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An artist friend who went to Laura Owen's Another Cats Show at 356 Mission observed that it was a perfect pedagogical device. Meaning, every conceivable manifestation of "cats" as a signifier were included in this blockbuster floor to ceiling wormhole of an exhibition. Another Cats Show framed the most iconic meme of 21st century prosumer culture, the cat video, proving that the germ of creativity is indeed nested in medium specificity. And in this case every medium was present, thereby unraveling the meme like (forgive me) a proverbial ball of yarn ensnaring half of the artists in Los Angeles. Not really of course, but the show did functionally make the argument that any artwork or sign could ostensibly be about a cat—sexy feral shape-shifting witchy pop icon that she is, a successful showing of inter-connectivity that showcases the universality of creative expression. And added a lightness to the otherwise turgid sense that every one on earth is an artist.

I contributed one of my works from the Ecstasies series... where I erase and reprint an image multiple times. These images show people performing a "traditional" dance or ritual for a popular audience (usually tourists). In this work it was just a single pop music diva making a snarly cat hand gesture towards the camera (it qualified with the perimeters of the series since it was for an audience and the gesture is itself ancient in the extreme). This flirty hand / claw swipe struck me not only because it universally conveys a popular sign for "cattiness," but also more technically signifies catch and kill (using the retractable nails of kitty) thereby alluding to one of the primary structural basis for performing a ritual act. This got me going on the below interview, as this process of making images through repeated erasure is all about the tension between appropriation and renewal, zombie rituals and the inherent desire of popular culture to feast on the remains of private ecstasies.

________________________________

Anne Ellegood: You have spoken about rastering technology as a conceptual inspiration and formal basis for your work. Rastering is the way an image is scanned, right?

Nick Herman: Yes, rastering is a universal technology used in everything from analog televisions to digital scanning and printing. It is basically a way to translate information and convey it. Like capturing and printing an image. The word “raster” comes from the Latin word for rake and also means to scrape. It is a poignant analogy. The eye rakes over something, observing and absorbing information that is then processed and committed to memory. This is exactly how technology has evolved. For me, the physical process of scraping alluded to in the word raster is really important. It suggests the kind of signal processing whereby an ephemeral thing can be interpreted physically, or a visual image becomes tactile. It also is synonymous with desire, digging, groping. In much of my work, certainly going back to my “Scratch and Win” prints (2006) and in the more recent inkjet photographs especially those in the Ecstasies series, the conceptual emphasis on process is explicit. The photographs are complete only after many rounds of printing and erasing. It is similar, in a way, to rastering, with the outcome being an amalgamation of time, process, and mechanics.

AE: How does a process of erasure–where you are deleting something–mimic rastering, a process aimed at creating something? They seem to be in conflict.

NH: Yes, this is a tension I explore in my work. I scrape to erase and to reveal. The original details or forms in the print dictate, in part, the degree to which I need to wash away the photo...based on the density of the applied ink. So my erasure becomes another kind of scan of the image, but in this case, it becomes an unorthodox means of recording. Over the course of multiple rounds of printing and erasing, my actions are permanently scraped into the paper itself, not just the image, in the form of scratches and tears and a phenomenon that happens where the ink leaches deeper into the paper substrate. There are multiple analogies to this process from etching to entropy to recording music on vinyl. In all of these precedents, the concept of capturing information is merely broadened to include signals that are (temporarily) invisible or of an entirely different register. Put in the context of music, the scratches become a kind of feedback... amplifying something that is latent or a byproduct.

AE: How does this idea figure into your interest in static?

NH: Here again there is significant shared vocabulary and technology. Static—in television and radio being the most familiar—is technically noise. Noise is the interruption of an intended signal. So in TV, the static is caused by a disruption in the transmission of the electromagnetic waves that are the basis of the images we see. Analog television is itself a process of transmitting a rasterized image. So in effect, the static noise is akin to someone messing up the raked lines of the broadcast. What’s interesting to me about this idea is two-fold: the first is that the static becomes its own unique and, I think, beautiful vocabulary. It is a broadcast also but one that is more fungible. It is like a leaky packet of information. For example, the static is constantly changing to reflect not only the disruption of the broadcast caused by poor reception but also other background sources such as your blender or other household appliances and, more compellingly, cosmic events. The second aspect of static that is interesting to me is that despite its being random “noise,” it is still governed by the same laws of physics that allow us to capture and transmit information in the first place. This is, in effect, a ghosting or echoing phenomenon where the noise is real, it is something, just not something readily intelligible. And this concept, of a parallel resonance or a “force,” lends itself to a totally different alternative paradigm of thinking based on multiple frequencies.

In this way, static becomes a cipher for unorthodox cosmological ideas that do not necessarily sync with our normative views of the universe. Another way to express this is that noise becomes an abstraction in which there is perceivable information. The question, then, becomes how to translate or decode the noise? There are myriad examples of this ranging from science fiction tropes of artificial intelligence to extra terrestrial communication. Of course many of these are absurd, but absurdity is of keen interest to me. It is the illogical beauty of the accident.

AE: So you are proposing that static as an abstract vocabulary challenges us to seek meaning where none exists?

