Project Hermès is a site-specific installation in a vacant house in La Jolla, California based on transcribed conversations between Eloisa Haudenschild in La Jolla and Mark Bradford in Los Angeles that took place from January to July 2013. From Haudenschild were stories of an eccentric, former neighbor who harbored deep antagonism and paranoia towards her and her family. From Bradford was the initial impulse to research domestic settings of homemade webcam pornography, later abstracted into a web of black lines that aggressively cut across the interior of the neighbor’s dilapidated house.

Hermès, Marcos Lopez, the messenger, traveled for six months between La Jolla and Los Angeles relaying Haudenschild’s stories of hostile encounters with her neighbor to Bradford. It was only through these stories, and a scale-model made by Hermès, that Bradford experienced the space during the first few months of the project.

Project Hermès opened on August 3, 2013 for only twenty-four hours. After which, both the house and installation were completely demolished.

The design component of this project was complicated by the fact that Mark Bradford could not see the space for several months or have a solid idea of his intervention at the onset. Also, the conversations with Eloisa were ongoing. Knowing this, I felt it was important to give Mark as much contextual information about the house as possible and so I measured the interior as plan and elevation and with the aid of photographs, subsequently translated these drawings into CAD files, SketchUp models and photo-realistic renderings. The timing was such that as these rendering were near completion, Mark came upon the idea of the 'web' which necessitated a physical model (1/2" = 1'-00") as a drawing surface for his process. The model remained in-progress right up to production, continuing to be translated into a digital drawing to be used later as an aid in the production of the final piece.

- Marcos Lopez (Hermès)

What struck me was the psychological strangeness that revolved around the neighbor’s home. I’m drawn to using the home as a construct for talking about psychological conditions and the idea of voyeurism. When Hermès describes the stories of the neighbor it is as if we are peeking into her life, going through her closets, looking through her windows - it has a voyeuristic feel to it…I did not have a physical relationship with the space (neighbor’s house) until I came here today for the first time…So I started to see this disconnect between public and private space. Then I thought I’ll do some research on this site called Cam4 and what was interesting about it were the people using their webcams in a public way, performing very private acts. I started to take pictures of their places without them in it. In order for this to happen there had to be some interaction, like asking them if they could move off camera so I could take a picture of just their living room. They would get freaked out but when they would move off camera you could see their space. And then I thought about the neighbor who had been carrying out these public and private, very strange, psychological acts for a really long time. I started thinking about her private space and about interruptions, almost like a weird fissure.  I thought I needed to do this hard-edged abstraction that cut through her private life - that interrupts it. So the line becomes a psychological and physical part of the space because I believe the neighbor was constantly being psychologically interrupted. Privately, she was one way and publicly, she was another way. Her mind was constantly interrupting itself in this weird kind of madness…so when I saw the line cutting across her refrigerator and lines cutting across her carpet, it felt like someone came into her private space…like a violation. When you see pictures of the line, it’s as if it cuts right across the glass. The line for me is the distortion or the fissure between her public and private lives - it’s like a crack. This woman was cracked…she was clearly two people.  Her narrative was cracked and it’s almost as if her narratives constantly interrupted themselves. So I wanted to do something with that interruption and thought about what you can do in a home to interrupt that narrative. I thought the most violent thing I could do is simply to interrupt that narrative by cutting through and straight across the house so it starts to fragment. I started making the line at one end of the house and I didn’t lift my hand up as I went through the model Marcos made. The line was aggressive and her house had secrets, so in some ways I wanted to expose the aggressiveness and violence of her life…her meanness. It feels mean cutting across her house with the line…it’s like slashes that are cutting across the interior.  When I saw pictures of the house it looked spooky to me. Even if I didn’t know the neighbor, I could tell I would feel uncomfortable inside the house…this is a real intense installation. I wouldn’t have thought to do a line but I kept thinking about the simplest, most minimal gesture I could make. I am a painter so I wanted to use that vocabulary…I could see how strong it could be.

- Mark Bradford

 

3.1.2013 conversation betweenEloisa and Hermès

The haudenschildGarage, La Jolla, CA

...we proposed that Mark respond however he decides, awesome that he already sent us those photos and that audio piece - his ideas resonated with me. the next time you (Marcos) go back to Mark with more information, he’ll decide how best to translate all this into something concrete. the timing couldn’t be better since the place will be demolished in august and we have the perfect amount of time to use that space, which is amazing. hopefully something will end up in the house… it could be part of the new construction or become part of the remains. i am going to show you the blueprints of the new construction in the neighbor’s lot, they are finished and we are presenting them to the city very soon. it would be great for you to see them. today we decided that you will start coming to visit the property every few weeks, but that could change - we’re flexible. we are thinking the project would happen over a few months and try to have it finished by August so that gives us six months. when it’s completed, this project will be presented at the garage…i spent many years depressed looking at the neighbor’s house…now she’s dead. the situation over there around the pool with barbed wire and giant water bottles along the top of the fence was strange, i have no idea why. the house has a negative vibe to it but it will be completely demolished soon. you can imagine how ready we are to move on. the perfect moment and place for our project. she always lived by herself, i never saw anybody come in or out of that place. twenty-six years of living next to each other and i never saw anybody except her in the house. i was the only person who ever spoke to her in my family. my first move after we bought her house was to plant those tall trees along the easement. i put those trees in so i wouldn’t have to look at her place anymore. in the front lawn over there was the tent where she would put her mom…and then, in some rooms, did you notice that some of them had their own locks? she also had - i think i told you - a motorhome, right? the motorhome was her method of punishing me for having people over. she would move her motorhome to block my driveway. if i behaved poorly and people came to the garage – they had to walk by her property - she would then position her motorhome to almost completely block my front gate. she would even stop people from coming in…anytime i would say anything to her about the poor state of her property, she would answer, “i was here before you - if you didn’t like it you shouldn’t have bought the place.” the motorhome was entirely covered in old sheets and that’s what people would see when they came over to my house…her motorhome had pieces of wood covering the tires and there were always these wires and connections coming out of it, like she was transferring power to it from the house - i don’t know what she was doing inside it. her life seemed sad to me but she was so mean that it was hard to find sympathy for her because she was so aggressive…i am just amazed at how Mark was able to understand her so quickly and place her with those people who break social codes, in fact there was no social code for her…she was one of the first doctors in la jolla and I think something of an icon to people. but the way we experienced her was completely different. i think she moved here in the ‘50s as this is a very old house, never painted or remodeled. i wouldn’t be surprised if she was one of the very first people who bought in this neighborhood…if my neighbor could see us now, she would be very unhappy that we bought her property, since she didn’t like me at all. one time she stopped me coming home and said, “too many people drive and walk by my house”…once she looked at me and said, “you’re looking forward to me dying, aren’t you?” she had those types of exchanges with me, she was that kind of woman. she had nothing to lose and it was very difficult to deal with her since no rules applied to her - including federal laws. i had to pick up my mail at the post office because she got upset with me and threw my mailbox in the trash…today, Marcos, you got the keys to the house for the first time. before that, we just talked about it and you saw it from the outside. i’m happy to hear Mark would like to come to the garage. this project is going to change you and i would like to be part of this process with you. i noticed that you like that room with the floral curtain that’s falling apart - i’m sure there are a lot of stories about that room and this house...Monica and I were looking in some rooms where the carpet is yellow but there are big spots of blue where furniture used to be...the house hasn’t been touched for years and years and years…did you notice how she cooked? she brought down these old electric burners from the wall, like a hot plate…she probably hardly ate, she was so small, maybe she didn’t even use the stove much. maybe she ate only a couple of apples or bananas...when the house is torn down, it will be like a cleansing to me…it’s a dark house with no power and that’s why it’s good coming here early. when you came in today, we ran out to say hello and followed you but you had already entered the house and the idea is that you must enter and stay in the house by yourself. sorry i didn’t welcome you. what’s important is to be open and stay in communication. i am very excited about everything...

