Xandra Eden: You first presented The Library of Abstract Sound in 2009 at Priska C. Juschka Fine Art in New York City. Although much of your past work references sound, this work marks the first time audio is used as a component in your work. What brought you to incorporate sound in The Library?
Dannielle tegeder: I think, I have always imagined my painting and drawing abstractions as having sound, as if they were animated. There is an inherent quality to them of things moving or becoming machine-like. So, for me, it was really a natural progression to finally include sound. And, I have really always been interested in the history of visual abstraction and sound.
XE: Do you think of the audio translations as music?
DT: Interestingly, they are music on some level, but I really think of them as a collection of abstract sounds. I’m not trained as a musician, I’m trained as an artist, so, for me, they become a collection of tones and the space between them—in the same way my drawings are very direct translations of abstraction. Of course, they connect to historical periods in music too. This goes back to my show, Death Rock City at Priska C. Juschka Fine Art, in 2004, for which I made fictional urban plans and then built out the city into the space. I built a twenty-foot-long “city” called Floating City by creating non-traditional architectural models from the flat drawings. It was the first time I had made a sculpture or installation. I have a tradition of doing that now—translating one medium into another. The Library takes it to another level because it transforms an environment within a specific enclosed space.
XE: Your early work dealt with architectural and urban systems and reductions of these types
of plans to abstract, geometric forms. In The Library, you appear to be deriving the shapes directly from the history of abstraction, i.e. the referent seems to be a secondary source. Can you comment on your use of abstraction as an historical aesthetic and conceptual tool?
DT: I have looked at a lot of museum spaces, early Modernism, architecture, and the use of wall colors to transform space. I am taking the formal language of Modernism, and re-creating it into
a new system of shapes and meanings. The Library recreates an aura of the utopian museum, through color, architecture and, of course, the work. I have always been interested in utopias, particularly the other side of utopian worlds—that they fail by nature, and become dystopias. That striving to perfection and risk of failure in art has always interested me. One has to always begin again because the work fails in some way. All art does and that is why things keep evolving.
XE: Was your research also in the area of Russian Constructivism?
Dt: Yes, that was important, especially Malevich, but then also kandinsky, who is central to
looking at the relationship of abstraction and sound.
XE: And, is there a politic to your work? I’m thinking here that you are referring to these past art movements, although kandinsky may not have had much of a political agenda, definitely the Constructivists, and Italian Futurists, to a certain extent, were dealing with ideas related to the future, and how an artist could create something new. For them, abstraction came to the fore as an effort to create a new art for a new society.
DT: Absolutely, these works are in conversation with that history. I’ve always been interested in Constructivism and Suprematism because I have talked about utopianism in my work, especially with architecture ever since I began making work. The work is on that line of a push towards utopia, but it is in context with history, so obviously it is a failed utopia in a sense. I have been asked whether it is a critique of these past art movements, but I would have to say it is more of a homage; in the sense that there is a sentimental quality to the frames and colors that I use.
XE: Some have said that to work in abstraction today is to reveal its irrelevance and to show its impossibility of presenting something new. Is abstraction today simply a mining of the past?
DT: I think that perhaps there has never been an “abstract” artist that has been “absolute” in a given format. Even Malevich, as you mentioned, tried playing with this in his painting, Red Square, which were also computer-generated. In the new version, however, all the sounds are electronic versions of real instruments, but not from recorded samples.
XE: What about your large drawings and sculptures made from the same period? How do they connect to the sound drawings from The Library of Abstract Sound?
DT: The larger drawings, as well as the sculptures, continue to exist as deconstructions of the elements belonging to the smaller works. The wire sculptures that suspend from the ceiling hang in relationship to the large drawings to create a continuum and a sense of space. At the Wellin, for example, the large mobile is a center point around and through which larger drawings and paintings are visible. There is a unifying vocabulary for all my work in different scales and mediums, and The Library drawings are a reflection of that.
XE: Your paintings tend to be quite flat, with only minor implications of depth or dimensionality, however when they are translated into sound or three-dimensional form the experience is quite different. What is the process or state of work between these two poles—on the one side flatness, and on the other concrete three-dimensionality?
DT: The paintings exist as a plan, like a blue print or architectural plan, that is more conceptual then the sculptures or sound. The drawings always exist first, and then the pieces are created from the plan. Similarly, in Arrangements to Ward off Accidents (2009), the mobiles that I constructed from stained glass and steel, re-create the large-scale works behind them in three- dimensions. The animations, wall drawing, sculptural works as well as the photographic and conceptual projects show a range of forms that are derived from my paintings but have their own life—and generally more dimensionality either inferred or literally.
XE: It seems you always are looking for avenues to translate one form into another.
DT: Yes, the animations I made in 2010 from my large drawings from that time, are a good example of that. The sound for each piece is created by a different experimental composer. I found the compositions mostly online, and from composers living in different parts of the world. So, I animated or choreographed the elements of the drawings in relationship to the sound.
It’s really the reverse process for The Library. The drawings are literally deconstructed in the animations as the elements move across the screen.
XE: This work brings us back to John Cage’s scores, which are wonderful visual works in themselves. But, Cage’s work seems much more random. He sets up a system specifically to allow for chance and to create randomness.
DT: His method is almost the opposite, or reverse, of mine. In The Library, I’m really laying down
a structure for each sound piece, a score—though there still exists an element of chance within the system of reading the works. The system holds together, but I never know exactly what the works are going to sound like. All the drawings were made before any of them were translated into sound, so that in The Library’s first iteration I could not predetermine the sounds they were going to make. Some were humorous, some were scary, and some were completely different from how I would have ever imagined them. That is where the element of chance comes in and where I see my work becoming bigger than me.
I had a similar experience when I created my first sculpture Floating City, in 2004, where I discovered what my two-dimensional work looks like in space, and now I’m exploring what my work sounds like. This process of translation is how I paint in the extended field.
Xandra Eden in the Curator of Exhibitions at the Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro