“The painter 'takes his body with him' says Valéry. Indeed we cannot imagine how a mind could paint. It is by lending his body to the world that the artist changes the world into paintings.”
—Maurice Merleau-Ponty (from “Eye and Mind”)
Wandering in New York, Rome, Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, London, and Berlin, I am drawn to specific buildings as points of confluence for my urban drifting. Curved architectural forms manifest various ideals—formal, symbolic, functional. I find myself inside places designed for worship, entertainment, material consumption, contemplation, transportation, and governance. The paintings and drawings in this series are a tactile and visual record of my intuitive reckoning with these spaces—a way of forcing them to look back at me.
"He suddenly realized he could see everything: the mountains, the trees, the paths, the panoramas with their slightly dreamy perspectives. . . Was he seeing or remembering? He marveled at the faculty of sight, its prodigious, ultra-physiognomic capacities, the dilation of the pupil, the brain's interpretations."
—César Aira (from An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter)
How can experience, bound by time, be located? How can image-making become a means for layering physical, emotional, and mental conceptions of space? By employing rigorous means of visually dissecting and translating photographic artifacts of my experiences of specific sites in a number of international cities (including Rome, New York, and Istanbul), I am attempting, through the creation of images, to dissolve the (linguistically determined) dichotomies between external and internal, organic and geometric, presentness and memory, thought and feeling.
The Queensboro Bridge is the only elevated structure whose sole purpose is to link Queens and Manhattan. Completed in 1909, it inhabits a narrow space between the two boroughs—nestled between the immense verticality of Midtown Manhattan and the nascent upward reach of Long Island City. It neither soars as majestically as the Verrazano nor evokes as much sentimentality as the Brooklyn Bridge; nevertheless, this largely unsung monument exhibits tremendous physical and psychic muscularity.
Walking over the Queensboro is an intense visual and auditory experience. The complex steel girders of this double-decked cantilever bridge form semi-enclosed spaces that frame infinite constellations of shapes in the adjacent neighborhoods. Likewise, sound reverberates among the girders, echoing the rattle and din of machines and people in celebration of a city whose bones developed in an industrial age.
* Written at the time of the publication of QBB#1, a six-color spit bite, woodcut, and relief print. Printed by Raphael Griswold. Published by Anne MacDougall Editions.
"We go to certain places to find what corresponds to something we half-suspect has long been in us already; the outside helps configure, helps us see the inside better."
—André Aciman, Alibis
I was first introduced to Hagia Sophia through its image. But unlike many of the other iconic works of art and architecture that I became acquainted with in this manner, I have a distinct memory of that first meeting. It was a darkened lecture hall and I was an undergraduate painting student. The professor clicked a button, a 35mm slide dropped into position, and a representation of Hagia Sophia (which he explained was Greek for "Church of the Divine Wisdom") projected onto a gigantic screen. The straight-on symmetrical view facing the sanctuary apse attempted to present, in rational terms, this building's renowned interior as defined by its massive arches and a tempting glimpse of its window-ringed central dome. In spite of my frustration of being presented with only a sliver of the dome, articulated by distinct shafts of mote-filled light streaming from the small, low-lying windows, I sat up in my chair and peered intently at the picture, willing myself into that mysterious and awe-inspiring space.
Of course, this image—while loaded with the intention that corresponds with a particular vantage point, not to mention the physical inclusions and omissions of cropping—was meant at face value simply to offer a study aid. Nevertheless, that projection lodged in my mind's eye and became an optical talisman that I carried with me on subsequent journeys to the spot of high ground above the Golden Horn where that most wondrous configuration of stone still sits nearly 1,500 years since its creation.
I left my hotel near Taksim Square early in the morning. I wanted to give myself time to walk, yet still arrive at Hagia Sophia when it opened at 9:00 a.m. While traversing the Galata Bridge, I happened into a conversation with a young gentleman. He was wearing a casual blazer, jeans, and a pair of Ray-Bans. I could easily imagine him walking down the street of any one of a number of international cities. It turned out he was from Beirut, a film producer of some kind, visiting Istanbul on business but with a bit of time to see the sites. We had a friendly chat as we made our way toward the building. I thought it might be interesting to tour the site with my new acquaintance. The energy of this familiar stranger might set me on a less predicable trajectory, might make this experience all the more memorable. But once he stated his intention to secure a guide, we decided to part ways. And, anyway, I had a specific plan in mind.
