Buckley's interdisciplinary project, "The People's Tarot" is now on view at the Otis College of Design Ben Maltz Gallery along with other work at the Laband Gallery at Loyola Marymount University until December 8, 2013.
The People's Tarot by Annie Buckley
In order to understand your practice it's important to understand how many different ways you work as an artist. Your work seems to collide these different genres and change them creating interstitial spaces. Probably one example is the Love Stories series where you seem to employ the tactics of conceptual art and add the elements of poetry and expression. Could you talk about what your inspiration was for that particular work?
Well, I am happy to hear you see my practice this way! I am interested in working in different media and challenging the boundaries between pre-conceived categories and the concepts these embody. I have never been a fan of labels, even less their implied connotations, so I think this also fuels the impulse to, as you say so nicely, create interstitial spaces. I think this is at the heart of my practice. On the one hand, I fully understand the necessity for categories to shape the formlessness of experience, but on the other, I disagree with this tendency towards binaries that inhabits a lot of our thinking in general and, specifically, about art. I’m more interested in coalescence and hybridity, the places where things come together, overlap, and create new perspectives.
You ask about “Love Stories” and I think that’s a really great place to talk about these ideas. Unlike other projects, I wasn’t specifically thinking about colliding different approaches or disciplines; it just happened within the process. In the show I did prior to the one that included “Love Stories”, also at Jancar Gallery, I had been thinking about the space between the “I’ and the “I” in the sense of interiority and exteriority, the subject with the world and the subject with herself.
Tom Jancar told me he thought of the work as “romantic conceptualism”. I really liked that idea and hearing it freed me up in a way that ultimately led to the new project. I think it’s interesting too that this phrase, a label or category of its own, exposes an underlying assumption we tend to make that work be conceptual or emotional, heady or experiential, as if these were mutually exclusive. Of course, there are wonderful exceptions to this unspoken rule—Lawrence Weiner’s incredible wall texts top my list—but the norm tends toward separating these as distinct approaches, keeping your feelings out of your conceptual practice.
So that was a kind of seed for “Love Stories”. From there, it grows out of a fusion of my longtime practice of yoga and meditation, a study of the overlaps between Eastern and Western views of being, and a desire to write super-short short stories. In “Lost Stories”, I expanded my view from the space between the selves to the space between two subjects, between one and another. The shortest possible distance between two people is love so I started there. I decided to write all the possible endings to the phrase, “They met, fell in love…” in as few possible stories as I could manage and with a minimum of words. For fun—because, after all, they are love stories—I added in that they should rhyme.
It was really fun task to set for myself and provided a set of rules to follow, a structure to play on. Within this framework, I researched to come up with the possible stories and tried to ensure than all potential outcomes were caught up in at least one of the narratives. For inspiration and ideas, I looked at my own life experiences, the lives of friends and family, thought about the great love stories in literature and film, and also read the New York Times wedding section. When I had come up with what turned out to be five stories that I felt encapsulated all the possibilities, I began to photograph the sky over Los Angeles. I used an image of the sky on a particular day, in a particular place, for each narrative. I chose the sky because it is both expansive and specific, just like love. I think it is the connection that feminist theorists refer to as a fluid space between subjects and what Vedic philosophers called a net or web, the ultimate interstitial space.
You are in a show at Ben Maltz Gallery and LMU entitled "Tapping the Third Realm". Could you explain the premise of the show and what it has been like to work with Meg Linton the curator, as well as your work for the show?
I was really excited both that this show came about and to be a part of it. It is curated by Meg Linton and Carolyn Peter and is the first joint exhibition between Otis College of Art and Design, where Meg is the Director of Exhibitions and Galleries, and Loyola Marymount University, where Carolyn is director of the Laband Art Gallery. It was absolutely great to work with Meg! This was our second project together and both were great experiences. (We worked together previously when I guest curated “Bridging Homeboy Industries” at Ben Maltz Gallery in 2012). One thing I like about working with Meg is that she “gets it”; you don’t have to over-explain or justify because she has a real intellectual/intuitive understanding of art and the issues and assumptions involved. I just met Carolyn and have enjoyed working with her too.
