OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Scott Hazard

Drop, Stone, Trace. Sculpture/Maple, Paper, Text. 15" X 15" x 8"

Informed by garden design and Zen Buddhism, SCOTT HAZARD's layered, paper sculptures and installations offer both mental and physical space for the viewer to find respite or refuge. He carefully tears crisp, white sheets of paper, then spreads them out, expanding two-dimensional space into three-dimensional space. These staggered papers evoke drifts of snow and rolling hills, punctuated by cultivated paths of rubber-stamped text meandering through empty space. Scott studied Landscape Architecture (1996) at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and earned a MFA (2005) at the University of Florida. His most recent solo show was Memory Gardens (2015) at Adah Rose Gallery (Washington DC), where he is represented. His work is also available from Simon Breitbard Fine Arts in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been featured in a number of magazines and online publications, including The WILD Magazine, Glamcult, BOOOOOOOM, Juxtapoz, Hi-Fructose, and Colossal. In 2012, he was awarded an Artist Fellowship in Visual Arts from the North Carolina Arts Council. Scott is  and  Scott lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You studied Landscape Architecture before earning your MFA. How does this background inform your scuptures?

Scott Hazard:
Most of the pieces I create serve as vessels for gardens or garden-like spaces. They are places intended to be inhabited or explored, and they are intentionally carved out and/or constructed out of a larger environment or context, yet incorporate and reveal aspects of that context. The origin of the English word garden refers to a sense of enclosure; the oldest use of the word indicated the fending off of wilderness to cultivate a more or less safe haven. My work references some European notions of garden design from the 1700s and 1800s where shaping a space was often about composing and framing a view of an idealized landscape from a particular point in space. There are also important links to Chinese and Japanese traditions in garden design in that the experience of moving through the space is critical to the viewer's perceptions of the garden, and the gardens were often thought of as microcosms of the world.

Sovereign Cloud, Tree and Opening Sky. Sculpture/Photography, 23" X 23" x 8"

OPP: What does the void mean to you? Are the voids in your work more spatial or metaphorical?

SH: I think of the 'void' as the space or context in which every ‘thing’ exists more so than an absence of something. It is a place where experiences can be detached from ideas and assumptions. My thinking about the ‘void’ is rooted largely in Buddhist notions of emptiness. With that, I am focused on creating and articulating intimate spaces which encourage people to delve in and explore.
The voids or openings in my sculptures do work metaphorically in a couple of ways. We use language and images most often to bear down on definitions and concisely articulate what we are trying to convey. A void introduced into this landscape of information works to create a spatial and perceptual opening to allow for a moment of respite from specificity and ideally lead towards a more complete and poetic understanding. Gaston Bachelard touches on this idea in his essay Dialectics of Outside and Inside when he wrote, “language through meaning encloses while poetic expression opens it up.” This respite translates to moments of quiet in a seemingly endless amount of stimulus and information. John Cage and his writings and works on silence are integral to my thinking regarding the void also. He considered silences to be “sacred spaces resonant with creation.” Similarly my work seeks to create a brief break in the din of noise we exist in and allow for a more focused mode of being, if only for a moment.

The reductive perceptual experiences I work to create are also metaphors for the notion that the mind functions in part as a reducer (see Henri Bergson as mentioned by Aldous Huxley in his essay The Doors of Perception, and The Organized Mind, a fantastic book about thinking in an environment of information overload by Daniel J. Levitin.) In this mode the mind is blocking out multitudes of information at any given moment in order to focus on what is at hand or apparently most important/needing attention. I am working to facilitate a diffused space, one that is both inviting and enveloping but using the same information one might be seeking a departure from.

Landscape: Threshole. Sculpture/Photography. 6" X 8.75", 12.5" X 16.25" X 3.75" w/ Frame

OPP: In your series Photo Constructs, you turn photographs into sculptures by adding depth. I think about worm holes and portals to other dimensions when looking at works like Sovereign Cloud, Tree and Opening Sky and Landscape: Threshole. Do you think of them that way? If so, where do they lead?