So, what was the nature of this particular visit? Well, I could say it was to have an experience of the site that would provide a counterpoint to the books and articles I had been reading about the building and the history of Istanbul. I could also say it was to see how differently I would view the building after close to a decade since my last visit. Both would have been worthwhile endeavors—the former an attempt to bridge the gap between information and experience, the latter a meditation on temporality and shifting states of mind. Or was it that I just wanted to be with the building—to feel its grand yet intricate space, a pilgrimage of sorts to one of the most revered buildings ever constructed—as an exercise in presentness? I am sure that aspects of all three of these concepts were swirling around inside me that morning. But, like many of the other tourists visiting this monument, I was also intent on documenting my experience with a camera.
It's curious to think about the ability of the camera's lens to provide a mathematical overlay in relation to Hagia Sophia's exquisite geometries dreamed up all those centuries ago. But these two mathematical systems—a lens with its two-dimensional planes and defined edges, and a work of architecture, which exists in three-dimensional space and, therefore, is experienced peripatetically—can generate awkward alignments. This itself exposes something particular about taking pictures. It's fundamentally about the decision of what exactly to fit within the predetermined frame, and so on some level the photographer is engaged in a self-reflective process.
After purchasing my ticket, I was immediately confronted with a large, bright red Turkish flag that partially covered the door into the exonarthex, the smaller of the two long transitional spaces that lead into the body of the building. Its indomitable presence reminds contemporary visitors that this building is no longer a place of worship, but a museum—part of the reforms initiated by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk following the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923.
By the time I entered the building my camera was guiding my movement through the space, asking me to move in one direction or another, beckoning me to attend to certain configurations of matter and light. At the same time I also had "things" to see—points of interest, artifacts, and so forth. In the narthex, I sought out the great bronze door in the center—the one used in 537 C.E. by Justinian when this building was first consecrated. I imagined the pageantry of this precisely choreographed ritual, with Justinian and his entourage of church and governmental officials moving through the space in such a way as to activate the building's potent, symbolic geometries.
I wanted to savor this moment, slow it down. I did not want to simply walk through the door, but to make this transition somehow meaningful to me, a kind of folding of the past into the present. I used the camera as my mechanism for extending the moment. Above the bronze door is a mosaic that depicts Christ sitting on a jewel-covered throne. His right hand gestures a blessing and his left holds an open book. The inscription reads in ancient Greek, "Peace be with you, I am the Light of the World."
Upon entering the body of the building, impressions, memories, and information melded into an intense experiential tonic, forcing me to respond and retrieve in turn. A defused light had gathered inside and was washing over the deep, warn surfaces, illuminating the residue of centuries. Ocher, deep green, innumerable cool and warm grays, flecks of blue, red, and purple . . . I wondered if this is the color of time.
I focused on the linear elements—the impossibly long wires that extend from the ceiling to suspend the low-lying lamps, the expansive arches and semidomes whose flowing curves are decorated with delicately painted patterns. These visual cues both oriented me in the space and forced me to keep moving. I remember thinking that this is all we have—we do not see space, we see only the things that demarcate space.
I inched closer to the dome, moving past the massive wooden round plaques painted by the calligrapher Mustafa Izzet Efendi during the nineteenth century. The Arabic script on the eight round panels proclaims the names of those sacred to Islam—Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, the first four Caliphs, and two of the grandsons of Muhammad. Then my eye moved up to the four seraphim who occupy the pendentives and have been bearing witness in this building since its beginning. Finally, I lingered beneath the central dome, crowned by the intricate script encircling the apex, also by Izzet Efendi, with a passage from the Koran that reads: "In the name of God the Merciful and Compassionate; God is the light of Heaven and Earth. His light is Himself, not that which shines through glass or gleams in the morning star or glows in the firebrand."
Taking one picture begets the taking of others. With a space this dynamic and complex the mind is in a constant state of anticipation, trying in vain to grasp the wondrous void that is sculpted by walls, arches, semidomes, and the central dome. With my camera pointed upward and using the dome as a centering point, I looked for ways of fitting the swooping edges into the rectangular format of the viewfinder. At a spot just to the right of the sanctuary apse, with the dome still in view, I took many pictures while lost in the visual game of choosing just the right slice of the building to make an image that could sit precisely on the edge between oriented and disoriented spatial representation.