 

2.16.2013 conversation with Mark and Hermès

The Bradford Studio, Los Angeles, CA

So right now because of the stories you’ve told me about the woman, the thing I was most drawn to was her psychological state…with the stories of her pruning at 3 am and the climbing of the trees and her kind of antagonistic relationship with her neighbors…these routines and patterns that she always was involved in. What struck me was the psychological strangeness that revolved around her home and I’m drawn to using the home as a construct for talking about psychological conditions and also the idea of voyeurism. I think in some way when you describe her stories to me we are peeking into her life, going through her closets, peeking through her windows - it has a voyeuristic feel to it and that’s also something that I am interested in. I am interested as well with this idea of the voyeur … in a lot of the things you described it felt like she was putting on a performance in some ways with these strange patterns. She really constructed a personality that she involved us with - I find that interesting, almost like an eccentric witch brewing these strange concoctions of her own. So I am sort of thinking about playing with materials. I don’t know how I ended up here (with the webcam images)…oh, I know how…a friend of mine sent me a random link “Oh hey Mark you should look at this” and I think it was a drunk tranny or something like that – “Tranny Drunk at Home.” But when I looked at the video of this tranny, she was in her house and she had a webcam and she was sort of drunk and looking at the camera and being as sexy as a tranny can be. It ain’t that pretty, you know, size 11 high heel shoes and football shoulders don’t look good in Prada. But then I became interested in her home and interested in the environment without her in it. So I went to the site and it’s a webcam site for voyeurs and exhibitionists and they share cameras. But the weirdest thing happened, I was looking at the site and it’s international – people from Turkey, Sweden, Los Angeles, Dubai, India - mainly these kinds of players and real amateurs are real people, not actors. They were always in their home; no one was in a nightclub. So you had these personal spaces, these sorts of intimate home environments where they were doing personal things on camera. Seemingly they were private but they were broadcasted very publicly and then I started to think about removing people from the frame. I watched a man take a shower - I suppose he felt that we wanted to see this 400 pound man take a shower and I could tell it was a European shower…the strangeness of the bathtub, it looked like a Jacuzzi or something. So what I began to do was to wait for everyone to exit the frame, exit stage left, and once they exited stage left then I would take a picture of this environment without the person in it…it was very strange, very psychological, very private, very public, very voyeuristic, very uncomfortable. I was also uncomfortable as I was listening to you telling me about this woman’s story, this kind of uncomfortableness looking into someone’s private world. And so with these webcam images, I thought I would get a photo album or something to display for family and friends to look through mainly on coffee tables with the images in it. And there were these empty spaces in the screenshots I took…they were so loaded and they just came to me waiting for the people to leave the frame and they would sort of “brb” - be right back. Then they would come back and begin this sort of relationship with the viewer. And it was very strange because some of the people I would watch were clearly doing sexual acts in the same kitchen that they would be in the morning making lunch for their husbands or for their boyfriends. Then I also started to think about facades, things on the outside are not always what they seemed to be on the inside. You showed me the pictures of the neighbor’s house, I was struck by how clean it was on the outside, how orderly it seemed to be…But all the stories you’re describing are of someone that is out of balance, someone who is not living by the sort of appropriate social codes, someone who’s breaking down all of the codes of appropriateness. And that is what I see in these images, I see the same kind of appropriateness when there is no one in the image and they become very inappropriate once the person is in frame because of the acts they are doing and so I am playing with those things right now as a starting point. This is just a starting point but I think it’s interesting.

 

