F & T Questionnaire:
In celebration of the onset of Spring and the renewed vibrancy of the city around us, Fink and Theel is thrilled to feature our next artist, Becky Brown. She is an incisive close reader of contemporary urban space, using its objects, architecture, signage and refuse to create a vast visual lexicon from which she can draw. Her playful use of color, disparate combinations, and nuanced layering connote a time and space where one is inundated with information flowing simultaneously from flashing billboards, street maps, overheard sentence fragments, and one's own inner dialogue. The work conjures an uncanny tactility -- imagine a freshly fallen blanket of snow coating the piles of trash and debris that line the streets or a wall that's been painted, repainted, covered with one sign and then the next, its history embedded in its flesh. Read on to see from where she draws inspiration and why she thinks we should all sit in a circle a little more often.
Describe a place in the world where you have felt most alive:
The Jumbo Rocks at Joshua Tree come first to mind (and to go to sleep and wake up there – wow.) Somehow they appear soft, light, almost fluffy – the exact opposite of how they actually are. But also the entire landscape of Southern California and the Southwest: The Painted Desert, red canyons, petrified wood, Manzanita trees, tarantulas, etc. etc. As a native New Yorker who has spent most of my time on the East Coast, all of this was absolutely miraculous to me; I felt like I was on another planet (and I hope to return.)
Share an image that you return to often:
This is an oversized postcard I got in Las Vegas, when I visited after many years of thought and fantasy about it. It’s all in the image (appropriately): a beautifully frightening hallucination in the desert landscape. But after 36 hours in the real thing, I was running for the hills – literally. The text on the back: “Duck inside your favorite casino to avoid getting wet on a stormy night in Las Vegas.”
What is the last thing you read that mattered to you? What will you read next?
To answer backwards: I’ve just cracked open a new edition of Le Corbusier’s Toward an Architecture; I’m really interested in his image juxtapositions – the Parthenon with “contemporary” (at the time) cars, cruise-ships, etc. I plan to use this model to make my own comparisons of past and present achievements.
Relatedly, I am slowly working my way through Kenneth Frampton’s Modern Architecture textbook, 2007 edition.
Just read: Claudia La Rocco’s book of poetry (in the expanded field) The Best Most Useless Dress, in which she infuses the genres of poetry, dance criticism, hand-written notes, photographs and collages.
Describe an object that intrigues you:
Lukasa, or memory board; made by the Luba people in the late 19th/early 20th century in the region now known as the Congo. This one is at the Brooklyn Museum (unfortunately not on view). From Wikipedia: “A lukasa serves as an archive for the topographical and chronological mapping of political histories and other data sets… Each configuration [of beads] lends itself to the transmission of certain kinds of information.”
What must change?
Overconsumption, waste and pollution (for starters). Garbage is flooding our trashcans, our streets and our oceans (and embedding itself in the sand). I recently learned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch: tiny plastic particles and other debris floating just under the water’s surface; estimated to be the size of Texas.
How can we heal?
Education; communication; people connecting across difference. Sitting in a circle. Maybe art can play a role in this. Thomas Hirschhorn, who is always an inspiration, writes: “Art – because it’s Art – is Resistance as such. Resistance toward aesthetical, cultural, political habits… Other terms for Resistance are Belief, Creation, Risk, Dynamic, Positiveness.” (Photo: Open Art School at the Gramsci Monument, 2013)
If you could instantly have any skill or ability what would it be?
To fluently speak, read and write another language; any language really. Needless to say, it would offer a new window onto, well, everything.
What makes you laugh until you cry?
The first episode of Louie (and many subsequent episodes, but the first one especially), as a new twist on a familiar, and beloved, tradition: New York humor (based in, inspired by, in and of) that is very close to my heart. I remember trying to muffle my full-body laughter for fear of waking the neighbors.
As a member of the global community, what is your greatest concern?
Religious Extremism. That “faith” – or some twisted distortion of it – can lead people to unthinkable violence. It’s not really “faith” of course, but a whole matrix of broken systems. The recent massacre of college students in Kenya has continued to bring tears to my eyes, and then I remember the Crusades. This history is long.
Describe a non-human being you’ve interacted with.
This is the “Granny Oak,” an ancient white oak tree in Pelham Bay Park, in the Bronx, not far from where I live. It is estimated to be about 400 years old and if you give it a hug, you only get about halfway around. I like to visit it often, and imagine it being in that same spot all this time.
What is your mantra?
Can I borrow one? “It’s gonna take patience and time, to do it; to do it; to do it; to do it.” From James Ray’s incredibly infectious and restorative 1962 soul classic “I’ve Got my Mind Set on You.”
What can art do?
I believe art can offer new terms – a new language – to reach new levels of communication. I like Laura Owens’ new paintings because they force my brain into alien territory, via my senses. I like Peter Saul’s old paintings for the same reason. Art can be something to believe in, a mission, a platform to connect. Thomas Hirschhorn writes about his work this way. On the Gramsci Monument: “Art has given me the tool to establish a contact.” He goes on to describe it as a “gesture of love.” I aim for that.