Wavepool – On your website, you devote a section to projects that were created in response to a variety of works by Ed Ruscha. Why do you think that it’s important for artists such as yourself to pay homage to other influential artists?
Travis Shaffer – It seems to me that participation within any channels, trajectories, or ‘traditions’ ultimately involves some amount of reflexivity. Whether tacitly or explicitly, the work of an artist is dialogical. One value of the homage is the consideration of it as an ‘Academic’ act: one related to a rigorous training in art which involves repetitive acts of reproduction. The significance of this act – whether connoted as appropriation, homage, copy, or derivative – has something to do with acknowledging ties to the past. I see the deconstruction, analysis, and reconstruction required of the copyist to be an important learning experience which addresses both criticism and production.
Because of this, it seems natural to me that my first work after Ed Ruscha – Thirtyfour Parking lots in Los Angeles … via Google Maps – was made as an MFA candidate. I very consciously saw this work as a product of my ‘academic’ training.
Wavepool – In addition to Ruscha, who are some artists that have had a long lasting impact on your practice?
Travis Shaffer – The answer to this question has proved to be a perpetually moving target. Generally speaking my work has always has some level of conscious reference to existing works. A small and diverse sample of these influences and citations include Robert Campin, Edouard Manet, René Magritte, László Moholy-Nagy (and many others associated with the Bauhaus), The Marcels (Broodthaers and Duchamp), John Baldessari, The ‘Art & Language’ gang, Robert Adams, Hans Haacke, Hans Peter Feldmann, Joachim Schmid, as well as a steady stream of other contemporary artists engaging the photographic medium.
Wavepool – What sets the book apart from other setting or methods for viewing artwork?
Travis Shaffer – Most compellingly, I appreciate the book for it’s autonomy. The book absorbs all of the criteria for reception. One could of course speak of the differing implications of a book presented on a pine shelf, atop a Noguchi coffee table, in the stacks of a public library, or within a museum vitrine, etc. However, once relegated to the hands of a reader the book has the ability to be engaged based mostly upon it’s own criteria. Unlike other forms it seems much less conditioned by context – speaking about a book as site specific seems absurd.
I have also come to appreciate the book as a practical solution to the problem of proximity. Biographically speaking, I have been self-aware of my peripherality – though admittedly, such a suggestion is a problem of perception. The mobility of Artist’s Books (specifically Print-on-Demand publications) has made my physical location a far less significant factor.
Wavepool – You describe your ongoing body of work O WHITE GODS as ‘a mixed-media exploration of whiteness.’ Can you go into more detail about this?
Travis Shaffer – Sure. O WHITE GODS is an exercise in obscurity. Does that clear it up? With this body of work, I am compelled to resist explanation – I certainly am compelled to resist the current model for writing an artist statement. But, for these purposes that seems rather arrogant.
O WHITE GODS is the by-product of a process of compiling and presenting a growing collection of significant images, objects, and text. These components have surfaced as a part of ongoing research which stems from a study of various encountered implications and theories of the color white. The installation of the work is lead by searching and playfully leverages these items into meaning generating relationships. Specifically through the juxtaposition of image and text.
Wavepool – With O WHITE GODS it seems that you’re exploring new territory in both the installation and the form that individual works take on. What prompted this direction?
Travis Shaffer – This project does mark an intentional transition away from the ‘conceptual’ and ‘post-studio’ workflow that has, to this point, governed most of my artistic practice. It quite literally started as an excuse to engage in the conversations which were increasingly becoming part of my pedagogy. Conversations – though in my train of thought – which have been left out of my work for various reasons. I have always defined my practice as that of a photographer…of sorts – I was never completely comfortable with the title photographer on it’s own. O WHITE GODS, from inception, was an excuse to explore possibilities of form that were not consistent with my previous works. A point of departure.
What results from this freedom are works like USP:SKH26L-TZ//There is no danger that standardization will force a choice upon the individual: An archival inkjet print of a galvanized joist hanger reproduced about 7 times taller than the actual object which sits atop a pair of Whitewashed Pier blocks. This work considers utilitarian objects of ubiquity in a way that suspends recognition and forces them into a particular conversation with their appropriated subtitle. These choices have something to do with monumentality, reliquaries, suburbia, etc.
For the first time since graduate school, I have a studio larger than a closet. I’m not sure, but this may be a contributing factor.
Wavepool – What are your plans for continuing O WHITE GODS?
Travis Shaffer – My only plans are that I will continue making and exhibiting white things about white things. There will be more images. There will be more objects. There will be more and more text. There naturally will be books.
In February, I will be mounting a second solo exhibition from this body of work in an all white 1920’s Bungalow turned exhibition space. Additionally, I have just finished PAINT, my contribution to ABCEUM: a multi-book project by the members of ABC (artists’ books cooperative). ABCEUM will debut simultaneously at Printed Matter’s NYABF and the Brighton Photo Biennial this fall.
To see more, please visit Travis’ website.