ART Magazine. San Antonio, Texas
By Armando Estrada.
San Antonio artist and professor Justin Boyd recently ventured out into west Texas to showcase his art and ideas in an old jail center turned gallery. In Time Has Slipped Rows, the artist continues his reflection on Americana and the American Landscape guiding the viewer through a maze of wire emitting the sound of wind in Texas and the solar wind in Jupiter. Justin has had a history of creating intense, intriguing works that merge sculpture and sound while telling stories of his life. He has a strong musical background and he is definitely one of the San Antonio artists to be aware of. I caught up with Justin the week after the opening of his latest creation to see if he could tell us a little about what goes on in his mind:
A. You just had an installation outside of San Antonio, could you maybe explain where the ideas came from?
JB. Yes, of course. So it’s in an old jail in Albany and when I visited the site the first time I was thinking, well, not trying to think in an inmate sort of mentality but thinking about what my works have been doing lately, which is sort of American Landscape and Americana and shows about a sort of westward expansion. I was thinking about these sorts of ideas and the space being located in central West Texas, those ideas were resonating. I was thinking about, that maybe if you were incarcerated or as an inmate, some similar things that may come across are thoughts of home or how things might have changed if you were to go back or what the future may hold. These were some very loose abstract thoughts and things that were just floating there.
On a larger side I had done some recording out at the Lambshead ranch. I recorded the wind out there, it was really nice, and I was able to stand back and tuck into a spot where I could get a good sound of the wind but not have a lot of wind noise through the microphone. I also had some recordings from Voyager 2 that was recording the solar winds up there blowing on Jupiter. I was thinking about wind in general, how in West Texas it is very prevalent and the sun and the heating of the Earth kick it up and that the Sun sort of creates wind not only for us, but also for the whole solar system. In a weird way, I was imagining a little dot on the map in Albany and a dot on the map in Jupiter so, if you would draw a line, what would be the shortest distance in which these two things could be aligned.
I thought about this fence I had built, where I sent a signal through the wire, and I thought it would be really nice to build a fence piece inside that larger space so I did. The way I laid the fence out was basically, it kind of made, not a labyrinth but you had to make a jog through the space. When you walked into the room you kind of had to walk the perimeter and then you had to go to the inside and you had to make a turn and come back around again so that it sort of forced you in a way to walk through the space. As you are walking, there’s the fence, the top wire was the sound of the ranch and the bottom wire was the sound of the winds from Jupiter.
A. So there were two spaces, a larger and a smaller?
JB. Yeah that’s the big space, when you walk through this space there’s a staircase that comes up in the middle that leads to the small room which was actually the cell, originally the jailer lived downstairs and the inmates were upstairs. So in the smaller cell there are two new sculptures, one was loosely my idea of building a kind of voyager 2 of my own.
There’s a found baby cradle, some bicycle tires I had gotten from a friend, and inside the cradle is this crazy crystalline shaped chandelier and each of the light bulbs that are in there, each kind of holds a primary element of something I’d like to take with me. If I had to leave home and go some place else, what would be some, if you could boil things down, what would be some things you would want to take with you? Some of them were really primary elements, gunpowder was one and matches were another, so that way they could be used for lighting or weapons in some sort of way.
Also there were some other things that were more personal like there was a compact disc that’s in there, a gold disc, and voyager also had that crazy gold disc that had all those different snapshots of life on earth. My disc was filled with snapshots and recordings of my grandparents, my family, different field recordings I’ve done from places I’ve been that mean things to me, just a lot of audio information packed on to a compact disc. Then there’s also a piece of gold I had gotten from a river in California mixed with butterfly wings so that those two things kind of fit in one bulb. Some of them were a little more poetic and kind of symbolic and other things were very much like pieces of home, one of the light bulbs was filled with dirt from two of my homes, so just collecting dirt and putting it in there as sort of a reminder to myself.
So all these things are suspended by the light and the cradle sort of holding everything together and then its being pulled, not technically pulled, but it’s sort of attached to this giant tumbleweed of sage. I just took this green sage bush and cut and trimmed it into this tumbleweed ball. The sage gives this crazy fragrance, not in a purifying way but my grandmother always had this gigantic sage bush out in front of her house and since I couldn’t find tumbleweed at this time of the year, to me that seemed like a really nice way to make it my own from a recollection of my memory from my grandmothers house, so you see, I try to incorporate one little piece of my family into all this thing too.
