Most of the time, art writers and critics only get to see final, polished work, which we then try to take on its own terms and respond to in a way that’s both objective and reflects the artists’ processes, intentions, and values. It’s sometimes very difficult to do, and I know I get it wrong a lot of the time. That’s why one of the biggest luxuries of being the scholar in residence at HCL is being able to see projects at various stages of unfolding; as I write, Rough House Theater is fleshing out a script, Nicole is trying to decide how to use the space as a rehearsal site for her butoh dance practice, and visual artists Sara Black and Jillian Soto just completed the final incarnation of one collaborative project while beginning another (truly epic) undertaking.
I dropped in on Sara and Jillian two weeks ago at HCL to observe them in their studio practice. Along one wall of the cavernous downstairs space, circular objects of many colors sat, spaced evenly on the concrete floor: a gold tray, a sled, a lifeguarding buoy, a wagon wheel, a bicycle wheel, a hula hoop. As Jillian assembled seemingly endless tables, Sara sanded square frames of wood of different sizes. The massiveness of their collaboration– among other elements, they’re working with a structural engineer to create a 28-foot boat with kinetic sculptural elements– astounded me, but what was almost more moving was seeing the small pieces lined up, waiting to be assembled and put into relationship with one another. I kept thinking about the idea of “latency”– the found objects that they had collected and scoured the city for as latent art, and the work itself as the bringing forth of something dormant and latent that they may have discovered as much as invented. Sara and Jillian are interested in the mutability of landscapes, the relationship of architecture to life, imagining new social forms and platforms. In this way their art is also about latency: seeing potentials that are now invisible.
I went to their opening at the Hyde Park Art Center today, where their work was part of a the group show Two Histories of the World, curated by Karsten Lund. There I saw– or thought I saw– the objects I’d seen at HCL turned into groups and assemblages organized by color: a red table spilling over with red objects, a gold table where I thought I spotted the gold tray. The exhibition itself was experimental– to oversimplify the process, artists had to recreate a show from the year before, made from site-specific found material– and centered around memory and acts of embodying memory (memory itself is something that we think of as a latent source: lying unvisible and unseen, waiting to be realized).
Latency is also something that has been coming up in conversation with the artists; the impulse to try to articulate something that you haven’t fully formed yet was a common theme at the dinner this week. My hope is to bring in a scholar who can talk about latency in a way that might be helpful to all of us– at least to help us articulate different metaphors for that strange practice of unconcealing something, bringing it into being where there just could easily have been nothing.