SH: To some extent, I do want to convey the idea of the spaces in the work as portals to another unknown place. Many of the photo pieces have no terminus within sight to heighten this sensation. There is also the idea that there are many ways a thing can be understood coursing through my work. The spaces or voids in the objects I create are influenced by Zen Buddhist notions of focused attention achieved through meditation and idealized states of mind. By setting up the layers of paper or photographs at intervals in a physical space, I work to create a sensation of simultaneously looking at and through. Each layer in the work is a slightly different iteration of the layers that are immediately adjacent. In this way, each work is composed of many versions of the same thing. A hole is torn in one reality only to reveal another slightly different reality behind the first one. Some pieces, like those you mention above lead to an unknown destination, others are more concerned with creating a space that focuses attention on one portion or aspect of the photo.

These portals also reference the bellows of an early camera, or the space within some optical instruments from the 1700s and 1800s, such as the stereoscope. These spaces within cameras and optical instruments, in addition to their role in making an image, focus the user’s attention by blocking off outside influences to the image being viewed. In this sense the photo pieces function as both image and instrument. Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels and similar pieces are never too far from my mind when thinking through this work.

One Square Foot of a Place to Focus/An Excuse for Staring at the Wall. Sculpture (Maple, paper, text). 11.75" X 11.75"

OPP: Tell us about the introduction of text and the shift away from photographic surfaces in Text Constructs.

SH: Both the image and text based work originated around the same time, but I have concentrated more on the text based work for the past few years. The focused use of text can minimize the visual information in each piece and keep the initial visual reading of the work more concise. The text also allows for a metaphorical and literal reading of the spaces or voids that are formed within each work. The words stamped on the layers of paper encourage a non-linear and haptic reading of the space and text by pulling them in layer by layer, word by word. I love working through the ways the text can engage with the space and enhance a sense of movement, and how that sense of movement can in turn influence the reading of the text. I appreciate a lot of Visual and Concrete Poetry, especially early works from Vito Acconci. The masses of text in my work are often written in second person to speak directly to the viewer. Lately, I have also been working towards incorporating text from used books, mainly books about how humans have engaged (whether through exploration, documentation, utilization or exploitation) with the landscape.

Detail of Endless Sea. Sculpture (Ash wood, paper, text). 10" X 18" X 23"

OPP: Obviously repetition—of language and in the process of tearing—is a big part of your process. Is repetition tedious or relaxing for you? Does meditation play a role in your practice?

SH: Absolutely, repetition is an important part of my process for creating the work. It helps provide the level of detail necessary to pull the viewer into the work and the repeated layering of the paper helps the viewer visually track through and into the work. I don't formally meditate, but the production process for the greatest part is meditative. Each word in the text pieces is typically applied manually with rubber stamps, so the repetitive actions help eliminate outside thoughts and bring about a more mindful, focused mode of attention. I typically work in two to four hour periods due to my schedule, so it’s not too hard to maintain the attention required to consistently apply the text and carefully tear the paper. The repeated text becomes a texture that when read helps purge outside ideas and focus on what is at hand when viewing the work. Ultimately, creating an inviting and meditative space is an important aspect of each piece.

Silent Geography, 2014. Sculpture/Installation. 18 x 24 x 30

OPP: In Silent Geography (2014), you shifted scale tremendously. Your page-sized torn papers became a landscape of snow drifts that are waist-high. I interpret the text as spaces that humans trod. Can you talk about the relationship of the scale of the text versus the paper?

SH: This project was a fantastic opportunity to work with the awesome people from Projective City and the former Mixed Greens gallery as part of their ParisScope collaboration. This site-specific installation consumed the entirety of the floor of the gallery to create an immersive psychosomatic garden. Similar to my wall mounted and smaller sculptures, the format of the project mandated that viewers may not physically enter the space, but can only experience the work from just outside the gallery through a peep-hole. It was very exciting to work at this scale and translate forms, paper and text in a way that could literally envelop a person exploring the space.  The size of the text was large enough so that each person moving through the space could easily see and track the text without needing to significantly disrupt their movement, and small enough to beckon a closer look and resemble a lot of the physical printed matter we interact with. As you note the masses of text could resemble evidence of human impacts caused by people passing through or inhabiting the spare landscape—they also allude to water in terms of how it flows to and collects in low spots, eventually seeping in to the landscape or evaporating.