NH: Well, yes and no. Meaning does exist. For one thing, noise has been definitively linked to what is now known as CMBR, or cosmic microwave background radiation. This means that the waves being received by your TV as static are actually bits left over from the big bang; static is residual noise from the beginning of the universe that is literally everywhere, surrounding and buffeting the planet. And the TV, because it is tuned to pick-up microwaves, registers this broadcast. So that is fundamentally a source identified by empirical measurement. But the ongoing dance of the static itself, or the hiss on the radio, as a stream of information that can be interpreted sensorially is not as defined, it contains its own random choreography and interferences caused by more mundane things—the blender, your crappy antenna, your tired eyes. And this added layer of processing is inherently subjective and therefore abstract. This is where the art lies for me. It is like a continuous stream of randomized information that can be received and visualized. That is what I find so compelling about it. It is a data set that all of us have some experience with and this cognitive familiarity with randomness is deeply satisfying.

AE: How does your fascination with static relate to your interest in patterns more generally? You often use textiles in your work and have acknowledged the importance of patterns to your thinking.

NH: In my work, I often set up a framework of order/disorder. It is like a basic neural circuit that opens and closes. Except in this case, there is not an obvious measure of order and disorder vis-à-vis its import. Both are equally compelling on their own but together, in juxtaposition, they become exponentially more interesting. This is a basic principle of rhythm found in all art forms, from music and dance to painting. Ornamental motifs have employed this logic for millennium, setting up an “order” or a pattern only to interrupt it by using an archetypal motif. This is basically the principle of metamorphosis: the unwinding of what is expected to reveal the unexpected as an illustration of a deeper, what some might call magical, perception of the universe. So the use of order, like that seen in the linear lines of the rake, becomes the architecture for this abstraction.

Incidentally there used to be a writing device (like a quill pen) used to draw the five parallel staff lines for composing music and it, too, was known as a “rastrum” or “raster.” So one can clearly see a conceptual and formal link between this process of setting up a cadence against which to improvise.

The history of textiles parallels this process both technically in terms of the warp and weft and the function of fabrics to frame metamorphosis. So for me to mount a scraped “noisy” photograph onto a patterned textile is to make explicit this intersecting history and to manifest literally a set of complimentary signals. To add an additional metamorphic image of some kind as the subject of the original photograh, often depicting some kind of zoomorphism, is to create a dynamic composition that exists beyond my control both in its initial manufacture and its final interpretation. And that is the territory I want to find myself in.

Anne Ellegood is Senior Curator, Hammer Museum.

An artist friend who went to Laura Owen's Another Cats Show at 356 Mission observed that it was a perfect pedagogical device. Meaning, every conceivable manifestation of "cats" as a signifier were included in this blockbuster floor to ceiling wormhole of an exhibition. Another Cats Show framed the most iconic meme of 21st century prosumer culture, the cat video, proving that the germ of creativity is indeed nested in medium specificity. And in this case every medium was present, thereby unraveling the meme like (forgive me) a proverbial ball of yarn ensnaring half of the artists in Los Angeles. Not really of course, but the show did functionally make the argument that any artwork or sign could ostensibly be about a cat—sexy feral shape-shifting witchy pop icon that she is, a successful showing of inter-connectivity that showcases the universality of creative expression. And added a lightness to the otherwise turgid sense that every one on earth is an artist.

I contributed one of my works from the Ecstasies series... where I erase and reprint an image multiple times. These images show people performing a "traditional" dance or ritual for a popular audience (usually tourists). In this work it was just a single pop music diva making a snarly cat hand gesture towards the camera (it qualified with the perimeters of the series since it was for an audience and the gesture is itself ancient in the extreme). This flirty hand / claw swipe struck me not only because it universally conveys a popular sign for "cattiness," but also more technically signifies catch and kill (using the retractable nails of kitty) thereby alluding to one of the primary structural basis for performing a ritual act. This got me going on the below interview, as this process of making images through repeated erasure is all about the tension between appropriation and renewal, zombie rituals and the inherent desire of popular culture to feast on the remains of private ecstasies.

________________________________

Anne Ellegood: You have spoken about rastering technology as a conceptual inspiration and formal basis for your work. Rastering is the way an image is scanned, right?

Nick Herman: Yes, rastering is a universal technology used in everything from analog televisions to digital scanning and printing. It is basically a way to translate information and convey it. Like capturing and printing an image. The word “raster” comes from the Latin word for rake and also means to scrape. It is a poignant analogy. The eye rakes over something, observing and absorbing information that is then processed and committed to memory. This is exactly how technology has evolved. For me, the physical process of scraping alluded to in the word raster is really important. It suggests the kind of signal processing whereby an ephemeral thing can be interpreted physically, or a visual image becomes tactile. It also is synonymous with desire, digging, groping. In much of my work, certainly going back to my “Scratch and Win” prints (2006) and in the more recent inkjet photographs especially those in the Ecstasies series, the conceptual emphasis on process is explicit. The photographs are complete only after many rounds of printing and erasing. It is similar, in a way, to rastering, with the outcome being an amalgamation of time, process, and mechanics.

