I was reading through your En Route to Find an Armchair book online last night and pulled a quote that I think encapsulates a central theme of your work: “no amount of language can ever stand in for the thing itself.” Can you say more about that?
Yeah, it's appropriate as it comes up again in the current book and the layout that I'm finishing here — in philosophical terms, thinking about the thing itself, the moment in time, the essence of space that you can't capture. Most of my work is about the disorientation that takes place through language and memory, and the impossibility [of inhabiting] that space. Human beings have a way of trying to trap information, and I do that in my own work: it's very much an approach of documenting, archiving, indexing — using forms of language and image to capture.
But in some way that's paradoxical. Like why even make that attempt when you know that the final moment of thought — in this case the manifestation of the book — is a record, but it is not the record? There’s no possible way to go back to the site/sight. A lot of my work is about site in the physical sense as well as sight in the perceptual sense.
Do you think it's possible to capture the quote-unquote thing itself? Or is your work sort of a process of reconciling the fact that you can’t capture it?
I think it's reconciling it. If I were to just make the work about trying to achieve that thing — in some ways, it'd be self-defeating. Because, intellectually, I don't believe one can.
Much of what I do is go through and look at how other artists and writers are manipulating space and stretching the limits of language. I am interested in language forming images. I'm interested in the texture of space that language can evoke as an embodiment for disorientation. If I were to put all my work under a type of housing device, it would sit in the space of disorientation, dislocation, and things that are ruptured.
That can take many forms, but I'm interested in creating that cognitive space. I would say that's its true purpose or function.
How is that playing into what you’re making in Wassaic?
I just finished a 1,200-word contextualizing essay for the book that I'm working on, SUNSTRUCK. The final edition is just now going to print. The essay is titled For Seasickness (every love has its landscape): A Meditation on the Physiological Nature of Loss, Distance, and Desire. Seasickness has been a metaphor that I've been using for many years — The Epistemology of You was also dedicated to seasickness.
The essay addresses site/sight through photography, time, the horizon line, and the language of distance and desire via seasickness and landsickness. It’s a meditative essay. It's much different than the writing that is in En Route to Find an Armchair, but it still gets to the texture of place and memory as being an always-changing house that you inhabit. If I look back at how my previous work is informing what I'm making now, it's linked through writing and its ability to create disorientation as a space that you can walk into as a reader or as a viewer.
I’m interested in the images I’ve been working with, but for me it’s more of a process of trying to figure out how I can foreground meaning in writing. And where it should be punctuated, descriptively speaking, [to set] the tone and create the image.
Speaking of disorientation. I noticed when I was going through several of the books that you have an interesting way of numbering chapters: in Words free of charge there are several instances of chapter five, in The Epistemology of You there are several chapter sixes, and in En Route to Find an Armchair there are three chapter sevens.
And a chapter six.
[Laughs] And a chapter six, yes, accompanied by a prologue. Can you talk a little bit about how you number your chapters?
The decision in all of those works to do that came from chapters of my life and years that I was cataloging in. Chapter five was a particular set of years, same in chapter six, and seven, the final book, blends two different sections of life. It’s a way of documenting.
Prior to working with found archives, I was constructing archives and documenting my own autobiographical experience interpersonally. Many of those subjects are lived experiences that start to border between the fact-fiction realm — where it's difficult to discern whether it's fiction that you're reading or if it's something that actually took place. So that started to get built into those narratives. I'm interested in upending expository forms of knowledge — in this case, how a book would typically function. You normally wouldn't see the repeating chapter six in a book, and the footnote, endnote, and provenance would usually have a purposeful function. Creating this sense of disarray refuses the explanatory role and sets up a subtext to challenge rationalism.
So you think of all three of these books as working as one connective thread?
I think they're all related. My earlier work comes back up in continuing projects. In The Epistemology of You there is a reference from the Y(OURS) book, and then it happens again in En Route to Find an Armchair. It technically happens in Sunstruck, it's just less direct because my work has changed a bit since those projects.
Right now it's a little bit less personal, I would say.
For the last book I worked on, OF THE TIMES, I was working from an archive of images from the Mancos Times-Tribune [during a residency], and then wrote a preface to the project addressing the role of the archive, including how history and information are often dislocated. That took it away from being as personal. It really changed how I approached work, actually, but it used the same functions: the preface, the use of language, the footnote, the image-text relationship where the text punctuates the image.
I usually work with a “you.” I’m interested in the slippage between the universal “you” and the subjective “you.” En Route operates this way and consists of a dialogue between two subjects — “reader” and “you” — who exist in a nonlinear narrative examining site/sight, desire/loss, and language/communication. The book includes several geographical locations that span the distance of the relationship between subjects, which is a common thread in my former work. Unconventional units for measuring time and meaning are also part of the working system I developed for En Route, Source Known (but withheld) [video], The Epistemology of You, Words free of charge, and my essay from Y(OURS). While all of these works mine interpersonal relationships, they connect to universal concepts of the human experience, positioning disorientation as being a part of that experience.