To see more of Scott's work, please visit scotthazard.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Eric Valosin

Hyalo 2 (Rose)
Acrylic Paint and Digital Projection Installation
50" x 50"

ERIC VALOSIN merges the digital and the analog, conflating cyber space and sacred space, in his exploration of the techno-sublime. He navigates the tenacious, long-historied relationship between mystical experience and art in his performances/meditations on the impossible pursuit of the perfect circle, in virtual stained glass windows that require the viewer's body to reveal themselves and in hand-drawn mandalas with QR codes at their center. Eric received his BA from Drew University and his MFA from Montclair State University in New Jersey. He recently exhibited work in See the Light at the Attleboro Arts Museum in Massachusetts (July 2014) and created a commissioned piece, As Above, So Below, at Trinity United Church in Warren, New Jersey. The installation was accompanied by an artist talk, a discussion forum and a contemplative service. His upcoming solo exhibition at Andover Newton Theological School's Sarly Gallery opens this fall (exact date TBA). In November 2014, Eric will be teaching a graduate continuing education seminar on worship and the arts at Drew Theological School in New Jersey. Eric lives and works in Montville, New Jersey.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Explain the term techno-sublime for our readers.

Eric Valosin: It’s something to which I aspire in my work, and it threads together my interests in mystical experience and its application to contemporary life. The term originally comes from the critic Hal Foster, who used it to describe the intensely-mediated spiritual immediacy he saw in Bill Viola’s video installations. Typically, traditional mystics spoke of the “unmediated immediacy” of their encounters with God. The techno-sublime asks if there can be a space for that immediacy in an era in which, allegedly, everything is mediated. It’s a meeting point between the 14th Century and the 21st, where old and new media collide and world-views come to a head, coalescing into something complex and truly ineffable.
In my art, I strive to co-opt traditional mystical strategies and push them through these heavy layers of mediation in an attempt to open new spaces for a sublime experience. According to Immanuel Kant, the sublime confounds—even overpowers—the viewer and yet is somehow recollected as a net gain rather than a loss. So experiences of the sublime are in line with descriptions of mystical experiences. I think the sublime is what gives all of the most powerful art that extra something on which you can’t quite put a finger. The techno-sublime is perhaps what happened to the sublime after it met Marshall McLuhan.

Performance and Installation using cyclical rear projection table, chair, digital projection, and charcoal and erasure on vellum

OPP: Circle (2013) is a "ritualized performance" in which you attempt to draw a perfect circle over and over again. The ritual is performed publicly during exhibitions and also practiced privately in your studio. How is the experience different for you when you are alone in your studio versus when there is an audience?
EV: I originally intended it solely to be a conventional performance, but as I started practicing, it began to feel disingenuous of me to put on airs and carry out this “meditative spiritual act” solely for show. So, I began documenting my practice and treating every run-through as a full performance, a dialogue between me and the medium itself. An audience became incidental. In many ways this helped me to grow more comfortable with the piece and connect with it, getting out of it something beyond the initial logistical anxiety and determination.
The entire project turns out to be a constant exercise in acceptance. As I attempt to draw the perfect circle, everything that happens on the paper is recorded, delayed 20 seconds, and then projected back onto that same paper. When my hand reaches the top of the first lap around the circle, I then begin trying to match my hand to the projected hand from the prior laps, synchronizing the physical and digital self. But a perfect circle is far too Platonic to be practical, and the looping synchronization ends up rehearsing, compiling and accentuating every inevitable flaw and eccentricity. Yet, eventually even these flaws amount to something really optically beautiful.

Furthermore, I decided that I wouldn’t discard any run-through as a failure. I learned to accept broken charcoal, technological glitches, and the like as just part of the performance. Once an audience member even interrupted the performance to ask me a question, I guess not knowing it had started. I decided to oblige her question and then continue on. I didn’t want to consider the performance so holy that I became inaccessible, nor those imperfections so unholy that they didn’t merit inclusion in the performance. It simply is what it is. Theologically this was very important to me, that my art acknowledge that our beautiful, ideal reality is comprised of messy, complex imperfections and interactions. That’s one of the big differences between the neoplatonic idealism of classical metaphysics and the relational way contemporary thought tends to see the world since postmodernism. My work ultimately seeks some sort of marriage of the two, a sort of relational metaphysics.

