publication of the International Sculpture Center
with Eve Andrée Laramée
by Ana Finel Honigman
More philosophy than
standard art discourse, Eve Andrée Laramées polemical
sculpture installations uproot assumptions about the authority of history,
science, nature, and art. Never strictly didactic, her work does not simply
illustrate information culled from her exhaustive research. Instead, it
represents the intellectual process visually. Mediating between fact and
fiction, her work unearths tensions in our understanding of both. The
nexus of Laramées art is curiosity and information, rather
than conceptual one-liners.
A Permutational Unfolding, 1999. Artist-designed jacquard fabric,
mahogany, hand-painted wall panels, punch cards, historical objects,
gouache, and gold leaf, installation view. Commissioned by the MIT
List Center for Visual Art.
exhibited throughout the United States and Europe, with solo exhibitions
in New York, England, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France, Israel, Poland,
and the Czech Republic. Her work has also been shown at the Venice Biennale;
MassMOCA; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the New Museum of Contemporary
Art; the High Museum of Art; the MIT List Center; and the Museum of New
up incongruous connections that transcend assumptions about arts
relationship to other disciplines. Her installations brilliantly address
the malleability of assumed hard texts and authoritative disciplines.
While not abandoning aesthetic concerns, she never allows them to overpower
the conceptual focus. Throughout, Laramées work sustains
a warm, clean beauty balanced by extensive references, evocations, and
inquiries. The resulting work is among the most stimulating and poignant
in contemporary art.
You explore the interstices between art and science, nature and
culture, fact and fiction. What do you consider to be the authority of
the artist? How has questioning this role influenced your work?
Laramée: I am curious about issues of authorship, the relationship
between the artist and the institution. Currently I am developing a long-term
performance project, Secret History, which began in 1997 and has
had numerous permutations. At its inception, I conceived of it as a self-experiment
I had been approached
by the Islip museum on Long Island, which commissioned me to do a project.
I explained to them that the project I was interested in developing involved
me assuming another identity and creating the work of another person through
myself. I wanted to experience that transformation and understand its
meaning and function. I wanted to slip outside of myself, of my own work,
and see what it might be like to think like another person. Though it
was a fictional piece, I was aiming to present it as factas history.
I presented the work as a historical exhibition, complete with wall text
and chronological organization, and positioned myself as the curator.
I gave tours of the exhibition and fielded questions from viewers about
the work. I invented documents and made photographs in which I dressed
as other people. I produced hundreds of works through a fictional character,
mostly works on paper, small sculptures and devices, as well as paintings.
Cellular Memories, 1997. Salt crystals, red wine, vinyl tubing, etched
glass, steel, and recorded sound, installation view.
The character I invented,
Yves Fissiault, was an electrical engineer (and secret artist) during
the Cold War, involved in the aerospace industry for the Defense Department.
He hid his artistic practice for fear of what his conservative employers
might think. Fissiault was an amalgamation of a character from Thomas
Pynchons The Crying of Lot 49 and facts taken from my personal
imagining of my father, who had also been an electrical engineer during
the Cold War and whom I last saw when I was five years old. I have strong
associations with Pynchon, whom I love for many reasons, including the
way he interweaves historical fact with outrageous, ass-kicking absurdity.
After my mother passed away, I found seven notebooks in her house that
had belonged to my father. The project incorporated his work into the
work I created through the character of Yves Fissiault.
did you subsume your own artistic instincts and intentions to achieve
a six-month period, I would try to stop thinking the way I think and slip
into the identity of this character. I would try not to break character.
It was a little scary, as there are strong boundaries around concepts
of self. The process was very revealing as to how much an artists
work is surrounded by ego boundaries. This ego is not only self-created,
it is also created by the art worldinstitutions, critics, viewers.
This was an opportunity for me to temporarily drop all that.
you as a viewer appreciate the work created by this fictional artist?
EAL: I do.
I love his work.
was the museums response to how you presented the exhibition?
