Curated by Deborah Thompson
Project for Calendar Studies is comprised of two groups of work: canal work and roof work, with both using a shared language of notations, words, symbols, and relationships that are used to record the passage of time. Using a combination of weather, tides, time, and technical trial and error, the work was created out-of-doors in the high-density urban environment of Brooklyn, New York. Some canvases were submerged in the Gowanus Canal, a shipping conduit lined with heavy industry and cement factories a short distance from artist, David Eustace’s apartment. Each canvas was left in the canal to prolong its exposure, recording the rise and fall of the tidal movements, then moved to Eustace’s open-air rooftop studio where additional surface treatments were applied using raw iron filings, left exposed to the elements to stain the canvas with rust.
From the viewpoint of Eustace’s rooftop studio, first impressions are deceiving. Compared to the close quarters of his Brooklyn apartment and the warm mid-afternoon temperatures, the rooftop breeze is refreshing. When I comment that the space is conducive to outdoor living in the hot months of summer, Eustace points out the site’s proximity to three local landmarks. Caught in the triangulation of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, the F Train Subway trestle and a city-run scrap yard that receives and off-loads scrap onto outgoing barges with a multi-story crane, I see the perils of living on the edge of an inner-city industrial/residential neighbourhood. The car exhaust from the overhead traffic and the giant dust cloud kicked-up by the crane draw the point home.
When I ask what ideas inform the work, coming from this environment, Eustace explains: “The project began as an idea to set-up a conversation, an exchange of information within the canvas that people can follow. Within that conversation is contained the general information of what I know about the canal”. From that starting point, Eustace is open to discussion about the work and hearing people’s reactions. A recent exhibition of Project for Calendar Studies in Brooklyn saw him leading boat tours of the canal, visiting the site where each canvas gets secured to pilings and submerged beneath the murky waters. Introduced to the work in these surroundings, many viewers tend to interpret it within the context of environmental issues. Without intending to comment on the ecological state of the Gowanus Canal, or to draw general attention to industrial contamination of the environment, the work, never the less, captures the viewer’s imagination. Eustace recognizes the inclination to align the work with political and social concerns associated with the environment, and understandably, it’s a natural response to the dark watermarks and sooty shadows of the canvases when one understands what created them. Though the work raises issues that weren’t a factor in its formation, Eustace supports a dialogue that enables people to address the matters the work brings up for them.
Project for Calendar Studies was fueled by Eustace’s curiosity and an enthusiasm for scientific inquiry. Informing both his process and choice of visual imagery, the predictive quality of science prompted the use of controlled variables, deductive thinking, observation and recording. The methodology of scientific process can be seen in the detailed schematics used to illustrate the variables contributing to the experiments contained in each canvas. The variables encompass both the definitive, such as the visual application of proven scientific equations used to indicate distance between planets and stars, and the temporal, as seen in the subtle watermarks recording the rise and fall of the tides and the passage of time. Having applied science to assist with the formulation of the process, Eustace explains the influence ends when it comes to formal considerations that contribute to the aesthetics of the work. It is in the combining of art and science, the union of two seemingly disparate worlds, that the desire to explore gives rise to experiment: applying basic scientific knowledge he evokes a pseudoscientific chemical reaction between metal shavings, water, and set times when preparing canvases for rooftop exposures. In this manner of drawing upon sources, Eustace credits science with providing an alternate ‘source code’ to one that holds a strong tradition in the making of art: “Jung spoke of spiritus mundi, the spirit of the world or collective unconscious. I’m not interested in the psychological aspects surrounding the notion [of a collective memory and why it results], I’m more interested in practical knowledge. I like the shift from science-subject territory rather than psychology”. Using this methodology, Eustace found a scientific theory that provided a starting point with exosomatic memory.
Exosomatic memory is a theory that was penned by Gregory B. Newby, a professor of information retrieval whose work focuses on statistical methods to identify relations among terms and documents. A survey of the Internet, the prevailing information retrieval system, provides few details on the theory. Wikepedia summarizes exosomatic memory as “the recording of memories outside the brain. The earliest forms of symbolic behavior – scratching marks on bones – seem to be intended as exosomatic memory. However it was the invention of writing that allowed complex memories to be recorded”. i An excerpt from Newby’s own essay explains the primary attribute of the theory: “Ideally, use of an exosomatic memory system would be transparent, so that finding
Information would seem the same as remembering it to the human user”. ii In layman’s terms, an exosomatic memory system enables the user to find information, where the process of discovery resembles the act of remembering; only what you find isn’t something you knew before. This can be seen when you pick up a reference book and begin reading – the content, a record of information or history preceding the moment, enters into your awareness, with the effect of you then ‘knowing’ it.
Eustace interprets exosomatic memory and knowledge as one in same – a collective memory outside of our bodies, such as the documented knowledge you find in libraries, art or film. He explains that the information chosen for use as imagery in the work could only come from collective memory: “…things only known, and not really experienced – part of a great effort over centuries to understand things beyond our experience, like the movements of the planets around the sun. That is pure knowledge, something never experienced and only known”. He emphasizes that his idea of exosomatic knowledge, as some sort of collective memory, isn’t intuitive, but “things mathematically or theoretically observed or inferred from long strings of discourse; but most definitely not something any one person could divine on their own, no matter how smart or spiritual. And that, to me, is amazing – no other species has done this, to my knowledge. It’s why writing is so incredible…” Having borrowed from this mass of collected knowledge to inform the work, Eustace contemplates if, in time, the work will register with or contribute to the collective memory in the capacity of archival documents or a documentary of time and process.
