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KHSU's October 9, 2014, Art Waves on "Graphic Alchemy – LTX3."



Program Host – Wendy Butler: Thank you for staying with KHSU on your Tuesday, October 14th 2014.  I am Wendy Butler and for the next one-half hour, it’s "Art Waves." The art of history, the necessity of preservation, new discoveries created through a blend of the old. These ideas are part of the multiple-year project that is at present showcased in "Graphic Alchemy, Low Tide Exhibit 3". Thousands of reprinted images from scientific engineering and historical documentation of Humboldt Bay. The exhibit is available for viewing at the Grouse Building, 437 F Street, Eureka, through November 2nd. My guests are the Berlin, Germany-based artist, Scott Holmquist and his collaborators Martin Duespohl, who is an historian and museum director in Berlin, and Carolyn Jones, who resides here in Bayside and is this project’s coordinator.

Scott begins with the beginning.

Scott Holmquist: This project started because I could not find a picture book about Humboldt Bay. You look surprised. No one saw that on the radio, but it’s true. There is no book of pictures about Humboldt Bay and I was in Eureka working, finishing a series of books, and decided that I should make one about Humboldt Bay, and that’s how it started. I got the idea in 2009 and didn’t start work on it seriously until 2010 as a concept and didn’t begin the part that involved gathering graphic representations of the Bay until I was sure I had a long term partner here because I had moved to Berlin.

WB: You had moved from where to Berlin?

SH: I was from Eureka.

WB: Oh, you are originally from Eureka?

SH: No. I had come from New York to Eureka in order to complete a book project that I had started some years before.

WB: So, why would you come to Eureka to complete a book project?

SH: Because this book project concerns pot-growing communities in Southern Humboldt.

WB: Okay. I understand. You came to the right place, Humboldt County. Alright, but you were doing research as part of a degree or something when you were in New York?

SH: No.

WB: You just were interested in the idea? You were interested in the issue?

SH: I am a conceptual artist and I do long-term projects that usually end in the production of some kind of book and installations that accompany them.

WB: And you happen to be thinking about pot growing and where is a good place —

SH: No. I have friends from an earlier film project and I was visiting them for Canadian Thanksgiving and two weeks later I got a call back in New York and learned that their son who I had just seen the first time in many years had been murdered and that was the trigger to that project.

WB: So, you came here. At that time you did not know Martin?

SH: No.

WB: But you came here first and then you met and started — you became fascinated with the idea of the Bay, Humboldt Bay, and you wanted to do something conceptual with it? Some kind of installation — and could not find...

SH: No. At first I just wanted to buy a book with pictures of the Bay and leave, but I couldn’t find that book. So I decided that I should make one. And I had what I thought was a great idea for a book that would involve collecting all of the documents that contained graphic representations of the Bay — and putting them all into one book.

WB: And then you thought of contacting Carolyn or Bug Press? Or how did this meeting occur?

SH: I worked with Bug Press to develop a micro-printing process that I used in a series of books that I did on Southern Humboldt and I decided I wanted to use that same technique. I met Carolyn through a book artist, Dorothy Swendmen, who is based here, who I had worked with and depended on for some technical advice, and they worked closely over the years. Dorothy recommended Carolyn. Another person I had worked with started organizing material and contacting people before Carolyn agreed to take it on as a long-term project because we knew, I knew, it was going to take years.

WB: And, Carolyn, you wanted to take this on as coordinator? Why did you want to get involved with a project such as this?

Carolyn Jones: It sounded like fun. It sounded interesting. I had met Scott. I knew his projects are interesting. I had seen his other work and it just sounded like fun and I had time.

WB: Did you have an interest yourself in understanding better about the resources of Humboldt Bay?

CJ: Probably not specifically but I do have a thing for archives and libraries, and books. I am a fan of the printed word. I’m not too much a part of the digital age, even though we’re digitizing everything.

WB: Not everything...