3.9.2013 conversation with Mark and Hermès

The Bradford Studio, Los Angeles, CA

Well…so after what you’ve told me this week what I’ve noticed and thought about the most is that there are so many different psychological parts to this woman. My god, I mean where to begin…this is a 26 year old, very pointed relationship with well thought through attacks on a woman who was the opposite of her. I see she gravitated in a weird way to Eloisa because Eloisa is very maternal. She takes people in - people, they love Eloisa, her family loves Eloisa, her husband loves Eloisa, her community loves her. It’s beautiful. Everything you described about this woman is that she’s not a beautiful woman inside or out. She was not loved. She put her mother in a tent - that’s the opposite of love. The woman who brought you into this world is put in a tent. At the same time, Eloisa’s daughter Rita is having her wedding in the home she was born in and this woman next door puts her mother in a tent. I find that kind of interesting as a paradox. And Eloisa has the haudenschildGarage to bring people together. So in a way it’s interesting because Eloisa had a home but also had the Garage and in another way this woman had a home and had a mobile home. So again I see an interesting parallel between the two. I also see a lot of mirroring and how in a way this woman was attracted to her neighbor and to her family and to who Eloisa was. I can also see she was so bitter that she wanted to tear it down - I find that strange. And what I also find strange about what you were telling me is that the neighbor was so private and personal. You said that woman said to Eloisa, “you don’t like me, you should talk to the neighbors about me.” So that implies that she knew exactly how to manipulate other people. So I wondered what her neighbors thought? Maybe that Eloisa was making some of it up and I wonder what people thought of her medical practice? These attacks were something very particular to Eloisa’s family. I don’t know why I say Eloisa, it could have been the whole family. I have a feeling that it was more Eloisa. I think in some ways the woman saw a mirror image of what she could have been. Her house, full of loneliness and sorrow, every one of the pictures you showed me looked sorrowful and lonely. Eloisa’s house is just the opposite. So it’s almost like the light exists with the shadow, but the shadow has to come out of the shadow…but it can never come out of the shadow. I think the images of the Cam4 webcam, with this kind of voyeur and exhibitionism and the psychological and private, were a good starting point. But the more I was thinking…I guess stitching more things together, I always come back to the home. What I found interesting also is that until Eloisa bought the place she only had her thoughts of what went on inside this woman’s home and the woman, I suppose, never got the chance to see what went on in Eloisa’s. But the woman was left with her thoughts about Eloisa and her property and her house and what went on in that house all in her own fantasy, all in her twisted, twisted fantasy. It’s like a web in a weird way. You give a spider LSD and have it make a web. It’s like a fractured spider’s web. You know they used to give spiders LSD in ‘60s experiments and have them make these webs and the webs were always disjointed and fragmented…and sort of catching people inside of these webs psychologically, emotionally, not necessarily physically. This idea of the web - something like what a black widow spins - is what I am thinking of. So it’s all playing on what we talked about last week and how aggressive she was. She couldn’t be aggressive physically because she couldn’t get to her physically, but what she was very good at was interrupting Eloisa’s emotional space or Eloisa’s physical space with that damn motorhome. The unease that in any moment something outside of your control will influence your day to day life is a really, really hard thing. And I think that this woman keyed into that, I think she keyed into exactly how to interrupt Eloisa and her family life, she had to study them…

 

6.3.2013 conversation with Mark and Hermès

The Bradford Studio, Los Angeles, CA

How did I end up with the installation of the bold lines? The whole project has to do with psychological mapping and a fragmented reality. My understanding of the neighbor where the installation will be is that she had two realities - a public reality and a very private reality and the private reality was really fragmented. She had dualities, and building on the narrative of what I’ve learned, I decided to give the psychological fragmentation a 3D form, in other words, a large installation that had site, materiality and physicality. And since I am an abstract painter, I am also interested in social abstraction - an abstraction that is not the traditional abstraction that looks inward and ignores the outside of the studio, but an abstraction that looks out towards the environment and into the social body that we call the city or the society. And so I looked into this social abstraction, an abstraction that references the geo-abstraction of the 1970s…and earlier than that, Frank Stella. And so I looked at the idea of a line and historically what it meant and built on that. My design is one continuous line and one gesture - one brush stroke that continues all over the house. I wanted to make it feel domestic and also have a relationship with art history. I also wanted to feel like the domestic space was invaded and it was somehow fractured and uncomfortable. And so the marks are aggressive and demand your attention. It is more like a steamroller running through your home. And so it is this idea of fragmentation and abstraction and secrets in domestic spaces that break away the fabric of the house. Think about the yellow brick road for a second, this strange yellow path that led to Oz. I think of this dystopic yellow brick road on its way to very dark places in America, very dark places in our psyche…

 

6.12.2013 conversation with Mark, Eloisa and Hermès

The haudenschildGarage, La Jolla, CA

I did not have a physical relationship with the space (neighbor’s house) until I came here today for the first time…So I started to see this disconnect between public and private space. Then I thought I’ll do some research on this site called Cam4 and what was interesting about it were the people using their webcams in a public way, performing very private acts. I started to take pictures of their places without them in it. In order for this to happen there had to be some interaction, like asking them if they could move off camera so I could take a picture of just their living room. They would get freaked out but when they would move off camera you could see their space. And then I thought about the neighbor who had been carrying out these public and private, very strange, psychological acts for a really long time. I started thinking about her private space and about interruptions, almost like a weird fissure. I thought I needed to do this hard-edged abstraction that cut through her private life - that interrupts it. So the line becomes a psychological and physical part of the space because I believe the neighbor was constantly being psychologically interrupted. Privately, she was one way and publicly, she was another way. Her mind was constantly interrupting itself in this weird kind of madness…so when I saw the line cutting across her refrigerator and lines cutting across her carpet, it felt like someone came into her private space…like a violation. When you see pictures of the line, it’s as if it cuts right across the glass. The line for me is the distortion or the fissure between her public and private lives - it’s like a crack. This woman was cracked…she was clearly two people. Her narrative was cracked and it’s almost as if her narratives constantly interrupted themselves. So I wanted to do something with that interruption and thought about what you can do in a home to interrupt that narrative. I thought the most violent thing I could do is simply to interrupt that narrative by cutting through and straight across the house so it starts to fragment. I started making the line at one end of the house and I didn’t lift my hand up as I went through the model Marcos made. The line was aggressive and her house had secrets, so in some ways I wanted to expose the aggressiveness and violence of her life…her meanness. It feels mean cutting across her house with the line…it’s like slashes that are cutting across the interior. When I saw pictures of the house it looked spooky to me. Even if I didn’t know the neighbor, I could tell I would feel uncomfortable inside the house…this is a real intense installation. I wouldn’t have thought to do a line but I kept thinking about the simplest, most minimal gesture I could make. I am a painter so I wanted to use that vocabulary…I could see how strong it could be.

 

Jordan Crandall: On Hermès

A webcam image appears on the computer screen, a window into someone's private home. The home's occupant is in the midst of staging a performance, or going about some ordinary domestic task. The cam feed is accessible to anyone else who cares to watch, but often, not much is happening in this little theater of the everyday. The actor is frequently compelled off screen to attend to some household matter. In those moments, all you can see is the room.

