Jen Mazza: A Dialogue of Three Disciplines

I think this sense of painting being a temporal medium is one I also explore...


I think this sense of painting being a temporal medium is one I also explore

Jen Mazza

(A Dialogue of Three Disciplines)
© 2016 & Richard Benari

Cover: Jen Mazza, 725 3X, 2014, 17 x 19 in., oil on canvas. © Jen Mazza. Courtesy the artist and Tibor de Nagy Gallery, NY

Saturday, 17 October 2015, 10:43

hi Richard,

I was just finishing Joselit’s piece and found it funny/interesting that many of the things he talks about are things I have picked out from other readings. Like this quote by Hito Steyerl, which refers to her medium and documentary film, but resonates with my concerns about painting:

But let me make one thing very clear: to engage in the language of things in the realm of the documentary form is not equivalent to using realist forms in representing them. It is not about representation at all, but about actualising whatever the things have to say in the present.

I feel this particularly applies to image-objects, ie: images and their conveyances, be it film, digital, book reproduction, painting…

from Joselit:

…use painting to narrate, or to demonstrate phenomenologically, what Arjun Appadurai called the ‘social life of things’.2

and from Steyerl:

Of all weird texts by [Walter] Benjamin, this is definitely the weirdest. In this text he develops the concept of a language of things. According to Benjamin this language of things is mute, it is magical and its medium is material community. Thus, we have to assume that there is a language of stones, pans and cardboard boxes. Lamps speak as if inhabited by spirits. Mountains and foxes are involved in discourse. High-rise buildings chat with each other. Paintings gossip…”

Both passage and transmission resonate with me, as does translation in many forms.

and from Joselit:

Now painting is dedicated to a different kind of movement: a form of transmission where passage consists of the passage of an image (a quantum of visual content) from one site, which may be virtual or actual, to another; and/or the passage of the viewer from one painting to another within a site-specific installation of works on canvas. In other words, painting now enacts the dislocation or transfer of populations of images: It is, essentially, a broadcast medium.

…has echoes in Jack Spicer:

Things do not connect; they correspond. This is what makes it possible for a poet to translate real objects, to bring them across language as easily as he can bring them across time. …every place and every time has a real object to correspond with your real object…3

and Hito Steyerl again — re: transmission:

The poor image tends towards abstraction: it is a visual idea in its very becoming. … It is passed on as a lure, a decoy, an index, or as a reminder of its former visual self.
Jen Mazza Space CH (Dialog)
Jen Mazza, Space CH 4,, 2014, 15 x 17 in., 2014, oil on canvas. © Jen Mazza. Courtesy the artist and Tibor de Nagy Gallery, NY
© Jen Mazza, Space CH 4, 2014
Jen Mazza, Space CH 4,, 2014, 15 x 17 in., 2014, oil on canvas. © Jen Mazza. Courtesy the artist and Tibor de Nagy Gallery, NY

I think this sense of painting being a temporal medium is one I also explore and I am very interested in the idea of “convertible signs” and what that may entail. At one point someone pointed out that my work was emblematic, and I think that can still apply. I feel that the apparent selection and presencing of a mark or marks — be they intentional or arbitrary (such as in some of the paintings you list above) — is what could convert them into signs. It creates an expectation of meaning. I actually went to Bulgaria a few years ago to see what it would be like to be in a place where written/visual language not only meant nothing to me, but also had no sound. The cyrillic alphabet has things in common with the arabic alphabet, but that fact almost confuses the issue more. The written text seems to defy my understanding. I sometimes think about taking a course in linguistics as I feel I know so little, but often choices I make in my work are made along grammatical terms such as employing tense. Such is the little linguistics training I received from my Spanish language major. After I had been thinking about this, and making work in relation to it, I remember finding [R. H.] Quaytman somewhere saying that she was going to make a painting in dative tense – and then I really regretted not taking any Latin.

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I think I have rambled on a bit — so my apologies. I am very pleased you like the apples! When I made them I thought they were totally hard core, but often people read things in very different ways.

Thanks for sharing Joselit’s article! Until soon,

— J

1Hito Steyerl, “The language of things,” (Transversal Texts, EIPCP, June, 2006).
2David Joselit, “Signal Processing: Abstraction Then and Now,” (Artforum, Summer, 2011).
3Jack Spicer, After Lorca (San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1957).


[Pollock’s] great accomplishment — and also the great accomplishment of Abstract Expressionist painting tout court — was to merge all these semiotic layers into a single convertible sign…

…[C]onvertible signs are what make Abstract Expressionist painting dynamic, open-ended, always in a process of becoming.

Read: David Joselit, “Signal Processing: Abstraction Then And Now“, Artforum, Summer 2011. Registration may be required.)

Elsewhere on the Finch

In every work of art there is an irreducible singularity; a fund of affect and visual event that is inexhaustible.

Read: David Joselit, “Intelligent Touch”.

There is peace and security in Sign City. Thinking, there, is a matter of associating the right signs with the right things and then submitting these signs to the algorithm of your preferred ideology. But peace and security come at a price….

Read: J. F. Martel, “How Symbols Matter”.

I like a painting that does something, like a machine does something: you turn it on and it functions —

Read: Jen Mazza, “Shudder/Shutter”.

Jen Mazza’s work has been the subject at solo shows at the Jersey City Museum, John Davis Gallery, Hudson, and Stephan Stoyanov Gallery, NY. She is represented by Tibor de Nagy Gallery, NY, where her most recent exhibition, “\ /\/\/\/\/\ /\\\\\\\\\///////////\ A PAINTING IS A MACHINE“, ran from 22 October through 5 December 2015.
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