Visiting Artist Talk: Corin Hewitt: notes


Welcome to another set of notes from UNLV’s Visiting Artist talks. Tonight we’ll have Mike Calway-Fagen speaking in our auditorium at seven after the reception for his new one-person show, Banana Strings, at the Donna Beam, but for now we offer a sample of last’s week’s speaker, Corin Hewitt.

  • “I feel as artists we try to find the questions that are most powerful for us and try to dwell inside them.”
  • his parents were artists. His mother designs open-ended toy systems for children. His father was a painter: part of the Anonima Group. Hewitt’s grandmother, knitting during TV shows, would switch the color of her yarn during ad breaks. She knitted the shows.
  • when he was young his father showed him Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of FogThe child said it was a frustrating image. You’d climbed up the mountain and someone else was standing in the way. His father told him this was an interesting reaction. (Many years later Hewitt used his own clothes to make a sculpture of a Wanderer figure holding a broom like a cane on a mountain range of textile.)
  • in high school he was repelled by the subjectivity of art & decided to become a constitutional lawyer
  • did not become a constitutional lawyer. Took a year off from undergrad, contacted a professional artist whose work had impressed him, and offered to work in his studio for free. The artist was Matthew Barney, then twenty-three. Hewitt recommends this kind of voluntary intern experience to beginning artists. (Caveat: make sure your budget can cover it.)
  • deaths in his family. He brought the subject of death into his work. One’s own past as subject matter. It’s the best place to look for ambiguities and tensions.
  • he was making work and receiving commissions, but felt trapped in his practice. To dislodge himself he went to grad school. Bard College. Nancy Shaver, who teaches there: “brilliant, stubborn.” She came to his studio and looked at his work. “She said, Everything you’ve shown me is passive.”
  • he wanted to activate his work. He would try to stop working towards a result. Instead he would find the work while he was making it.
  • he wanted a material that would change so quickly that he couldn’t predetermine the outcome. How to free yourself from feeling in control? He cut a corner off the room where he was working so that people could look in.
  • what about food? fire? cooking? He planned stage-like settings where he could work with food. Composting is a way of folding things together. He bit a peach and quickly made a rough plasticine model, then photographed it. A comparison between food and photography. Worms, eating compost: think of a photograph being processed — the image/food going through a procedure.
  •  he fed the photographs of food into a computer program: a “plaid generator.” It invented a plaid pattern out of the colors.
  • in the middle of this uncontrolled activity the camera was a way to pause, take a quick shot: move on.
  • to make money he worked inside the walls of apartment buildings. A plumber. Left packages of autobiographical photographs and materials inside the walls for people to find in the future. The interiors of walls appeared in his work.
  • police signs (as in The Third Station, 2014) introduce “the pressure of attention.”
  • the three-dimensional spaces he works inside can fold up like theater sets. “It’s theater, you know, too.”
  • he advises artists in the audience to look outside galleries and museums for ways to show their work. He uses the example of a man-sized sculpture he once made. He approached the owner of a building and asked if he could display this figure in the air shaft. The owner agreed. Later he placed the same sculpture inside a silo in Vermont. (He shows us a photograph of the marble figure staring out of the silo with snow on its head.)
  • “I feel I don’t know how to make metaphor outside the way I’m currently living.”

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