Shadows flicker at the edge of the window, reminding you that this is a live feed, and offering tantalizing hints of some unexpected action about to unfold, some domestic drama about to ensue. You keep watching. Why? You may come to realize, in these expanses of stillness, that the mise en scène, not the actor, is the star of the show. The occupant has been upstaged by the house. The room, far from being still, is a teeming cosmos unto itself, rife with material, sensory, and psychological charge. By the time the occupant returns, you've already cast them in the role you want them to have. The role that the house itself seems to demand.

A person's dwelling space, rather than simply functioning as a container, is actually part of the person that resides there. Observing them through a limited interface, however, you can't tell much. All you have is an image. You may have bits of communicative or contextual data, but ultimately these obscure more than they reveal. The information unfolds only within the terms of what you are willing to allow -- the conditions of the interface you are using -- and often this is accommodated only to the extent that it addresses some deeper need. Who is this person?, you may wonder on the surface, but that is not really the question that you are asking, the question that keeps you watching.

Mark Bradford's research into the use of such domestic webcams, and the kinds of psychological strangeness that they arouse, were part of the informing backdrop for the Hermès project. The vicissitudes of peering and the vagaries of projection instituted by these intimate, remotely-present views, as they are conducted through circuits of interface, were conditions that were brought to play in the work. The views were oriented toward a particular duo of homes and the theater of conflict that ensued there. It was a drama that was action-packed at the level of script and character, but devoid of the primary actor beneath, focused as it was on an empty house whose occupant had exited the frame. It was a narrative that one could access, but through challenging representational conditions that rendered views, actors, and communications partial. These limitations, far from being ignored in the context of the project, were made explicit and generative in the work.

The central mediating function was provided not by an online interface but by a person: the messenger Hermès. He embodied the complexity of the interface in all its material, social, and linguistic resonance. His job was to carry messages from the project's commissioner, Eloisa Haudenschild in La Jolla, to Mark Bradford in Los Angeles, throughout the first half of 2013. These messages concerned the history of a reclusive homeowner who for many years inhabited a house next door to the Haudenschild residence. The woman was now dead and the property acquired by Haudenschild. Bradford's commission was to develop a temporary site-specific installation there. The installation was to open to the public for one day, August 3, 2013, after which time the house would be demolished.

The messages that Hermès carried from La Jolla to Los Angeles were communicated orally. They took the form of observations and anecdotes that together sketched the picture of a villainous woman who, for 26 years, harbored a deep antagonism towards the Haudenschild family. Her decaying home was an eyesore, her ramshackle yard composed of dirt, crabgrass, plastic jugs, peeling cement, and rusty barbed wire. She seemed to deploy its ugliness as a weapon, aware of the aesthetic dread that it incited. Though her house was spacious, she rarely allowed anyone inside; the occasional guest was installed outdoors in a tent. Her living patterns were irrational.  She seldom ventured out, yet would occasionally burst from the house in the middle of the night to engage in a round of feverish pruning, apparently unaware of the yard's barren state. She often glared menacingly at visitors to the Haudenschild estate; at times she would shout insults at them, or back her dilapidated motorhome down the driveway to block their paths. Unhinged, she once threw the Haudenschild's mailbox in the trash. One could well imagine her staying up at night devising ever new torments for her neighbor. Some of these occurrences might well be chalked up to the pitfalls of living next door to an eccentric person were it not for the constant psychological and aesthetic anguish that the wretched woman seemed to impose.

Once the woman was gone and the property acquired, the home's interior, newly accessible, was found to match the character traits that were expected. Reports were conveyed of vast expanses of stains on hideous, decades-old carpeting; frayed, falling curtains; dirt-caked tiles; strips of yellowed wallpaper peeling off walls; frightening cabinetry. As if rummaging through the contents of her mind, these were testaments to the woman's psychological condition -- evidence of a failed interiority that corresponded to the external view. A teeming cosmos unto itself, rife with material, sensory, and psychological charge, the house occupant's role has been cast, cast in the role one now envisions for them and succumbs to, the role that the house itself seems to demand or validate. Accessing the space through a limited interface, you have only the visual impressions conjured, the flickerings at the edge of the screen. You range through the domestic expanse, absorbing and activating the villainous woman-dwelling through the interface of the descriptive words. Who is this person?, you may wonder on the surface, but that is not really the question that you are asking, the question that keeps you listening.

Bradford parallels the uneasiness that he experienced in webcam viewing via the Internet with the unsettling nature of listening in on these private views via Hermès. A voyeuristic thrill of discovery, combined with the discomfort of eavesdropping in on something of a private nature, but that which is willingly offered up for access. There was no viewpoint onto the dilapidated home save for that which that had been channeled by Hermès, yet images formed in the mind. On the Web, Bradford took screenshots of domestic webcam scenes only when people were absent from the frame. Images formed, pictures were taken, but as Bradford remarks, their representational facades are illusive: inside and outside do not always correspond.

It is a matter of how the views are brought together, assembled in degrees of coherency and resonance, across the differences of interface, culture, environment, disposition, and memory, and the markers of adequacy or validation that they are subjected to. In the provisional configuring of the drama the actors can be kept in the frames or the stage resolved around them, and the necessary dramatic tension -- lost in those ordinary online theaters of the everyday -- thus provided. The actor can be called into the frame through the allure of the melodramatic, thereby transforming absence to presence, boredom to excitement, everyday monotony to exemplary narrative. Shadows at the screen's edge are centralized, tantalizing expectations made real. The primary actors might be cast as feuding neighbors across generational, cultural, or class lines in a luxurious California enclave. On one side an eccentric physician, one of the neighborhood's early residents -- perhaps from the 1950s, before property values escalated -- hostile to the wealthy arrivals who have colonized its rural tranquility. A recluse, irritated by the social vivacity of the neighbors; an ascetic riled by unnecessary ostentation. One the other side a prominent art collector and patron who often hosts events at her home, in which she has installed an exhibition space for art projects that she often sponsors, hostile to a neighbor who lacks cultural appreciation and aesthetic integrity. A convivial hostess, irritated by the antisocial mindset of the neighbor; a generous cosmopolite riled by unnecessary austerity.

