Lincoln Lysager is a talented artist who works in various media and maintains a vast library and record collection at his home in Salt Lake City. He’s one of the most thoughtful people I know in every sense of the word. Since the beginning of my time as editor, I’ve been looking for an excuse to get him involved in this publication, of which he himself has been an early fan.
What follows is a conversation between Lincoln and Linda Frank, a Philly-based performance and body artist with Utah roots. Linda recently asked Lincoln to curate Flesh + Mesh, a multiplatform exhibition for The Space Program, a series Linda created with Lilly Ramirez a little more than a year ago. The show runs March 20 through March 31 at the Icebox Project Space in Philadelphia.
Particularly timely within all this is Linda and Lincoln’s discussion of the work of Carolee Schneeman, who died just a few days ago on March 6. Known to the larger world perhaps best for her seminal Meat Joy at the Judson Church, Schneeman was a revolutionary feminist artist whose voice will be sorely missed in many circles. Lincoln and Linda also mention her Site, which references Manet’s Olympia. For another look at Manet’s Olympia, check out our December digest...
The images below were created by Linda, the first one right below here is a portrait of Lincoln, the others are the other artists Lincoln is working with. Enjoy!
– Samuel Hanson, editor
Linda Frank: In viewing the plans for Flesh + Mesh I am reminded of 9 evenings: theatre & engineering, a series of performances developed between technology and art in 1966, initiated by, among others, Robert Rauchenberg. 9 Evenings spanned October 13 through 23 of that year, so roughly the same amount of proposed time as the intended duration for Flesh + Mesh. I am curious how this pairing of theatre and engineering might be reflected in the concept for this show: flesh and mesh.
Lincoln Lysager: Well as far as the positioning of flesh and mesh within theatre and engineering, it made me think of –– here I go on the spot –– the time span of theatre is kind of enclosed within itself so you have this durational aspect of certain time frames, and then that space has been carefully engineered so it has very specific parameters. So flesh and mesh is more abstract in the sense of a theme.
You have an idea of the flesh, the corporeal, and the mesh –– obviously there’s a time element there as well, but how that can actually operate within the space will be changing, and instead of one evening or nine evenings we’ve got two weeks, so there’s a connection in the amount of time and then the engineering element of course, being something that’s largely in place before the show but then set into play throughout the actual show itself.
[In 1966, they were] addressing technology and art and theatre and engineering, which at the time I think was still largely developing in the popular sense of the term, like the passive experience of theatre from the spectators part was like, oh, I’m going to see the show, and this is the point where the elements behind all of that and the elements that are included in the presentation are asking the viewer to take that into account, and so there’s a point where people are asked to engage and acknowledge things outside of the passive elements of spectatorship, and I think that that’s definitely something that Flesh + Mesh will address. It’s going to incorporate any visitor into that larger interaction of the technical elements [at play]. I think the passivity part is going to be challenged. Which is a big part of my own personal subjective as far as trying to position things in such a way that they interact so that the visitor will be made aware of the body in that space.
Repeat that, please. Position things...
I’d like to have a situation where the works on offer will be relating in ways that overlap and that space will be moving through it all in such a way that they’re made aware of themselves in that space and in relationship to a number of different pieces.
So there’s a growing bodily awareness...
The [usual] passive element of “I’m going to stand in front of this and then on to the next”, won’t be so straightforward. The piece that you’re presenting uses this large scrim or screen. Finding a way into that will require an element of participation, breaking down that barrier between passively looking and engaging.
Reduced passivity, basically, and activation of bodily awareness, in sort of unsuspecting ways as you walk through or travel through the show?
Sure, and with the variety of programming we’ve got going on, with different types of performances, different bodily senses will be triggered, which may mean that at the same time that someone is engaging with one piece they may be made aware of other things going around them. And so you’ll sort of be pulled in different directions. Even as you’re trying to focus on one thing. Which makes you more aware of your own body and how you’re interacting with other bodies.
