I met Dianne Bowen on Google Plus. When I first saw her profile and her work, I instantly knew that I had to chat with her. Her work http://diannebowen.com/ is utterly painterly and masterful and her installations are totally cool. As you’ll see below, she’s a gifted artist with a brilliant mind.
MICHAEL: Hello Dianne. I love your work. I see lots of lines, connections, connectivity and organic circuitry. Am I on the right track?
DIANNE: Hey there Michael. Thank you! Yes, you're on the right track. The lines are systems of flow, both man-made or organic, communication and miscommunication. They’re fragile connections, precarious at times. I'm completely fascinated with them. The lines operate as both micro and macro references to topography, cardiographs, seismographs, depth of internal and external space. They mimic patterns in nature or swirl about in a playful "Catch me if you can.” Routes, roots, life quietly in progress amidst all this audible and inaudible information bouncing faster than the speed of light with little or no barrier. While I consider myself a painter by nature with sculptural tendencies, pushing the boundaries of drawing has been my main focus since 2006. Conceptually, the work begins with initial complex systems to track, locate and decipher all this information. I write notes and what I term "code poems" during the process of creating the visual work. The writing and visual work while both bare, influence each other and also operate as two separate expressions of thought. Both have weight, cadence, texture and flow, they run parallel.
MICHAEL: Where and how did you get this concept?
DIANNE: It began very simply like this. One night I cleared my studio wall and sat for hours staring at the blank wall contemplating the next direction my work would take after doing a series of spiral works on paper. My younger brother Fred, whom I was very close to, had died many years before and my thoughts had turned to him as they have often over the years. I thought: “I wonder if there were a way he could hear me or I could hear him? What kind of system would or could allow such a thing?” So I said to the empty space, "I really miss you, and wish you were here, if there is way for us to hear each other, let me know" and the empty space replied. I started noticing ambient sounds, inside and outside the studio, grabbed a pencil and began jotting them down as if they were Morse code. Using a series of systems to decipher the first translations of several, “the listening - message received.” Finding the questions is much more intriguing than finding the answers.
MICHAEL: Wow. I think this very conversation is really a manifestation of invisible lines, codes, circuitry, energy and our desire to connect. We were destined to connect! And so given all of that, we have all of these contemporary devices to communicate, design and map relationships, yet most people allow fear and distraction to keep them disconnected or they choose to communicate in anti-social ways. Thoughts?
DIANNE: It's a strange and intriguing world and time to exist. We have at no other point in human history been so, "connected and disconnected" at the same time. We are also able to assume alias avatars which we send out through various means, be it social media sites or other forms of technology. I've found it to be a very perplexing situation. We have created these "virtual houses" and "personas" that we maintain much in the same way as our "real" lives. We share information like sharing a tool with a neighbor, clean up content like dishes left in the sink. Our personal connections are also oddly precarious, having some pretty intimate discussions on line publicly or via private IM messages all the while simply under the assumption that the person is who and what they say they are. I, like many people, try to research a contact beforehand, but it's still no guarantee. We "un-friend" someone, block them from content or simply share things publicly in a "status" update that is pretty strange. As human beings, we need contact with others. We have not evolved as much as we think from our predecessors and primal selves. The question becomes, if we can have and do all of this without leaving the house, are we really more connected in a way that helps bring us closer to each other? Jury may still be out, but so far, it seems more and more people are feeling more isolated than connected. I think it's the lack of real human contact and interaction. We need to see body language, a look in a person's eye, a friendly hug acknowledging the relationship. That remains something that cannot be replaced. It's also true that we've become not only more and more violent, but also more and more de-sensitized to it. This, I don't have an answer for which is also a spider web, if you will, with regards to the problem and the answer. Like trying to untie a big ball of knots, you can't necessarily see where the strings begin or end to untangle it. In my work, sometimes I feel as if that's exactly what I'm trying to do.
MICHAEL: What's the significance of circles or circular motion in your work?
DIANNE: Circles and spirals are one of the oldest symbols which run through many cultures; a first mark made like a line in the sand. They're in nature, science, a natural force, beginning and ending, cyclical. Chaos and order can be implied simultaneously through them, rotation and anarchy. There is also something very mischievous and playful about the way lines spin in rotation or slowly evolve as raveling and unraveling … Always they can be two sides of a natural force. A circle can be both full or empty and what that means is also fascinating and obviously can result in many conclusions depending on whose looking. The outcome can change.
MICHAEL: I tend to view installations as live paintings that exist in 3D. What inspires you to create installations as opposed to a paintings or drawings?