However defined by character traits and genre, the outcome of the dramatic apparatus was clear. The denouement was quick, masterful, and bold. The villain had been defeated by way of a thick black line that ran continuously and confidently throughout the entirety of the dilapidated home. The mark served the functions of territorialization, interpretation, and eradication. It enacted an occupation, a viscerally felt imposition into a private domain that had now been claimed. It interpreted, so as to expose, the occupant's own internal violence -- aiming to evoke, through a hard-edged abstraction, the dead woman's projected psychic state, described as a condition of interruption: a mind fragmenting itself and thereby generating its own ensnaring web. And finally, it anticipated the demolition that was to come, as if offering a guideline for the home's destruction.

Who was that person?, you may wonder, but is that really the question that you are asking, the question that keeps you envisioning and reading? The complex of stories, observations, interfaces, affects, and materials that is operative here tells many things. The least of these identify the woman who dwelled in the center. Not much is happening in her little theater of the everyday. The occupant has been upstaged by the house, or merged into it, but in any case the ontological arena has been flattened, and identity is not the only attribute to seek. What emerges victorious in the leveling is not the image, however effectively it captures, but the intermediary:  the connective, translational, and relational conduits that are brilliantly embodied in the Hermès figure who is the artwork's real central actor. A new dwelling will emerge; actors, affects, and drawn lines will ascend and subsume, messengers will carry on.

Matthew Schum: This Old House

In the following three sections this article looks to Land Art and other precedents to contextualize the haudenschildGarage and Mark Bradford’s recent work Hermès. It looks at the formal aspect of line—called the first species of quantity—from various vantage points. Each section attempts to focus on how the line drawn by Bradford inside a home slated for demolition relates to his expanded notion of abstract painting. Specifically, what he calls social abstraction: “an abstraction that is not the traditional abstraction that looks inward and ignores the outside of the studio, but an abstraction that looks out towards the environment and into the social body that we call the city or the society.”[i\

1) Beneath Painted Lines

There are a lot of things theoretical and intellectual to say about lines and circles, but I think the very fact that they are images that don’t belong to me and, in fact, are shared by everyone because they have existed throughout history, actually makes them more powerful than if I was inventing my own idiosyncratic, particular Richard Long-type images. I think it cuts out a lot of personal unwanted aesthetic paraphernalia. -Richard Long

Best known for his landscape interventions ranging in scale from a soccer field to a stripe he made in 1975 amidst Himalayan glaciers, Richard Long here sets-up a dichotomy. Fundaments such as line are in his estimation regrettably lent to aesthetics and therefore idealism. He advocated for images that possess an unassuming yet unifying force due to their anonymity.

Or Long’s quote above could refer to a healthy distrust of intellectual traditions such as Cartesian theory that envisions perception unfolding within a grid of pure values. His artistic stand may also relate to lines and rectangles that enclose civilization everywhere in industrial wares: a world constructed of simple shapes, cheaply ornamented and corporate ‘aesthetics’. How many reticulated buildings made of concrete and glass does the average stroller endure in her midst? Do these rooftops, doorways and windowpanes accumulate upon gridded roadways without reflecting something about the viewer over time? Long offered temporary breaks to these environs. His paradoxical quest imposed something anomalous yet impersonal upon the ordinary without reflecting his domestic or picturesque sites beyond simple geometry.

Lucio Fontana faced similar problems. He arrived at an equally simple gesture to convey an aesthetic impasse. Disturbed by the impenetrability of the canvas, which served as a stand-in for all the implacable rectangles encircling an artist everywhere, he drove a knife through the fabric to reveal the abyss (and the stretcher) behind the picture plane.

Seeking a universal “Spatialism” that might unify images pantheistically, Fontana made a line: one that arguably connected the history of painting to the violence it had occasionally converted from upheaval to parable. For example, think of the Christ-like hand that Antoine-Jean Gros’ gave Napoleon Bonaparte in his famous depiction Bonaparte Visits the Plague Stricken in Jaffa (1804). In this gesture the ruler aims across his supplicant’s chest as though drawing the plague out from the stricken body. Needless to say, Napoleon did not enter Jaffa to heal the sick and wounded. Upon his return he did, though, have the foresight to commission the history painter Gros, who constructed the illusion of divinity. This colonial adventure, like so many, thus ended with the imperial conquest being summed up by the Emperor’s duplicitous, magisterial line drawn invisibly on the soldier’s breast. Gros inevitably began his underpainting with a nondescript mark—the precise place in the artistic process where Long goes no further. As he wrote above, his relent counters aesthetics. Like so many artists of the twentieth century that turned away from painting, his minimal approach conceived of art as a negation. It avoided the decoded image that above turned the affectively religious, imperial gesture into the illusory line that is worldly, laic and kind.

2) Everyday Lines

If Gros’ Bonaparte Visits the Plague Stricken in Jaffa illustrates what I think Richard Long meant by “unwanted aesthetic paraphernalia” then working with lines—and lines only—allowed him to sidestep not only the egoism entailed in style but the complicity incurred in representing power and conflict. These inevitable power relations are by no means only political in nature.

Due to how art for many centuries constructed allegory, we often search for a story within a painting. Art critics, for example, bound by language, foreclose artistic intent with the application of language, creating a spider web of offhand observations and parallels to history that the maker would have never considered, least of all invited. We might call this the trouble with media. As a referent for all others of its type, an object is never alone: a book refers to literature, a newspaper to news, a sitcom to television, a film to cinema, a painting to art, and so on.

Conversely, wherever it is found, the unadulterated line evidences only the medium it supports as image, as Long clearly understood. A smokestack contains billows and a jet stream denotes an airplane. A clothesline carries pieces of a wardrobe hung out to dry. A dowel holds curtains like a mast supports a sail. A telephone pole suspends at intervals the wire strung along a county road. A braided mooring cable fastens a ship to land.

For Filippo Marinetti this basic principle underpinned Futurism: “the gluttonous railway stations devouring smoking serpents; factories suspended from the clouds by the thread of their smoke; bridges with the leap of gymnasts flung across the diabolic cutlery of sunny rivers: adventurous steamers sniffing the horizon; great-breasted locomotives, puffing on the rails like enormous steel horses with long tubes for bridle, and the gliding flight of aeroplanes whose propeller sounds like the flapping of a flag and the applause of enthusiastic crowds.”[iii] Each image offered here in his famous manifesto aestheticizes a piece of industry traveling or extending from a rudimentary line. Given these preoccupations, the rhythmic structure of Futurist painting consisted of parallels that show common gestures and bodily movements as flattened architectures.

