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Q&A with Stephen Little

RAYGUN:  Talking about Duchamp’s idea of painting without hands, and his approach to thinking about painting, could you explain further how these ideas resonate with conceptual intentions your explore within your own painting practice? 

STEPHEN LITTLE: Modernism sought a purer designation for painting’s essential or irreducible being. This led to Greenberg’s ideological push to locate an essentialist imperative for late modernist painting marked by a specific set of criteria for its classification. Duchamp on the other hand preferred to deal with the conventions of language itself that he felt located painting. He had wanted to resist the overriding retinal reading of painting and instead sought an approach that depended on other things, and this in turn formed a passage to the conceptual. The last 100 years has evidenced nothing short of a paradigm shift for painting and art in general, and has led to markedly changed terms of reference for painting.

 With this recent history in mind, I set out to explore alternatives to traditional models used in the classification of painting. As one whose studio methodology evidenced a refusal of traditional means, choosing to retain the name ‘Painting’ led to questions about painting’s changed terms of reference. Aside from its role of designating the area of my practice, my use of the nomenclature ‘Painting’ is underscored by a tone of provocation. The provocation lies in the terms continuing resistance to conventional, material and ideologically driven classifications that continue, often inadequately, to establish what may constitute painting today.

The legacy of the readymade, the everyday and conceptualism has led me into the discourse of painting from the outside and has proved pivotal in providing critical distance, and providing methods and strategies that otherwise may not be readily available, or agreeable for some. Strategically, this provided leverage to engage with painting on my own terms and positioned me between painting and what it was deemed ‘not’ to be, i.e. objects such as tents, floor brushes, mirrors etc. The task I gave myself entailed identifying alternative pathways as a means to create new and functional modes of address for the studio work. I acknowledged some of the work at the time as being work about painting i.e. that it references a particular aspect or approach to painting, while others appeared to be more specific in their designation as painting. This in turn, led to questions such as, what values, factors, contingencies or traits determine what painting can be?

Painting continues by being constantly corrupted, by questioning its boundaries, and not limiting itself to its own conventions and ‘traditional’ set of competencies. It has the ability to slide between different physical & perceptual modalities, and is continued and extended by embracing that which might extinguish it. In this, painting is a practice that now incorporates a diverse range of competencies that exist beyond painting’s historic tradition and beyond any prescribed notion of material structure. I view the question ‘how is your work painting?’ as a loaded one as it assumes that we know what painting is or should be, and that I must somehow justify how my work fits into this category. I prefer to return the question as ‘how is it not painting?’ to reveal and challenge an assumed or prescriptive criteria for classification.

RAYGUN: You have incorporated data from NASA and utilizing the accessibility of sending work to Mars in previous projects. Could you please elaborate on why you look beyond your own earthly horizons to integrate into your art practice?

STEPHEN LITTLE: I look beyond my earthly horizons like just about any other artist. Contexts can change from artist to artist and from work to work. Some draw on politics, on humour, on music etc. Art comes from life and reflects life. I feel that sometimes it is important to step outside of ourselves, outside of the here and now. Sometimes this offers the freedom to extend a dialogue, methodologies or processes in ways that may be limited within a particular studio structure or an art for arts sake approach. New bridges can be created, and new narratives and unexpected outcomes realised. New directions can be forged, new problems discovered, and conventions and recourse to the familiar can be overcome. When we take a dialogue into a new context we can view it with fresh eyes, and from many new perspectives.

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Stephen Little February 2017

Last night we joined Stephen Little for the opening of his project RED PLANET. Stephen’s practice is concerned with Modernist Painting and associated attributes including surface, line and colour. His video projection reveals footage recorded from hazard avoidance cameras on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars between January 2004 and 2015. In addition to the visual imaging, the sound footage recorded the rover’s negotiation of Mars varied terrain, while the 42.2 kilometer journey reveals a time lapsed mapped line to the right of the screen. Red Colouring software was filtered in sync with the sound scape and in turn the viewer is invited to explore the surface of the rectangular shaped video projection in addition to the landscape beyond a known horizon. These explorations of painting’s possibilities will be further explored through a series of discussions with Stephen, and will be published on the lab during the month of February.

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Also during Stephen’s stay with us in Toowoomba he contributed to the REFLEX wall painting project which was ‘officially’ launched after his RAYGUN opening. Check it out.


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Eva Koch Playground, Copenhagen

We are super in love with Eva’s 2016 sculptural playground, situated in the heart of Copenhagen. A continuation of her sensitive video installation Evergreenplayed at RAYGUN in 2015, Eva continues to share her powerful, democratic and penetrating vision with perfection.

eva-koch-public-playgroundSankt Annæ Wheel are sculpturally conceived as a play sculpture for toddlers and slightly older children. With this work Eva Koch demonstrates that sculpture is an important element in the planning of urban spaces, that a sculpture can also function as something that can be played on and can create a local place, and that as a sculptor one must proceed with delicacy in relation to a specific site.

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Sharon Louden and the Culture Producer

We are super excited to be hosting the launch of Sharon Louden’s new publication The Culture Producer at RAYGUN Projects, Toowoomba in April 2017. We will be updating this site with more information on Sharon and her contribution to contemporary art and writing during the coming weeks. Tickets and information are now available through Eventbrite. More soon.


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An Interview with Yara Flores

The New York-based artist Yara Flores makes work that engages questions of technology, spirituality, identity, and history. Her 2016 exhibition at Raygun, Greebles, extends a project first presented in 2015 as part of Asad Raza’s Home Show. We had this exchange with Yara as the show went up.