DIANNE: Installations are the way I can take a line out for a dance in various locations. The interaction during the process between the line, myself and the location becomes something shared openly, publicly without concern of "product" necessarily, but what happens with the viewer when they wander through it. It’s something playful and insidious, but also a public-private exchange. It’s a hidden note, a word, a pin or gesture as the slightest movement nearby may cause it to stir. It's always interesting for me to watch people's reaction from a distance. Children are usually fearless in wandering through them and poking around, but then that's the curious nature of kids. I have a few stories which always make me laugh. A child wandering through a piece I did in 2010, "Lines Seek Shelter; heal roads far away", was particularly fearless and curious as he moved through the bundles of chaotic wires suspended from the ceiling, nests and cut outs strewn about the floor bending down to peer through magnifying glasses with code poems. I sat quietly across the room and watched. Tugging on his father’s shirt, he said, "Dad, dad, she's saying something, look under there, she says she's here!" Catching his eye he smiled at me and pointed, happily whispering to his father, "That's her!" I smiled and winked at him, "Yes I am, you've found me. Thank you for playing.” In another work more recently, "The Great Escape," a man walked through the work, investigating smiling and quietly laughing to himself. Though we didn't speak a common verbal language, through art we understood each other. He picked up a small mylar cut out from the floor and asked if he could have it to keep with him. I did oblige his request happily. Moments like these are invaluable and I do cherish them. Drawing is like taking a line out for a dance, sometimes it's a heavy metal slam dance, sometimes it's as structured as a waltz and I'm just switching partners and hands, pencil, paint, environment, material and surface.
MICHAEL: I love those anecdotes about the child and the man, both of whom naturally understand art. Yet something happens to a lot of people as they age. They get uptight and angry and lose touch with the very freedom that art offers. They don't trust art or something. I don't know. What do you think?
DIANNE: Complexities of life leave their mark over the years. Art has the capacity to affect us in so many ways if we allow ourselves to let it do so. Trust is perhaps one of the things never easily given and harder to give the older we get for obvious reasons. Art can stir our minds or emotions in ways which are not always comfortable. Art is a universal language and something we have always done in one form or another to somehow connect each other and understand ourselves and the world around us. While its importance in this may not be understood or appreciated by everyone, it is nonetheless important in our society.
MICHAEL: Tell me about your relationship with New York. Does it inspire you? Couldn't you do your work anywhere? Is NY the center of the art world?
DIANNE: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Boerum Hill to be exact in the mid 1960s. My family and their friends were a very eclectic group and very active. Poets, nurses, painters, writers, all sorts of people with a lot to say and no fear expressing their opinions on art, politics or what's going on in the world. I remember my mother telling me we couldn't buy grapes because we were boycotting them at the time. Lively banter, many parties, kids running around and dancing. Art was a part of life. New York is and will always be my home. I have a special fondness for the bridges connecting to Brooklyn. It's a unique borough and has its own pace and always will. My parents remind me, "Remember who you are girl and where you come from." The city is in my blood, it pulses, bursts, rages, paces to and fro, always questioning, always with me. While I stated NYC is my home, I am a nomad when it comes to making work. It's the nature of the work itself. Inspiration comes from this nomadic way of working, as each place informs and inspires my work profoundly. I work in a variety of spaces and locations temporarily, from Estonia, Italy, various places in NY, Miami or other places in the US, but my base is a little live/work spot in the East Village I fondly refer to as "The Think Tank." Pretty old school. I have always lived and worked in my space, whether it's a temporary space or not, art is what I do and how I live. The two cannot be separated. It's 24-7.
NYC remains an art mecca, but many artists have left finding larger and more reasonable spaces to work outside of the city and opting to commute in when necessary. It's a topic of discussion which continues to rear its head as real estate in the city and the outer boroughs becomes less and less accessible to artists. I think it's still important, but with technology, you can be anywhere you need to be to make the work and get it out. Artists will go where they need to go to make work, as they have always done. It's a terrible Catch 22. They move in, real estate goes up, they get tossed. "Thanks! Here's your hat. What's your hurry?" But also important for the city to understand and it seems not really in discussions is the "art economy" which is created in the areas where artists live and work. It includes the supplies they need to produce the work, frame, install etc., to the daily living supporting the restaurants, hardware stores and other venues too.
MICHAEL: Given all of that, what do you think about the art world (and art market) and how it functions today?
DIANNE: The art world is not gentle or kind and never really was. It does feel much tougher now than it did say 10-15 years ago. It flows with trends like anything else. "Spectacle" seems to be the new trend. “Large Scale” has whole new meaning. It's more like "Universal" scale. Is it necessary? Maybe that's more a reaction to the brave new land in which "borders" are blurred, subverted or obliterated. On the positive, with all this new tech, artists are able to do a lot more for themselves than ever before with less cost which is very helpful if done correctly. The “Market” is the market. It operates as it always really has. There's the business of art and the "business" of art, never confuse the two.
MICHAEL: I gladly admit that I LOVE huge art. Of course, bigger doesn't mean better, but I just love the “bad ass” nature of it. Your work certainly lends itself to grandiosity. It crosses language and cultural borders. No one could tell who or what you are by merely looking at your work.
