Behind the Scenes– Part 2
Delighted from my collaborative role in the morning, I came back to the gallery that afternoon to help with the wall drawing. I had seen photos of Oedipal Blind Spot when it was exhibited at other locations, and thus had a general impression of its scale and complexity. It was a beautiful artwork in the photos, but it looked truly stunning even in its early stages when I saw it in person. Katy Schimert had already drawn the outlines of the mouth, eye, and ear in conte crayon on the wall and my job was to attach black, red, gold, and silver map pins to the wall on top of these outlines. These pins would serve as anchors for the delicate threads that now span across the drawing. Intrigued by this conception of a wall drawing, I set to work. Using a hammer to carefully lodge the pins in the wall, I was extremely nervous for the first dozen or so hammerings. The spacing had to be just right, and I was in constant fear of smudging the delicately applied conte beneath. Each time I safely secured a pin I breathed a sigh of relief. I soon caught on, however, and took great pleasure in the rhythmic process. I was stunned by the degree of freedom Katy allowed me in attaching the pins. She did not demarcate the appropriate spacing for the pins beforehand, and often times she would chime in,“Oh, just throw in some black and gold ones wherever you think it looks good!”
Perhaps my greatest task of all was helping Katy pass the threads through her gorgeous silver mountains at the center of the piece so that they could connect from one corner of the wall to the other. Standing on a ladder much higher than I would have normally preferred, Richard Miller—a good 20 feet off the ground on the Genie—would tie off a thread on one of the pins at the top of the wall top and hand me the loose end. I would thread it through a needle that I would then pass through one of the peaks in the mountains and hand to Katy, who would tie off the other end. I had to be diligent about making sure that I was puncturing the mountains in specific areas to ensure that the threads would pass through and maintain a straight line from one corner to the other. Balanced precariously on the ladder and peering up to see where Richard had tied off the thread, this was no easy task. To make things more difficult, the mountains are made of thick silver duct tape that does not allow a thin sewing needle to puncture without a considerable amount of pressure. Many a time was I frightened of misshaping one of the mountains by pushing too hard with the needle; or worse, not lining up the threads properly to achieve the effect Katy was looking for. Katy relieved much of my anxiety while I speared the mountains, however, by keeping up a cheerful conversation about movies, different types of sewing needles, the local eateries in Williamstown, oh, and also the minor detail of how the wall drawing was developing. Each time the three of us finished arranging a thread I wanted to jump off the ladder to get a better view of how the piece was shaping up. I was excited to see how all of our labor was paying off!
In the end, the piece turned out phenomenally. I was amazed to see Katy’s vision take shape on the wall. What I like best about the piece is how it looks so fluid and spontaneous, even though it derived from a painstakingly deliberate manual process—one that I now can fully appreciate. It was a once in a lifetime experience to work with an artist and gain a complete understanding of how museums adapt their spaces to suit the needs of even the most unconventional artistic mediums. Although my fingers were numb from holding map pins in place and my eyes bleary from threading so many needles, I could not help feeling immensely honored to have taken part in this installation. It was wonderful to work in conjunction with everyone who helped realize the exhibit from start to finish and I am thrilled that the students here at Williams will be able to see what the cutting edge of contemporary art looks like today.
–Ethan Buchsbaum, WCMA Intern, Williams ‘10
Above Images: Ethan, Richard, and Katy hard at work on Oedipal Blind Spot, 1997 (2010); aluminum tape, conte crayon, pastel, graphite, thread, pins. Exhibition copy from the Ursula Hauser Collection, Switzerland; Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York.