CJ: It was a great chance to dig around and learn a whole bunch about this place. I’ve lived here for 30 years and I found things that I really didn’t know about this place where I live, so, not just by reading documents but just by finding even where they exist.

WB: And when did Martin come into the picture? Go ahead, Martin.

Martin Duespohl: I met Scott Holmquist because he proposed an exhibition, a project for our museum using materials from our archives in the museum, Kreuzberg Museum in Berlin. And the project he proposed and suggested was very interesting for us, and it was bit innovative. So we used our floors and permanent exhibition but changed it completely and made it a complete different exhibition — but used the same objects and the same pictures for the works we have in our archives. That was the idea, and then we met and he told me on his previous work, like Low Tide and the Southern Humboldt one, so I was very interested in what he did here and so he invited me to come over and help a bit in the project and I must say, I like it. It’s a big experience for me.

WB: Talk a little bit about the process of collecting this material and what types of material you’ve collected because then I want to go into how you display it. So, anybody... We’ll start with Scott then.

SH: Well, I would like to say Carolyn knows more about how we, the royal we, collected because she’s been doing all the collecting here for quite a while. I decided that the kinds of materials that most interested me were reports and other documents produced for their information content more than to sell anything. The designs — and I guess someone cynical would say they are always designed to sell something, but I think that with older government reports, especially the graphics, especially the kind of decorative graphics are truer in a way to the subject separate from any kind of sales pitch. Those aesthetics I really like and wanted to amplify by multiplying their presentation and to try and get at something beyond either the kind of narcissism often of individual creative expression, and, on the other end, this kind of sex and death driven aesthetic of sensational art — and if we just stick with art and then the function of graphics to sell you a product or idea.

WB: So, the process of collecting all this, what sort of agencies and organizations, Carolyn, Scott, Martin, did you work with here locally to get this material?

CJ: Lots. We started out by contacting some fairly obvious ones: The Humboldt Room here was an obvious contact, The Historical Society, The Bay Keeper, The Maritime Museum; and then every place we went we found material, and we talked to people who sent us other places. And at this point we’ve contacted about between 30 and 35 different entities around the Bay, some private individuals, some are formal archives, some are storage rooms in the attic or the basement of an agency. Most of them are government entities, public entities. We’ve done Freedom of Information Act requests. Some of the stuff is digital that we’ve gone through online to find. Scott’s used the term radical archiving  for what we’re doing and I like that term because if I find it and it has any image about Humboldt Bay in it, we take it, and we don’t try to make judgments about whether or not it’s useful or valuable.

WB: This is called Low Tide X3, Graphic Alchemy?

SH: Exhibit, X-hibit three.

WB: “Low tide” meaning what you find when the tide is low. Tell a little bit more about the title if you could.

SH: Well, I think that what you said at first is right. I also was — not fascinated — amazed by these vast expanses of glistening surface, crevices and so forth, and large parts of the Bay when the tide was out. I kayaked to relax, at night usually, and I was just blown away by this endless surface when the tide was out. I thought it was beautiful.

WB: And “Graphic Alchemy,” well, alchemy having to do with creation making... “graphic alchemy”?

SH: “Graphic Alchemy,” taking lead, or profane, I guess another word is “profane,” metals and materials and producing a kind of gold or something sacred, and these kinds of documents about the Bay are in a way fundamentally profane. They’re the maps. They’re the diagrams. They’re the record of the space used to dominate it and exploit it, also eventually to restore this resource, this geography. I had this idea from the beginning, if you collect everything, every vibration associated with domination and exploitation of something and press it all together, you could create a kind of reversal of that force. I’m not sure what the reverse is, but hopefully it is better than what preceded it.

WB: Scott Holmquist. Also here are Carolyn Jones and Martin Duesphol. The project is what Scott calls The Low Tide Archive and a current exhibit showcases many of the images of text, maps, charts, diagrams and photographs that are an historical record of Humboldt Bay. Also, an art display titled Graphic Alchemy Low Tide Exhibit 3, at the Gross Building, 5th and F Street, Eureka, through November 2nd. I’m Wendy Butler and you’re listening to Art Waves on KHSU.