DIANNE: "Spectacle" has its place. I agree there are some pieces that knock me out. I'm drawn to the more elusive or ethereal works. I think the scale becoming "universe" size makes sense. We are capable of dreaming impossible dreams. The new idea of "large scale" I think emphasizes this ability, and want or need to do so. Curious we are, and sometimes a bit too arrogant for our good or anything else on the planet, but for the most part there is still wonder, so we dream of things so large they're almost unfathomable for the human to comprehend and still we dream those impossible dreams. I hope we always will. Thank you! That is what I hope translates from the work. Love that you felt that from the work. At the core of it all, there is really no "one" language, but many, like a 3-D puzzle that slides together to create a whole constantly in flux within various multiple dimensions, time and space.
MICHAEL: Art is such a difficult career field that's filled with so many hurdles and challenges and even given all of that, the general public remains basically clueless about contemporary art. What do you make of all of this?
DIANNE: Art is a selfish lover. It wants, it hungers pacing to and fro' never sleeps, never satisfied, demands everything and you give it gladly. It’s a longing of the soul to do what needs to be done. That’s perhaps a poetic way to put it. The question is actually a tough one to answer. Why? It’s never easy, but always constant. There’s a gambit of answers. It would seem that contemporary art would have more of a connection to the general public at this time given that so much work is becoming more and more interactive with the use of various techniques, but that hasn't really been the case. Why hasn't it broken down more barriers in wider audiences? The question leads to more questions for me. It has the capacity, but maybe we just haven't found the venue or means as of yet to do it. Regardless of how "connected" or open and inundated with information, art remains something still set in the outer perimeters of the general public. The degree of its importance fluctuates from person to person, country to country, class to class with some reason but no rhyme. Why? Again is the question. Is it the way or means that it's promoted to the general public? That’s probably part of the answer. Considering it has so many facets, so many questions, pushing and pulling boundaries, what could make it become more important to someone not particularly interested in the first place without homogenizing it and relegating it to a "safe public art" zone? What and why? Yet more questions.
MICHAEL: Finally Dianne, Where do you want to go with your art in the future and where do you think contemporary art may be headed overall?
DIANNE: A nomad by nature, I'd really love to do more installations all over the world, temporary or permanent site-specific pieces and large drawings. The body and nature of my work varies in scale and mediums from small, original artists books to large scale drawings, installations and spoken word/drawing/videos. It's a path I've been walking the last few years. Robert Frost's poem "Two Roads Converge In The Woods" comes to mind often with regards to the question "Where now?" Maybe the answer is in the lines, "And I, I chose the other and that has made all the difference." The future is wide open and so unpredictable that the only thing I can say with certainty is I hope my work will always stand the test of time and if I'm fortunate, I’ll have an audience and opportunities to help me along the journey. A few things came up along those lines for which I'm very thankful. “AS Artists Studios, founded by art critic and curator Jill Connors recently exhibited a set of three of my small books in their booth at the NADA NY Art Fair. In October 2012, I had a solo exhibition and residence with Galleria Ninapi' in Ravenna, Italy titled: "Dimmi Tutto.” Spending a month there making new work left profound marks on me. The work shifted into a quieter mood. The weight of history, culture, techniques bared down on my thoughts. I started making more original books and really challenging traditional perceptions of "What a book is." Working extremely long hours in the studio there, writing, collecting things on walks continues to inform and shift my work. I'm looking forward to returning as stated above and it's the nomadic nature fed by the flux of situations and locations.
The recent opportunity to curate an outdoor large scale video screening of my recent video piece alongside my friend and fellow artist Jaanika Peerna came up. It was a one night pop up, "Silence Within Storms.” The videos were projected onto the side of a brick building at the corner of 2nd Street and Avenue A in the East Village. It was placing the work arguably in the "public art" arena on a grand scale even by today's standards. I'd really love to show the works again in some other locations on that scale. Which brings us back to the previous discussion regarding "spectacle" and the new "large scale. The question of how we understand or interpret what is "Public Art" seems to be changing. At least it is for me. With the advance of technologies moving so quickly, artists and the art world are definitely entering a brave new world that challenges many perceptions of what "art" is, how it is exhibited, archived or collected. This is, of course, what contemporary art does on different levels and with varying degrees. The definition of contemporary art itself has a few variations depending on the source. Where it's headed with all of this is unknown, but pretty exciting to ponder. 3-D printing has some intriguing possibilities which are already being used. And while technologies are moving faster than the speed of light, I don't think we will ever loose our want or need to just see a great painting, drawing or sculpture minus the bells and whistles of tech. Traditional borders are blurred or obliterated, cultures are assimilated, our previous systems have been challenged or no longer apply, industry and nature must find a symbiotic relationship and the world has changed, and will never be the same. We all have to adapt, and so too will the art world.
MICHAEL: Thanks Dianne. This has been quite inspiring.
Check out Dianne Bowen at http://diannebowen.com/.