rural route two box two eighty one
Travis Shaffer: At what point did the two of you meet / begin working as a collaborative?
Jacinda Russell: Nancy and I met in August 2001 at the University of Houston. We became good friends after I moved away from Texas in 2002. We took a three week road trip in the Summer of 2007 with my cat Oatmeal sharing the front seat. We traveled from Indianapolis through Minneapolis, North Dakota, Montana, Yellowstone, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. At the end of our trip, we visited Robert Morris’s Untitled (Reclamation Project) in Kent, Washington and decided that the next summer we would spend three weeks visiting all the major earthworks in the American West. Our work as collaborators began that summer and extends indefinitely.
Nancy Douthey: We were on a road trip together the summer of 2007 for three weeks driving cross-country from Indiana to Washington and along the way I’ll never forget the moment (I mean I can’t tell you where we were) but I remember saying “ We’re DOING IT!” and I committed myself. I had long been in love with these photographic images and the spoken experiences of professors that get passed down through art history classes. In the beginning it was all very romantic in my mind. It was the fantasy of the America West, part of the lure of space and time. standing still long enough for me to breath deep.
TS: As individuals does your work differ drastically from what you do as a collective? if so how?
ND: I approach my work very much the same way I approach the work I’ve done with Jacinda. I prefer the collaborative process– so for me this was very special to do it with her. To have these works carry conflict and challenge my own perceptions is typical to how I like to react and work with things. Having Jacinda to problem solve and learn and allow me to change my mind and get lost and found, well, I can’t imagine a better approach to my art. I learned more from this trip about my personal work than any other time. I believe we learn more together than we do apart and that is what is amazing about the collaborative process. It kicks your butt, it challenges everything. And if it is really great- you’re still best friends! Hi best friend!
JR: I’ve always focused on the object (as self-portrait, as memory, as narrative, as photograph, as sculpture, as installation) and that is apparent in many of the works in 3 weeks, 6 earthworks, 1 Portable Studio and ALL that lies in between. I bury objects from my past at each of the locations. They function as inventory when documented in the gravel driveway at the Thunderbird Hotel in Marfa, Texas or as sculpture when presented in a gallery. I’ve made artist’s books since graduate school so that isn’t a different avenue that I have pursued. In that regard, my work has not changed but working with Nancy has allowed me to introduce performance as a means of expression. The Burial of Three People, Two Places, and One Time Period: Performative Actions marks the first time I’ve delved into this territory. It has challenged me to work in public (or even outside as this is the first project I’ve ever been involved with that takes places outdoors). Last summer I spent three and a half months floating Styrofoam cakes in pristine bodies of water and I am thoroughly convinced this project would not have been successful if I hadn’t worked with Nancy the summer before.
TS: Humor and playfulness play a large roll in your project. In your statement you explain that “humor is one way we enter into these works when we want to make serious commentary rather than being confrontational. It is our way of discussing the political and often difficult issues associated with them: gender, economic elitism, destruction and permanence of the land.”What relationship, if any, do you draw between your artistic approach to difficult/potentially dry issues and contemporary satirists like Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert?
ND: “Part of the thing with comedy is that it’s always been effective in that if there’s tension there, ultimately, it brings us together, it makes things more comfortable.” Vince Vaughn I’m quoting Vince Vaughn right now because I’ve been thinking about this uproar over the “gay” joke in the upcoming movie “Dilemma” –I’ve been reading about it – and found myself completely relating to what Vaughn was saying. As this issue rides the same wave in time as the Stewart/Cobert rally I can’t separate them right now. It is the relationship that people can say things that create change, they can do things that create change, and I think we forget that we have the power to do that. I Stewart and Cobert creating a joke, but the joke is very serious. The result of the joke is that we are all laughing and thinking – oh my god, I wasn’t sure this was even possible, I wasn’t even sure people were getting out of their houses to say anything, I thought they did it all on the computer…So back to the art of it: If no one is going to address the absurdity of the “earthworks movement” the problems or rather the questions that stem from them, then I’m probably not interested. I need the conflict – I want to deal with the double standards, the out of wack economic proportions of support, the gender politics, and what better part of art history to play with those ideas than the earthworks movement. Especially now when all of the sudden we are thinking about land and “green” in this new way – which isn’t new. I guess the “new” part of it is the way we are going to use it as a marketing tool to make money. And then again that isn’t new either. To answer the question directly, my relationship to the ways of Stewart and Colbert, I hope I can parallel their efforts in my own work – in my own way. We all seem to be playing on the same team along with the likes of Lucille Ball and Borat.
TS: Like much of contemporary art your work hinges upon (or at least addresses) specific works of the past, i.e. earthworks, Ruscha, Wayne Thiebaud. What is your inspiration for this, and how much do you feel the “insider” perspective impacts the ability for viewers to relate to your project?