WB: I know in the process of archiving, you’ve collected documents that go back many, many years, documents of resources that no longer exist maybe due to development or other natural processes that happen along the Bay. I know that before we started recording, Scott, you said that that was one of the key points or things that you were exploring with this exhibit, the idea that developers utilize these documents and then they develop and then the resources are sacrificed to some degree.

SH: Suzanne Guerra, who is a local archivist who was one of the people that supported this idea when I first came to her and Eddie Butler with it. She was asking me about native voices or a native point of view in all this and I had to say, “Well, except for the diagrams of remains found on Indian Island, I didn’t have anything because we don’t have graphic representations of the geography in the sense that we know them, that precede the period following the European discovery, or Euro-American, discovery of the Bay.

MD: But the project is not only on collections and archiving. The project is graphical alchemy. That means it is a form, a form of artistic research. So, Scott Holmquist does not take the actual sense of all these objects. He put them together in a new way so he finds out new qualities about all these old objects, photographs, graphics and so on, he put them together. You should describe your method, what you do with these objects and how you present them. So that is a special way and that is something that is really interesting. There’s a lot of work and fantasy in it.

WB: I definitely want to go into that. I want to fist talk about preservation.

CJ: History is documents, so a hundred years from now what we will have about the Bay, or fifty years ago or a hundred years ago, will be in the documents that remain and I think graphic imagery: photos, diagrams, charts, graphs, tables speak much more readily than words in many cases. So, by collecting all this material, some of which — many documents we found only in a single location and we’ve worked with a lot of different places. As I say, we found them in boxes, in attics. Most of this was formally published material. Only some of it is manuscript. There is a little bit of manuscript material but most of it was officially created, mostly government funded, public documents. And they just aren’t routinely saved. Some of them get saved but there doesn’t seem to be a systematic way of keeping this material and who knows, maybe it is important material, maybe it isn’t. We’ll never know unless we save it and look at it a hundred years from now.

WB: Let’s talk about that method now that Martin was describing. So, Scott, you take — there’s all of this and we can just, and in one sense we view it as documentation of a particular geographic area, but you look at it and you see an art in it and you arrange it, rearrange it, choose some pieces, don’t choose others and you’re creating something new as he was saying.

SH: The most important thing to me with this kind of a show is the audiences and possible collaborators wherever I’m doing it. In the case of Kreuzberg, I had great collaborators in the museum and here I have a great collaborator in Carolyn Jones. The next thing is to try — it depends on the space. Everything depends on everything.

WB: Let’s talk about the space. Right now this display, Graphic Alchemy is at the Gross building; am I right?

CJ: It’s actually 437, it’s the corner of 5th and F. It’s the Gross building.

WB:  And it is at 437 F Street. Is it in a space that is, other than it being the Gross building, is it just an empty facility in which you have installed this?

SH: It’s installed in I guess what you could call the premier retail space in Eureka, which is also intentional, and I have to thank Jane and Dan and Olivia for making that possible.

WB: Is that formally where Plaza Design was?

SH: That’s right and it’s a perfect space for this show because it allows different zones to represent different aspects of the current project.

WB: Talk more about how this thing is arranged. What we’re experiencing when we see it.

SH: From the street, you will see images culled from the archive cycling in displays on the wall, projected on walls, three projectors. You’ll see 15-foot strips displaying selections from objects reprinted in large format. There are selections of six images which may be spreads or not. You’ll see a field of tables that contain one index, one book split up into 20 binders, each table equipped with a magnifying loop to allow visitors to read the micro-print. It contains close to half of all of the archive currently. And then in another corner we designed and installed a representation of the kind of space we encounter when we go to get the materials, and we’ve stocked it with actual materials with the help of Bay  Keeper...