Against the celestial longitude art history accumulates, there are images conceived by artists that come without the pretenses embodied in modern aesthetic movements. In these other, more contemporary arts, a simple line is employed to interpolate or interrupt the illusions we have grown used to. Their power relies on their simplicity alone and their context. Lines, having “existed throughout history,” in Long’s telling, are without the burden of the representation that Gros faced when he was called upon to paint Napoleon on his ecliptic passage through the Middle East, cast as unifying conqueror and self-appointed healer of social ills.

This place outside of the reactionary optimism occasionally found in modern art began with the same ancient duel of painter before painted surface, nonetheless. Before any mark was made, the artist faced the menace of a blank tablet—a relative of the proverbial blank page. Like all antagonists, it can be ignored or neglected. Or it may be impressed upon, changed, submitted to the intellect of the painter, to aspects of shape, line, hue—and all the accouterments of artistic style. But, in the context of the studio, a painting cannot harness the unassuming power Richard Long favored. Following his argument, until the line was removed from the canvas and the studio and therefore appurtenance of aesthetics, its sensibilities will err on the atavistic side and be forced to face painting’s patent immoderation.

3) This Old House

The line Mark Bradford created for his project Hermès, to my mind, presents a contrast to how artists today avoid the instrumental or political repurposing that has historically divorced painting from everyday life.

Besides coastline, Southern California is known for its freeways that define its civilization as automobile culture upon a grid of highways and roadways, stopped only by the sprawl of the Pacific Ocean. As though he were inverting the usual order of facades expanding from city to suburb and exurb and further on to outlying desert towns, such as the built environments Ed Ruscha recorded in Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) and Twenty-six Gas Stations (1963), for Hermès, Bradford painted a line running throughout the interior of an empty house slated for demolition.

Even while defying gravity, the perfect symmetry of the band grafted upon the walls and ceiling resembled a ribbon of newly poured asphalt. This also lent the dense application of many coats stretching between the bedrooms, kitchen and living areas, permanence. Hermès was less of an intervention than an emplacement that conformed to existing architectural conditions without being, in any sense, decorative. Like fault lines aching beneath the old house and like the irreverent “cuts” Gordon Matta-Clark had made to run-down homes in outlying New Jersey, Bradford’s La Jolla design was insistent—irrevocable. Yet, it communicated restraint in comparison to Matta-Clark’s iconoclastic extensions of interior and outside space. Though both of these approaches likely have “to do with psychological mapping and a fragmented reality,” as Bradford said in a statement for Hermès, what separated the newer work was a preoccupation with the history of painting and the ‘post-studio’ art that has come to define West Coast conceptualism.

For his part, Bradford describes his line as social abstraction, an approach which uses formal elements to locate an intersection between the historical datum of painting and the conditions existing in situ around an artwork: “I looked at the idea of a line and historically what it meant and built on that. My design is one continuous line and one gesture—one brush stroke that continues all over the house. I wanted to make it feel domestic and also have a relationship with art history [elsewhere he mentions geo-abstraction of the 1970s and Frank Stella]. I also wanted to feel like the domestic space was invaded and it was somehow fractured and uncomfortable. And so the marks are aggressive and demand your attention. It is more like a steamroller running through your home. It is this idea of fragmentation and abstraction and secrets in domestic spaces that break away the fabric of the house.”[iv] With the artist’s invocation of social abstraction we arrive at the everyday concerns underpinning Hermès that distinguish it from the aesthetics of painting and accomplish what Long saw as the useful redirection of meaning away from the artist to general environmental concerns. Here those concerns were how an invasive black line might reframe a typical suburban home as a transgressive vehicle or a psychological limit between one’s public and private life.

In this sense, the line itself is a proxy for an image of social disunity. It stands for the basic function of home as foreignness held at bay. Each house lining the streets of a California city represents an unseen experience of spatial division and social discontinuity for the inhabitant; all of which was set in motion by developers and purveyors of aesthetic paraphernalia long before the inhabitant arrived. Each, despite its universality, seriality and ubiquity, represents an irresolvable limit between the occupant and the uninhabitable disordered (or otherwise homeless) world beyond it. These divisions stretch in parallel lines through every neighborhood. In Hermès, Bradford channeled these social displacements to the extent that paint could visualize them.

The image is not merely about the parceling off of private life or the abstraction of psychological states. These fissures are nestled in the earliest origins of community. Home, oikos, for the Greeks implied not only the safe enclosure of the family but an open economic unit opposed to the spatial convolution of the polis and its civic entanglements. This opposition was maintained until modern advancements introduced modern phobias. Many relate to the divide Bradford depicted in the house in La Jolla and which his social abstraction resists as a hermetic studio practice.

In support of social abstraction as architectural emplacement, the respective counterpoints both Long and Bradford offer extricate the basic element of line from the traditional mark making. Their work in essence removes the painted line from the canvas and the artist from the confines of the studio. Their anti-aesthetic dispels the agoraphobia that connects and domesticates the painter. Agoraphobia is an imbalance between the personal and the unwanted and in this sense it shares no relation with oikos. For an agoraphobe does not fear leaving the house, exactly; he fears the paved expanse of the agora and the marketplace crowd that divides space in a skirmish of lines, creating an evolving if abstracted image of social life.

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[i] Mark Bradford in conversation with Marcos Lopez, Los Angeles, CA, June 3, 2013.

[ii] Richard Cork “An Interview with Richard Long” 1988 in: Long, Richard: Walking in Circles, Anne Seymour, Hayward Gallery, London 1991, page 250.

[iii] Manifesto of Futurism, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, published in Le Figaro, February 20, 1909.

[iv] Mark Bradford in conversation with Marcos Lopez, Los Angeles, CA, June 3, 2013

 

Lara Bullock: The Paradoxical Eulogy

An exploration of surveillance, rumor, and psyche in Mark Bradford’s Hermès

Because you are the receiver, you accept the delivery of a message that is part whisper, part giggle, and most of all, not to be trusted.  You are now the sole proprietor of the message; you assume the utmost power position, for its propagation now depends on you. Though, the intensity with which you listened and your initial earnest intentions and responsibility as messenger become corrupted in the seconds it takes to transfer your cupped hands from around your ear, to around your mouth, and you start to consider the message’s manipulation. A momentary struggle of memory and power overcomes you, then instantly vanishes upon utterance.

