Other Investigations: Joseph G. Cruz

To me, Joseph G. Cruz’s artwork is simply about understanding, which is not a simple subject. When Cruz situates objects and images in a space, he reveals how subjective and interdependent historical, cultural, and scientific contexts are. That subjectivity is the tension in the artwork–the realization that, perhaps, not only are facts subjective, but they have been constructed for us–in museums, under glass, on pedestals, through television, humor, photographs, etc. Cruz uses these signifiers and ideas of construction to represent historical and scientific ideologies not to offer a new truth, or tell a history, but to simply say, it’s all relative.

Cruz has recently been a BOLT Resident at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition and has recently been selected by Dieter Roelstraete, Manilow Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, to represent the BOLT residency at the EXPO International Exposition of Contemporary Art in Chicago this coming Sept. 19th-22nd. The exhibition will function as a satellite exhibition for his concurrent solo exhibition at Chicago Artist Coalition opening this Friday, September 6.

not a fact, still extremely real, 2012.
not a fact, still extremely real, 2012.

Joseph, to take some information about your work (from a couple sources), “…[My] practice involves geohistorical and trans-contextual investigations of history and epistemology… My work is fueled by an enthusiasm towards the History and Philosophy of Science and how seemingly disparate technologies, economies and ecologies can spin connections within social paradigm shifts.” How do you believe your artwork engages with viewers on a one on one basis—especially when approaching the work without scientific or philosophic jargon?

Ha-ha. I love this question..  The crux to why I am making art and not writing about these ideas is, in part, because I am rather afraid of writing about them, and most importantly, because it is to actually get at something that formal language cannot.  It’s the ineffable that I am most interested in and not in any religious way.  To open up new understandings and dialogue for the audience and myself, so it is always difficult to write about the work for press releases and such without either being too specific and closing it down or using jargon that keeps it rather open and unable to pin down.

I believe the “trans-contextual” phrase you mentioned (part of a press release for an upcoming exhibition) is meant to reference different ways the audience can make connections within the work.  There are Historical references which pop culture has usurped as well as scientific imagery and artifact.  Most of these are common enough for people to already have some sort of personal connections with (the Moon or Antarctica), but may discover new insights into those connections via the work.  I don’t think the scientific jargon really plays into it for the viewer until they discover relationships between pieces within the materials list.  It’s kind of like a curated Wikipedia rabbit hole with all of the web history windows open simultaneously: allowing the individual to make connections between “Wikipedia” pages without the original linear path that got them from one topic to another.

You mention using ‘curatorial strategies’ in your artwork. What do you mean by that term and are you making a statement about the role of the artist, perhaps, not being a sovereign agent over the art that they produce?

It’s ultimately a single installation with a number of seemingly autonomous pieces.  I am not making any statement about “artist as curators” or “curators as artist”.   It’s just utilizing organizational methods around objects and Histories.   There are many artifacts, commissioned works from other artists, and appropriated imagery in this particular show.  Most of them seem to function as some sort of prop for a larger theater.  I think I used the word curatorial because each object only comes into full fruition when they are in context to the rest of the work. Its appropriation that is shifting the original with different contexts.

I do believe that the belief of the artist as “genius” and having sovereign agency over what they do seems a little old-guard. I think we are all apart of a larger network with ideas becoming more accessible due to certain economic, biologic, and technological influences, but it is not a point I am trying to make.

Sonic translation of the topography of the Farside of the Moon (picture disc detail) 2013 The topography of the Farside of the moon was mathematically translated into frequencies and filtered into three channels; detailed altitude shifts, larger surrounding altitude and average altitude. Data collected from the satellite Kaguya and processed by the National Astronomic Observatory of Japan.
Sonic translation of the topography of the Farside of the Moon (picture disc detail), 2013.
The topography of the Farside of the moon was mathematically translated into frequencies and filtered into three channels; detailed altitude shifts, larger surrounding altitude and average altitude. Data collected from the satellite Kaguya and processed by the National Astronomic Observatory of Japan.

Could you tell us about your studio practice?

I wish I could, but it seems to shift around specific projects.  Lots of research and artifact hunting these days.

What are things that you would consider part of your practice that aren’t part of your studio?

I’ve been taking the anecdote of “If you want something to exist and it doesn’t than you need to do it yourself.” very serious.  It has been more of an exhibition I want to exist rather than a single object.  The administrative side of getting objects that already exist on loan for an exhibition is an administrative hat that doesn’t seem to be worn with my studio garb.

Dieter Roelstraete mentioned in a Bad at Sports interview that it is okay for artists to ask ‘the big questions’ in the context of short moments in pop culture history not being a big question—do you believe your work deals with these questions?

I don’t really think it is my place to identify what those questions are.  I am a pretty selfish artist; in that the questions are of a personal interest.  I’m actually trying to flatten Historical weight of specific “important” moments or perspectives and inflate some of the hidden ones.  So I guess the work is doing both in a way.   I don’t know how big the questions are around the Moon or the Matterhorn, but those landscapes are much larger than Miley Cyrus’ twerk.

This image is a teaser for Cruz's upcoming exhibition Assembled Vestiges (detail) 2013 Vestige: 1.a mark, trace, or visible evidence of something that is no longer present or in existence. 2. a surviving evidence or remainder of some condition, practice, etc. 3. a very slight trace or amount of something. Slag: 1. stony waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore. similar material produced by a volcano; scoria.
Assembled Vestiges (detail), 2013.
Vestige: 1.a mark, trace, or visible evidence of something that is no longer present or in existence. 2. a surviving evidence or remainder of some condition, practice, etc. 3. a very slight trace or amount of something.

Slag: 1. stony waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore.

How do you approach materials or mediums in your work? Is being skilled in a medium a concern, or are you interested in a sense of amateurism?

I’m definitely not interested in mastery of craftsmanship.  I don’t think being skilled in a medium and amateurism are a dichotomy.  I think a feeling of intentionality is my concern. This is work and being skilled makes the work more efficient in both its production and articulation.   I’ve done work that references amateur model making and so the material was amateur material.  I’m not tricking myself into believing that my research is of a professional caliber and I enjoy unconventional and rather amateur methodologies of investigation.  I am definitely interested in that sense of amateurism.  Which is one of the reason’s generic eBay purchased collectables are often in the materials list.

Can you give us a brief description of your exhibition at CAC and the BOLT booth at EXPO?

Assembling Vestiges floats around imagery of places, which the majority of us understands, and agree upon, but don’t actually know because only a few have ever been there. So it is not so much about these place, but how we understand them: a vinyl record plays a sound translation of the topography of the far side of the moon, Ponting’s Horizon lines capture the change of color on the first moving film of Antarctica; this is due to the harsh weather, and the Vestiges are broken silica molds and bronze slag; the byproducts of pouring a bronze sculpture but the sculpture is never present.   The curatorial logic we talked about before is loosely based on apophatic techniques.  In that you can’t speak directly about the ineffable, but only point indirectly through negation.  Even though the exhibition has a lunar meteorite and a few crystals that only exist in Antarctica, it still is without.

Assembling the Lunar focuses more on the Moon and that emotionally unifying moment when the world looked up at the night sky and then down to their television to see the first moon walk.  I’m really curious to what happened when they looked up again.