I made my way up the rustic stairs that lead to the upper gallery, then wandered over to the balcony and looked at the people below. Their hushed movements were countered by the perfect stillness of the floral-patterned illuminations created by the hanging lamps. Some people were in groups listening to a guide, some were peering though the lens of a camera, others were milling about, shifting their heads from one position to the next, trying in vain to get a unified visual hold on the space. We shared no collective rituals, just the quite echo of our individual thoughts.
I was reminded of Sultan Mehmet II's rumination, from this very balcony, as written by the Tursun Bey, the Ottoman official who accompanied Mehmet when he first entered Hagia Sophia following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the decisive battle that gave the ruined and depopulated Byzantine capital to the Ottomans: "When he saw the dependent buildings of this mighty structure fallen into ruin, he thought of the impermanence and instability of the world, and of its ultimate destruction." It is curious that Mehmet, in the midst of what, for all intents and purposes, was a triumphal march to Hagia Sophia, dwelled on such melancholy ruminations. Even so, the name Hagia Sophia was translated—not changed—to Aya Sofya when, in short order following the siege, it was converted into a mosque, and embraced by another of the world's great religions.
Heading out the door, I stopped to take a few final pictures. The strong early afternoon light was pouring through that large red Turkish flag. I marveled at the juxtaposition of the worn ancient stone and the blazing modern fabric.
I moved far enough away from the building to take it in as a whole. In many ways Hagia Sophia contains the history of Istanbul. A Byzantine church. A Muslim mosque. A modern museum. A point in space that defines an ever-shifting edge. Its history disrupts hard distinctions between East and West. It cannot be easily claimed or located. It has witnessed Christian and Muslim rituals and prayers, centuries of political and military tensions, and the subjective gazes of modern travelers. I wonder what other transformations are in store for this domed container that, in its very essence, holds fast to and celebrates memory and light.
"Rome is surely the most beautiful city in Italy, if not the world. But it is also the most ugly,
the most welcoming, the most dramatic, the richest, the most wretched."
—Pier Paolo Pasolini, from "The City's True Face"
As we drove down Via Portuense on Fabrizio's scooter, Corviale loomed in the distance. It was startling in its girth, singularity, and isolation—impossible to take in with one glance, even from a mile or so away. As we approached, the power of Corviale's startling statistics rattled in my brain: eleven stories high, nearly one kilometer long, and designed for 8,000 inhabitants. It was only fitting that I was with Fabrizio for this excursion to one of Rome's most notorious government-sponsored modernist housing projects, because our conversations over a number of years were, in many ways, the catalyst for this mission.
I had been visiting Rome regularly for more than a decade and thus far my days had mostly been spent wandering, examining, and reading my way through Rome's endlessly rich and seductive past. In spite of the pulsating din of Fabrizio's scooter, I drifted back to one of our many dialogues:
"I find architecture to be the most crystallized form though which to understand the past. Buildings have a way of revealing political, cultural, and philosophical ideas that are then experienced as physical entities existing in the world," I had said.
"Fair enough," Fabrizio had responded, "but how many times can you visit St. Peter's, the Coliseum, or the Pantheon? What do you know of the Rome beyond the old city center, of Rome since World War II?"
We parked the scooter and soon realized that the central form of this massive complex could only be accessed by first traversing an isolated and semi-enclosed catwalk. It was Sunday morning and—although Corviale resonated with a particular kind of misery that inhabited its rundown and repetitive geometry—in the literal sense the place was quiet.
As we climbed the stairs leading to the catwalk I became engrossed in photographing the space. More than just a vehicle for capturing images, the lens framed discreet and sonorous impressions that penetrated my being, akin to the foreboding and singular notes of a brooding musical composition. The catwalk soon led to other dynamic transitional spaces, many of which were articulated by hulking concrete walls and deep shadows. It was hard to get a visual handle on the place from any single vantage point, so I just kept moving.
Fabrizio and I intuitively kept each other in sight, but I have no memory of us talking. When we finally got close to the main structure I remember scanning back and forth down Corviale's endless linear trajectory and being struck by its physicality. Its visual and psychological weight was broken only by the fragmented geometries of the windows, balconies, and hanging laundry that rippled along its facade.