In SUNSTRUCK, there wasn't a subject in the same way, so it was appropriate, I think, to really take on the role of dissonance. The dynamic of the “you” shifts to one where the reader is dropped into a landscape of physiological and psychological confrontations. Usually, I would look to the disconnect between language and communication as being the space of the ruptured site, but in SUNSTRUCK, that rupturing happens in the metaphor of the dislocated horizon. In my essay, I triangulate seasickness between the physical response to motion sickness (vestibular disturbance), the cognitive relationship to desire (which can create dissonance), and the illusion of the horizon providing stability (in western perspective, photography, and as a cure for motion sickness). The writing is structured to weave in and out of observations that create a shifting floor, an absent-present ground — a site that comments on “the unsureness that pitches and tosses us within the sea of lived experience.”
I'm continually trying to describe. My recent work is still personal, it’s just not as autobiographical; it's less about a “you,” and more about a subject [disorientation] that has been the subject of all my former work. And there is still a subtle “you” within the footnote and in related ephemera of this project.
How does shifting away from more personal work affect the way you think of disorientation? It feels like that would necessarily have to affect how that textual disorientation happens.
Sure. It’s different, definitely. Every project has a way of dislocating something. The “you” in writing can stand in for the lover. I feel like in the older projects the “you” is very much that. But Sunstruck [steps] away from the “you” to look at how to cognitively embody the ruptured space of disorientation. It questions and takes issue with how information is captured, proven stable, and it talks a lot about how instability is part of self-regulating narratives, whether we want it to be that way or not.
It’s, of all my work, perhaps the most in-depth as a writing exercise. It first discusses the physiological nature of movement and the vestibular disturbance in the inner ear that causes seasickness or landsickness. And it uses that to go into how our desire is relational, and how being sick is essentially being disoriented. It's a different embodiment of disorientation, one that engages with your actual physical space.
Many of my previous works were interested in psychology. When I’m looking at things like psychological studies, I'm looking for ways to understand how [they] actually take place in real-time, and then making a metaphor out of them through writing.
We've been talking a lot specifically about the textual component of your work, but how do you think of the visual component of your work? That’s a very broad question.
No, but it's so relevant. Many of the images in Sunstruck are of the horizon, from bodies of water and land. The horizon is a place that’s meant to be stable, but it’s not. It’s just a construction to understand space dimensionally. So the writing also attacks that a little bit. And these images — as much as there's an attempt in the photograph to capture — are both fallible and mercurial. That’s really the interest of using images like these: to become the archive of what the writing is about. Even though the writing came after, it’s in the edit that images were cut, leaving the project with 49 figures.
The images in [SUNSTRUCK] are more direct. Previously, I would work with sites that were less decipherable. In SUNSTRUCK, some of the photographs are ones I have taken, and then there are some from family archives and found archives. So I ended up combining all the images and looking at how the horizon has been documented throughout time, from 1916 to 2018; this also brings up questions of authorship through the anonymity of vernacular photography. From the found archive, I made larger works that exist as screen prints and digital prints, in addition to digital images from my photographs on FP-100c film, but the book is always the central form in my work.
Okay, so you impose a sort of hierarchy or primacy there.
Sometimes I think I would prefer to primarily make books, but books are very time-intensive and writing is extremely time-intensive. The work needs to exist outside of just a book.
But artist books and publications are a huge part of what I do as an artist. I also run a small press, Seaton Street Press, and its mission is to find projects and publications that examine the intersections of site, language, and memory.
How do you think of your work outside of the context of a book? Because there have been times when you've installed images from your books in an installation, which feels like an adaptation or a translation in a way.
Right. It becomes something different when it's taken out of context. It's another way to visualize and spatialize information. En Route to Find an Armchair is both a book and a two-channel video. The two-channel video technically has the dialogue from the book, but it's different because there's significantly more imagery than in the book. So in some ways the book is like the redaction of the video. And sometimes I feel the urgency for certain images from a project to become larger works. With this current project, that's what happened: some are huge, and some are quiet and contained. I see the various forms as being an extension of the publications. Almost like they’ve been expanded, but still in dialogue with the primary format.
I think it just depends on what you're trying to do. The sequencing of the book format is unique to its form. The only form I can think of that gets close to its sequencing is moving image. In terms of accessibility and visibility, not everyone wants to sit down and have the intimate experience of reading. But, books have a history of democratizing content and can circulate in ways that most art objects cannot. I do think you gain something and lose something when you choose to take content out of its original form. I generally will not show the expanded works without the book present, because I do think it would be lost on people to not see the project in its entirety, even if someone just flips through it. My primary concern is that the book is “read” in some way.
Lindsay Buchman is an interdisciplinary artist living and working between Philadelphia, PA and Saratoga Springs, NY. Her work explores image-making and writing through print and lens-based media, artist books, and installation. Pivoting between text and image, she is primarily concerned with the intersections of language, intersubjectivity, and site. Through forms of mediation, she interrogates the role of seeing and its relationship to meaning — a subtext grounded in the disorientation of sight.
Buchman holds an MFA from the University of Pennsylvania, and a BFA from California State University Long Beach. Exhibitions of her work include the LA Art Book Fair at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles, CA; NY Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1, Long Island City, NY; The Danforth Museum of Art, Framingham, MA; Icebox Project Space, Philadelphia, PA; and Torrance Art Museum, Torrance, CA; artist talks and panels include the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Institute of Contemporary Art (Philadelphia), and The Print Center. She is a recipient of the Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship, and her work is included in the Rare Book Manuscript & Library at the University of Pennsylvania.
Now, more than ever
2019 Summer Residency