The childhood game of telephone is a delightful play of power and morality. One is forced to decide whether or not to be a truthful messenger. In order to do this, one must convince oneself that truth is a fixed, immutable concept, despite the awareness of possible alternatives: truth’s different versions.  The game is a battle of conscience, as you have to believe that you are reporting what you heard or at least as you remember you heard.  Ephemeral thought is translated into concrete language through deliberate action. Ironically, there is no conversation in the game of telephone. Instead, the game is focused on the transmitting apparatus itself. In this way, “telephone” is an abstraction.

In some ways, Hermès, Mark Bradford’s twenty-four hour, site-specific installation in the vacant house of a recently deceased, allegedly deranged doctor is a similar kind of abstraction. The owner of the house is not present and so the piece becomes a one-way meditation on translation, memory, and time.

Though the final design and concept for Hermès was constructed by Mark Bradford, he was not the sole actor in Hermès’ creation.   In fact, he developed a plan for the piece without ever seeing it firsthand. The process of making Hermès involved Bradford’s assistant Marcos Lopez (aka “Hermès” [1]) acting as a messenger between Bradford in Los Angeles and collector Eloisa Haudenschild in La Jolla.  Haudenschild is now the owner of this vacant house that recently belonged to her late neighbor of twenty-six years.  For six months the three exchanged stories and ideas that contributed to the mythology of the space; which, according to Haudenschild, had “negative vibes” as a result of the “deep antagonism and paranoia” of its former occupant, a woman who harassed her regularly.  In a sense, one could say there were four main actors in Hermès, as the late neighbor’s presence in death as in life is curiously palpable throughout the work. By virtue of its title, Hermès, like the game of telephone, is centralized on transmission, on the acts of exchange and communication, instead of the object or site itself.

After traipsing through the unkempt yard and past the empty swimming pool that Haudenschild immediately masked with bushes when she purchased the house, one is confronted inside with a thick, bold, unwavering, black line that zigzags along the walls with the same horror and haphazardness of a cracked mirror. In fact, in one bathroom, the line bisects a mirror, and thus any face that gazes into it.  There is no furniture inside, yet a presence remains.  The house retains the stench of old carpet: the smell of “someone’s home.”  There are no pictures on the walls, but instead mysterious stains, sun stains, and picture hooks.  There is a single candlestick and threadbare curtains.

The gestural shock of the black line distances the viewer from any moment of sympathy for the neighbor and elicits anxious feelings of restriction and entrapment ala Charlotte Perkins’s The Yellow Wallpaper.  One is also reminded of the paintings of Robert Motherwell, an artist whose work also straddled the line between painting and sculpture, which were attempts for the artist to cope with the psychological distress resultant from war and entrapment.

In The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre puts forth a Marxian conception of abstracted space. Social status and gendered norms are implicit in these spaces, Lefebvre argues, because instead of fixed locations, abstracted spaces are relational. Particularly relevant is Lefebvre’s third space, the “space of representation,” also referred to as lived space, which he explains “need obey no rules of consistency or cohesiveness . . . redolent with imaginary and symbolic elements, [it has its] source in history – in the history of a people as well as in the history of each individual belonging to that people.”[2]

Though he is known primarily for his large-scale paintings, Bradford has produced several site-specific installations that confront controversial histories.[3]  For these works, as with Hermès, Bradford immerses himself in the environments in order to represent something true and of the space instead of “colonizing” the site with a work.[4] At first, Hermès purports to be a much more private intervention than Bradford’s previous works, as it appears to be centered on an individual instead of a broader community.  However, like previous works, Hermès privileges the process as much as the end product: the procession to the house, the conversations between the three primary actors and their respective interpretations, as well as the visitors’, during the twenty-four hour period in which Hermès was open to the public.

The installation is a psychological puzzle, which reveals something about all those who experience it, as they are given a back story and then left to form their own conclusions as they wander during the twenty-four hours in the increasingly darkening, electricity-free house. The relationship between the psychological and architectural is a common trope in art. [5]  Buildings house people and thus stories.  They enclose and conceal. It is the viewer, not the deceased woman, who is in the vulnerable position in Hermès.  In its investigation of the psyche of the deceased, viewer involvement results in an act of panoptic display. The site functions as a site of projection.

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[1] Hermes in ancient Greece was not only the messenger between gods, but a god of thieves, commerce, and a guide for the dead. A double entendre, the title refers to the Greek figure but also, due to the accent, to the luxury accessories brand. This association, despite the location of the house in wealthy La Jolla, CA, could not be more opposite of its former occupant. Yet, Hermès the brand is a highly cultivated image, a trait that the reclusive neighbor most definitely shared.

[2] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1991), 41.

[3] His ark-like Mithra (2008) at Prospect 1 that was located in the hurricane Katrina, devastated lower 9th ward of New Orleans was, like Hermes, named after a mythological figure, the Zoroastrian deity of judgment and fairness.  Bradford states that it was “a proposition that humanity would spring from the earth and that life continues” and that for this piece, he was “more interested in the drive here rather than the destination.” “Mark Bradford Prospect 1, New Orleans, 2008,” last modified September 27, 2011, http://vimeo.com/29661109.

[4] “Mark Bradford Prospect 1, New Orleans, 2008.”

[5] Mike Kelley explored this relationship in his Educational Complex (1995), a model reconstructed from memory of the artist’s childhood schools.  The artist postulated repressed memory syndrome as a potential explanation for the holes in the model, as Kelley’s failure to remember potentially stood-in for moments of abuse.

 

Lisa Koon: The House Call

Written in the voice of the neighbor, the following text is the last word for the defense...

What could possibly be going on now? I can’t leave, I am stuck…

I have always loved that quote, but I just can’t apply it to these spicks next door, Robert Louis Stevenson must have lived in a private, tranquil, civilized, all American neighborhood when he said “Make the most of the best and the least of the worst.”  I haven’t had a moment of peace since they moved here, I have no idea where these people came from, nor do I want to find out.

I wish I could understand, actually I don’t want to understand them!

They should try to understand me, but heck even Stevenson, having come from Scotland, such wonderful land, had the notion to write Jekyll and Hyde, of which one was a wonderful congenial doctor and the other a dreadful person, in the book, two faces of the same person.

