Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Art Space Talk: Ron Amstutz

Ron Amstutz earned an MFA from the University of California in 1997. He has been involved with exhibits at Wallspace and White Columns in New York. His recent solo at Wallspace was titled Right Roads and Wrong Ways. Right Roads and Wrong Ways is a video and photographic installation that represents the culmination of Amstutz's nearly decade-long project of constructing and painting life-size sets that exist as stages for his idiosyncratic performances.

Ron Amstutz, Installation view, Right Roads and Wrong Ways Image via: Wallspace

Brian Sherwin: Ron, my understanding is that you earned an MFA from the University of California in 1997. Can you reflect on your years as a student? What impact has your educational background had on your growth as an artist? Also, did you have any influential instructors that inspired you?

Ron Amstutz: I loved being a student. What artist doesn't want virtually unlimited time to research, talk about and make art? I think that I make my work for the people I went to school with. The arguments and ideas are ones that they would understand that I am interested in and see it in the work. I am trying to articulate it to them in order to articulate it to others. The dialog isn't constant between us, but it is constant in my mind.

My most influential instructor was unquestionably Paul McCarthy. I don't really think he sees a hierarchy in terms of ideas. He inspired me by being so open to every idea, and every person's ideas. I think it reflects in his practice. The pieces are visceral, but extremely smart and varied. He is able to see so many sides of a discussion that he can flip an idea around and convince you of its opposite. It is a really great place to try and make work from, openness. I don't know if I will ever get to that place, but I have seen it in him.
Installation view, Ron Amstutz, “Right Roads and Wrong Ways,” DVD with sound, 29:47, 2008

BS: Ron, tell our readers about your performances and the photograph and video involved. Your performances are often very physical in nature. Can you discuss the implications of your display of endurance? What is the message you strive to convey to viewers?

RA: I think I make obstacles. Obstacles for myself and the viewer. I stage each performance for multiple camera angles and do the performance multiple times. Once set, the cameras don't move. I think that the slippage of what happens in the performance by doing it multiple times is interesting. I like the idea that it changes over time, with each subsequent performance. When I put it together there are changes in intensity and movements that I think bring up questions that are interesting. Over the arc of the piece there are so many performances that it begins to fold on itself. I think the viewer recognizes the weight of all the performances, at least that is my hope. In terms of the durational aspect of the performance, it was meant to be real, and often it was difficult. It was supposed to translate to the viewer watching it in the sense that they might feel uncomfortable or see the viewing of the piece as an obstacle.

The photographs are meant to be performative acts in themselves. In the first color of each set I would make a number of photographs to start the process. They are the "documents" for the performances in the video. I then edited down the pictures to the ones I liked the best and seemed the most interesting. The selected pictures were then re staged in each of the following colors of the set. I wanted the act of making the picture to be like the video; to constantly try and get back to a place that had originally been spontaneous. Often my re stagings were failures and I would have to try to get back to the position again and again. Those moments or actions constitute what the performance was, and seem like a more accurate "document" of what happened. All that remains are the ones which nearly match their predecessor, but I think it implies more. I have always seen the documents of old performances as being so ideal. I just love the mystery of what happened and the possibility of what was lost, or not recorded.
I was interested in photojournalism before art, and I saw the documents as being something all together different. I think it was the snapshot quality of the photographic gestures combined with the charged gestures in them that threw me. I wanted to be inside those pictures. I guess that is where this idea of documentation started.

BS: At what point did you become interested in creating spaces as you have done? Can you recall the thoughts that spurred you to move in this direction with your work?

RA: The spaces are meant to refer to the stage in a theatrical setting; the place for a performance. The camera is a theatrical sight line. Since the actions are not live, but viewed on a screen or ideally the wall, that apparatus (the video projector) had to be taken into account. I made the spaces appear flat to refer to the camera and the wall.

BS: Concerning your performances. Are your movements scripted or do you follow your intuition? What importance-- scripted or intuitive-- does that choice have in your work?

RA: The actions are both. I think that the props help to script the action, but it is left open and spontaneous. Things happen that can't be repeated, but I do try in later performances to get back to the same emotional space to try and recreate the first performances. They are often about discovery initially and repetition later. I think that the structure of the piece in terms of the costume and the changes of the background are so specific and complete that I let a more human or intuitive aspect drive the actions. It goes without saying that that intuition would have to be repeated in some form.
Installation view, Ron Amstutz, “Right Roads and Wrong Ways,” DVD with sound, 29:47, 2008

BS: What about other influences? Are you influenced by any specific artists for example?

RA: Performance in the 60s and 70s is pretty clear. I think that I am definitely influenced by feminist performance, artist like Barbara Smith and Carolee Schneemann. The work has so much to say and does it in such an immediate way. I could only hope that my work would convey the sense of urgency and importance that much of that work does. I think that the staging has something to do with still photography as well. I love Thomas Demand's work, John Divola. I was turned on to Guy de Cointet when I was at school and I think he was a huge influence, particularly in the structure and the handling of props, the game-like aspect. I love structuralist film, all sorts of things.

BS: What are you working on at this time as far as future performances are concerned? Can you give our readers some insight into your future plans?

RA: I am just beginning to do research for my next piece. I plan to make another video, and have been working on ideas, but nothing specific is in the works.

BS: Can you discuss some of the reactions you have had from viewers observing your performances? What role do onlookers play when viewing your performances in person or on video? Do you observe them as a part of the work, so to speak?

RA: I haven't ever done a live performance, and I don't have specific plans for one as yet. I hope to make the viewer part of the work. The piece was designed to be a sort of game between the viewer and the artist. I think that the visual aspect of the sets and the repetition are clues to that. I hope that at least the viewer would recognize the push/pull with the artist.
Installation view, "Right Roads and Wrong Ways"

BS: You have had solo exhibits with Wallspace and White Columns in New York. You have also been involved with group exhibitions at the Thomas Erban Gallery and White Columns in New York. Are you involved with any exhibits at this time?

RA: The Wallspace exhibition is open until the 11th of October and I am in a group exhibition which I don't have the specifics of yet that will be at the end of the year in New York.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

RA: I don't know exactly, but I appreciate your interest and thank you for the opportunity to talk about it.
You can learn more about Ron Amstutz by visiting his website-- www.ronamstutz.com. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

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