AE: How does a process of erasure–where you are deleting something–mimic rastering, a process aimed at creating something? They seem to be in conflict.

NH: Yes, this is a tension I explore in my work. I scrape to erase and to reveal. The original details or forms in the print dictate, in part, the degree to which I need to wash away the photo...based on the density of the applied ink. So my erasure becomes another kind of scan of the image, but in this case, it becomes an unorthodox means of recording. Over the course of multiple rounds of printing and erasing, my actions are permanently scraped into the paper itself, not just the image, in the form of scratches and tears and a phenomenon that happens where the ink leaches deeper into the paper substrate. There are multiple analogies to this process from etching to entropy to recording music on vinyl. In all of these precedents, the concept of capturing information is merely broadened to include signals that are (temporarily) invisible or of an entirely different register. Put in the context of music, the scratches become a kind of feedback... amplifying something that is latent or a byproduct.

AE: How does this idea figure into your interest in static?

NH: Here again there is significant shared vocabulary and technology. Static—in television and radio being the most familiar—is technically noise. Noise is the interruption of an intended signal. So in TV, the static is caused by a disruption in the transmission of the electromagnetic waves that are the basis of the images we see. Analog television is itself a process of transmitting a rasterized image. So in effect, the static noise is akin to someone messing up the raked lines of the broadcast. What’s interesting to me about this idea is two-fold: the first is that the static becomes its own unique and, I think, beautiful vocabulary. It is a broadcast also but one that is more fungible. It is like a leaky packet of information. For example, the static is constantly changing to reflect not only the disruption of the broadcast caused by poor reception but also other background sources such as your blender or other household appliances and, more compellingly, cosmic events. The second aspect of static that is interesting to me is that despite its being random “noise,” it is still governed by the same laws of physics that allow us to capture and transmit information in the first place. This is, in effect, a ghosting or echoing phenomenon where the noise is real, it is something, just not something readily intelligible. And this concept, of a parallel resonance or a “force,” lends itself to a totally different alternative paradigm of thinking based on multiple frequencies.

In this way, static becomes a cipher for unorthodox cosmological ideas that do not necessarily sync with our normative views of the universe. Another way to express this is that noise becomes an abstraction in which there is perceivable information. The question, then, becomes how to translate or decode the noise? There are myriad examples of this ranging from science fiction tropes of artificial intelligence to extra terrestrial communication. Of course many of these are absurd, but absurdity is of keen interest to me. It is the illogical beauty of the accident.

AE: So you are proposing that static as an abstract vocabulary challenges us to seek meaning where none exists?

NH: Well, yes and no. Meaning does exist. For one thing, noise has been definitively linked to what is now known as CMBR, or cosmic microwave background radiation. This means that the waves being received by your TV as static are actually bits left over from the big bang; static is residual noise from the beginning of the universe that is literally everywhere, surrounding and buffeting the planet. And the TV, because it is tuned to pick-up microwaves, registers this broadcast. So that is fundamentally a source identified by empirical measurement. But the ongoing dance of the static itself, or the hiss on the radio, as a stream of information that can be interpreted sensorially is not as defined, it contains its own random choreography and interferences caused by more mundane things—the blender, your crappy antenna, your tired eyes. And this added layer of processing is inherently subjective and therefore abstract. This is where the art lies for me. It is like a continuous stream of randomized information that can be received and visualized. That is what I find so compelling about it. It is a data set that all of us have some experience with and this cognitive familiarity with randomness is deeply satisfying.

AE: How does your fascination with static relate to your interest in patterns more generally? You often use textiles in your work and have acknowledged the importance of patterns to your thinking.

NH: In my work, I often set up a framework of order/disorder. It is like a basic neural circuit that opens and closes. Except in this case, there is not an obvious measure of order and disorder vis-à-vis its import. Both are equally compelling on their own but together, in juxtaposition, they become exponentially more interesting. This is a basic principle of rhythm found in all art forms, from music and dance to painting. Ornamental motifs have employed this logic for millennium, setting up an “order” or a pattern only to interrupt it by using an archetypal motif. This is basically the principle of metamorphosis: the unwinding of what is expected to reveal the unexpected as an illustration of a deeper, what some might call magical, perception of the universe. So the use of order, like that seen in the linear lines of the rake, becomes the architecture for this abstraction.

Incidentally there used to be a writing device (like a quill pen) used to draw the five parallel staff lines for composing music and it, too, was known as a “rastrum” or “raster.” So one can clearly see a conceptual and formal link between this process of setting up a cadence against which to improvise.

The history of textiles parallels this process both technically in terms of the warp and weft and the function of fabrics to frame metamorphosis. So for me to mount a scraped “noisy” photograph onto a patterned textile is to make explicit this intersecting history and to manifest literally a set of complimentary signals. To add an additional metamorphic image of some kind as the subject of the original photograh, often depicting some kind of zoomorphism, is to create a dynamic composition that exists beyond my control both in its initial manufacture and its final interpretation. And that is the territory I want to find myself in.

Anne Ellegood is Senior Curator, Hammer Museum.