EAL: I encountered
some resistance; the director felt they would lose their audience, that
no one would be interested in the work of an unknown artist from the Cold
War period. They wanted Eve Andrée Laraméewhich compelled
me to think more about issues of authorship, authenticity, authority,
power-dynamics between artists and institutions, and my relationship with
the audience. Where does all this territory lie, and how does it shift
was the viewer response to the merger of fiction and history?
I have worked with this merger before. The first narrative piece in which
I deliberately presented something as fact that was fictional was Instrument
to Communicate With Keplers Ghost at the High Museum of Art
in Atlanta in 1994. The 17th-century astronomer Johannes Kepler has always
interested me: he was both an artist and a scientist. He believed in astrology
as much as he believed in astronomy. He was squirrellyhe had one
foot in mysticism and the other in science.
Kepler had a theory
of harmony, published as Harmonices Mundi, that proposed a musical
relationship between the planets, their sizes, their aspects and movements
in relation to one another. It was an absolutely operatically beautiful
theory and it was wrong, so he falsified his data to prove it, therefore
making art rather than science. When the High Museum asked me to do a
project, I did a site visit. I looked at the building, a gorgeous Richard
Meier building with a skylight in the shape of a grand piano, and, since
I had been fascinated by Kepler for years, I thought music, light, the
heavensthis is the site to do a Kepler piece.
Detail from Instrument to Communicate with Keplers Ghost, 1994.
Copper, glass, keyboard telegraph engraved with alphabet, and dustball
effects unit. Installation at the High Museum, Atlanta.
Using very thin copper
cut wire, I transferred Keplers drawings from Harmonices Mundi
onto the skylight windows, creating a big antenna. Each one
of the panels was wired up to the top floor of the building leading into
a room where I kept the instrument to communicate with Keplers ghost.
I was lucky that there were the same number of panels as letters in the
alphabet, plus two punctuation marks. I engraved the alphabet onto a keyboard
that resembles a 17th-century device complete with wires running through
a bell jar. Inside the bell jar is a dust ballpreviously taken from
my apartment, conceptually linking my personal universe with the larger
universe. The fiction was that by using simple telegraph technology, in
which you press a key to complete a circuit, you could send a pulse/letter
into space thereby communicating your message to Keplers ghost.
like it makes sense.
logical right? Well, to start you have to believe in ghosts, but also,
the whole device is itself fictional. There wasnt even electricity
running through the machine. I put a sign next to the keyboard advising
people not to operate the keyboard during electrical storms because of
the hazard of electrocution. People believed it, they were really fascinated
by how I figured out how to build this big antenna and send messages into
were all sure the message would reach Keplers ghost? What if it
hit someone elses ghost, such as Newtons, for example?
believed it. I played up the logical sequence of the decay of logic. I
was building a chain of logic to put forth something just as absurd as
Keplers theory, which inspired me. People believed it because (and
this is important to subsequent works such as Secret History) institutions
such as art or science museums have authority and credibility. They validate
the objects that exist within their realm.
raises questions of how to relate a work to an artists entire career.
To what extent is the artist a brand name that validates the work? How
do all the other influential factors in an artists careergallery,
critics, contemporaries, and historiansdominate the perception of
EAL: My so-called
signature piece is Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions,
and it has become a kind or brand for my work, although I
do lots of different kinds of work. With Secret History, my alter-ego
piece, some people were uncomfortable when the exhibition was reviewed
in The New York Times; the critic did not know that it was fiction
or that it was my work. I was questioning the authority of the art institution,
the artist, and the ways in which we construct truth in our culture. To
me, my art is my research. While my work has its place in the art world
and the art market, what really drives me is the research. I make art
about the things I am passionately interested in that I do not understand.
you think a really good forgery is art?
Detail from Instrument to Communicate with Keplers Ghost, 1994.
Copper, glass, keyboard telegraph engraved with alphabet, and dustball
effects unit. Installation at the High Museum, Atlanta.
I do. I dont know whether it is well-intended art, but it is art.
Cellular Memories (1996) you take a seeming scientific detail and
represent it as a very poetic, expansive metaphor.