Governments around the world have attempted to solve any number of particular housing problems using modern architecture's rectilinear structures and economy of means. The often ill-fated results have been well documented. Nonetheless, the isolation and immensity of Corviale took these notions to new levels of brutality, both visual and experiential.
Oddly, I have no memory of seeing any people that day. However, the residue of human activity was ubiquitous—in parked cars, peeling graffiti, and discarded stuff. The image of a blue plastic bucket is etched in my mind, perhaps because it represented the possibility of the normal rituals of housework or even of play. I also remember some straggly flowers desperately trying to reach beyond their small rectangular planters in a vain attempt to absorb a bit of the eternal Roman sun.
I don't know how long Fabrizio and I explored Corviale. Maybe a few hours. Time has a way of being compressed when an experience forces one to be so present. As we drove back to my apartment near Vatican City my mind flooded with memories of my student days in the romantic and picturesque Italian hilltowns of Siena and Cortona. I would never have imagined a place like Corviale being built in a country so revered for having created architecture—or, for that matter, whole towns—with such a strong sense of community and rootedness to geography.
Later that day I sat on the balcony of my apartment, taking in the late afternoon sun and listening to chatter of children playing in the courtyard below. My mind was sifting though visual and auditory sensations from the morning and racing to connect my impressions of Corviale to broader questions—historical, cultural, and personal.
For a moment, my mind wandered and I found myself imagining a group of men standing around a large metal table with a glass top positioned near tall windows that allowed ample light to flood the room. On the table was a pristine white model of Corviale. The men in the room were well groomed, wearing polished loafers, crisp white shirts, sleek ties, and distinctive dark-rimmed glasses. Just at the moment when I started to envision satisfied smiles on their faces for having designed the longest residential building in Europe, I stopped myself and actively tried to push this thought out of my mind. To do this I closed my eyes and tried to conjure up an image of Corviale itself. However, I found it impossible to picture just one view. Instead, disembodied shapes and colors moved passed my mind's eye, spectral impressions formed, dissolved, and reformed in a space with a vague contour, but no definable center.
* The drawing for the cover of this issue of The Humanities Review derives from a photograph I took at Corviale during a late morning in June 2007. I took all the accompanying photographs that same day.
"Let it be reduced to electronic impulses, into flow of information, shaken by
redundancies and noises, and let it be degraded into a swirling entropy."
—Italo Calvino (from If on a Winter's Night a Traveler)
For many years my artwork has used urban space as the base from which to probe broad questions concerning history, memory, and experience. My work is an exploration of the ways different modes of documentation, and then material and visual translations, of this initial "data" can be positioned on varying conceptual and visual trajectories in relation to a corporal experience. My goal is to push down underneath the appearance of the visual environment in order to articulate something more basic about the mental and physical rhythm of moving though space and, more specifically, the experience of particularly salient locations in the urban environment.
Walking around New York City with a camera in hand and hooked to a pedometer allows one to collect a lot of data. Shapes that are culled from the photos taken and numbers counted by the pedometer are the raw material of my recent work. As the information about every conceivable part of our waking lives from every angle mounts and the structures of organizing this data become more complex, the body retreats. This work mirrors that retreat but at the same time celebrates what, for me, is the cornerstone of being—the simple act of breathing as I move through space.
Jeremy Sigler: So . . . what is it that originally attracted you to the idea of walking?
Paul Fabozzi: It's something that I've always done when I've wanted to focus. I move through space and take in an intense array of sensory perceptions. The act of concentrated walking is something I've been interested in and have built upon for a long time. In the same way that you would learn how to draw a little bit, then learn how to draw a little better, and then as your skills develop you advance your methodologies, I think I've done the same sort of thing with walking since I was young.
Sigler: You've mastered the art of walking in a sense?
Fabozzi: I'm not sure I would say I've mastered it, but I take it very seriously as a method of understanding myself and the world around me.
Sigler: When you go back to childhood, do you mean that you were aware of walking as a poetic activity as a child?
Fabozzi: Yeah. I have memories of being quite young—who knows, maybe as little as seven or eight—and wanting to get out of the house and go out by myself and walk. I lived in a small city, not in a suburb, so it was the kind of place where you could walk around and see a lot. Also, during that time in our culture, kids who were quite young could go out and walk by themselves and really explore. Parents didn't necessarily know where they were going. Whereas it is amazing to think about how situated kids are today.