Circle 2.0
March 14th, 2013
Charcoal and Erasure on Vellum

OPP: What goes through your mind? What does it feel like?

EV: It offers a gradual escape from thinking or feeling anything, really. Not in a numbing way, but in an emptying way. Eventually I step back from drawing and erasing the circle over and over and begin just watching the compiling footage play out on the paper in front of me. Gradually, even the slight projection hotspot becomes so accentuated that the whole image dissolves into this odd, luminous, blue/white, watery mush of compounded footage. I get a real sense of peace as I watch it all dissolve. The act of drawing is a time to dive deeply into a meditative, repetitive focus. Stepping back and watching it dissolve is an escape away from thoughts and from anything concrete.

Latex Paint and Projection Installation
56" x 68"

OPP: In projection-based works like Hyalo 2 (Arch), Hyalo 2 (Rose), Triptych and Unknowledge, all (2013), the viewer's body is required to complete the experience of the piece. Without the body to block the projected light, the beauty of the sacred geometry is not available. What can you tell those of us who've only experienced these works online about how viewers interact with your projections?

EV: They hinge around that moment of discovery in which the viewers unwittingly walk in front of the projector and, to their surprise, reveal the imagery in their shadow instead of obscuring it. Or, in the case of the Hyalo projects, they discover that their optical experience changes dramatically depending on their position around the work. I love watching them play and exercise an almost child-like curiosity at what initially confounds their perceptual expectations. This is the moment of the techno-sublime I spoke of earlier, when the piece defies logic in a way that simultaneously stupefies and enlightens the viewing experience and causes viewers to second guess the way they see. It’s sadly true that this is something you can only fully get in person.
I used to devise ways to discourage viewers from making shadow puppets in my artwork, but soon I came to realize it was a somewhat inevitable occurrence. I went to the James Turrell retrospective at LACMA last year and watched adults give their friends bunny ears in his hallowed light-cube projection Afrum (White). Even the great Turrell is not immune to the shadow puppet! That sealed the deal for me; I decided to embrace interactivity as a valid urge within the viewer. The piece was in some way less complete if the viewer was taken out of the equation and expected to remain aloof as an observer.
All spiritual experiences are necessarily interactive, and as we enter an age of increasing technological interactivity and user-definability, the viewer’s body becomes more and more important. The philosopher Marcel Mauss—and to a certain extent Foucault as well—points out that “techne” refers not only to technology but to bodily techniques, which, Mauss says, underpin all our mystical states. It’s the reason we kneel to pray, do yoga, or practice zazen. It’s also the reason I’ve begun working more and more with interactive technologies and new media in my work. What might these mystical postures and movements look like in a hyper-connected, technological world in which the body is just as much virtual as it is physical?

Meditation 1.1 (Thusness, Elseness; Omnipresent)
Pen and Ink on Paper

OPP: Your hand-drawn Mandalas with QR codes at their center send the viewer to a different, random website every time they are scanned. I don't have a smartphone, so I haven't had the experience of "completing" this meditation, but I like the idea that you could end looking at art, merchandise, news, celebrity gossip, wikipedia or porn. It really echoes the Buddhist idea that the sacred is right here in the present moment, no matter what that moment contains. When you've scanned it, where have you ended up?
EV: Once I ended up at some photographer’s website. It was a strange experience to have my artwork catapult me to a meditation on someone else's. I’ve landed on a lot of merchandise websites and a couple very bizarre conspiracy theorist sites. I’ve also gotten my fair share of 404 Error messages. Many people at first don’t realize it’s randomized. This confusion is one of the weakest and strongest aspects of the piece. On one hand, they may end up thinking I’m intentionally supporting a given website’s agenda (which was particularly disconcerting to me the time a friend of mine ended up on a satanist website), but on the other hand it urges them to intentionally comb their destination for some spiritual content, assuming it must be “hidden in there somewhere.” In many cases, only upon rescanning and landing elsewhere a few times do the randomness and Buddhist implications you mention come to light.
Uncertainty is the only certain thing about faith. Uncertainty begins to dig into mystical “unknowing,” the apophatic “negative theology” that attempts to get at the unknowable by surpassing and negating all that’s knowable. Even the person who cannot scan the QR code is left with a similar open-endedness as the person who does scan it.

