Introduction: A Map of the World

I consider everything that I make as part of a singular life’s work, an archive of research narratives that will hopefully add up to a bigger, coherent and epic story. It is no mistake that I use the word ‘archive’ often these days, as it is the object, subject and sometimes even the content behind my thinking.

This Instructable is not so much about how a particular piece was made as it is about the thought process behind how I make new works in relationship to what I have made in the past. I have chosen one particular work because it has direct relevance to something I hope to make, yet still do not know the form it might take.

I am posting this because it seems like a very important clue to how I might develop works that deal with multiple dimensions after primarily producing 2D work for the last 20+ years.

Step 1: An Untitled Work From 1993

This is an artwork that I made in 1993 using a collection of images that had caught my eye. I could also say that it is a map of my brain, or an instruction manual for just about everything that I have made since. I never gave these works titles. It did not seem appropriate to title something that was trying to depict the web that connects the universe. Titles are so connected to authorship and I did not create that web.

The images in this work include many diagrams; of airports, of a camshaft, of a boat, of a cathedral floor plan, of a brain and of an airplane engine. It also contains traced outlines from photographs of airplanes, cars, a car crash, shoes, a home gym, a chair, golf clubs, darts, some kind of insect, and flowers from an Andy Warhol painting.

I thought of these works as describing types of authorless architecture, such as network systems that grow organically as companies merge their infrastructures. I got my first computer this year, and spent much of 1994 on alt. type bulletin boards on the innerwebs.

Step 2: The Technique Was Specific to That Moment in Time

These images were all drawn and combined with each other using tracing paper and therefore recording the inherent scale relationship of the original source material in my collection, which did include a few Xeroxed enlargements. The outlines seemed effective at dissolving the implied hierarchy of images and allowed the parts to fit together as if they were built in order to do so.

This drawing still has traces of the process that I am describing. You can see that I would trace with pencil, and then using pen, decide how to deal with the overlapping images. The last step in making these drawing-collages would be to erase the remaining pencil lines.

Step 3: Scale Relationships

When I talk about inherent scale relationships, I mean that these were things that had a physical scale in how and where they were printed (in a magazine) that did not change in how you chose to interface with them. Here is a collage that I made around the same time with images cut directly out of magazines.

Today when looking at the same kind of media content, you can choose to look on a smart phone or a large scale tv screen, and if you appropriate it, you will likely resize it in Photoshop or some other app to make it fit in the way that you want it to. Scanning and rephotographing it does not require so much time and money anymore.

Step 4: A Painting That Is Not a Painting

Here is a detail of the work from 1993 that shows the material nature of it a little better. This particular work is a ‘painting’ simply because it is made on a surface that happens to be a stretched canvas. The line is sort of tattooed into the canvas – it was drawn using something like a fine point Sharpie pen, which was really challenging to do because of the texture of the canvas, which is why I used the word tattoo.

The finished painting is larger than the original traced drawings. It was made by projecting various 35mm slide photographs of the original drawing-collages and combining those directly on the surface of the canvas.

A warning about fine-line Sharpies, they do not seem to fade so much when applied like this, but when used on top of acrylic paint, they disappear very quickly - fortunately for me, as I was able to switch to a more appropriate tool for my work (enamel paint pens) very early on.

Step 5: Aesthetic Narrative Vs Conceptual Narrative

This is another work of mine, this time from 2010. Can you tell how related to the work from 1993 this is? I can! But I realize that not everyone might.

In the years between these two works I made quite a lot of paintings, and most of those used photographs that I took myself as source material. If you want to see those you can just google "Lisa Ruyter."

In this work from 2010, and in just about everything that I have done since, I have been using a very well known archive of photographs taken all around America during the time of the Great Depression by some of the most famous American photographers (here Walker Evans). These works I title by using the original photographers name and their original caption given to the photograph in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information archive that is held at the Library of Congress.

I wanted to separate my work from having this indexed relationship to my lived life, and I wanted to get back to the ideas that were already in the work from 1993. I also want to show how powerful art can be, that something that looks so formalistic, as in just about the container, can actually be saying so much more, it can be a vehicle for social expression, and perhaps deep changes as well. These photographs from the beginning of the century were born out of economic and ecological crisis that speak to our current time, and our current crises, such as the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008, not to mention the current worldwide refugee and migration issue.

I also wanted to deal with appropriation as a mode of representation that has changed dramatically in the last 25 years. This particular archive is open for people to use because of the way it came about, via the US government, and so lets me separate the idea of appropriation from the idea of transgression or stealing, without losing that idea as a piece within a larger circle of content.

I am also interested in the fact that a lot of people are working with this particular archive, and that there are a number of different interfaces for it, including filing cabinets at the Library of Congress, their digital interface, and a new interface build at Yale University (Photogrammer) that allows you to look at the photos using maps. Therefore it is still being built, first by its primary architect (Roy Stryker) and now by anyone who cares to interface with it.

Step 6: Salvage

I could have made almost every show that I have made using the photographs from this archive, so it was important to establish that this is what I was doing. The first works that I did, such as the one in the previous step, were from some of the most famous photographs from the archive. But the question remained; how do I make it clear that this is to be read as conceptually connected to all of my work, and in particular the ideas that I started to formulate around 1993?

Conceptual requires too much explanation and dies a little in trying to do so. I began to look for images in the archive that had an aesthetic connection, that LOOKED like the work from 1993. I found these photographs relating to salvage drives that were organized to build local support for the American participation in World War II.

When I traced these salvage piles they took on an uncanny resemblance to the webs that I made in 1993.

Step 7: Retooling the Story

This is one of the paintings that I made using the salvage photographs.

This is an amazing text by Mohammad Salemy about this painting, and there is also a reproduction of the original source photo from the FSA/OWI archive:

So this is where I am at. I can go in any direction. I have been making fun drawings that play with more gestural brush technique but I know that they will be read as an aesthetic development of a painting 'style' which is absolutely the last thing I want.

My primary goal is to bust out of this 2D mode, without losing the nuance behind what I have been trying to build for so long. My secondary goal is to do it in a way that is less isolating, the way that being an artist-author can be isolating.

I am thinking to make some kind of virtual world using the FSA/OWI photos as a starting point, and then bringing objects and environments from that world into ours, as a sort of feedback machine. I don't even think that these objects should look particularly like sculptures or an art installation unless there is a reason for that. I am ok with the fact that it is likely that they will seem incredibly awkward, especially in the beginning. I think this will make them endearing, like the discarded robots in Star Wars.