Along the outside of the baby cradle I glued these rocks, I’ve been walking up and down the railroad tracks near my house and collecting rocks that are solid black with this vein of white running through them, so I glued them side by side and made this kind of crazy looking map. So, it goes up the backside and kind of on to the top and around the side and it covers, in a weird way, in my mind, a kind of imaginary map of where I might have been or where I might be going.
There’s also a crazy purple crystal that my brother gave to me and it just kind of sits there, it could either be the start or it could be the end, I don’t know. This is all inside the baby cradle and this piece is called Chasin a Drownin Sun. So it’s the idea of always going west, in my mind it was like the westward expansion, kind of chasing that sun drowning, dropping into the Pacific ocean or in the same way kind of thinking about it in the terms of the solar system too, that those voyagers were in a way chasing after the sun that’s drowning in the sea of space.
Next to it is another piece that was dealing with the same sort of issues of home or if you had to leave home what would you take with you and it’s a suitcase, my grandfathers suitcase. The nice thing about it is the whole piece packs up into the suitcase, so if you take the suitcase and open it up, inside there’s a slide projector, a wooden tripod for the slide projector and a cloth flap with a white projection screen stitched to it. You take the wooden tripod out, set it on the ground and screw the slide projector on then face it to the projection screen on the suitcase and the image that’s projected is the front door of my old ceramics teacher, Steve Reynolds, who was my mentor and a big figure in my life, my art life. He passed away pretty suddenly from cancer a few years back so when he passed away, I was house sitting for his wife and I bought a twenty-four hour candle and I just took an image of that candle burning in the window, an image of it every hour. I thought about doing a slideshow to show all twenty-four images of the candle burning down but then decided on just one where you can kind of see the front door but more you can see the window with the candle burning in it and that way you can just pack that up and always have that remembrance of home or things that you have lost or that that candle is always burning there in that window and its shining for you or whomever. So that was it, those three pieces, the fence piece called Time Has Slipped Rows, the weird voyager 2 cradle thing, Chasin a Drownin Sun, and then the suitcase piece, A Pole Star Guiding me Back.
A. So you mentioned the whole westward expansion, has that been a recurring theme for you?
JB. In the loosest sense I think, I have done work specifically for that but I’ve been pulling back kind of further and trying to see what it is that I’m really interested in life, what is it that kind of holds together my interest in audio, field recording, and sculpture and what is this thing that I feel is kind of driving me. Then I realized that its just American landscape, I think that in the biggest broadest sense. When I thought about that, it really seemed so vague but at the same time I like how it can be “Oh, oh he’s a landscape artist” and all of the sort of weird things that could imply like “Oh, he’s painting bluebonnets”. In my definition, it means that I can explore things through field recording, very local things, so if I’m recording down by the river for my next show at the Southwest School of Arts in December, to me, its like an investigation of the American landscape in a broader sense but in a very specific way, my local landscape. You know, sometimes it’s the venue that provides the glue that holds some of these titles or the random ideas together.
At this venue, the Old Jail, it seemed like a really nice place where all these things could talk about something. To me its like an EP, a three song EP about leaving home or the restlessness, leaving home not knowing where you are going, drifting in some sort of way but then still being lonesome for those things that you left behind or even excited about what might be ahead. All those emotions are emotions that I was feeling and thinking about as I was making this, and that space too, really felt like those ideas resonated more. Again I’m not trying to think like “Oh, what would it be like if I was in jail”, because I cant pretend to think that I would know what that would be like and I don’t want to go to that place.
A. All these ideas of moving west and drifting and journeying, how do you think your work has evolved or where do you think you are at now?
JB. My biggest revelation so far, and its only happened in the past year, and it seems so obvious, is that its more about, well, I was dealing with work that was talking about Americana like folk traditions and interesting stories of sort of faith and hope and what are the things that, if we were to distill down, what are our important sort of defining characteristics. When we were in the middle of the last Bush era, it was really weird to think, how is America defining itself through our politics and is that really the definition that we would want. I don’t feel like, and even now, I don’t necessarily feel like the way America is framed is the definition that I feel comfortable with, that sort of imperialistic world police. I mean I understand what we are trying to do and not to get overly political, but I do think that if I’m interested in Americana and American landscape then I can talk about these different ideals and things that I would like to see happen and sort of counteract the way that I feel like we get pigeonholed and defined. So that’s been a bigger revelation for me.