I think in a lot of Space Program shows we’ve really been interested in moving away from the walls and activating the space itself. Being between a time-based project and performance but being seen within the realm of visual art. And I think that what you’ve described is being engaged simultaneously by all of your senses, in this arena where we’re trying to pull away from the white walls and white cube space, where there are different lighting moments that can maybe speak to the activation of structure within structure, bodies within space...
And bodies within bodies. Because the way that you’ve presented your work and what I’ve gathered from other proposals is this notion of simultaneously trying to figure out who you are and what you are through issues of identity, but also addressing the larger context of the space. You’re presenting work that is going to be changing over the space of time that the show is up, and you have the photographic elements [what you’re calling] “Set in Stone” that is gathering these images over time. If you try to say, what’s going on with this show, it’s a series of processes, and someone can enter at a particular moment, but it’s happening on a number of different levels. Hopefully those involved, both the artists and those visiting, will be aware of that, or made aware of it once they enter the space, and that should change the way that they interact with the work. Once again it’s the difference between passively engaging and realizing that for the duration of your time in that space you’re a participant.
I think we’re also abstracting structures that are used alongside our bodies now: these screens that we’re constantly looking at, these devices. But screens are acting as different planes within the show and I think perhaps we’re using some literal mesh or fabric to constitute what is mechanical and unfamiliar but has taken the place of what might be more familiar about fabric than device.
What is used to adorn? I’ve thought a lot about clothing as the most, one of the most apparent forms of mesh that we use everyday. To present ourselves or to protect ourselves. You have flesh within the mesh of what is worn…
To protect and present ourselves.
Yeah, and so the mesh element is open to so many interpretations. It’s made me more aware of just how many times we utilize mesh for different reasons: the element of containment. Also the porous nature of it, you know. So there’s the utilitarian aspect of mesh, but also the issue of choosing what type of mesh and how that allows for the flesh to perform in certain ways. When we’re thinking of ourselves we have to face bodily awareness, but then the mesh that we choose to interface in, in the screen-way of technology, gadgets and communication. We’re making all of these collective choices about how we’re presenting within that, but then there’s the baseline of the flesh within it. We are often less conscious of that than we are other things. I think that’s an interesting interface, there’s the flesh and then there’s the mesh, the larger interaction with the world. How we’re made aware of bodily functions is often lost in the larger mesh.
In terms of what you’re saying about our interactions with the larger world, it’s worth mentioning scale. How do we scale these structures within this giant space? Also how do we make them more personal, relating to the body as an architectural structure? What do these forms signify in history? A lot of these structures are actually taken from theatrical uses. In developing these structures we’ve discussed the oval, and potentially having a second story to the oval and even having the screens move up to the second story, once that iteration takes form, it might be mimicking Shakespearean theatre in which you would look down on a performance from a balcony and be within an arena. Thinking about how performance might activate that space or how the structures inform what is contained, and how the work itself informs the structure and if that relationship is symbiotic.
A lot of times that depends on how that relationship is formed, once again the idea of theatre, whether theatre in the round or these square presentations we’re more accustomed to nowadays. You enter that space and suddenly you’re more aware of your role as a participant. Performing or observing, and if you blur the lines then you realize, oh, I’m in this space as a participant, am I performing myself within the space as a part of this so-called art experience? Which is made further explicit once you’re aware of yourself being documented by a camera. That element will be there in this case as well. The architecture of the space makes you aware of that historical tradition of, oh, this feels like a stage set, and so that further complicates the use of these spaces. There is an interesting dynamic there as far as the intent I may have as a curator or what the performers or the artists have in trying to negate the white cube. Or from the institutional structure, it begs the question, where are we going? Are we trying to get out of a narrative or how much of this organized social experience is inescapable? And any time you have event in a kind of public arena there’s an expectation of what is happening in that space. Being made aware of ourselves as participants in these kinds of structures might make us more aware of what it is that we’re doing there and what it is that we expect of these things. And we have to learn from that. Once again, I think that has to start within acknowledging your own autonomy or lack thereof within a space. Which goes back to the idea, are you passive or not? Are you just going to passively absorb, or actively be aware of what it is that you’re doing there.
