Wavepool – Tell me about your photographic project _IMG. What are some interests that are addressed in the work?
Robert Chase Heishman – The _IMG works are straightforward, formal photographs that play with the flattening of pictorial (photographic) space. I arrived at the project out of a desire to loosen up what I made in the studio. I wanted to embark on a way of making that was willful and immediate – something to free me up a little from the restrictions I tend to put on myself. Having been steeped in process-based art since the beginning of my career, I’ve always had a hard time simply shooting photographs – like a ‘shooter’ – mainly because I need a structure to work in and construct from. Around this time of trying to make another body of work, my friend Megan Schvaneveldt lent me some colored masking tape she had laying around her studio. I borrowed some rolls of orange tape and made _IMG #3.
Wavepool – How does your new work, Indefinite Free Time, fit into that spectrum of making? You seem to be revealing an interesting dynamic between structure and leisure in the images, and I’m curious how the work developed. I’d love to hear more about those images, the ideas behind them, and the process.
Robert Chase Heishman – Indefinite Free Time is a series that directly references Guantanamo Bay detainee artwork – they’re 1:1 representations of paintings and drawings by detainees that I referenced and then rendered photographically. A few years ago, I came across an article of a reporter who gained access to do a story on and take cell phone photos of the artwork that the Guantanamo Bay detainees were allowed to make. When I saw the artwork I was instantly reminded of the ledger art that Native Americans made while imprisoned. They were given lined, ledger paper to write and draw on, and would often depict tradition and ceremony that was being desecrated. The parallels of subjugation, and how art factors into the equation in both instances is/was striking to me. Navigating a globalized existence, I often feel powerless in the face of larger political conflicts or issues. What is my role in speaking to global conflicts or situations? In a very simple sense I think the photographs of Indefinite Free Time are like a small archive. This act of preservation through appropriation is something I’m interested in and I see as a political act on my part. At the same time, I largely see these politics to be more of a human gesture of acknowledging other’s humanity that is being infringed upon. I like these works because their subject matter resembles the kinds of still lifes that someone would study in a beginning drawing class. This series feels like an extension of my interest in flattening a picture plane, much like my _IMG series and my ibid. videos. As photographs, they bridge a tradition of still life photography that, on the surface, looks very formal, yet these seemingly willful arrangements are actually embedded with complex political content.
Wavepool – In addition to your work as an individual, collaborative projects seem to make up a large portion of your practice. Why is collaboration important to you? What is enjoyable and beneficial about the process?
Robert Chase Heishman – Collaboration is how I began my artistic career. When I was 18 years old, I collaborated with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company on the work Split-Sides. I designed an original décor (set design) for the production. Looking back, I realize I was quite naïve about making art, and was given tremendous trust by Merce to create whatever I wanted to create for the work. With the mentorship of Trevor Carlson (Executive Director of the MC/DC), Jim Ingalls (the lighting designer of Split-Sides), and the MC/DC staff as a whole, I navigated the terrain of Merce’s form of collaboration. John Cage used to say: “Merce does his thing, and I do mine, and for your convenience, we put them together.” This is very much how it felt while working with Merce – it was freeing; it was independently together. The collaboration of Split-Sides largely occurred at the time of the actual performance, when the elements of the dance, set, music, costumes, and lighting all blended anew, each night the piece was performed. My work with Merce and the company was a formative time in my artistic upbringing that has always stayed with me, as well as the spirit and importance of collaboration. Throughout my career I have always remained interested in collaborating with friends and colleagues of mine because unanticipated results inevitably occur, and often the work I make with others is more exciting and allows for a social component rather than making work on my own. Collaboration creates a space where I am reminded that I am but one trajectory of many. This is helpful to be reminded of because it is a reality in life as a whole.
Wavepool – How did ibid., your collaboration with Megan Schvaneveldt come into existence? What is happening in the videos?
Robert Chase Heishman – Megan and I met while in grad school at Northwestern University. We were both making videos that involved doing series of actions with different objects – she made a great series of videos about balance, and I was making videos about my namesake. Our initial videos took place outside in public spaces, and we would wheatpaste a QR code in the exact spot where we shot the video. This is where we used the moniker ‘ibid’. This practice of site responsiveness has been something we attempt to continue to this day. Recently, we were invited to create a video on-site at the Columbus Museum of Art. To answer your question of what is happening in the videos – this is hard to pin down. I mean, on a practical level, they are one-take choreographed videos that are humorous, absurd, and magical at times. The flattening of the pictorial space is something that we are interested in working with, as well as mining simultaneity. In some ways our videos are like going to website where there are about a million other things happening on the site. There’s a lot of material/object play happening as well, but it’s all incredibly rehearsed. I’m curious to know what you think is happening in the videos?
Wavepool – I definitely pick up on the humorous qualities, the simultaneous actions, and the performative nature of each video. I really love how absurd it all is and the fact that there’s rehearsal involved, resulting in some kind of awkward and beautiful magic. In the video for the Columbus Museum of Art especially, I tune in to that idea of simultaneity when some of the gestures are being viewed on a screen in the space as well as in real time. Part of that process throws off my sense of time and the picture plane, as you mentioned, just a little bit. Tell me more about the sites you used. Do you use objects collected on site? In what ways do the sites affect the process?
Robert Chase Heishman – Generally, the sites we used were sites that were nearby CTA lines in Chicago, with the hope that a passerby would scan the QR code, watch the video and recognize that the video playing on their mobile phone is the very place they’re standing, and then take the video with them. Megan and I would also choose sites that felt blank and nondescript. The objects we used were collected from dollar plus stores or surplus stores, and the nature of shooting these videos outside presented enough variables and challenges to delightfully alter the momentum of the objects and actions we would rehearse beforehand in the studio.
Wavepool – What artists have you been looking at lately?
Robert Chase Heishman – This question always sends me spinning. I look at artist’s work – online and in person – all the time. It’s just hard for me to pin everything down to a concise list. There’s also a great deal of music that I feel affects what I’m making in the studio (lately I’ve been re-listening to a lot of Arthur Russell and, per my friend Chris Meerdo’s suggestion, Sophie. But ultimately what I feel the most connected to and excited by are the work that my friends (or friends of friends) are making and it’s this community that I believe in and think about the most day to day.
To see more, please visit Robert’s website.
Robert’s work will be included in Making an Entrance, an exhibition presented by LVL3 and Robert Blumenthal Gallery that highlights sixteen contemporary artists who are making an international impact with their creative practice. An opening reception will be held at Robert Blumenthal Gallery in New York on Thursday, June 25 7:00-9:00pm. For more information, please visit LVL3’s website.