For the first time in 12 years, artist Joan Wallace is exhibiting her work in New York. On view through April 22 at Elizabeth Dee gallery, “Joan Wallace: Seminal Works from the 1980s to Now” explores the artist’s earliest work as part of the artist team Wallace & Donohue, as well as her individual practice that later followed. Here, she sits down with artist Annette Lemieux, who was also a student at Hartford Art School along with Wallace and Geralyn Donohue before carving out their place in the East Village art scene of the 1980s. The two catch up on life before and after Donohue, the impact of our political landscape and finding “home.”
Annette Lemieux: In the press release there is a quote from you where you use the word ‘home.’ In the work sense, the days of Wallace & Donohue and now Wallace, there are a lot of moving parts, openings and closings of windows and doors, drawers and an entrance to some kind of pool, and an old refrigerator. Are the moving parts now different somehow from your past collaboration? Do they take on a different meaning, or come from a different place? For me there is a different tone.
Joan Wallace: What occurs to me is that this show allows you to see a more personal through line. There’s the early Wallace & Donohue pieces, which are perhaps more propositional; then there are the works of mine from the period in which we were still showing together but authoring the work separately, which in this show is represented by Like a Pariah (The Frigidaire Painting), 1989. But largely the show contains works I did after the partnership dissolved. The theme of ‘home’ I noticed when putting the show together. Of course, it’s there in the individual pieces, but it only emerged as a theme with this show.
Your referring to a difference in tone may relate to this theme as well in that it has me thinking of the degree to which the work is personal—or, at least feels personal to me. Standing, against all that’s left of home, Nos. 1 & 2, 2002, a piece inspired by 9/11, feels rather close to me, in fact. I think it’s to do with how it emulates thought processes, both in terms of complexity but also in the sense of finding oneself at cross purposes. I’m wondering if more generally your impression of moving parts, openings and closings, etc., doesn’t also speak to thought itself. With the “Frigidaire” piece I think of a kind of “burrowing in,” starting with the green monochrome framing the fridge that houses the video’s internal self-investigation using a lens that pans both its interior and exterior worlds.
I would have never thought of the two works comprising Standing, against all that’s left of home as being inspired by 9/11. But now seeing the two works again, two verticals with drawers as exits or entrances, along with the images of Jasper Johns’ Three Flags, it all adds up.
Interesting, I hadn’t thought of “Standing” in terms of two verticals, or exits and entrances. Especially with “No. 2,” I think of the empty drawers exposed as a kind of inversion of privacy, which isn’t directly about 9/11, and yet the work’s overall disassembling might be seen to exist as if in the aftermath of total collapse.
Do you think that your next body of work will be affected by our present political landscape? It is certainly affecting mine and others’. I’ve been thinking of the threat of our collective safe havens.
Actually, I recently conceived of a piece that’s leaning more toward the ‘home’ theme, although in the sense of public vs. private in a way that’s cognizant of a type of threat. I think given the way an individual’s intentions are so easily usurped, re-packaged and misused, I find myself employing more indirect strategies, which might also go to political strategies, operations and infighting that are only indirectly in the public view. In Violent Pop Painting, No. 2, 2005 (a white monochrome framing a 16mm film of a white-frosted red-dyed cake being shot up in slow motion), there’s at heart the insistence of the factual itself, culminating in a kind of bloody, forensic “crime scene.” In a somewhat similar vein, there’s my use of Jasper Johns’ Three Flags that you mentioned, a facsimile of which I photographed then silk screened at various angles of rotation in order to visually evoke such forensic investigation—rather as if the country itself is being offered up as a manner of object to be examined. Overall, there’s a layering going on in the work, one that often conflates the political, art historical and personal.
Yes, to the layering of the political, art historical and personal, which Robert Pincus-Witten once described as the “collision” in one’s art.
“Joan Wallace: Seminal Works from the 1980s to Now” is on view through April 22 at Elizabeth Dee, 2033|2037 Fifth Avenue, New York. 212.924.7545
All Images Courtesy of Elizabeth Dee New York