A. So you are definitely going to continue working in this way, exploring westward expansion, Americana?
JB. I think its more Americana, I’ll definitely continue to explore that, I feel now that I have that framework it gives me a lot more freedom to really explore. Suddenly, field recordings that I’m taking down here are exploring the idea of American landscape and so it just happens to be a microcosm of what we are talking about, not about the west, but the fact that these are some the oldest water rites in the state, and the missions and the sort of history we have is a great place to explore. It’s just beautiful, and the water sounds amazing when you record it, so the projects I’m working on, yeah they are still going to be about that. I think the forms too, not only the idea but also I think the way things are being formalized are going to make box sets. It kind of takes its cues from records, like amazing record covers and you know when you open up an LP or a box set you get a lot of stuff in it, all the archives, like the Beach Boys “Smile” album, it comes with tons of extra recordings. We have this great tradition in music where the box set being all the great stuff into one kind of thing, I like the idea, like the suitcase I consider a box set, everything packed into one thing and when you open it up you can expand it out and it talks about whatever its story is, it sort of unfolds. If you have a record you can play it, listen and also it includes stuff to read and or images to look at.
A. When you are looking at your work from the outside then, you think of them as EPs?
JB. That’s one of the structures I use, for me, coming from music and being so interested in it, yeah some shows could be a whole album, but I like EPs better. You can have three or four songs that talk about something but it’s shorter, it’s more direct. I’ve never had a museum show or anything like that, so I imagine a museum show could be an album, I mean if I had all the last four or five bodies of work in one big space that would be an album, essentially you know, it might be a lot, it might be hard to get your head around it but I think I could draw and mix and match some pieces and make it all fit together but yeah these, these are EPs for sure. Especially that space (Old Jail), three pieces isn’t a lot but I think that all three work together really well, they fit. One of them was from 2007 so the ideal was that it sort of sits there kind of gestating and it’s like having a track that you recorded but you don’t know where it goes yet and somehow this track suddenly a few years later seems like it’s relevant to something I’m doing now, so I can pull it out of the archive and just put in here.
A. You use sound in all of your works, how do you think that sound, would you call it music or sound, goes with your visual art?
JB. I would call it sound because I think it’s a broader definition, if something has to be musical then you get these preconceived notions about what you think sounds musical and what I think sounds musical, would be different. You and I have broad definitions of what could be music anyway, I mean, we listen to a lot of crazy stuff but I think sound, sound is really, well you know if you talk about the idea of organized sound that it is all music is, it is an organization of sound, then if that’s the definition then I think it’s okay because I’m definitely about organizing it. I think about sound in a very conceptual way, to me using the sound, connecting Jupiter winds and west Texas winds, it’s the same idea as using my grandfather’s suitcase. That suitcase has a lot of meaning to me, it was my grandfathers and he passed away and my grandmother gave it to me, and so it’s been handed down and it’s an important piece of material for me and it makes sense that I would use it. The sound to me, it’s like I could record the wind and just record it in a room and make the sound of wind or just record any sound of wind but to me it’s important that I’m drawing a line from Albany to Jupiter and the fact that I’m also drawing the line between one of those recordings from Voyager and I’m talking about a piece that deals with Voyager too with the baby cradle piece. Those connections to me are vital and are super important, I think sound can make those things happen really in a beautiful way and not in such a traditional way either. If you had to draw that out, if you had to make that an image, it would be a hard image to draw, how would you make those connections work? For me, in my mind, and I couldn’t make those connections, because I cant draw and I’m not very good at illustrating those things, but for me the sound, putting those two recordings, illustrates it perfectly. To me sound is… My memories are more based in sounds than they are visually, its important to me that whatever the sound is that I’m using that it is rich conceptually and that it adds something contextually, like what is it going to bring to it. As a material it’s easier for me to work with sound than it is to work with a pencil or paint, I don’t know what to paint, but with sound, I do know what to do with sound.
Keep a look out for Justin’s continuation into the world of sound and visual art at the Southwest School of Art later this year in December. As for now, the installation at the Old Jail Art Center will be showing until September 9th, leaving plenty of time to chase ones own orange, pink, sunset, into the west.
For more information visit www.theoldjailartcenter.org