EAL: I was
asked to do a project in San Diego, which is situated between the ocean
and the Salton Sea. When developing Cellular Memories, I was thinking
about the parallel relationship between human blood and sea water, which
chemically are almost exactly the same. The installation incorporated
mounds of sea salt, which, when allowed to crystallize naturally, makes
huge cubic crystals. High above these mounds were glass funnels engraved
with fragments of text relating to questions of the bodyblood and
origins. Together, these bits of text made a three-dimensional poem for
the viewer to walk through. Connected to these 20 vessels were 6,000 feet
of vinyl tubing filled with red wine. The tubing branched to Y-connectors,
although the wine was not being pumped. There was a sound component as
well, a mixture of the human heartbeat and ocean waves. These sounds were
combined, blended into a single beat.
did you choose not to give the piece a kinetic aspect?
EAL: My work
has always been non-utilitarian, non-functional. It is much more about
metaphor and visuality.
Western medicine these two substances, wine and salt, have very strong
relationships with blood. Salt invades the blood system, destroying blood
pressure, while red wine stabilizes it.
people also read a Christian metaphor into the use of red wine, which
was not my intent. I was attracted to it because it was available, red,
have done a lot of work questioning and examining the authority of science.
How do you respond to the ways the computer has become almost an analogue
for the human mind?
Breathing into Each Others Lungs, 1998. Hand-blown glass, rubber,
steel, and wax, 42 x 18 x 9 in.
EAL: In A
Permutation Unfolding (1999) at the MIT List Center for the Arts,
I addressed aspects of the computers history by re-evaluating the
standard understanding that the computer evolved out of calculating devices
or statistical devices or combinatorial machines. I traced alternative
histories of the digital computer through the history of textile arts
and the performing arts, using the Jacquard loom, automatons, and mechanical
musical instruments as focal points. The Jacquard loom, the first automated
loom, was invented in 1801 and driven by punch cards, very much like the
punch cards used to program computers in the 1960s. Computers are driven
by binary code, as was the Jacquard loom whose technology originated from
automaton dolls and mechanical musical instruments.
For the installation
I created a period room, like those at the Metropolitan Museum, using
styles from the Empire period, complete with hand-painted wall panels
and an exclusively woven textile pattern for the draperies and upholstery.
The fabric was designed for the installation and woven on a contemporary
Jacquard loom with a direct feed from a computer. The imagery in the fabric
illustrates the alternate history of the computer
was a mixture of historical objects borrowed from different museum collections,
including mechanical musical instruments and a Jacquard loom head borrowed
from the American Textile History Museum. I also borrowed items from the
MIT archives, including memory cores from the Whirlwind Computer, which
used a type of pre-silicon memory woven out of copper wires with tiny
little ring-shaped magnets. This was from the period when computers had
massive memory banks the size of an entire building, all woven together.
this installation you were making a decorative cocoon?
EAL: I wasnt
thinking of cocoons, but if we are going to look at interior domestic
spaces in relation to the history of installation, this was a period when
enormous amounts of upholstery and drapery were coming into vogue. Not
only were these decorative fashions a way for people to display their
wealth, but I think the huge padded chairs and volumes of drapery on the
wall were a way psychologically for people to pad themselves from the
terror without. This was happening during the Reign of Terror in France.
combinations of objects were used in the installation. How did you establish
the relationship between objects for the viewer?
Dustball as Model of the Universe, 1994. Household dust, hand-blown
glass, and steel, 9 x 6 in. diameter.
was no text, I wanted people to make the connections visually, and viewers
really did understand. There were so many examples of binary code presented
visually and materially that the audience was able to draw the necessary
connections without needing to read a prescribed explanation. There were
objects from the 19th century combined with some from the mid-20th century,
combined with things I made specifically for the installation in 1999.
the Proustian sense there was tangibility to memorycobwebs, souvenirsbut
now, with computers, the concept of memory has become detached from the
physical world. How do you perceive the poetry of memory?
