my past work, but not explicit in any means. And I think I'm working a bit harder to clarify that aspect in my work. You know, I'm gay, but it was never a determining factor. It also wasn't a necessary thing to be in the frontlines of past inquiries and projects. You know, like who cares, but looking back I can make the case. But currently, I’m feeling like it's time to have those conversations, to open up ways of thinking and making, and to have more direct conversations with the communities that I belong to. Because the work is also for others.
I mean, I have some elements over here that are definitely works-in-progress. Which, I have been cutting up these American Bear magazines that I've been finding online. This is a gay porn publication that went out of print in the early 2000s — so I'm thinking about these things as settling particles that were once in circulation. I am also taking the time to read these publications, which is funny to learn about how to navigate the internet as a gay man in the 90s.
So I have started to cut out the subject and models of these photoshoots, leaving just the borders around the images and the margins where an individual reader is intended to hold. I then overlay these cutouts on top of one another, having some pieces reversed between layers. It's becoming the first attempt to talk about hyper-masculinity and the male body in the forefront, but without the body, and with only minimal hints of codes and signifiers.
There's a shifting in subjectivity that occurs — from the super focused and idealized figure in the image to those who have made contact with the physical pages of the magazine up until this point in time.
Do you have a sense of what that will turn into in the future?
Yes and no. I'm just taking it slow right now, and I am just starting to build up this momentum with the work.
These collage works, however, do relate to other work-in-progress pieces, which incorporate a floor sculpture of 2 concrete-casted Carhartt hats that are arranged in tension to one another by the brims, forming an arch. And another sculpture that incorporates three interlocking pairs of my Adidas Sambas shoes that I had worn over the course of three and a half years — a self-portrait in a way. It once again goes back to this contact point, moment of touch, or experience that alters a material object that I'm so interested in with these magazine borders.
However, the American Bear pieces are first read as stripped down geometric abstractions which reveal themselves the more time they are investigated. The other related works also get further complicated formally — which is another conversation.
Gary LaPointe Jr. is a visual artist based in Chicago, IL.
2019 Summer Residency