In Plain Sight: Erin Curry in the StudioMarch 11, 2017
There is a coarse, boundless sea of data that emerged from the Age of Information, making Erin Curry feel as though she’s drowning. Helping our newest Studio Workspace Resident navigate these depths is a basic compass, a magnetized needle and string, pointing her north—or quite possibly to the metal etching and letterpresses.
When her homemade compass is complete, the needle will hang above an intaglio print based of a cosmonaut, an image Erin found in the NASA archive and transformed into a midcentury Vitruvian Man. Having begun her residency in the letterpress studio, Erin has since moved to the etching studio to create similar photopolymer plate prints of photographs and screenshots gleaned from the internet. These prints recall the monochromatic, layered imagery of Dadaist experimental film. While not decrying the same 20th century societal and artistic values, they confront the systems within what Erin describes as the “ever-expanding archive.”
In her practice, Erin reinvents technology that leads us through the limitless data in the in the physical and digital spheres. Mobilis in Mobili, a series of water-filled plaster basins, invited viewers to see through a murky blue surface by moving a wooden ring, simulating a touchscreen device. Similarly, for her installation News [wherever the wind blows us], which she is continuing at WSW with monoprinting, Erin traced the outlines of newspaper text columns, hollowing out the frame through which content appears. The exposed, overlooked, and familiar structures through which we read the world can be parsed just as carefully as the information they were built to house.
As Erin’s practice, as well as her residency projects, has a rather broad scope, we had a few more questions for her.
WSW: As we’ve spoken in the studio, you’ve brought up the arctic explorer Frederick Cook’s book, My Attainment of the Pole, more than once. Specifically, you’ve told me how he used his shadow as an imprecise compass during an expedition. As the cosmonaut seems to be a prominent image in this new body of work, I can’t help but feel that these two figures have a connection.
E. C.: In those two cases, a body becomes a tool for orientation within a space of the unknown. During Cook’s time, society romanticized the sublime through place and landscape. It was a risk to explore the vastness of unknown space, which led me to wonder about where else we experience vastness. More recently, it has been through space travel and the growing digital landscape—these are the contemporary versions of the sublime.
Ironically, the sublime of the digital archive is a monument of our own making–a contemporary Tower of Babel. The interface of the web borrows heavily from print archives retaining skeuomorphic remnants of outdated technology, while at the same time the immense amount of information it holds makes it impossible for an individual to traverse comprehensively. This slippage has been especially highlighted during the first days of our new presidency where activists have taken to archiving climate data on private servers in response to shifting government positions.
If your work is primarily sculpture, what first caught your eye about WSW’s printmaking facilities?
My current sculptural process relies the multiple as a strategy to create immersive installations. The sculptures become nodes for reader/viewers to wander and attempt to parse in an mysterious reconstruction of an analog internet. Printmaking is a natural extension of producing this kind of work with the added benefit of allowing me to investigate the constraints of the tools that were once commonly used but certain elements remain as artifacts in the digital sphere. In the spirit of the fluctuating web, rather than create a suite of editioned prints, I’m planning to create variable prints that turn into more sculptural objects.
It’s interesting that you were drawn here partly by artists’ books, but you cite Ted Nelson’s argument of “intertwingularity”—that sequence and hierarchy within subjects are imagined values—in your art research.
Nelson’s gripe with the form of the codex is that it places an arbitrary constraint of sequentiality on information which in his estimation is truly boundless. Although most books leave the problem of the codex unquestioned, artists books often break convention and draw attention to the formal structure whether as an accordion, deck of cards, or simply inset pockets. Part of my interest in WSW, is the archive of stunningly unusual books that tend to structural choices as much as content. My comics are an example where I’ve championed structure over narrative. If knowledge is not hierarchical, how can I make “books” or book-like objects that reflect that slippage?
In the letterpress studio, you’re running a vintage handkerchief through the Vandercook Proof Press, which prints a copy of the threadwork lace on paper. These “paper handkerchief” prints reference the history of propagation—the letterpress led to mass produced text—but do not conform to the machine’s original purpose. Where do you see this project heading?
I’m concerned about making reproductions of an object with the object itself, the actual handkerchief becomes the printer’s plate and then I work the printed gampi paper until it’s nearly cloth-like too. As a sculptor, perhaps this is my way of translating printmaking into moldmaking. Additionally, most of the prints I’ve made with this cloth use ink made with graphite powder as a nod to the practice of photorealistic drawing. There are artists who work with reproductions in a way that makes sense of their practice, like Vija Celmins’ disorienting simulations, or Eva Hesse’s but what these prints need is another element that hasn’t revealed itself to me just yet. I think that they will operate as pieces within a larger context, but will need to juxtapose the precious quality of the original’s impossibly fine handiwork. I’m looking for a glitch to exploit.