That takes me back to learning how to develop these structures with our structural engineer, Keiron De Nobriga. We talked about making a little model to scale so that we could look at what your proposed plan was and talk about how the objects would look with each other. But what you’re saying of your interactions with the larger world outside of the Icebox, outside of that space, is about the interactions that come from everything being scaled down. We are bodies that are relating to these structures in this space but what about this dollhouse, what about the model of this space that is made to give us an indication of what it’s going to look like or how to build it? And then we looked into the history of dollhouses and originally they were meant to display your wealth. The original doll houses were called cabinet houses and they were developed mainly in Germany and Holland in the seventeenth century, and they were meant to display your wealth on a smaller scale, and show everything as it was. They were made for adults.
Made for dolls or adults? [Laughter.]
Adults. Which translate to Nuremberg kitchens, which were made for young girls of privilege to take charge in their homes as the lady of the house and learn how to order the servants around. In the show we have this kitchen scene, with me and Tess’ performance we will be interacting with participants, interpreting and projecting and opening up to interpretation what is happening to your senses. What is arising from the performances contained in and out of the participants view? How can we engage in interpretation without becoming “sensorially absented”.
That’s interesting, the idea of the dollhouse and also the invitation to play with what happens in that kind of space. There’s a difference between the dollhouse and the theatre. You’re performing different roles. In the theatre it’s made more explicit through the use of a script or a score of course that’s developed and changed over time as well. It also reminds me of the tradition of the cabinets of curiosity, which once again were a status symbol. Who’s privileged to have the dollhouse in which to practice becoming the master? Now that’s an interesting arena. I think that’s also a good space to envision your own awareness of what it is you’re viewing as a participant in this realm in our contemporary culture. What are you doing when you have the opportunity to engineer a space? What are you going to include? What are you going to exclude? What’s the nature of the relationship between the engineer and the people that are going to be interacting with what it is you’ve engineered?
Quite often you enter all these different spaces all day long, and within the realm of architecture and quite often people aren’t even aware of the motives behind everything they take for granted.
You’re just in a building. It’s warm, it’s comfortable, or it may be comfortable, it may not be. But when you’re put into a situation where you’re passing through a very exclusively engineered space, you might become more aware of that process. You make this model or miniature and then what happens to that? You know the model is that first stage of “how does this look?” We imagine the finished space by making a model of it. So that’s part of an ongoing process. Even when you have the finished space, if you’re engineering it, you start to see what you might have done differently or you’re surprised by how something works especially well. That’s the result of actually getting to work on something built to scale: starting to see what works and what doesn’t, we’re constantly finding that what we had imagined to be successful or worthwhile might need to be altered or changed according to circumstance. Or we find things that we’ve taken for granted that might have a different new use. I guess I say some of that in relationship to the idea of the white cube and getting away from the white walls and that process. You have to acknowledge also what was the original value of having that space and what is it that we’re trying to escape. Escape the walls. The wall is still a perimeter. It’s still there. [Laughter.] It’s just how we envision ourselves in relationship to that.
When I think about these things as far as being a curator or whatever –– in preparing for the interview –– I keep coming back to multiple meanings of words. “Model” comes up, there’s the scale model of something you’re building and then there’s the idea of modeling something you want to become, role models, all these different multiplicities, and then there’s the problem of language...
Yes, the problem of language it’s a big one.
That seems to be a big part of what’s contemporary in art. All these proposals coming in and a lot of them have to do with questions of identity or definitions. I think that’s where you get a lot of possibility but a lot problems as well, because identity is quite often larger in its function and its lived experience than the definitions. Those are the spaces that people seem to be preoccupied with currently.
Between identifying and defining...