CJ: Maritime Museum, California Fish and Wildlife, who else, Harbor District and California Sea Grant.

SH: Yes. And then the last area is an area that’s like an open studio space. I, a couple months ago, started doing image group studies. I started breaking up the images in the archive into eight image groups and then working with these image groups, comparing within the image groups, comparing sets of images and then comparing across different image groups. So, different images doing random — controlled random selections and then working with exclusions and so forth. That’s why I have a reproduction of panels that display intra-image group comparisons along with a large random pole. In this area we also included a set of reference binders that contain all of the objects that allow people to track down any image displayed anywhere in the exhibit in these binders and find out exactly what the document was and the page number.

WB: And where the location was?

SH: That’s right.

CJ: By extension, where we found it and the other things that we know about the document. It’s basically a complete copy of our working set of reference materials, of which there are now four sets.

SH: Right.

WB: People could go to this geographic area, perhaps, and maybe it’s there or not there and they could maybe, like, stand there and experience where this material was collected from or this writing was collected from?

MD: You could call it a random object and you can trace it. You can make research on the context of the object, how it occurred in publications or in collections. And so, how many objects altogether do you present in the exhibition?

SH: In the exhibition?

MD: Some 70,000 objects, yeah?

CJ:  70,000 images.

MD: Images, yeah. Not objects.

SH: In the exhibit there have to be at least 25-30 thousand because we have 1500 pages, we have 50 images per page and, yeah, so it is up to 100,000 pages.

CJ: It’s a huge amount of material displayed but always in a way that when you see something that you find interesting, by following the same route we followed in cataloging it, you can trace it back to its original source.

SH: One of the other big reasons for doing it now is Donald Russell who runs the Provisions Research Center for Art and Social Change on the East Coast invited me to have something in his show that opened on October 25th: Art as Research. That was the thing that made me decide, “Okay, I have to do this now and here.” Research and kind of the potential ecstasy of research is a big part of what the show is about and these different tools give people that opportunity. They can go in there and if they see something that’s interesting they can find it, and they can also take a big stack of images and mix them up and use them how they want. They can take some with if they want that are displayed on a table — one element that I left out.

WB: They can take them?

SH: Yes.

CJ: Play around with them.

WB: What’s an example of something they could take?

SH: Well, there was a rare mollusk image that was on one of the tiles that someone asked me if she could take and I said “of course.”

CJ: So, they’re printed images from the archive that we’ve reprinted. We also offered a lot of this material to members of the North Redwoods Book Art’s Guild and they made some handmade books and I did a couple handmade books, and we have a large handmade concertina index which was one of our early ideas at playing with the visual index of the material and those are all on display too, so, there’s some interesting book art there as well.

WB: Are there going to be — what are the open hours between now and the November 1st Arts Alive?

SH: We’ve scheduled 6:00-8:00 Wednesday through Sunday, or by appointment. If there are people, there are groups we can — I am here to the end, so I am available.

WB: How can people contact you or whoever it is if they want to make an appointment?

CJ: They can contact us by email: lowtidehumboldt@gmail.com or there’s also a phone number posted at the site that they can call which is 707-296-4808.

SH: I’ll give my number. It’s 917-405-0975.

CJ: And we would love to have people see this show so we will do our best to open it and, I mean, it would be really fun for — if I were a high school teacher I would take my kids there just to play around in all this archive research material. I think it could be quite interesting. I would love to see what art students say about it because it is a little different from the art we normally see in Humboldt County.

WB: Carolyn Jones, Scott Holmquist, and Martin Duespohl, Graphic Alchemy, Low Tide Exhibit 3, at the Gross Building, 5th and F Street in Eureka through November 2nd.  Open hours are Wednesdays through Sundays, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. It will also be open for first Saturday night Arts Alive in Eureka: Saturday, November 1st, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. It is also open by appointment. You can visit LowTideBook.com to find out more about the project and for contact information.