Raygun: How did you come to be interested/engage with Greebles?

Yara Flores: I first encountered the little Weeble-Wobble critters called “Greebles” in 2009, in the course of a series of conversations with neuroscientists and experimental psychologists working at Columbia University—a number of whom were associated with the Humanities and Neuroscience Project. I read a few of the early papers that made use of these image/object/forms, and I was struck by them in several ways.

Raygun: By their sculptural qualities?

Yara Flores: Yes, for sure. They are charismatic figurines—humanoid, pudgy and, even though a few of them can look bizarrely menacing (with their horns and outlandish, erect, faceted little robot-cocks), they all seem to register visually in that liminal range of the affective spectrum we designate by the nebulas term “cute.” But there were other things too. I have always been intrigued by questions of taxonomy—by problems of sorting and organization. So the genus/species set structure of the Greebles made an immediate impression. In fact, of course, it is perhaps more correct in the case of the Greebles to say that the basic architecture is more family/gender. But immediately one is left a host of questions: Why does the language of gender seem to make sense here? Why did the scientists who developed the Greebles conjure these forms and this formal configuration of the set? What kind of fantasy life of the laboratory found expression in these virtual stimuli—since that is what they were originally intended to be, visual stimuli in a bunch of experiments on human perception.

Raygun: What do you know about these experiments?

Yara Flores: I’m not an expert, but I have a basic understanding of the kind of research for which the Greebles were developed. The Greebles were originally designed by Isabel Gauthier and Scott Yu in 1996/1997 when the former was a graduate student at Yale University. Gauthier was working in a large and well-established field of research that spans psychology and neuroscience: facial recognition. It turns out that human beings (like a number of other animals) demonstrate some pretty specific capacities when it comes time to make sense of the faces of members of our own species. This would make sense from an adaptive perspective. Being able quickly and accurately to identify individuals is a super important element of successful social existence. One good example of what seems to make our face recognition abilities special is that we seem to see faces “holistically” in a special way—meaning, we have a lot more trouble recognizing faces when they are turned upside-down than we do recognizing other patterns or scenes when they are inverted. Gauthier wanted to look closely at this kind of result. To do so, she and her colleagues wanted to develop a group of non-face visual stimuli that while not faces, had enough structural similarity to a face (meaning they would present adequately parallel visual information—e.g., component parts that vary by size and shape, general symmetry, some possibility of being sorted by type as well as being recognized on an “individual” basis) that they could serve as a consistent and illuminating “control” in further investigations. The ideal stimulus they were looking for needed to be comparable to a face, but not a face. The set of objects we know as “Greebles” were the result.

Raygun: So Greebles are “not faces”?

Yara Flores: Exactly. Greebles are non-faces. In fact, one of the things that made them so interesting to me is that they are, effectively anti-faces. In a strange way I think this shows. When you look at a Greeble, it reads as “faceless.” But they are definitely more than just faceless. They are, you might say, the opposite of a face. And there have been hundreds of papers that deal with Greebles in this way. At the same time, they are so incredibly humanoid, that it is probably crazy to suggest that they are the “opposite” of a face—after all, they look like little people-things!

Raygun: In the experimental work you are describing, were the Greebles presented in physical form?

Yara Flores: No. As a rule, no. The vast majority of the research done on Greebles makes use of their original form—as 3D graphical forms, rendered for display to an experimental subject on a monitor of some sort. They were essentially virtual.

Raygun: You couldn’t hold them in your hand.

Yara Flores: Right. Exactly. And I wanted to “materialize” them. And that was the first step in this project. Making the Greebles into physical forms.

Raygun: Why did you want to do that?

Yara Flores: Hard to say, really. Maybe the best way to put it would be this: much of the work in neuroscience goes into understanding how the world “takes form” in the mind. Greebles can perhaps be thought of as reversing that vector. I worked for a time with a neuroscientists and a sculptor friend of mine on a project that then reversed the reversal: we taught the sculptor to recognize the Greebles by touch alone, and then did some FMRI work with him to look at the inner dynamics of his brain as he “saw” (in his mind) the Greeble-form he was touching. Or this was the idea, anyway.

Raygun: What came of all of that?

Yara Flores: We ran out of money, basically. But the work reflected my interest in these iterative moves between the virtual and the material—sort of like a game of whisper-down-the- lane between the mind and the body; cyclical transductions, with all the information loss and error-amplification that such cycles imply. Except in this domain, it is hard to parse losses from gains, insights from oversights.

Raygun: When we first started working with you, we were under the impression that we were going to be working with D. Graham Burnett. He passed us on to you, suggesting your work was more relevant than his. We subsequently looked around online, and elsewhere, and got the sense that you and he might actually be the same person (Burnett lists work by you under a section of his work that he calls “Apocrypha, Pseudonymities, Experiments”). What is going on with that?

Yara Flores: Burnett and I have collaborated over the years, and we certainly have overlapping interests, and a good deal of shared experience. There’s definitely a backstory on our respective identities, and their zones of convergence, the virtual and the real, taxonomy and systematics. There is no bad blood. But there is certainly some pain. Neither of us talks about it much. We are still working it out. When I work, I have him in mind. When he works, he has me in mind. Sometimes we actually work together. But mostly not. Not sure it matters here. But perhaps it does. Maybe ask him?

Raygun: Thank you for your time.