Speak Speak: John Chwekun

Every month, Grizzly Grizzly posits questions to our exhibiting artists as part of our new Speak Speak series.  Speak Speak provides big picture questions, designed to give context to each artist’s show and to serve as an entry point for conversation.

We hope that you will enter the conversation and give us your thoughts as well.

This month, Grizzly Grizzly member Jacque Liu speaks with exhibiting artist, John Chwekun.  John’s work is nationally exhibited and published.  He received an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2007, and currently lives in San Diego, CA.

June 2012

1. How does pre-existing matter influence art today?  How will it influence art in the future?

Thought is malleable in a way that matter isn’t and vice versa. I cannot address one without the other and hope to grow.  Also, you cannot make something from nothing. If we are to engage the non-theoretical, then we must collaborate with what already is. I can only imagine that this will always be true.

John Chwekun. Untitled (with hand for scale), 2012. Nylon. 9″ x 8″ x 5″.

I think we are all interested in addressing the intangible – in what we take with us when we set everything down, but there is no content without form. Nor form without content. I hesitate to write such exceptionless phrases, but artists need carriers of our messages if they are to be received. Whatever form the art does take, it is precisely the form that viewers meet first.  Then, they may have access to content. Consider one of Yoko Ono’s pieces from her book Grapefruit.

Think that snow is falling.

Think that snow is falling everywhere

all the time.

When you talk with a person, think

that snow is falling between you and

on the person.

Stop conversing when you think the

person is covered by snow.

It could be argued that the medium Yoko is manipulating to artistic ends is thought itself, and that language here is her tool. If this is the case, then it must be shared to exist (i.e. enter in to a recipient’s counciousness for the thought-art to occur). For this occurrence to be possible, the immaterial content has to be delivered to us via material. There must be ink on a page, an electronic interface, vibrating carbon dioxide molecules coming out of someone’s mouth, etc.

What kinds of pre-existing matter are employed impacts how the work is understood because it impacts what the work is.  One cannot sing a Picasso. Try it out if you like, but you’d be turning it into something else, and by translating it in this way you become the work’s author instead of Pablo. These choices about how to bring things into the realm of actuality are a fundamental part of the crafting of art.

Michael Heizer. Double Negative. 1969-70.

Michael Heizer uses bulldozers to dig a hole (which couldn’t be perceived as such without all the surrounding dirt).  He didn’t create a negative space. He revealed it by moving all of that dirt out of the way. Heizer chose to use heavy construction machinery to deliver artful emptiness into our consciousnesses.

When I first got serious about art-making I used to begin with ideas, only and always. I served them and went though whatever processes were necessary to bring the things into being that I felt best embodied those ideas.  I love ideas (some of them), but there are so many other ways to meet the world and to be with things. I can think about my bed, look at it, sleep in it, jump on it, etc.

John Chwekun. Untitled. 2011. Terracotta. 1″ x 16″ x 16″.

In the last few years I have become increasingly interested in other ways (in addition to thought) of addressing what is real- what was there before I had thoughts about it and what will remain afterwards. I want to serve more than ideas.  I am interested in paying attention to all of the ways I meet the world. I hope my work reflects that.

2. What role does pattern play within contemporary art?

John Chwekun. Untitled. 2012. Nylon. 8″ x 9″ x 11″.

To perceive a pattern is to have some understanding of how several things, or parts of things, relate to each other and perhaps other things. We would not be able to make sense of the world without this ability. There are patterns of thought, behavior, planetary movement, cellular structure, patterns on all of my underpants… clearly the list goes on.

Within art or outside of it, patterns are always there for us to discover, whether we recognize them or not. Though it is necessarily present in art (as it is in all things) pattern is often not a primary concern in a work of art. This is up to both artist and viewer. Though it may or may not be a priority within the context of a particular work, if I look at a canvas and see threads intersecting at ninety degree angles, feel the recorded rhythm of an artist’s tool repeatedly meeting the work, or notice organically ordered wood grain in the chair I’m sitting in, I have to take these patterns into account as contributing members of a larger structure and each becomes part of the piece’s meaning for me.


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