6 April 1998


In response to a post by Jon Ippolito on the eyebeam list

At 11:22 AM -0400 4/5/98, Jon C. Ippolito wrote:
>Process, or
>Performance art, however, conceived of what I call *variable media*.

Your post gave a name to a project I've been carrying around with me for the last couple of years. Finding that I needed some way of working physically in order to understand what I do digitally I began creating what I call a "Tholos": basically just twelve objects placed in a circle, medium and context variable.

Usually it is made of "stones" that I make out of plasticine because I couldn't find "natural" rocks that I liked and also because they are evidence of my making them (the imprint of my hand). I've also made it out of chunks of building rubble I found on the street and empty wine bottles filled with "stuff".

The project started innocently enough about six years ago when I was showing my paintings in a gallery and someone complained about there never being anywhere to sit in galleries. I bought five folding chairs and placed them in a circle in the middle of the gallery. Nobody ever sat in them. My next gallery show I placed different kinds of objects that one could sit on (a park bench, a straw bale) that also related to the paintings. This insertion of objects that were not meant to be art objects into a painting exhibition was confusing to many people and is probably one of the reasons I don't show anymore but now that I look back it was at that point that I think I was beginning to grasp the idea of digital (however naively) and that it can be perverse and disruptive when placed in an analog environment but also illuminating in both a new and very old way.

The "Tholos/Tholoi" aren't meant as artworks to show so much as objects of physical continuity in my thinking and, perhaps, signs of a latent compulsive disorder.

I'm giving a talk next month on "Art and Law and the Internet" (read: copyright) and your concept of variable media has given me a new angle on the requirement of "fixed media" for copyright. Thanks.

Jon's reply and my reply to him:

At 12:03 PM -0400 4/6/98, Jon C. Ippolito wrote:

>thanks for describing this work to me. it's interesting on a number of conceptual levels--not least of which is that no one ever sat down on it. do you know robert morris's piece _permutation_ from 1967?

No, or at least I don't remember it. I do remember a similar piece by, I think, Ken Lum, where he put a circle of sofas in a gallery but I don't think they were meant to be variable.

My initial action was caused by someone telling me that there was a critic, I think it was Michael Kimmelman, who wanted somewhere to sit when he wrote notes. I would go in and move my chairs around every few days. It gave me a feeling of updating the work kind of like Bonnard is supposed to have gone back into galleries to touch up his work.

I also remember Richmond Burton wanted to put a chair in front of a big painting he showed at Simon Watson but Simon wouldn't let him do it. I found out because I used to chair to stand on to reach something and Simon had a fit because it was worth thousands of dollars.

And then there's that quote from Matisse about art being a comfy chair for tired businessmen...

>what's peculiarly resonant with your piece is that _permutation_ is often reproduced in the configuration of a ring of wedges, which I have always thought of as a "stadium."

The chairs, when in a ring facing in, did create another "space" within the gallery, which is what I think disturbed people. It reminded too many of group therapy sessions and seemed to ignore the paintings on the walls. When facing out they created a hole that was articulated but meaningless.

>networked art and the law is a special interest of mine, so please let me know the date and place of your talk. (again I feel that the 60s and 70s offers some interesting precedents--i expect to be publishing a piece on the topic soon.)

The talk is in Salzburg, Austria but I think they plan to publish something. I'll give you credit for the "variable media" concept. I guess I can even use the eyebeam archive for the source? Or do you have another resource where you've written about it?

I've been writing about Intellectual Property for Intelligent Agent for the past year or so. You can find the columns on my site under Monthly Columns: http://artnetweb.com/iola/journal/history/IA/index.html

I've become interested in how previous art, especially conceptual and minimal, intersects with current work after doing the PORT exhibition at MIT where one of our tasks was to "update" Kosuth, who was showing in the other gallery. I try not to focus on geneology (I'll leave that to art historians) but those moments when a specific idea is manifested because then something done today can be said to influence the way we/I see something done twenty years ago.