I have never felt that the spiritual or mystical was distinct or separate from the intellectual or conceptual; in a way, mystics are the ultimate conceptualists. But I began to see that this was a significant and thorny division in contemporary art during grad school, at Otis, actually. I won’t speak for the curators, but as I see it, the exhibition includes artists that use or address what have come to be seen as alternative processes in contemporary art over the past several decades, such as mysticism, intuition, and ritual (in an authentic and not cynical sense). I think this exhibition is part of a wave that began over the past decade—I would place its origin in the years just after 9/11—and will perhaps continue to gather power. It doesn’t so much go against a highly conceptual or theoretical approach but reframes it. It will be interesting to see what comes of it, if it is written about and what is said, because the necessity to articulate and defend a position is amplified by a position of rejection or sublimation, which I think has been the case for this kind of thinking in art for some time now. Since I saw that firsthand in grad school, it’s synchronous that this exhibition is taking place at Otis.
This emphasis on the analytical over the intuitive fueled what became my main project in the exhibition, “The People’s Tarot”. I wanted to make something that directly engaged the intuitive, that brought me back to the sense I had making art and writing stories as a kid, that total immersion in the experience of making. I have been interested in the Tarot for a long time—I would characterize my role as a fan—and decided to use its structure as the basis for a set of collages. For each archetype card in the deck (the Major Arcana), I read about the card from a variety of sources, mainly my four decks but I got some other books too, meditated on it, and then created the collage. I did this all in one go because I felt like I shouldn’t start and stop the process or imagine the card ahead of time. For the figures, I used pictures cut from magazines and then turned backwards, in part because I didn’t want any identifying features to point to a person, race, or gender, but also, I liked the element of chance in what was on the reverse.
So I decided to go make a Tarot deck. I guess I wanted to from the start but I was nervous; it’s a big endeavor and I wasn’t sure I had the chops, not for the art and writing, but to translate this tradition and structure. I worked on it for two years. The project consists of 22 original collages, a Tarot deck and guidebook, and print series. The collages, deck and book are on view at Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis and another piece, Fortune Coat, 2011, is on view at the Laband Art Gallery.
The People's Tarot deck is available online as well as prints of the pieces in the show and a companion book. Could you explain the purpose of the companion book and how the cards are to be used?
Well, it is supposed to be available online but I still haven’t sorted out how to make Paypal work on my site. J Eventually, though, one thing at a time. But yes, that is the goal. I was interested in the possibility of art that was affordable and accessible in the sense that a person could hold it in their hands and use it. I think art needs a viewer to complete it and this deck needs viewers/readers to use it and create the panoply of stories that will ultimately comprise it.
At the same time, I am interested, again, in the pollution or clouding of boundaries. Is it a piece of art? Yes. Will some see it as a deck of cards? Sure. Can it be both, and not just in a literal sense, which is an obvious yes, but in a conceptual sense; can we see it as art and at the same time a deck of cards and all that each of these entails? This asks us to define and then question labels we place on objects and experiences: art, product, viewership, meditation, relationship, interpretation, and what else? So this is really interesting to me.
The companion book furthers the accessibility of the deck. I want readers/viewers to have all the tools needed to use and appreciate and use the deck, the art, in whatever way they see as appropriate. The book tells my story with the Tarot; it gives guidelines for how to interpret the cards and do readings; and hopefully it supports the reader/viewer in creating their own stories and interpretations.
I am a big fan of your book "Psychic Outlaws" which you wrote and published a few years ago. It's now available now as an ebook. I found the premise of the book and the show you curated at the Luckman Gallery with the same title to be haunting. I read the book a few years ago and wrote a review on it for artlurker, and have found myself returning to the story in many different ways. I think a lot about the Meridian, the sense of memory loss throughout the book and the cat? Could you talk a about the book and accompanying show?
Thank you! I am so happy to hear that it spoke to you in this way. And I loved your article on Artlurker, from the playful voice to the insightful interpretations. Well, I have to pause before answering because I could easily talk at length about this project. So let’s begin with your response, and what I was saying about “The People’s Tarot”; in both projects, I am invested in interpretation and expansions: how can one idea (or body, or subject) expand and even shapeshift?
