Richard Höglund is an American artist. Here, we talk about his new exhibition at Gallery Diet, Hysterical. Sublime., which engages cognitive mapping and pursuing the sublime through repetitive labor. He will have a performance at Dimensions Variable tonight (Thursday, January 5th). Hysterical. Sublime. opens tomorrow.
So where were these photos taken?
The photos were taken in different places. This is Viðey, the island in Reykyavik harbor, and this one is Crans, near a Swiss ski resort. These two were taken somewhere over Utah with a very large telephoto lens.
What about this text?
In these two smaller pieces, we have text that was written during the course of a day or two days, for twelve hours a day – just pushing out the thoughts that come into your head. In the beginning it’s a bit convoluted because you know what you’re going to do, but after half an hour, you start to push out everything. It’s really quite therapeutic, meditative, and labor-intensive as well. And you can’t break it.
So we have these notions of the sublime as recounted by Burke or Kant, that naturalist sublime is really nice, ‘I love it, I want to find it.’ But nowadays we don’t talk about it like that, because the opposition that once existed between city and nature was quite clear. You lived in dirty, industrial London and then you left it. You could isolate yourself.
Any research will tell you that the sublime experience is based on the pain/pleasure paradox. It’s a negative experience in the way that you’re crushed by this colossal force.
…At the center of the Sublime object is the will to destroy the subject.
Exactly. It has to have that imminent sense of life threatening danger. The show title is from the first few pages of Jameson’s huge bible of Postmodernism. He talks about the Hysterical Sublime, I began to think about the abyss not being something without, that we’re on the brink of, but something within. Well, that’s interesting enough, but there’s the problem of representing the sublime. You can’t re-present it. It’s an experiential knowledge. It’s not something we can discuss unless everyone has their own knowledge of it.
So what I want to do is oppose this within and without. I wanted to have these quite photographs. They’re taken on film; they have an older quality to them. It’s what we’d expect from someone delving into notions of the Sublime. But underneath are these drawings that are about repetitive labor. This labor is always associated with meditation. Work creates happiness in that it hollows out our insides, which makes room for a void. That would be the precipice that creates the Sublime experience.
These marks could be words or a pencil line. I’ve decided upon a shape that could become the void in the drawing. So formally, I flatten that perspective. Depth is what reminds us of the Sublime experience-the infinite, the profound. So these things are flattened, but somehow rearticulated through the demonstration of labor.
Are the terms Hysteria and Sublime gendered in anyway? Sublime has these very lofty connotations of nation building, whereas a stable of psychoanalysis is that hysteria begins when the phallus stops.
There is an inherent opposition in the two terms, and that’s why I liked them being used together. But Jameson’s use doesn’t seem to imply gender. But any other use of hysteria…I mean, hysteria comes from the Greek word from the womb. So it’s always been gender associative. There’s a great book about this, “Hysteria Beyond Freud.” But I was talking to a friend who also brought up this gender issue. And I guess we could get into it, but in the way that Jameson just kind of left it out, I think I’ll leave it out as well. I don’t think it was really an issue for me.
I was thinking about that today while looking at some Antony Gormley sculptures with my students at New World. Their conceptual interest in the project was about discussing universal terms, but they were being very specific about representing the human figure. Gormley says that if you want to deal with universality, you have to deal with the human figure. So when he deals with the figure, he leaves enough of a projection space for you to identify yourself in the piece. He’s using himself, so in doing so, he’s not selecting. However, the guy’s a man. So when he does the full body cast, it’s clear that…he’s a man. So if you’re a woman, I don’t know how much of that projection space still exists. Is that eternal universality something you can grasp onto when you’re looking at a Gormley?
I’m interested in your repetitive act, be it the automatic writing or the tallymarks. When dealing with the sublime, it seems like there would be the law of diminishing returns. If I go and stand on a mountaintop above some mist, I’ll encounter the sublime the first time. But the next time, only because of my previous experience, the high won’t be as great. It’s like smoking crack.
…I was talking to somebody about LSD last night. He said, ‘well I’ve done it about 15 times. If I was offered it again, I probably wouldn’t bother.’
…But the repetitive act in our culture is one that is usually equal. You hit the button and it has the same effect. How does repetitive labor translate into the murky metaphysical landscape of the sublime?
In repetition, there is the horrible, mechanical infinite, which almost touches on the sublime. But there is also difference, which we talk about. For me, the hatch mark is counting. I love how time is cumulative, but it’s also a unit. We watch the units go by: 1,1,1,1,1,1. There’s just this infinite present.
To create an infinite present, one pen stroke would have to add something and the next would have to subtract it. Continual negation is needed to stay on that plateau.
You know why you’re making it. You’re very conscious that you’ve done some work, and that you have some work to do. But it’s a bit like Spinoza’s immortality. ‘I’m perhaps conscious that I will die, but I know myself as immortal.’ I think I’ll finish the work at some point, but for now…
You have these dense, automatic fields of graphite, but you have these other drawings that are more cartographic.
These drawings are closer to the history of my practice. It’s established in notions of how to exteriorize thought. I was touched by this Mel Bochner quote: “We take our thoughts from the accumulated rubble of any single moment of our mental state, and enter them into forms suitable for discourse.” We negate or deny the actual nature of this rubble in order to communicate it.
This is why the works are juxtaposed. You have the photograph and then the drawing underneath. The drawing is used to create an interior space. Whereas [with the larger drawings] we take something interior, thought, and exteriorize it. It looks cartographic because it’s a mapping of the multilevel process of thought. You have a chronology, you have perspective, you have different frameworks.
What’s been more successful for you? Internalizing the external, or externalizing the internal?
Externalizing the internal has become very natural for me. It started with studying semiology at MIT. I studied sign production. These new pieces are much more difficult. They have to be conceptualized.
You have to plan it, but it must exist below or above a plan.
Yes. It never resembles what I would have thought that it would.
What about this decision to paint a partial white ground onto the plywood? Earlier, you mentioned this binary between the city and nature. Is this related?
I was attracted by the odd formal qualities of the plywood. It’s not wood, but it is “wood.” It’s glued together bits. It reminds me of sedimentation, and that notion of time. I wanted to have a manufactured natural object.
So how to represent the sublime? Or present it?
The idea is not to represent the sublime, but to create an experience where I feel it but where the spectator has a labor which is similar to my labor of production.