Sigler: Yeah. Walking could be thought of as a subversive act—just to stray.
Fabozzi: I remember doing this early on. Then going to Europe and spending a lot of time in Italy during college really honed those skills, because I was in a foreign place and knew that the best way to understand it would be to walk it. Those experiences started to solidify something that I wanted to think about very seriously.
Sigler: Was this after you lived in Philadelphia?
Fabozzi: Before I lived in Philadelphia I spent two different semesters in Italy—one in Siena and one in Cortona—and traveled to a lot of other cities in Europe, like Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, and Munich. More recently, during the past ten years or so, I have spent part of each summer in Rome. For me Rome is the ultimate walking city. In Rome, walking allows you to feel this intense accumulation of human experience.
Sigler: Does this put you historically in touch with the wandering impulse of the modernist bohemian? I'm thinking of someone like Baudelaire, who decided at some point: "I'm going to basically wander around and become a kind of critic of everything that I see."
Fabozzi: I remember the first time I read Paris Spleen, his prose poems about Paris in the nineteenth century. It made a tremendous amount of sense to me—this idea that the poems were vignettes that came about from the experience of walking. There's a reason why Baudelaire thought it was necessary to write about, and valid to write about, walking in nineteenth-century Paris. Hausmann's redesign of Paris opened up the old medieval city and created different kinds of physical space and, by extension, social interaction. Baudelaire sensed how that opening up made wandering an existential actÃ¢â‚¬"the idea of walking in the city as a way to find yourself.
Sigler: But also as a place of diversity and unpredictability—that as you move through the city, a certain number of collisions in space and time are going to disorient you and take your breath away.
Fabozzi: And that's why you do it. That's it right there. It's about losing yourself in order to have a better understanding of yourself when you're done. It is about going out into the world and confronting it and seeing it—not watching it on a screen—and at the same time trying to see how you fit in or don't. I like your notion of "collisions in space," going out into the world and walking around. That's messy. It puts you in a vulnerable position. You're not going to be able to put the experience in a box. You're not going to figure it out. You're not going to have an answer for it. You're barely going to be able to read it. It's a whole different kind of intake, and one that I don't think that we're necessarily trained to understand or even want. We want things codified and situated. I'm not sure that we've given ourselves the language we need to have a meaningful relationship with our surroundings.
Sigler: That's why I called walking an art form before. Because I presume that to be engaged with your environment and to find something of interest in this kind of experience takes skill, and that it is not just something that you're born with—the skill to, how shall I put it, be stimulated by the world.
Fabozzi: You have to work at your relationship with walking. And I don't do it because I've mastered it. I do it because I haven't mastered it. I continue to want to force myself to concentrate. For me it is one of the hardest things to do—just to concentrate, really concentrate. Sometimes I walk down the street and I'm so caught up in what I need to do later that day or in two weeks that my feet aren't even touching the ground. I don't even really know where I am and I have no idea that I am breathing because I'm more in a mental space than I am in a physical space. That's not concentrating.
Sigler: Right. So if you can up the ante, in a sense you're increasing your potential to take in information. It seems, from these paintings, that you put a lot of energy into the idea of being able to bring this walk back and make something happen on the canvas. And then I imagine your approach is no longer the approach to walking, but the approach to painting. How does that transformation occur? That seems like a really difficult bridge. It's not like you're just pouring your guts out on the canvas. I mean, these are very orderly. There's obviously a kind of strategy to how to get this information down.
Fabozzi: Right. Because what I end up working with is very defined.
Sigler: And objectively can you say what that is?
Fabozzi: I have photographs and numbers. That's what I have. And the photographs, I deconstruct them a step further: I take them, print them, put tracing paper over them, and pull shapes out of them. I pull these pieces out like pixels. It's this idea of taking information. The walk is analog. It's the flow of experience. But what I deal with in the studio is information. I'm saying, "Okay. I'm going out with this intensity of focus on the perception—the physical and emotional perception of the walk—but when I get back what I have are these artifacts. For example, documentation of 1,657 steps, 1.5 miles, 59 minutes, and a whole bunch of photographs. I have my materials and I try to build. At this point I'm setting up a tension between experience on the one hand and information on the other.
