Deep in Joshua Tree where someone miles away can sound like they're whispering in your ear, is where we met up with artist Kyle Simon in his studio this month
Tell us about where you are from and how you ended up here in the Joshua Tree area:
I was born in the Philadelphia area, Strangely enough since moving to Joshua tree I have met at least 10 others who are also from the same area of Philly, maybe as they say; there’s something in the water.
Almost a year ago I was part of a great project in Joshua Tree put on by Chiara Giovando and Libby Werbel called The Outside Museum. For my piece I buried a time capsule with messages of hope for future generations, audibly inscribed into ceramic vases. During that project I realized the Mojave was a perfect environment to explore and realize new projects that were brewing in my head. The new work deals heavily with Astronomy, and Joshua tree is a particularly good place to pursue this line of inquiry; clear skies most nights, and observations can be made year round. I came out here for a 1-month residency through Chiara Giovando’s Thousand Points of Light residency, and have now extended it for a full year.
You went to school in New Mexico so the desert landscape is not new to you, is there something about this sort of landscape that attracts you back to places like Joshua Tree/New Mexico?
I guess some people are beach people; I’m a desert guy, with a strong cowboy complex. In a desert landscape there are few obstructions, therefore you can see and hear great distances, as well light and sound operate on a different level than most places, it’s fascinating to try and understand where a particular sound may be coming from, or interpreting a distant light. As an artist it is very exciting to play with these raw elements, and they certainly do stimulate the imagination.
I see in the past your work covered a broad spectrum of materials and subject matter. You were interested in painting, sculpture, installations and full immersive events. Can you talk about that work? Are any of these ways of working something you are still pursuing, or have you shifted in your studio practice?
In the past I utilized all the different methods to portray a story. Paintings, and prints to see, sculptures to touch and interact with, songs and audio for hearing, food to taste, smells for memory. I have always been interested in the synesthesia like quality of interpreting a story, and all the ways our brain perceives information and then translates that to a relatable idea.
In the past the stories all had a direct lineage, and a clear arc. The new work is essentially an investigation into the origins of art itself, pulling heavily from the sciences, including astronomy, geology, and archaeology, three fields that I believe are quite similar just dealing with different scales, both size and time.
I recently found a book I had made when I was 8 years old of pictures and stories, although my work has since grown in sophistication, become more refined, ambitious, and has developed a morality it is clear to me that my studio practices have always been the same, art as exploration for processes and ideas.
You spent many years as a Master Printer for Pace Prints and have traveled quiet a bit doing this. Have these experiences played in to your own studio practice? If so, how? If not, is there a way you consciously keep that process divided?
I suppose the common thread is that I see myself as an art investigator. When I see other people’s work I am mentally pulling it a part and dissecting it, firstly to come to terms with how I perceive the work, and then to break it apart technically. This is a very important process as a printmaker, to gain insight into how best help an artist translate their ideas into a medium they may not fully understand. While working at Pace, I had the opportunity to collaborate with hundreds of amazing artists, and the most exciting part to me was to watch how every artist approached essentially the same set of problems in a completely different way. My time at Pace has had a profound influence on my own work, as well as my understanding and definition of what art means to me.
I am also constantly amazed at how the skills acquired through printmaking translate to seemingly unrelated modes of working, for instance the material asphaltum, used daily in the print studio, is a substance well known to archaeologists who are aware of its preserving capabilities. As well grinding glass for telescope lenses is the same repetitive motion and process that the printmaker uses daily in wiping, or polishing copper plates for intaglio.
I am creating a series of unique “telescopes” that translate starlight into sound. By having multiple scopes and using the process of Interferometry I am hoping to create a symphony of sorts based on the night sky.
How did you begin this investigation?
The piece is heavily influenced by the writings of George Van Tassel, the creator of the Integratron. For those that don’t know, Van Tassel claims to have been given instructions for time travel and body rejuvenation by an alien named Solgande from Venus. He spent the rest of his life constructing and pursuing these plans. As I have made my own interpretations into how I believe Van Tassel meant his “machine” to work, I view my project as a tuning knob for the Integratron, Capable of aiming at a distant star or planet, converting their light to an electrical voltage, and having this frequency amplified by the integratron, which in turn sympathetically tunes the would be time travellers brain to the frequency of celestial bodies.
Sound is something you have studied in the past, I believe you studied the physics of acoustics in New Mexico, is this something that comes in to all your work?
My interest in sound is almost historical, our earth sounds are unique to this planet, and other planets or moons with different atmospheres may produce another set of criteria for which sounds may operate. However here on earth, sound is the root of all communication, almost all life forms use sound as a tool for survival as well as a means for dialogue within a species. As our technologies progress and our methods of amplifying improve, sound is becoming a powerful tool in studying the earths past as well as the larger universe. While sound is particularly interesting to me, it is certainly not incorporated into all my work, at least on a conscious level.
Can you tell us about your influences, your conceptual framework, and the context in which your work fits in to a larger dialogue today?
OOf! That’s a big question!
I’ll say this; living isolated in a somewhat harsh desert environment like the Mojave, just down the road from the bustling city of Los Angeles; I am continually thinking about how people throughout history have survived and how far we as people have come. I am continually amazed at how anyone figured anything out!
To me, the idea of inspiration or creativity is directly linked to survival, how many people have died, for today’s simple luxuries! So many deaths to figure out which plants are edible, or what parts of the Blow Fish humans can ingest.
I suppose my influences and conceptual framework deals with the origins of discovery, and natural processes of recorded information. I feel at this time, that my work has one foot in the past, with an eye on the future. I have no problem with trying to reinvent the wheel, just because the wheel has worked well, doesn’t mean that with time and technology a better solution may yet exist. Through this process I hope to discover some truths for myself, and hopefully pass that information onto others.