Horn, Marie, "Too Thick to Chew", The Athenaeum, January/February 1993, Vol. 16, No. 1, p 2
TOO THICK to CHEW the Aphasic Works
On-site installation by Richard Keely and Lynne Hendrick : Marie Horn interviews the artists
MH: HOW DO YOU PLACE THIS IN THE CONTEXT OF CONTEMPORARY ART?
LH, RK: This piece is considered "installation" art. Installation artists consider the entire space and ambiance of a room when creating a work. Installations are more about an "experience" as opposed to being about a singular decorative object that hangs traditionally on a wall for viewing.
MH: CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AESTHETIC AND CONCEPTUAL LEVELS?
LH, RK: Our work, both individually and collaboratively, is very physical. In other words, we are very "materials" conscious because that is where our aesthetic lies. We both come from painting backgrounds and believe that it informs our sensitivity to luscious and sensual mediums. So it is important to us for the work to first be visual before becoming intellectualized.
MH: COULD WE EXAMINE THE CONCEPTUAL ASPECT OF THE WORK?
LH, RK: First of all, the work consists of multiple layers of meaning, not just one. Although the layers are related and meant to speak to one another, this is also where the mystery lurks and is the thing that makes it difficult to articulate in a simple "one-line" manner. This is very uncomfortable for some. All of us tend to want order in our understanding of things. But it is our conviction as artists that good work retain some of the mystery, or "ambiguity" if you want to call it something else.
As simply put as is possible, this piece makes a metaphorical observation about the dilemma of contemporary society in categorizing and storing rapidly increasing volumes of information.
Another layer speaks to the "music and arts" aspect of the library itself. There is an irony in the written record of a visual artwork. There is, by necessity, a loss of the "complete" experience of that work. The complete "physical" experience of a piece of music, for example, is very different when the piece is actually heard as opposed to the experience of that same piece if simply read about. This is where the parallel of "aphasia" comes into this work. Aphasics have lost their ability to use or understand the spoken or written word, although their minds and memories are completely in tact. They deal with their world in the abstract and primarily on a sensual level; texture, color, smell, sound, etc. In fact, an interesting fact about Aphasics is that some tend to sing. It is their only access to language.
MH: COULD YOU DISCUSS YOUR CHOICE OF THE TITLE?
LH, RK: "Too Thick to Chew" is a poetic metaphor that suggests the inability to digest massive quantities of information, and also a metaphor for an Aphasic's inability to deal with the abstract nature of language.
MH: COULD YOU EXPLAIN THE SHELF?
LH, RK: We have made language, the necessary medium of the library, into an abstract jumble of symbols (the way an Aphasic sees language). Metaphorically, we have made "volumes" of language that cannot be accommodated on a "too-narrow" support system of shelving that is inadequate to hold it. Language becomes vulnerable as it falls to the floor and breaks, while at the same time asserting itself as an entity to be reckoned with by the fact that it has made a mess on the floor that is often in the way.
On a visual and aesthetic level, we see the shelf and the language on it as a beautiful abstract white on white texture. We also wanted to incorporate the language and it's vulnerabilities throughout the entire library, so we basically "drew a line" around the interior perimeter of the space. We see the shelf as a 3-dimensional drawing.
MH: CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE TANKS?
LH, RK: The tanks, too, have multiple layers of meaning. They definitely speak of containment, the containment of "volumes" of information. One tank is filled with microfilm from libraries. Suspended in water and sealed within the tanks, it alludes to a sense of attempted preservation, while at the same time alluding to a sense of toxic danger. There is a "cold" blue feel to that tank - "cold" like the microfilm within it. It almost looks like a chunk of frozen ice.
The other tanks feels "warm" and is filled with discarded books from the Atheneaum. We grew colorful mold on them, which alludes to decay. But on the other hand, coming from a painting background, we appreciate that tank as being very beautiful and aesthetic. There is a warm feeling of nostalgia and empathy for the beauty of the books. The unique humanized space of the Athenaeum is perfect for this tank.
MH: WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE PROCESS OF CREATING THIS WORK?
LH, RK: We have worked on this piece for about 4-5 months, including the conception phase. We have been casting plaster letters for 3 months; someone figured it out to be around 175,000 upper and lower case letters. We couldn't even begin to count them. The shelving was all custom fitted to the space. We had aquarium experts build the initial glass tanks from our specs (so they could safely hold that much water), and then we manipulated the surfaces and custom built the steel frames ourselves.
It is important for us to build all the parts ourselves. We don't want machines making flawless perfect everything - there is no humanity in the objects that way. We like flaws.
MH: YOU SPEAK OF THIS INSTALLATION AS ONE IN A SERIES OF INSTALLATIONS ON THE SUBJECT OF APHASIA. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THIS?
LH, RK: We have found many interesting parallels between the condition of aphasia and the abstract form and nature of language. Therefore, we are energized by a larger exploration of this subject, and plan to continue "The Aphasic Works."
We feel the library is the perfect place to begin this exploration of language in the abstract, and are very pleased to have had the opportunity to work in such an incredibly beautiful and "non-institutionalized" space.
Marie Horn, curator, Athenaeum Music and Arts Library