Praxis Makes Perfect

Topography of Time


Standing on a Brooklyn pier, I am staring out at the East River and thinking about plaster. Specifically, I am thinking about a plaster wall piece by Anthony Pearson that I recently saw at Marianne Boesky Gallery. In the piece titled Unititled (Plaster Positive), a rippling horizontal band moves through its bottom half and feels reminiscent of a timeline. It could also be interpreted as the aerial or topographic view of a river. Perhaps, I now realize, those views are actually one and the same.

Untitled (Plaster Positive), 2013, Hydrocal in lacquer finished maple frame, 30.75 x 60.5 x 3 inches, 78.1 x 153.7 x 7.6 cm

Anthony Pearson. “Untitled (Plaster Positive),” 2013, Hydrocal in lacquer finished maple frame, 30.75 x 60.5 x 3 in. Courtesy of Marianne Boesky Gallery.

With this month’s theme of hindsight in mind, I return to this idea of the timeline and the personal associations made with Pearson’s abstract form. In my mind, the form symbolizes an honest representation of the unfolding of time: a linear path that rarely feels straight, varied in depth and undulating. At least, I consider this to be true, especially when looking back at my own trajectory since finishing graduate school.

Right now, small but poignant anniversaries run deep. It was two years ago that I graduated from Cranbrook in Michigan, and this month marks a year of contributing to Art21. As I revisit past columns, I realize what a whirlwind this year has been—one dominated by travel for residencies, shows, projects, and short-term contracts. It’s been almost a month now since I made the move to New York, bringing the roving period to a close as I happily start to dig my feet into some Brooklyn soil.

Looking back, I recognize that this path has been anything but straight. At times, I lost my footing as I scrambled to bridge the gap from one project or place to the next. Yet, undeniably, the current was always moving forward—surprising me with its innate sense of flow. Going after what I thought I wanted, I came to discover what I really needed. Throughout, I’ve been consistently blown away by a supportive and encouraging network of artists always willing to lend a hand, a place to stay, a resource. Many of these bonds were formed during those countless hours in the graduate studios, forming the core of an ever-expanding and interwoven community dedicated to paying it forward.

The press release for Pearson’s show describes his studio practice as one “that pushes through drawing, photography, painting and sculpture to arrive at something simultaneously ancient and futuristic.” His process is intriguing, as he has continually embraced new materials and processes—from “photochemical play” to wood, plaster, metal and wood—to introduce expansions of both scale and form. Returning to his Plaster Positives, I recognize an evolved form that feels organic yet highly finished, boundless yet calculated. I think the same could be said for the very concept of time. It feels omniscient, in a way—always watching over us, accompanying history as both a measure of the past and the framework for a calculated future.

More often than not, I’d argue that most struggle with the weight of time’s presence. Younger, faster, better. As artists establishing careers and seeking balance, there is a sense of urgency in pushing things forward (especially while you’re still Younger Than Jesus, though rumor has it birth dates have been known to change). In my own recent experience, I worried that my ambulatory practice was taking time away from the experience of connecting with and investing in a place. But on the other hand, the experience of movement served as its own sort of research period and means of connection, fostering intimate experiences with artists working around the country.

Untitled (5th Avenue)

Erin Sweeny. “Untitled (5th Avenue),” 2013.

Sorting through the details of settling here, I feel a surprising sense of calm despite how overwhelming the city can be. Perhaps it is, in part, because of the sequence of events leading up to this time. While I could never have predicted how the past year would unfold, I believe that the opportunities and people involved have played an integral part in facilitating a soft landing now that I’ve arrived. As recent events and the steady flow of the river continue to remind me—all in good time.