Acknowledging the dynamic range at play there. You can only define something as long as it remains definable. I think we’ve been in a process of redefining ourselves in the world, as far as we mean identity politics, as far as gender goes, or in terms of understanding ourselves as participants in nation states. Who are we in our own personal bodies? Who are we when we interact with the internet, computer or phones? It seems like people are in a process of constantly working within definitions that become more unstable. For a lot of people that creates a kind of anxiety. Some are comfortable with it and and some don’t want to acknowledge it at all, but it does seem to be a very relevant aspect of the nature of the show that we’re putting out there. The flesh and all that it entails and then the larger mesh of our interactions with objects, our interactions with ourselves and with each other, and becoming more aware of what that all really is.
In establishing muses to situate the viewer within Flesh + Mesh, there’s an associated instagram account that I started for the show and it’s based on a model named Victorine Meurant, Olympia from Manet’s famous painting of that name. Thinking about how this model was used in numerous paintings, but not really recognized as an artist herself, I suppose my question revolves around whether Flesh + Mesh draws from any historical references like the work Site performed by Robert Morris and Carolee Schneemann. Victorine Meurant is known as one art-historical Olympia, and Carolee Schneemann and Robert Morris did a performance where Morris obscured and revealed Schneemann, who was lounging naked as Olympia herself. Morris wears a white mask and white clothing. The performance is in front of a curtain. It takes place at Judson Memorial Church in the early sixties, which makes it very much site specific.
I know that she was invited to participate in what was going on with Judson and was invited to interact with this Morris, which is interesting in the context of her then being obscured by the mask and then becoming the model within this collaboration with Morris. And of course the piece people remember now, also done at Judson, is Meat Joy. I found this interesting quote from her about Meat Joy:
“Meat Joy has the character of an erotic rite: excessive, indulgent, a celebration of flesh as material, raw fish, chickens, sausages, wet paint, transparent plastic, rope, brushes, paper scraps. It’s propulsion is toward the ecstatic –– shifting and turning toward tenderness, wildness, precision, abandon: qualities that could at any moment be sensual, comic, joyous, repellent. Physical equivalences are enacted as a psychic and imagistic intensity by the energy complement of the audience. (They were seated on the floor as close to the performance as possible, encircling, resonating.) Our proximity heightened between performer and audience.”
And how is that relevant? I found that in a talk she was giving in which she was talking about her own history as an artist within a larger establishment, you know, as a result of her bodily works and the confusion of what was pornopgrahic and what wasn’t. The larger establishment didn’t even want anything to do with her. They didn’t want to acknowledge her larger body of work or her paintings or any of these other things and she was kind of ostracized as a result of that until fairly recently. People in positions of power have decided, okay, well we’re going to rearrange our understanding of history and include Schneemann now...
That says a lot about who is in a position to have the final say over some of these things, and how much that is a part of a larger script that has been literally written by art historians and the academy and everything else and the ongoing situation in that world. In the world of the museums, the schools, etcetera. Who gets to curate things, and how that affects everything else in terms of how things are situated...
Situated in establishing standards….
Also, what is lost. For me when you made the invitation to curate the show. I was simply reminded of the original definition of the curator and by extension the word curae, and the curate of course being a cleric, assisting a lector or a victor, and the other definition being a cleric in charge of a parish. And so, going back to a religious kind of worldview or way of being… As we’ve moved across time into more secular arenas, art has suddenly started to become a replacement for organized religion or a way to experience the sublime. So going back to the Schneemann quote, “Meat Joy having a character of the erotic...”
Erotic rite. A ritual, you know aiming towards the ecstatic. By enacting some kind of rite maybe you can go to the end of her quote in which she talks about transgressing the polarity between performer and audience. So everyone then becomes a part of this experience. Which transcends everything else. And that’s the moment where you can kind of escape all of these things that we try to hard to define once it’s all over. So a part of my role in Flesh + Mesh is trying to leave space open. When you asked me to curate I said, oh dear, I thought, in what capacity? There’s so many ways of curating something. One of the things I really liked about the invitation was that you had a theme already in mind that I got to participate in.