When I was invited by Michael Berube and Frank Sabatte of the Openings Collective to do an exhibition in the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, I was very intrigued. The founder of the Paulists, Isaac Hecker, was influenced by and had personal contact with Emerson and Thoreau. My early artistic development was influenced by the exploration of consciousness in the lineage of thinkers from Emerson (whose work I can both adore and be repelled by over the distance of one paragraph) and Melville, through Nietzsche, Freud, William James, Rilke, Yeats, Robert Kelly, Henry Corbin, Gregory Bateson, and Giles Deleuze. It was irresistible to show in a space saturated not only with Emerson but also where the work of John La Farge, Augustus Vincent Tack, and Stanford White came together in one of the most beautiful interior spaces in New York.
The process of consciousness – what it is, how it feels, how it tastes, its transformations and tricks – has always been the source of inquiry for my work. I’m very interested in the way an image flashes into awareness, fluoresces, and dies. I’m making a distinction between the images of fantasy (wishing, planning, regretting, wanting) and the very different experience of mental images that seem to arrive from outside of the ego and have the intensity of the real – they light up the nervous system and consciousness with an aliveness that approaches hallucination. It is this level of image that I’m interested in experiencing and discovering in my work – that first flash before the immediate tip toward language and discursive thought. I notice significant discomfort in the immediate splitting of awareness that occurs following an arising image and its first perception/thought. This schizoid wedge is likely the root of consciousness itself and a requirement for rational thought, but while necessary, it is also traumatic – awareness longs for the moment before! And I rashly long to hold that moment before the image-become-language is forced into service as identity, self, and workaday narcissism.
The boundaries and limits of awareness hold a particular fascination for me and it seems likely that the obsessions in my work derive from the earliest phase of life before language and before self – the “chora” in Julia Kristeva’s description. Instinctual drives, locality, suffering and pleasure, aggression, holding, repulsion, devouring and expelling merge in a timeless non-reflective realm. The pre-lingual lack of separation from one’s mother and the undifferentiated void of the infant’s world quickly give way to the necessary experience of difference, boundaries, self-awareness, language, and time. The death of Orpheus is an arresting image of the tail-end of this state: his body torn to pieces and cast into the landscape while his head is held by the flowing river Hebrus, singing as it is swept out to sea. In that head, floating to Lesbos, live memories of underworld and ecstasy.
My mother, Phyllis Cicily Ana Wood, recently died and this show, Enceinte, has coalesced around my mourning her passing. It will include work that refers to my earliest experience of mother and the show will be dedicated to her.
I work with various media – drawing, painting, photography, and prints. Each medium allows access to different states of mind and different experiences of time and space. This exhibition will include graphite drawings, hybrid works that combine ink painting and photographs on mylar, and a large photograph. The graphite drawings are made very directly as I respond to the image yearning to become. I experience the process of drawing as a tracing of arising being and imagery, shifting mental states, embodied experience, and fragments of memory. Once it reaches a state of holding/stasis, fully immanent with meaning, just before solidifying into particular meaning, the drawing is complete. Attentive to the relentless motility of mind, I let the images arrive from the unknown but allow the lack of fixed identity and the fragility of potential meanings to survive deep within the tissue and fluidities of form. Neither splintering from a fixed position nor serving as a term in a narrative continuity, the image/being rises to the demands of its own particular universe. The resultant image often feels very alien to me and each drawing is quite different.
The ink paintings on mylar are approached in a similar way but because the ink is layered, removed, and added again the creation through time is more experienced. One of the mysteries of painting is that it seems to exist outside of time, or beside time, or at least in an indeterminate relationship to time. Photographs, on the other hand, are wedded to a particular time and place and therefore a sense of loss and time passed is always present in analogue photography. Melancholic, nostalgic, or perhaps just mute, photographs to me seem corpselike – emptied of further life and possibility of change. There is sadness in the way photographs intimate our own death. I’ve had the impulse to re-animate these relics in the less determined time/space of painting. In these hybrid pieces, the photograph is collaged directly over the completed ink painting. There is no attempt to disguise the dualism inherent in the structure but the relationship between photograph and painting changes from piece to piece and so the subject/object divide is shifting and unstable.
When photographing, I’m very aware of projecting out onto the world, or perhaps more precisely, I discover structures that contain or meet my own projections and that is when I release the camera shutter to produce the image. These moments are always a surprise to me so photographing is similar to making a painting or drawing except that I’m literally interceding in the flow of time and light. But unlike drawing or painting, it is more a being-gone than a becoming. Occasionally I make a photograph that has enough temporal slippage and being-as-image that I leave it as is, like Still in this exhibition, but usually I’m impelled to resurrect a photograph into another form.
The ink paintings and photographs are made completely independently and then come together in a collision that feels like uncovering some archaic memory. Sometimes the photograph feels held by the painting, sometimes it punches a hole right through the space, sometimes it completely merges and seems to disappear, or sometimes it floats above just out of reach. In all cases the painting seems to nudge the photograph away from itself and closer to the indeterminate time of painting, and the photograph seems to push the painting a little closer to an indexical experience in time.
Brian Wood 2/14