Tools for Thought benefit for Haiti on March 15

My friends Tim Goossens and Julie Ragiola have organized a fundraiser auction benefit for Haitian earthquake aide. They’ve gotten together a great group of artists all contributing work under the unusual idea of donating a special object that may or may not be an artwork, but relates in a special way to the artist or the artist’s work.

I’m donating my original copy of Justine by Laurence Durrell, from which I pulled the pages for a portion of my Alexandria project (2007 – 2009). In the absence of these pages are several insertions of mini-versions of the “Untitled Wound” photographs that were a part of the project.

The benefit is called TOOLS FOR THOUGHT and for all the info see here. To buy tickets click here.

Two propositions.

How each artist learns to translate autobiography into art is a problem that each artist solves for themselves. When solved, unpicking is impossible, we cannot work backwards from the finished text into its raw material. The commonest mistake of critics and biographers is to assume that what holds significance for them necessarily held significance for the writer. Forcing the work back into autobiography is a way of trying to contain it, of making what has become unlike anything else into what is just like everything else.  

-Jeanette Winterson, The Semiotics of Sex.

The Autobiography [of Alice B. Toklas] is not Gertrude ghosting Alice, it is Gertrude refusing to accept that real people need to be treated really. She included herself. Gertrude Stein made all of the people around her into characters in her own fiction. I think that a splendid blow to verismo and one which simultaneously quesetions identity, the nature of truth and the purpose of art. 

-Jeanette Winterson, Testimony Against Gertrude Stein.


Erwin Schrödinger (1887 – 1961)

My friend Boško Blagojević wrote a review of ALEXANDRIA on Artcal zine. In it he writes:

Sepuya’s latest book, a collection of portraits entitled Beloved Object & Amorous Subject, Revisited, revels in the immaculate translation of detail to the printed page. This work is such an obvious contrast that it is tempting to read Alexandria as a flirtation with a different form of representational fidelity, a sort of tawdry, expressionist affair after a long and practical marriage with (literal) photo-realism.

Or perhaps this work is supplementary, merely an attempt at a different sort of portraiture. By lending the portrait frame to a textual narrative as well as abstract portrait, Sepuya might simply be searching for the limits of his own production, indicating precisely where the portrait, as that claim to likeness, falls short. Or maybe he is attempting to render those memories for which likeness or accuracy is not the point, where honesty demands a renegotiation of the relationship to representation.

I like this analysis of the developing relationship between both the literal and abstract portraits, and the limits of their representation. As much as this project is based on the structure of literature, I must admit that I am not nearly as well-read in modern literature and theory as I wish I were. Inside somewhere I still look at the connections between types of work more through science. Somewhere in the past few years (I should look up exactly where) I compared the Measure, the act of making a portrait, to the quantum properties of electrons. The moment the measure is taken, you have in the process changed it. You can only know either the location or the speed, but never the two.

So perhaps it is in the idea of entanglement that best describes for me the relationship between these seemingly opposite bodies of work. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Schrödinger coined the term ‘entanglement’ to describe this peculiar connection between quantum systems (Schrödinger, 1935; p. 555):

When two systems, of which we know the states by their respective representatives, enter into temporary physical interaction due to known forces between them, and when after a time of mutual influence the systems separate again, then they can no longer be described in the same way as before, viz. by endowing each of them with a representative of its own. I would not call that one but rather the characteristic trait of quantum mechanics, the one that enforces its entire departure from classical lines of thought. By the interaction the two representatives [the quantum states] have become entangled.

He added (Schrödinger, 1935; p. 555):

Another way of expressing the peculiar situation is: the best possible knowledge of a whole does not necessarily include the best possible knowledge of all its parts, even though they may be entirely separate and therefore virtually capable of being ‘best possibly known,’ i.e., of possessing, each of them, a representative of its own. The lack of knowledge is by no means due to the interaction being insufficiently known — at least not in the way that it could possibly be known more completely — it is due to the interaction itself.

Attention has recently been called to the obvious but very disconcerting fact that even though we restrict the disentangling measurements to one system, the representative obtained for the other system is by no means independent of the particular choice of observations which we select for that purpose and which by the way are entirely arbitrary. It is rather discomforting that the theory should allow a system to be steered or piloted into one or the other type of state at the experimenter’s mercy in spite of his having no access to it.

So what about that?
Entanglement: the space in which the precise and the abstract tug at each other. The psychic space between Gene and Phinneas in A Separate Peace

That’s where my head is.

Interview with Jack Pierson.