EAL: It greatly
interested me that Jay Forester, who invented pre-silicon memory, considered
weaving a metaphor and model for the computer. He visualized memory as
a three-dimensional woven structure. Linguistically, these physical images
are still embedded in the language of technology. We talk about the Internet
or the World Wide Web.
But, what interests
me is how memory has once again become mineral. Silicon is a mineral.
It is the earth. History and memory have gone from the earthwhere
the physiography of the earth acts as a mapping of historyto having
memory and history situated in the animal mind, to now where we are deferring
back to the mineral world to preserve our memory and our history.
is your concept or definition of history?
is a soft text masquerading as a hard text. I like to think of what makes
the distinction between hard text and soft text. There are hard texts,
which claim to have and are perceived as having authority as truth, and
there are soft texts, which are always open to interpretation. Maps go
under the heading of hard text, but there are all kinds of
map deceptions that occur. Maps are fluid and changing.
Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions, 199498.
Hand-blown and etched glass, steel, copper, salt water, and flowers,
have you addressed your sense of natural versus constructed geological
EAL: I am
developing a project called Fluid Geographies in which I look at
the subjectivity in maps. I plan to develop a type of atlas expanded from
a series of drawings I am currently working on, in which I have blacked
out all except a selected set of information. In one, all that can be
seen are the sites of uranium deposits in Glen Canon National Park. In
another, only trailer park communities remain on the map. By erasure and
leaving exposed one system of information, I am able to reveal and recognize
Right now, I am examining
this geographical and geological history through the developments of the
Secret History project, which is moving away from narrative toward
issues of psychology and space.
I had begun developing
the character of Yves Fissiaults wife, a movie star. The characters
go into exile and experience a kind of terrain of psychic rootlessness.
They travel from L.A. along Route 66 to the Mohobi desert and down into
the Salton Sea area and then into Northern Mexico. It is an area that
fascinates me. I call it the Netherzone.
The geology of California
is totally chaotic because there have been so many cataclysms. The land
is physically and topographically extremely complex, yet we think there
is nothing there. We perceive the desert as empty, as a place of rootlessness.
if anything do you see as being American in your work?
EAL: My concern
with nature and culture, particularly in how I am developing Netherzone,
the newest chapter in the Secret History project, is reflective of one
of the key concerns for American artists historically, which is the fundamental
questioning and analysis of land and landscape. I would consider my American
conceptual lineage as looking back to the 18th and 19th centuriesto
the Hudson River School artists and Albert Bierstadt, who were suddenly
making huge panorama-sized paintings rather than easel paintings. That
representation of the grandeur of the West and the Western landscape was
not only aesthetic but political. The paintings were brought into Congressional
hearings and used as propaganda to fuel westward expansion and Manifest
Destiny. In the 20th century, land artists such as Robert Smithson and
Walter De Maria responded to land and landscape as phenomena. Artists
in the 90s began to work in terms of reclamation, looking at the
work from a more ecological perspective. I am interested in what the Situationists
termed psycho-geography. They were speaking of their drifts
through urban territory. What I do is quite different, but the term applies.
I am looking at the ways in which we psychologically process space and
how space affects our perceptual states.
you referring to an examination of your personal psychology or the discipline
Parks on Trucks: Carbon Balance Truck Project for the City of Aachen,
Germany, 1999. Truck, corn, soil, and gravel. Project commissioned
by the Ludwig Forum Museum.
is certainly a personal element in my work, particularly in response to
spacial/geological history. I am always looking at my own psychology and
my psychological responses. The desert is a place of origin for me. It
is the place where I feel most myself. I spent six years living in New
Mexico and a lot of time in the California desert, in Israel, and the
Sonora desert in Mexico. It is a kind of deep homeland for me.
But there are also
aspects of my work that deal with cultural psychology, looking at the
ways in which cultures and societies think. How do we formulate our knowledge
and our perceptions? There is no getting away from that, whether it is
foremost in ones work or not, and though it never really has been
in my work, it is always in there.There is always a triadic focus in my
workissues of nature/culture, issues of science/the history of science,
and art issues. Art is the language through which I know how to think
about science and nature.
Ana Finel Honigman
is a writer living in New York.