The relationship of opposing forces, between the known and the surmised, reveals itself when Eustace explains his underlying interest in the theory of exosomatic memory: “It’s this tension between the inherited versus the singular and personal that interests me about exosomatic memory – the notion of collective memory that exists separate from us, outside our bodies, yet is accessible to each of us”. Tension exists at various levels throughout the work, most notably when variables are placed in juxtaposition, but for Eustace the primary source is “between reconciling the singularity of a person’s experience (ie: a particularly moving sunset) and the more impersonal collective (collected) knowledge about suns and sunsets. The former is the usual territory of art and poetry, while for me the latter seems like rich new ground for artistic inquiry. The clash between the two, this tension, is what fascinates me the most.”
Though not intended, the physicality of the Gowanus Canal makes a lasting impression in Project for Calendar Studies. The rise and fall of the tide records the passage of time, here documented as something abstract that we inherently recognize and imbue with meaning on seeing. By contrast, the remoteness of the stars and planets, the imagery overlaid with these marks, exists at such a scale, and externally to our experience of the world, that it is difficult to relate to. It is only through repeat observation of the astral bodies in the night sky and the endless pattern of the rise and fall of the sun and moon in defining our daily lives that we are able to recognize and relate to the imagery contained in the canvases. The work requires us to access the collective knowledge of our surroundings and through the contrast of local environment versus external environment creates a reference point from which we are able to recognize where we are, and are not, capable of effecting change. Perhaps this dichotomy between the remoteness of the astral heavens and the immediacy of our earthly environs are well-paired opposites. Where we lack the ability to relate to one, we are able to see the possibility of effecting change with the other.
David Eustace attended university in eastern Canada and in 1995 moved to Nelson, British Columbia. Initially a self-taught amateur bookbinder, he pursued an interest in fine arts and crafts through a series of studio internships. In 1999 & 2000, he was invited to participate in the British Columbia Festival of the Arts.
Early in 2000, David moved to New York. He worked as fine arts printer at Axelle Fine Arts on works by Alfredo Jarr, Pat Steir, and Robert Indiana, among others. Combining printing techniques learned at Axelle with his experience in mixed-media sculpture, David now works at his own practice in an industrial neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.
He continues to show his work in Canada, and currently has installations in Brooklyn, New York, & North Adams, Massachusetts. Running concurrent to his Touchstones exhibition, David is the Artist-in-Residence at the Oxygen Art Centre in July 2008.
I work primarily as printmaker and my current practice concentrates on outdoor canvas installations. My approach has been to set up interactions between prepared canvases and specific environments. Using the corollary between the print medium and the site of the work itself, I am exploring how to create a visual conversation between content, form and process. The subjects of these conversations often use, or are about, the vocabulary of time.
The work is created outside, where sustained exposure to the elements develops the primary images and facilitates a more organic approach to printmaking. This interest in experimenting with traditional techniques (stencils, overlays, etching) lead me to one of the main lines of inquiry current in my work: how the flat, graphic nature of printing (familiar to us from billboards, magazines and posters) might be used to investigate the more dynamic forces these images represent.
While a background in fine art printing enabled me to experiment with technique, my experience with a variety of materials encouraged a crucial development in my practice: experimenting with the print medium. Work in Project for Calendar Studies, for instance, used raw iron-filings, reactive in water, to record information about tidal cycles, while walnut ink-stenciled birds sit in MARK:, a forest installation in North Adams, Massachusetts. This relationship between print medium, subject and location represented an important formal development in my work, and continues to be one of the main areas of inquiry in my practice.
One of first results from these investigations was “Canal (#1) – 06/06”, in which a large canvas primed with graphic information about the month of June, 2006 (i.e. lunar phases, tide movement) was hung along the wall of a tidal canal in industrial Brooklyn. The installation remained in place for the month of June, 2006, and the light horizontal lines left on the canvas by the tidal movement of the water seemed to respond to the stenciled and etched information placed beforehand. Under the heading Project for Calendar Studies, I repeated this process every three months for a year. These calendar prints, among other work in Project for Calendar Studies, investigate broad rhythms of time that are familiar but ontologically distant events, such the equinox, seasons, lunar and tidal cycles – events we don’t experience as much as simply “know.”
While the lexicon of time pervades my work, ultimately my practice concerns itself with the boundaries and interstices between knowledge and experience. With “Mark:”, the forest installation currently in North Adams, Massachusetts, I’ve begun to exploit this new thematic vein of my practice. Canvas printed with the silhouette of a rare or extinct bird from the area are wrapped around trees, the images facing inward, hidden from view. On the outside, the year the bird was last seen is printed. In total, the installation will be left up for one year, during which time it explores a conversation between what we know (about these birds, their status in the world) & what we experience (in this case, the absence of these birds). As I’ve done with most installations, I will reinterpret the canvas(es) when they are removed from site, though meanwhile I hope the installation invites viewers to reflect on what kind of marks they make in the world and, in turn, what kind of marks time makes on them.
My practice incorporates a variety of disciplines: the installations have sculptural and architectural elements, while the reworked canvases become monoprints and/or paintings. At present, my energy and interest are directed at finding new locations for future projects, as well as continuing to develop techniques which address the formal concerns of my work.