Both of these projects invite and depend on interpretation and participation, often beyond my experience; they begin in one place and have a set of endings that are also, hopefully, openings into another incarnation or set of experiences. When I approached John Souza to create an exhibition with me based on the book, it began to take on a new incarnation. The multimedia works by nineteen artists that made new pieces in response to a chapter of the book comprised one level of interpretation, another change of form; your response, in print on Artlurker but also in your own mind over time, is another level and form of the project, as is that of any other reader who takes it up and engages with it.
I wrote Psychic Outlaws off and on over a period of almost ten years. Its first life was as a screenplay (my first and in all likelihood last) including texts from my journals. Over time, it transformed into a novel and my literal experience was erased, replaced by the surreal psychodrama that unfolds in three parts in the novel, but left a residue of emotion that resonates with my memory of the real. In each section of the book, the same story is told in a different way. I hope it plays with perception and memory, how our ideas define things (people, experiences, etc), how things morph and change form more than we typically acknowledge.
In the book, as you know, the main character, Emily, has only one memory from her childhood. When she gives it away, the rest unfurl like an avalanche. In the second part of the book, she arrives as a place called The Meridian. It is a metaphorical space, an emotional hospital for women that doubles as a hub for transfiguration; as the women undergo treatments called Meridians (consisting of lying on grass under the sky with a guide—a man in a peach colored suit—sits beside them), they are also en route to shifting into animal or insect form. One of the women, Lila, the woman from Emily’s only memory, reveals to her what really happened that day, or at least what she defines as what happened. Lila is simultaneously a blind woman in a mental institution and a wise, psychic cat.
The book, too, has many forms. It was published by the Luckman Gallery in a lovely edition designed by Hazel Handujano that includes color images of all the works in the show. It also exists, as you note, as an e-book on Kindle with no images. I made this one in part to extend the multiple forms but also because the book at the Luckman was limited to those able to go to the gallery and purchase it. I just put it on Amazon and my website and left it there. I didn’t do any promotion to let people know. In part, I’m not very good at that. But also, I like leaving it open in that way; the story and the project will continue as they are meant to without my guiding or controlling them. I just set it in motion and let it be.
In contemporary and modern art there is an underlying assumption that the self or ego is the base of all artwork and creative activity? In yoga and meditative practice as traditionally practiced the ego is thought of as the base of all suffering and something to be avoided. Do you think your inspiration from work comes from inside your subjective self or outside of the self, or it a combination of the two spheres?
Ah, a question after my own heart! These are issues that are very close to my thinking and experience and certainly filter into and inform much of my work. I can give a very short or a prohibitively long answer so I will opt for the short one, or at least will try to. I see these as false divisions; there is no distinction between the mind and the body but they are aspects of an integral whole. Many contemporary writers and teachers in the arena of meditation and contemplative studies call it the body-mind for just that reason. This separation never really made sense to me, even less so since starting a daily practice in yoga/meditation nearly two decades ago. And yet, as your question and the really intriguing exhibition you cite make clear, Western philosophical tradition does posit a split between the body and mind, one that holds a powerful influence in our culture.
photograph/text 29" x 14"
What has been fascinating to me is to learn that that there are powerfully different ideas about consciousness and the body in different philosophical traditions from other areas of the world. For example, in ancient India, philosophers divined a completely different and equally complex conception of the body and mind. I am no expert but have read a lot about Vedantic philosophy, such as “Ayurveda and the Mind” by Dr. David Frawley and several great books by Dr. Georg Feuerstein. In this tradition, the view of the body and mind is completely integrated. To add another layer, this view is mirrored by contemporary feminist theoretical ideas about the subject, the body-mind, and inter-relationships, or the spaces between one and another, the fluid space Luce Irigaray explores in “The Missing of Air in Martin Heidegger” and, more recently, “Sharing the World”.
So it leads one to consider the context of the original split in thinking about the body and the mind and to question to what extend the patriarchal structure of society influenced it. I would say, quite a lot. But it’s more complicated than that; the same Vedas that originated precise metaphors about the workings of consciousness created one of the world’s most severe and long-lasting hierarchies of humanity. So it isn’t about identifying with East or West, or any other set of binaries, but rather seeking the places where one meets the other.
In short, my inspiration comes from my specific set of experiences as a subjective human being and that is part and parcel to my inclusion in a whole—communally, culturally, societally, mystically, historically, and in other ways.
Thank you, Mary Anna, for inviting me to be part of your interview project and for your really thought provoking questions.