Cosmos on Gray 1/0
Erasure on 18% Gray Card
10"x 8"

OPP: You have plenty of experience of bringing the spiritual into the gallery. What was it like to bring art into a religious space in your commissioned piece, As Above, So Below, at Trinity United Church in Warren, New Jersey? 
EV: It’s a really interesting challenge. I ended up creating an interactive projection piece mapped onto the slanted ceiling of the church’s chancel area. It used a hacked Microsoft Kinect sensor to integrate congregants into the video, and randomly recomposes itself every 50 minutes. I wanted to create something aesthetically pleasing, engagingly interactive and potentially meditative, but also to challenge the space’s implicit hierarchies and push people out of their artistic comfort zones. In the gallery, the struggle is to bring spiritual connotations into a traditionally secular setting without being didactic or polemicizing. In a church, however, those spiritual implications are inherent in the setting, and the challenge becomes making the art accessible without watering it down. I had to really refine the big questions driving my work in order to develop something I think is substantive enough to hold up in both arenas.

There’s a lot of historical baggage to trip over. Spirituality and art had walked hand in hand for millennia. But when Galileo came along and inadvertently told the church they might not have the market cornered on objective truth, a proud and dogmatic church shut its door on subjectivity. This was the first crack into the schism between the sacred and secular. The result was that art, which thrives on ambiguity and an earnest investigation of big questions, began shifting toward the more hospitable realm of secularity, where it had more room to breath. This was reinforced in the late Baroque by the emergence of non-religious patronage and a cultural appreciation of the real and mundane (as opposed to the ideal).
If the sacred-secular divide weren’t enough, a secondary rift developed within secularity itself. Mass media, which changed the way we process images, and the heavy hands of Clement Greenberg and others divided high art from accessible art. Throw into the mix the growing humanism in 19th/20th century philosophy, and you end up with a huge mess where almost nobody understands the “art world,” let alone the spiritual in art, least of all religious institutions, now twice removed (not to mention the argument that it’s all moot because “God is dead” anyway). There are certainly exceptions, but I have found that many religious institutions today are pretty impoverished in their use and understanding of art as a result.

As Above, So Below
Installation at Trinity United Church

OPP: Did you have an agenda related to the schism between the sacred and the secular in As Above, So Below?

EV: The events I held at Trinity United Church were about mending that rift. I wanted to afford people who may not know what to do with contemporary art a chance to really engage with it and to open a dialogue about how art really works when it’s working well. I wanted to encourage the church to embrace art as a relational tool for broaching challenging subjects and heightening the spiritual life of the church. After the contemplative service there was a time for discussion, and I was blown away. People first approached my installation with, “Great, so what does it mean?” and “What am I looking at here?” When given the dedicated time and permission to investigate it without fear of being wrong, they started to be able to read the work in real substantive ways (ways which I had to go to grad school to learn). Not only that, but they started to measure that experience against their own preconceptions and translate it into meaningful dialogue and even some spiritual epiphanies. 

It’s not about reclaiming art as a pawn in some dogmatic agenda, but about being comfortable enough—especially in churches—to trust the Spirit’s interactions amid those ambiguous, complex spaces where world-views collide and art is at its most powerful. It’s about learning how to use the artistic sublime, as it were, toward a greater church experience. It’s about urging the church to think like an artist, and even urging churches to become artists themselves. It’s about unknowing a lot of what we take for granted and reacquainting ourselves with mystery. Ultimately I believe this transcends even the religious/secular dualism and applies to the most fundamental ways in which we all experience the world and each other.

To see more of Eric's work, please visit ericvalosin.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014.