Interview with Charlotte Becket
About a month ago I was introduced to Charlotte Becket’s kinetic sculptures at NEWD Art Show in Bushwick. These breathing, motorized masses take cues from process art and combine a sci-fi aesthetic with anthropomorphic forms to an eerie, meditative effect. When I showed up at her studio last week, Charlotte was at work on a projection installation piece that, at first, seemed vastly different than the sculptures shown at NEWD, which take full advantage of the symbolic and tactile qualities of their materiality. Immediately the artist hit the ground running to show me around, switching on a couple of pieces hanging on the wall before I could even ask a question. She started at Self Portrait, the artist’s silicon abstraction of a marionette that was made as a part of a recent exhibition at Valentine Gallery in homage to the work of Dennis Oppenheim.
Charlotte Becket: That was the idea-- this kind of completely dysfunct, big ball of string that was sort of bodily. All of the work hovers between landscape and body forms. This is almost like chewing, or mashing, rubbing your hands together-- and this one is sort of uncomfortable, writhing a little bit. So they have to do with biological gestures.
Dianne Loftis: Does it take you a long time to get the speed right?
CB: Yeah, it’s a lot of fussing around. In some ways it’s a lot like choreographing. It’s really obvious when it’s not right. They’re all just simple motors inside. (Lifting up a smaller piece to show me the inner workings of the sculpture) See, it’s just one motor at the bottom, and it’s moving around all of these different arms. One of the ways I feel like they don’t work sometimes is if the mechanism is too easily discernable. To me it’s important that it looks and feels natural. It’s completely analog, so I make them out of kind of simple parts, but the aim is for the work to have this very natural feel to it.At the same time I’m working on these other pieces that are analog projections.
DL: So you work on multiple series at one time?
CB: Yeah. Generally speaking, all of the pieces are structured around this idea of the analog mechanism as a body or as a landscape--landscape meaning a terrain or an environment that has its own character. Different pieces arrive at these ideas through different means, so it kind of goes back-and-forth. This is just vinyl tape over cellophane, so there’s not an enormous transition between the rigid structure and this more organic surface. This was one of the first ones I made actually. Some of the other pieces that came out this series became flexible, so it was much more organic in terms of being able to move around.The skins themselves have joints: For the silicon one that has all of the little pore-spots in it, I mixed the silicon and put all of this Styrofoam bean-bag material in it, but it was too inflexible. I redid it and made a thinner version but it was still inflexible, so I pulled out all of the Styrofoam so it had space in it, like skin.There’s something about the black ones that also has to do with imagery. The smaller pieces in particular, since they are kind of low relief in a way. Some of the projection pieces are like a conversation between something sculptural and a 2D image.
DL: Have you always done sculpture? The other thing the black sculptures reminded me of, especially when you mention this two-dimensional aspect, were gobs of paint left unused on a palate, like they had come alive somehow.
CB: Yeah! I mean, the stringing one definitely has this dripping gesture to it as well, so they do refer back to imagery. In undergrad I did painting for a minute, but then almost immediately started making strange-shaped canvases and structures to paint on, so I’ve been working in sculpture for a long time. A lot of the early pieces were installation pieces that I had to bring on site, so they were all jointed and they could all move because they had to. They had to be modular; they had to be flexible to fill the space. I was making these pieces that all had built-in joints, and at one point someone just flippantly suggested that I motorize them because they could move all around, sort of like a puzzle. That was a jumping-off point for some of this other work, where that slow, gestural quality had this biomorphic feeling that I was trying to get out of the work. It was also the way I was able to reinvent the kind-of sci-fi quality of the work. All of these triangle shaped pieces—this all came from looking at Tony Smith’s sculpture because he used this triangle grid to come up with these really simple forms that kind of become complex as the build on themselves.
DL: So today what are you working on?
CB: This projection piece is a studio model of the piece that’s going to be in a show in Mexico in January. This September I’m doing an outdoor version for ashow in Detroit. Inside each one of those cardboard boxes is a motorized lightbulb on a pendulum. This organized mass of the boxes projects its own landscape or atmosphere, creating this conversation between endless space and finite structure, playing on this idea of the mechanical and the landscape or the celestial.
Some of the work more explicitly deals with the idea the mechanized part of the work reminds us of ourselves; Some kind of fleeting quality, something gestural. Going between something bodily and mechanical, like slippage between those categories. This double-image of the compact fluorescent and a hand grenade, starlight. I’m interested in this idea of a kind of deterioration of boundaries within imagery body landscape, something physical, and something just that is just light.
DL: Do you think it’s necessary to address the meanings a material might hold?
CB: Yeah, to raise or suppress the quality of something I think so. It’s so much a part of the world that we’re in; materials have meaning naturally. Like this piece, the conduit, it was important to me to make it entirely out of conduit, and cables to get at this idea that it was suggesting this one idea--Something Electrical. I had this impulse to imagine something that was hallucinating something that’s outside of it’s own caged self.
DL: Is there a favorite material of yours to work with?
CB: I have things I keep coming back to. Using colorful material can be fun because I tend to revert back to a monochromatic palette. I think that’s part of just seeing the work new again. If you can find something that’s a counterpoint to your tendencies, in a funny way it becomes a desirable quality in a material.
For a while I was really interested in this slick tape surface because there was something very cinema-screen about it, all shiny and crisp. Now I’m interested in these surfaces that are more explicitly biological in nature, because they feel more abject. Some of my earlier work was about the abjection of the body and then it moved away to this cleaner territory. When I finished that stringy one for the Dennis Oppenheim show, I was like, “No, it’s too gross. It’s just too much; It feels like I indulged all of my worst tendencies.” But I think it sort of works for that reason. It’s worth reinvestigating that aspect of the work that got pushed aside. You keep trying to invent it and reimaging it, so it goes through different instances of itself and develops through that process. I always feel like when I’m in my studio I want to see something that I haven’t seen in my own studio before. Otherwise what’s the point?