Alexandria installation shots.

on the left: a portion of Portrait that refused to be taken. 2009.
photograph, cut in 16 fragments and fixed to found pages.
5×7 inches each. overall dimensions variable.

on the right: first panel of Alexandria. 2007 – 2009.
c-print, 16 x 20 inches, frame, and shelf.

Alexandria. 2007 – 2009.
c-prints, 16 x 20 inches each, frames, and shelves.
overall dimensions variable.

another view of Alexandria. 2007 – 2009.
c-prints, 16 x 20 inches each, frames, and shelves.
overall dimensions variable.

a portion of Portrait that refused to be taken. 2009.
photograph, cut in 16 fragments and fixed to found pages.
5×7 inches each. overall dimensions variable.

a detail of Portrait that refused to be taken. 2009.
photograph, cut in 16 fragments and fixed to found pages.
5×7 inches each. overall dimensions variable.

for more information, email me.

some opening snapshots.

Just a few of many… This week I need to make some good shots of the installation, it’s impossible to see the work for the crowd!

install. opening tomorrow.

framed and ready to go.

Alex came by to take a sneak peek.


From January 15 – 25 I am putting up an IN A FLASH project at envoy, an installation of my ALEXANDRIA in the west gallery. IN A FLASH is a series of 2 – 3 week projects by the gallery artists this winter.

more info on ALEXANDRIA here.

Catching up.

Another two pieces, from 2007, that I finally properly scanned. Original posting here.

Refused to be taken.

Portrait that refused to be taken. 2007. two c-prints, cut into 16 segments. 4×5 inches each.

This piece, related to the Alexandria project of 2007, has been sitting in my studio and I’ve never properly documented it until now.

some segment excerpts:

NO MILK TODAY curated by Billy Miller

Billy curated the current group show up at Gallery58 in Jersey City, NJ. He’s the first who’s been excited about showing the text works, more conceptual works, the family portraits, and that really makes me happy.

Open Studio.

Studio installation of ‘Alexandria’ I set up for the open studios weekend at 87 Richardson.


Clea, page 47

So onto Alexandria. This is one of the long-term projects that I am working on and I’ve had a few pieces on my website for the past few months without much explaination. If you’ve been reading the blog it may make a bit more sense, but for the most part it is quite a large visual leap in my work. Thematically it is an outgrowth of all of the Proofs and extended portrait series’ since 2005 (Beloved Object…, The difference between…, etc.), in the exploration of the artist as a subject and his attempt to situate the relationships around him through his practice.

Where Barthes in his “Lover’s Discourse” seems to almost indulge his woes, and laments those facts in enumerable fragments, Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet presents a series of interconnected narratives as the main character, an artist, and his constellation of friends attempt and achieve resolution against the backdrop a constantly shifting place and time. In the end Durrell is writing to demonstrate the mutability of absolute truth, and to apply the point-perspective of relativity to any attempt at absolutely defining that idea. What interests me about this approach is that what I am left with in this case is a set of experiences, framed, and illustrated.

Each of my projects has been prompted by a personal narrative and a related literary work, but the idea of making that narrative literal (nothing makes my experience any more arresting or even as interesting as someone else’s) is something that I am hesitant to do. But the idea of the experience itself, of exploring an emotional state of disillusion…

Alexandria is first composed of large prints of the pages of the four books of the Alexandria Quartet, “Justine,” “Balthazar,” “Mountolive,” and “Clea,” in the 1961 Penguin Edition. Each page refers to an emotional state or revelations in the shifting relationships between the characters but without including any plot development. The text becomes an echo chamber, a meditative rosary for contemplation.

The page images are juxtaposed with abstracted figurative images titled “Wounds”, personal snapshots “Moeurs”, “Portraits that refused to be taken” of subjects turned away from the artist, and related works that are collectively present a state of constant searching. There is a calm in the search, though, and the only goal is understanding.

See some of the work-in-progress here.

Self-portrait apart.

In the midst of my thought storm over portraiture, narrative, and the ability for an artist (the Subject) to resolve unilaterally his own questions (esp. in where he becomes an object in his own work), I was reminded by Fette in LA that I am to contribute a self-portrait to her gallery’s January group exhibition. But not any old self-portrait, a self-portrait as someone else.

First off I knew I didnt want to use a straightforward image of myself, like something resembling SHOOT no.5 (and who would I be); and I also knew I didnt want to create something echoing The difference between a memory, a portrait, a resolution (though something similar would remind me of Roni Horn’s portraits of Isabelle Huppert, but I didnt want to place myself as a psychological portrait of someone else…).

Self-portrait apart, Alexandria.

(It also references the portrait (wound #2) on my previous post here.)