JR: I will quote Ed Ruscha right now and say, “I’m not really a photographer.” I grew up in a household that emphasized mixed media as an art form (my father is a painter and assemblage artist). I never felt like I made work that only fits into the realm of photography. Yes, the insider perspective is important and hopefully our elaborate titles draw the viewer into understanding the subject a little better.
ND: I think they are the inspiration or the ideas we have about them and their work. And we’re allowing ourselves to bounce from that. We interact as though they really are what we know of them from historical documentations and stories and of course all of these fragments combined together of truths and lies mold into an imaginary friend that I call “Ed Ruscha” or “Michael Heizer”. In fact Mike and I do group therapy together on Thursday afternoons and take smoke breaks leaning against our shotguns. They are heroic figures in a parental kind of way to me so to speak – they are teaching us as we look at what they did and are still doing – and I think that sets them up for us to rebel against – harass – question – critique – in a harsher way than when an actual piece of work is being realized. But now we can critique that work in a different context given time and space – and maybe we can find out something about our selves by doing something different or the same – learn. And while I write this I bet we’re still kind of doing it all the same even in our rebellion. The question I might ask myself while looking at one of these people would be – why am I in love with these men that blow up things and have egos the size of Texas – or wish they had Texas to use as an art space all for themselves? Okay well – maybe if I were being honest my answer might be– I like that kind of person – they went out there and created a work and made something happen that can be seen from space! I’m not just interested in the physical change of the land created through these earthworks but the concept of change through social and psychological levels.
JR: It has always been a joke between my close friends that I have a California aesthetic about my work. If you combined Ed Ruscha (his conceptual approach, artist’s books, love of swimming pools) and Wayne Thiebaud (his use of seductive & desirous objects and dessert) would it equal Jacinda Russell? I have spent the last year trying to answer this question. As far as where my interest in earthworks comes from, I’ve always been fascinated by the journey – the road trip, the path that takes one away from the traditional art space usually involving a “story.” I am from the West and these artworks are intrinsically tied to the land I know and love. I’m interested in decay and deterioration – all of these things merge together and inspire me to search for these environmental pieces that usually require getting lost to find them.
TS: Though we here at rr2 use the term “rural” a bit loosely (Houston is hardly rural), how does working outside of the major art centers (Chicago / LA / New York) affect your practice?
JR: I am deeply affected by living in a rural community. Residing in Indiana is so far from what I know yet the biggest advantage is proximity to places I’ve never been or cities that weren’t as accessible living in the Pacific Northwest (Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Minneapolis, etc.). Yes, it’s cheaper but I continually yearn for something bigger so I leave constantly – making art pilgrimages on a regular basis.
ND: I like to think that because I have spent most of my time at the following address growing up: Rt. 14 Box 375. I qualify as RURAL wherever I go. I think this is the hardest question for me considering I’ve never worked in those major art centers. But I’m thrilled to hear there is more than one. I think I can do things (like this project) that would never be possible if I was trying to have a life in one of these other areas just based on economics. I wouldn’t have the same support or the space that I feel I have in Houston. I think of places like Clemson, South Carolina that Jacinda and I just went to for the second show of this project and all I see are the endless possibilities and freedom in those kinds of towns. I think Houston has that kind of opportunity, that same feel for me. I think this question is something I will be asking along with the next one to artists that live here and in smaller areas. I’m not sure that we all have the same opportunities to live in one of these three places – and I think for many this is not a choice most have the privilege of making when considering survival and making art. I love Houston, H-Town is where it’s at for me and I’m thrilled to be here making work without a major struggle to survive.
TS: Do you see your role as an artist differently if/when you are outside of that structure, or do you in spite of location feel as though you are able to still operate within it?
ND: The reality for me is this – I’m not sure if anyone is really outside of the structure any more. I think technology is the structure or if not – it is definitely changing it. I think this is a question we were considering when we decided to create a live blog and tweet. It was about giving access and being accessible. I think we were able to accomplish both and that means something more than just functioning in a specific location.
JR: Yes I feel like I am still able to operate within it though I do miss the larger art community that simply doesn’t exist in Muncie, Indiana.
for another perspective on an answer to this question, see this essay Jacinda wrote in Art Lies: http://www.artlies.org/article.php?id=1722&issue=61&s=1]
I’ll keep this simple… what’s next (as a pair, as individuals)?
JR: We are heading to the UK! We want to investigate a few avenues: the places where Hamish Fulton and Richard Long made their walking pieces and the ancient monolithic structures that inspired many of the earthwork artists in the 1970s. I have always envisioned the earthworks project in three phases. The first was the American West. The second is the United Kingdom and the third is making our own earthwork in Australia.
ND: I keep thinking we will do something that is relaxing – a beach vacation or something – but then Jacinda would go out and float a cake and I would want to do some synchronized swimming and we would be back to work.