RN: Each place, each possible intervention,
is a different challenge, a different problem, a different place to find and build
from. Each work changes as I focus on it.
Every change changes everything else. Each
place, each gallery space, changes everything else. The edgy connotations of birch
trees when I used them in 1991 for an
exhibition in Warsaw, Poland, were different than they are in New York. The job to
be done changes everything.
JB: Did you title the show “SLANT” because
the grid is set at an angle to the walls?
RN: No. I like the 19th-century feel of the
word. I like that Emily Dickinson famously
described her project as “tell all the truth,
but tell it slant.” I like the word “riven,” too.
For me, it is a telling of it slant, a pushing
of old against new and steel against wood.
JB: How does this relate to the works
RN: One moves about in a place, moves
in and through it. And a place shifts with
your viewpoint, builds and re-builds itself,
and finally surrounds you. I needed the
second floor to slant and rive the ground
floor. I needed the view up and the view
down. I needed you to see everything
twice. The drawing set between the two
floors, hung neither up nor down, is the
hinge between going and coming.
JB: Going through this show reminded me
of your description of Vière village.
RN: A strong place pulls you in, then ultimately spits you out. That’s the doubleness,
JB: Though the lower level was crowded, the upstairs portion was quite open and sparse,
with two pieces—Southern Champ (for Robert Prado) (1973) and Rasp (2017)—connected
by the large black drawing on the wall. How are the two floors related for you?
RN: Maybe upstairs is the slant, and downstairs the rive, though I never thought of it
that way. I hadn’t seen the big wood piece, Southern Champ, for many years—it was
buried in my studio basement. But its pushing-up-and-pushing-down presence anchored
the show. The asymmetry, spatial and temporal, of both floors was important to me,
but it was an asymmetry that sat very uncomfortably close to symmetry. Everything was
slightly off-center. A line—like Rasp—seldom points to a central place. A diagonal is never
a true diagonal. Lines don’t stop; they continue in both directions.
JB: Do you want your work to reflect how we experience life? Even your titles tend toward
the edge of life and art.
RN: What a question—art, life, experiences, with titles, too. I make up titles all the time,
but I don’t give in to most of them. Language itself is the secret-sharer of my visual
art, its most intimate enemy. Titles are my last-ditch substitute seductions, the final
subversions of art toward life.
Joyce Beckenstein is a writer based in New York.
Above: Rasp, 2017. Steel, 9 elements, 12 x 20 x
12 in. each. Right: Southern Champ (for Robert
Prado), 1973. Wood, 40. 6 x 293.4 x 284.5 cm.