I don’t want to ramble, I want to give you facts, then you can tell me if you think what’s going on is justifiable.

Since they moved next door I have been vigilant about keeping the integrity if this “Barrio” as they would call it, I have watched them in and out, all day all night, call it obsession, I call it peeping, YES as in Tom.

I refuse to use any foreign words for this account, don’t want any part of them to rub off on me, God knows what would happen.

I have lived here for years, enjoying my work, my hobbies, my quotidian routine and fulfilling life, but nothing has been constant since they moved next door.

The husband appears to be an Anglo good looking man, but he cannot possible be normal and be married to that woman, I did hear he is a bit strange, she is totally off the radar, starting with her looks, can’t even define the ethnicity, and if that was not enough, she is constantly searching for something, I watch her daily, she thinks she is the inventor of invention, she is unstoppable, I have to view this every day, it is exhausting!

So now that I have been observing this new endeavor from afar, I continue to believe that the woman is a crazy force, but she never expected me to be one as well.  I did all I could to make them move, but guess what?  The more I shook things up the more she danced, she constantly challenged me, she brought noise to this quiet, tranquil, heaven.

Their home is a work in progress, I peeked as often as I could, I guess you could call the place interesting, certainly eclectic.

I wanted to ask her, exactly who are you? What do you want, but every single time I tried my blood pressure soared and I gave up.

Now I am looking at my home being transformed into a dialogue, back and forth, artists, inventors, what are they trying to say?  If I was there, I would place a paravent, hell a screen around the entire block, circumventing my house, and guess what “she” would call it, an installation! When I was a kid an installation was a ceremony, of a public official assuming a new post, but noooooo, now you have umbrellas in two continents and that is an art installation, or better yet, wrapping a building, and a guy named Christo thinks he is the next coming of Christ.

I am telling you, I tried, I kept to myself, and continued to live in my house, but I was constantly disturbed by the multitudes of wannabes in and out of next door.

The woman actually had the balls (excuse my French) to ask me if she could help me with the yard work, she had a good gardener and she offered his services to me at her expense, honestly how pretentious is that? Was my yard no longer good enough for the neighborhood?  I didn’t even thank her, when I mentioned this to my mother, mom thought it would be a good idea, but I could not give this woman any satisfaction, the dislike became more intense after that offer.

I wish I could wrap this up with one sentence, but it became complicated, as I got older, I seemed to soften a bit, but the damage was done, don’t get me wrong, the parades continued, I took the high road and tried to cohabitate.

My golf game brought me much satisfaction and relaxation, non-golfers would ridicule the game by saying that chasing a ball around with a stick for 18 holes is banal, what is banal in my opinion is this so called 'Art World' next door.

I always felt that in order to create a civil dialogue with someone, one has to establish a common denominator, but what could I possibly have in common with that woman other than, we could be considered eccentric, that we both took care of our mothers until they passed, I was in a profession where I cared for people, gossip gives that she is always trying to make opportunities for others, silly golf game to silly art world…

Oh…

 

About the Participants and Authors

Mark Bradford was born in 1961 in Los Angeles, where he lives and works. He has exhibited widely, including groups shows such as the 12th Istanbul Biennial (2011), Seoul Biennial (2010), the Carnegie International (2008), São Paulo Biennial (2006), and Whitney Biennial (2006). Solo exhibitions include Aspen Art Museum (2011), ‘Maps and Manifests’ at Cincinnati Museum of Art (2008) and ‘Neither New Nor Correct’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art (2007).  In 2009, Mark Bradford was the recipient of the MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius’ Award.  In 2010, ‘You’re Nobody (Till Somebody Kills You),’ a large-scale survey of his work was presented at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, before travelling to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Dallas Museum of Art; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Marcos Lopez was born in 1991 in Tijuana. Mexico. He immigrated with his family to Los Angeles when he was four years old. In 2010, Lopez joined Bradford's studio as an assistant on his 'Bell Tower' public commission for the Los Angeles International Airport, Bradley Terminal. In the capacity as an assistant, Lopez's responsibilities have grown considerably from labor and material preparation to documentation and project management. In 2013, the haudenschildGarage commissioned Bradford to create a site-specific installation in La Jolla, California. Lopez was immediately named Hermès, the messenger. Lopez graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 2009 and is attending East Los Angeles College and the University of California, Los Angeles studying architecture and design.

Jordan Crandall is a media artist, theorist, and performer. He is Professor in the Visual Arts Department at University of California, San Diego.  He is the 2011 winner of the Vilém Flusser Theory Award for outstanding theory and research-based digital arts practice, given by the Transmediale in Berlin in collaboration with the Vilém Flusser Archive of the University of Arts, Berlin.  His current project, UNMANNED, is a blend of performance art, political theater, philosophical speculation, and intimate reverie.  It explores new ontologies of distributed systems, and the status of the human in a militarized landscape increasingly dependent on automated technology. The work was developed in an honorary residency at Eyebeam center for art and technology in New York City and most recently performed in 2012 at V2_ Institute in Rotterdam. Crandall is a founding director of the Active Structures and Materials research studio at UCSD, sponsored by Department of Visual Arts and the Center for the Humanities. He is also founding editor of the online journal VERSION.

Matthew Schum is a writer based in Los Angeles. He is currently completing an art history Ph.D. in UCSD's Visual Art Department and working as a curator at LA><ART in Culver City. Recent projects include working with artists Steffani Jemison, Mary Weatherford and Ana Prvacki, a small handbook on the Stuart Collection and its Curator/Director Mary Beebe and the co-founding of Publication Studio LA, a small press based in Los Feliz.

Lara Bullock is a writer, contemporary art historian, and curator currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Contemporary Art History at the University of California, San Diego. She received her B.A. in Art History with Honours from the University of British Columbia, with an English Minor (2005) and her M.A. in Art History, Theory, and Criticism with scholarships from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2007). As both a curator and scholar, Lara is interested in cultural criticism, DIY aesthetics, and "art" as a malleable and ever changing term, especially as it is accepted in the world of galleries, museums, and the academy.

 

*All photographs by Marcos Lopez, Sean Shim-Boyle, Monica Jovanovich or Marilia Maschion unless otherwise noted.

Banner Image: Josh White, courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, © Mark Bradford.*