Q & A with Artist, Geoff Cunningham about his most recent work SACRIFICE/SOUVENIR
Where does this work start?
CG: A few threads really. Usually I’ll begin to notice a few patterns here and there, ways I’m thinking and things I’m seeing start to cross paths. This time it was The News. A lot of time it is The News, but this time it wasn’t so much the contents of the news as much as The News itself. I kept being swept away by the stories of the week. These huge Breaking News items that overwhelm everything, and then after a week of counterarguments and Facebook debates, just suddenly vanish. Where did they go? Where did all the thinking and feeling and outrage go? Was it resolved? What did it leave behind? Sandy Hook, Sandra Bland, the dentist who shot Cecil the Lion, Ahmed and his clock (to name very few recent ones). There’s one big one every week. They are all so important to the Now. And then… gone.
I’m at my midlife (I hope anyway), and while I realized at some point I will be dead one day, this new line of thinking has donned on me that not everything will get resolved in my time. This doesn’t end like a movie. Not only my will all the “broken” parts of my own life never get resolved, but all these news stories and things that make up this Now. All these things that come and go, the things I thought I’d circle back to one day, the thoughts and their forms… I just imagined them all making some sort of black hole in space and time. And that’s where it starts.
How/what was the process and what were you thinking about or experiencing along the way?
GC:Kind of not enjoyable really. I’d quit nicotine (mainly nicorette and all forms except cigarettes) and went and sober just before this started. I hadn’t worked in studio without that stuff in a really long time. So that sort of sharpened the edges a bit.
The process involves finding the right objects, painting them with a horrible black goo, and then dusting them with black velvet flocking powder (that is used to subtract all light from telescopes and lenses.) I really wanted everything to be as black as possible to feel like it had been vanished from the universe. Like when cartoon characters run through walls and leave their shape. A vacuum of something.
So I basically spent my summer tar and feathering shit (including myself) every night. It’s hot, it’s dull, it’s repetitive. The repetition feels like super ex catholic leftover self flagellating shit which, when combined with the sobriety is letting all sorts of stuff bubble up. Weird memories sure. But just general pain. Tons of little avoided feelings for twenty five years just coming to the surface and poking me.
And what do you feel about it now that it is done?
GC: Well I just finished putting it all up last night. I haven’t had a lot of time to sit with it since. There is the way you see it in your head, and then there’s how it is, with all of the things I didn’t know would happen. I’m pretty sure I just hung my midlife crisis up for everyone to see. But beyond all my personal bellybutton shit, it does feel like some sort of state of things (as I see them of course). A very ordered chaos. Messy and broken and unresolved and yet whole with everything in it’s right place. In tact and in ruins.
It is very quiet and still, but it moves. “It lets us see a feeling in slow motion,” my wife said, which i thought was perfect.
For me it is a much more emotional piece than I expected. It will be interesting to see what anyone else gets from it.
What are we calling it?
GC: Well I’m thinking… We import that which is important. The important defines (and is defined by) the present moment. And when we are done, those “exportant” remains become the fabric of our past. A trail of shit really that is our history. I was going to call the work “exportants,” but Carrie (my wife) says that is too clever and she is probably right. So I don’t really have a title for it at the moment.
And "Sacrifice / Souvenir”, where does this come from?
Another overlapping thread. As it is my home and my community, I’m always in some sort of dialogue with Oceanside in my work. Oceanside is a military city desperately posing as a tourist destination. Every day driving to work I obsess on the millions of palm trees we have here. And I’m always pretty obsessed with our involvement in war, especially in Oceanside where avoiding it is impossible.
I’ve had those two words running around in my head for a few years now. Sacrifice and souvenir. Giving things up and taking things away. The streets here are lined with palm trees to depict some mirage or oasis of freedom that these new recruits passing through here will take with them as a symbol of the thing they are fighting and dying for. Those trees fill the Oceanside postcards (and now instagram photos) so that tourists can remind themselves of that freedom feeling. I’m fascinated by this kind of exchange of illusions, especially as to being an American. What creates the illusion of Freedom, why we need that illusion to exist, why we work our fingers to the bone and sacrifice our money and our children’s lives to keep it going.
What happens next?
GC: Keep going. There’s so much to work on and play with... (Even without nicotine). My collaborative partner (Carla Repice) and I want to take on the NRA. So there’s that...