In partnership with 18th Street Arts Center: 18th Street Arts Center is an artists' residency program that provokes public dialogue through contemporary art-making.
Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest is a multi-faceted project by Los Angeles-based artist Alexandra Grant encompassing a series of public drawing sessions, reading groups, artist collaborations and an installation at 18th Street Arts Center.
We meet each other in a forest. We are activated in time together, collectively exploring, and manifesting a space of imagination, reflection and contemplation. We are transforming from participants into oneironauts, or travelers within a lucid dream space. We read together, we draw together, and we visualize together, exploring the peripheries of the collective unconscious as we encounter the anima, the animus, the Self and the Other.
We are in the "Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest," a participatory project by artist Alexandra Grant at 18th Street Arts Center. Grant has been referred to as a "radical collaborator," expanding her text-based, language-driven studio practice from painting, drawing and sculpture into reciprocal and joint projects with hypertext pioneer Michael Joyce, actor Keanu Reeves, and artist Channing Hansen. With "Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest," Grant invites us all to become conspiratorial dreamers, unlocking the layers of Deconstruction semiotic analysis through the work of iconic French author, poet, playwright and philosopher Hélène Cixous, with whom the artist has enjoyed an on-going exchange for many years.
Grant focuses on Cixous' book "Philippines" as a source for imagery, centering on the repeating thematic of the forest as a profound shared space. Drifting between a real and an imagined place, the forest becomes a site for communion with what Cixous terms "the perfect Other." In "Philippines," Cixous explores the philosophical and sociological constructs of the "Other," linking texts from Sigmund Freud on the shared dream, Jacques Derrida on telepathy, and the story of "Peter Ibbetson," a novel by George du Maurier, where two childhood friends separated by class and country are reunited as adults in their joined dream-life.
Within "Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest," Grant examines the "twinned" ideas of "Philippines," such as dreaming and reality, telepathy and empathy, and relationships between man and woman, adult and child, and colony and colonizer, through illustration of the text, an installation of the forest as image and stage-set, and through collaborations with other artists and the public.
Structured as a residency and an exhibition, "Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest" extends Grant's studio practice into the arena of public engagement. Grant will hold collaborative drawing sessions ongoing through the month of May that invite community participation to construct a large-scale, site-specific work. Exploring the space between a specified aesthetic and shared process, Grant engages artists Frances Garreston, Channing Hansen, Bari Ziperstein, Annelie McKenzie and Tina Linville to produce sculptural, "Visiting Trees" (Arbres d'Ailleurs) for the installation. Artists Lita Albuquerque, Renee Petropoulos, Steve Roden and Audrey Cottin will undertake "Drawing Residencies" as part the participatory drawing illustrating "Philippines." The general public - students, guests and passersby - are invited to draw and will be named as participants.
As an entry point into the "Philippines" text, Grant has organized the Hélène Cixous Reading Group, which has convened bi-weekly since January and which continues at 18th Street Arts Center through June. Cixous, a theorist in her own right, is greatly influenced by Derrida, the postmodern philosopher most closely associated with Deconstruction. Central to Derrida's analysis is the concept of binary oppositions, or two opposite parts of the same whole, as a central basis for the understanding of all meaning and value, as one is needed to evaluate the other. Derrida argues that there is a hierarchical structure to these relationships, wherein one part is essentially exercising a force or influence over the other. In "Philippines," Cixous relates these concepts to us through multiple paired metaphors ranging from meta-archetypes (man/woman; colony/colonizer) to perfect-halves recurrent in nature such as the Philippine itself, a term for twin almonds found in one shell. She tells the story of the search for the ideal version of the Other, pulling us into a narrative rich with pictorial language and expansive metaphysical connotations.
In her collaborative drawing, Grant culls out these key concepts and invites us to illustrate them in a communal exercise rooted in the elementary impulse of creative mark-making. As an artist interested in text as form, Grant repeatedly employs a technique of dense overlay of words to collapse meaning and drive language back into a place of interpretive symbolism. Language may then be understood as codes, or forms that stand in for the value or meaning of something else. Grant's artistic process may be interpreted as an interjection within this larger, deconstructive process, pointing to new layers of symbolism that emanate from and embrace the value of the narrative, in a new, altered codification.
Nodding to a Jungian belief in the collective unconscious, Grant provides an exhibition framework in which we consider universal constructs alluded to by Cixous, rooting the shared imaginarium in a gallery context where we may visualize images together that consider reality and states of being. Derrida also tells us of the "difference" or the space between these levels of meaning, informing us of the "pregnancy" of these moments as well as the "void." Grant's "Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest" also provides the interspace to consider this gap, as project participants at 18th Street Arts Center are entreated to communicate "telepathically" with the artists and public in Paris in the twin version of this project presented at Mains d'Oeuvres this fall, bridging the collective experience across space and time.
Within a metaphysical question of the real and imagined, Jung argued that what was manifested in dreams was real because it existed in the psyche of the dreamer. Coincidentally, Jung was the first analyst to have psychiatric patients paint, draw, dance or artistically interpret what was taking place in their minds, meshing the visual form with an internal narrative. Cixous' text invites us to consider the power of dreaming to break out of our physical and psychological prisons, and to encounter our lost half, our perfect Other in a shared dream/garden. Grant, in turn, leads us into the physical realm of the "Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest," an Elysian space, where we grow imagery together. Herein, we work telepathically, communicating with the Other in a space without using words.
"Landscapes are more forceful than souls, what makes me think of a dream is the aura which emanates softly like a summer radiance. The Town itself had unfurled, with its floods of houses, of temples with pointed roofs right and left depending on where I turned my eyes. Towards the west one surely would have seen the sea. The Town rose. The dream did not carry beyond The Town but I have no doubt. Over there it's the sea, it is in the indicative present, even if I cannot see it. A strong sense of déjàvu as in a dream crept over me. Sometimes even, I said to myself, on the inclined plane of the imperfects full of halftones, the indicative present performs a straightening up, I have already thought that, this is when, having passed the things that pass - it was the low-roofed house of the Clos-Salembier with a garden sleeping on the Algiers hill - a hazy light gives an aura to the more durable reality which keeps watch in dreams and awaits us, at the end of the sunken footpath up there, from where, always, the sea can be glimpsed. Then one is swamped by the inner flood of revelation, we are infused with light. All this is of an incredible beauty, nobody can doubt it, it is the True Beauty, that which one contemplates only within a dream, when we are ourselves at the top and within ourselves. I did tell you, I said, this is what till now, we had no knowledge of."