Sigler: I see, but at some point you shift perspective to a kind of topographical concept. I mean, you're mapping, right? You've taken the world and shifted the axis from the perspective of being on the ground, walking around with this camera and this pedometer. The camera is always at eye level, your eye level, looking out at the horizon, either near or far. And yet with these paintings, you get the feeling that you're looking down on something. Do you feel there is anything to that?
Fabozzi: Well, one of the reasons I like working with data is because I don't want to pictorialize. So maybe that is where the shift in perspective comes from. And maybe that's why I feel like I have to mess with the photographs a bit—because they're the closest thing to some kind of representation of the environment. By pulling pieces out instead of working with the whole image, I feel like I might be able to open up other opportunities, other ways of exploring, other ways of getting at the experience besides making an image of what it looks like. In other words, I want to be honest about the fact that my consciousness is perceiving these things in this way. I am not a neutral depository of sensory impulses. None of us are.
Sigler: So it's not like these maps represent the location. I mean, it's not like I could look at this and find my way through it, right? Because for some reason when I look at these paintings, I start to get this sense that even though they're so fragmented and abstract there would be a way to put the pieces together and arrive in this place, to solve this puzzle. And I guess that's what holds these paintings together—this idea that there is some sort of core experience.
Fabozzi: Yes. At the same time that all I have are shapes from photographs and numbers, it still was forty-five minutes, or an hour, or an hour and fifteen minutes of being very conscious of color, atmosphere, time of day, and place. And I think that when I'm making a painting, even though I'm forcing myself to use this data, I am trying to get back to that thing that I remember most about it. It's a flash. It's a quality. It's not material in the physical sense so much as it's a shadow, but it's a shadow that I want to hold on to.
Sigler: Right. It's a synthetic dèjà vu.
Fabozzi: It's about memory. It's about trying to hold on. I go out and have this experience and when it's over I'm left with this stuff. How do I take this stuff and squeeze it to the point where I feel that I have my hands on something—that the experience isn't just over, that I'm not just one more step towards death—but that I'm actually able to hold on to something and remember it.
Sigler: Well, you know, historically that would seem like it has been a part of painting back to Cèzanne. I think about him and painting a mountain and getting into this language of representation, and it being very evident that the final painting is not about a mountain. It's about the process of painting. It is about the time spent doing it.
Fabozzi: Yeah. Cèzanne used geometry to break down the landscape into a consciously human and at the same time flexible pictorial language. I have tried to do the same. In other words, shapes and numbers give me the freedom to let the experience come through the process of painting.
Sigler: You said there are going to be two shows. Maybe you could talk a little bit about the work in the second show.
Fabozzi: Sure. At the same time that I was working on the paintings and drawings for the show at Gallery Siano I was given the opportunity to create an installation at Carbon 14. And that was perfect because while I was making these paintings I was thinking about if could I take each individual group of data—the paths for all nine walks, for instance—and use that as the information for one piece. It never made sense to me to just make other paintings with that data, but dealing with other kinds of materials excited me. I wanted to try to solidify my relationship with this data a step further. So that's got me working with stainless steel, Plexiglas, and some of the other things that we're looking at. The walks started as moving through space. Looking at a group of paintings on a wall moves you through the space in another way. But the installation lets me present the viewer with an altogether different experience of my collected data. I can take the information and bring it out with a different dimensionality with space and make the viewer navigate it.
Sigler: So you're thinking about the viewer, then, going on the walk and navigating the work? I mean, to a certain extent the walk through the gallery space becomes another conceptualization of the walk.
Fabozzi: The real motivation for me is not about making something that people can walk through. That's just the end product. The real motivation for me is figuring out how I can take these groups of data and squeeze them some more, keep squeezing them. I've been working with these same nine walks for three years. What happens if I keep working with this same data?
Sigler: When you say "squeeze" do you mean squeeze like you would hug a body or squeeze like you would wring out something?
Fabozzi: Well, it is a caress, for sure, but at the same time there's something a bit more aggressive for me. Maybe that's the intellectual part of seeing how far I could push it. Maybe that's the wringing out. Could I get all the water out of it, that thing?
Sigler: In that regard, and I don't mean to just drop names, but suddenly I'm thinking about Jasper Johns.
Sigler: I'm thinking, you know, he's always done that. He's always recycled things and kept getting distance out of them.
Fabozzi: Yeah. One of the most memorable experiences I've had being in a museum in New York since I moved here in 1993 was at a certain point in Johns's retrospective at MOMA. He was working those same shapes, numbers, and letters over and over again. I remember going through room after room down the central hallway and then you kind of had to turn the corner into this larger room. There was a moment in that room where he had worked these shapes to the point where it was so manic and so intense it ripped my head off. Because at a certain point it was not the numbers at all—it was him. I've thought about what that made me feel like while I've been working on this.
Sigler: That being said, I'm a little fearful for you about getting away from painting because painting in a sense has gotten you into this mess. And what I mean by that is you're now a mature painter. You could probably look back at your history and say, "Well, you know, now I've gotten into this whole thing by, essentially, making painting."
Sigler: It seems like a real daring move to put this information down, but not to put it down in or on a painting. And I'm wondering . . . what now? Does this open up a kind of Pandora's box of material and potentialities that is daunting?
Fabozzi: I'll have a better answer for that after the installation is up, but right now I would say it is just as likely that this experience will make me a better painter than it will a non-painter.
Sigler: Why is that?
Fabozzi: This experience might very well have a way of bringing me back to painting from a different place. It's like going traveling. You go to a country that you've never been to before and you sort of strip stuff away. And when you come back home to the thing that's familiar, it looks different to you, and maybe you experience it on a deeper level. Keep in mind that the paintings came first. The installation works off of the paintings.
Sigler: Well, not to argue with you on this, but to me the walk comes first.
Fabozzi: No. You're right. I would agree with you there. I mean, really the walk leads to drawing leads to painting leads to installation.
Sigler: Yeah. And if I were to look conceptually at the work from the most puritanical, reductive perspective, or the most minimalist perspective, I almost just want to just see the walk be the walk—and not to have to confront an object at all. But that's the poet, I guess, in me thinking about the relationship between your inner experience and your expressed experience.
Fabozzi: But even as the poet, you're going to try to construct a language for experience aren't you?
Sigler: Well, no, poets don't actually do anything. [Laugh] They just think that occasionally they'll crank out a little poem, but in fact they don't really do anything. [Laugh]
Fabozzi: You know, for me, the complexity of trying to make it is what's interesting. I wish I could just leave it alone, but. . .
Sigler: Well, that seems like that manic thing you were describing with Johns—that scratching it and squeezing it a little further.
Fabozzi: Yeah. I don't know if it's a little bit perverse, but I get pleasure out of holding this piece of steel that is a shape taken from a photo from one of these walks. I've painted that shape a lot of times. I've traced it a lot of times. There's something oddly satisfying about getting it cut out of steel and having it in my hand. You know. . . I've traced and drawn and watercolored and stenciled these shapes to the point where they are etched in my mind.
Sigler: You know each one.
Fabozzi: Yeah. And now I have them in stainless steel. And I can think about the buildings possibly that they came from, but the great thing is—I guess the thing that I'm trying to push for—is they become just the shape. At what point do they become just the shape? Do they have to be made in steel to do that? Do they have to get to this point?
Sigler: So maybe this whole process is actually a way to disintegrate these environments . . . to have them, in a way, disappear.
Fabozzi: Maybe. Or again maybe it is a way to memorize them.
Sigler: Like you described Rome. Maybe this is not a way to experience the Rome that you experience when walking, but a new way to put this material in a place where it can really be yours.
Fabozzi: Yeah. It's about turning it into language, visual language, and trying to own it.
Sigler: And do you feel that over time, the long-term trajectory of this body of work is to cover a lot of terrain?
Fabozzi: What I've been interested in up to this point is places that already mean something to me—that are already etched in my experience. New York City is the place where I live. I did a big project about Rome before this—the place that I return to every year. I'm not sure what is going to happen next though. What I'm trying to do is construct the language for talking about experience and about being in place and space. And once you have a language, a flexible language, you can go anywhere, but then that place will also change the language. That's the exciting thing—looking for the kind of places that are going to both utilize the given language and expand it.
New York City
Jeremy Sigler is a poet and the Associate New York Editor of Parkett. His next book, Crackpot Poet, will be published by Black Square Editions.