Jeremy August Haik, artist and contributing editor at Conveyor Magazine, explores the impression that books have on our personal environments.
Installation Magazine: Describe your journey towards becoming an artist.
Jeremy August Haik: I was actually in a media studies program as an undergraduate and was working with a photojournalist. His agency had started to retrofit their film cameras with digital backs, which were still fairly expensive at the time; the art department didn’t really have digital photography just yet. This meant I was studying traditional darkroom photography as a fine art student and digital photography as a media studies student at the same time. Even though I had fairly traditional formal training in painting and drawing, I always tended towards incorporating photography in my work in some way or another.
Which artists inspire your practice?
I always hesitate when asked this kind of question because I think I respond to individual works more than to entire bodies of work, but here are a few: Wade Guyton, Seth Price, John Baldessari, R.H. Quaytman and John Stezaker.
How do you think the East Coast environment influences your practice?
I think the influence can be both subtle and overt. I’ve always lived on the East Coast (I was born in Washington DC), so I’m sure there are things I take for granted in living here. I think that living and being an artist in New York in particular carries with it a certain set of challenges and expectations. Since there is a long legacy of artists and institutions here, there is a certain pressure associated with living up to those imposing standards. I do think, though, that the New York that exists in the realm of our cultural memory and the New York that exists in practical reality can be two very different places. But apparently we have hurricanes now, so things change I suppose.
Where do you currently reside?
I live in Brooklyn. It’s still pretty up-and-coming and no one really knows about it yet. Don’t tell anyone.
What about your urban environment do you feel is inspiring?
All jokes aside, living in an urban environment is simultaneously energizing and exhausting. There is such a richness of experience in an environment like this that it is hard to imagine a better vantage point from which to make observations about our culture. I certainly feel that the fragmented dissonance of being in a big city has a hand in shaping the way I think about the world.
What do you find most distracting?
The things that make it a great place to live are the same things that make it easy to get distracted. There’s definitely no shortage of ways to occupy your time, so I think the biggest challenge here is making a concerted effort to find the right path and sticking to it. It’s really easy to feel like you’re missing out on a lot all the time and the truth is, you probably are.
In viewing your website, I noticed that you have film manipulations and single channel video projects. Describe your video work and what you discovered working on those projects.
I’m still very drawn to making video work and will continue to do so, but it can be very time consuming and it’s much harder to have logistical control over how an audience will view it. And also I just really enjoy making physical objects, so video doesn’t really satisfy that need. I don’t think of video and film as separate from photography; they are just different ways of saying the same thing.
What type of medium do you feel best expresses your artistic point of view?
Photographs and photographic images comprise the basic language of the world now and so I think it’s the most appropriate one for the world I live in. An art history professor once said to me that “any culture gets the art it deserves.” In other words, the best you can do as an artist is respond to what is in the world around you, and the world today is plastered with photographic images.
The Un-titled series presents high resolution scans of book covers, all of which appear to be paperback. Were these books part of your library? If not, where did you discover them? Do the books represented in the series hold a particular meaning to you as a student, artist, or reader? Why is it important to remove the text from the series?
All of them lived in my home at some point; a few belonged to roommates, but most were mine and I lived amongst them. This is actually a really important point for me, because the root meaning of the word “archive” refers in part to a specific architectural space. There is something inherently physical and domesticated about books as objects. To answer the second part, I think it’s worth noting that I’m not quite attempting to represent any specific book or books in this work; I could take a straightforward photograph and it would do that much more effectively. I’m more interested in representing the book as a container for information, for memory, for history. In some cases, that includes personal meaning, but I’m taking a much wider view than my own personal history in this work. In regards to the text, I’m interested in where things come from and how things get the way that they are. This work involves trying to see what gets taken for granted or ignored as a means for figuring these things out. In this case, if I take away the most visible signifiers of title and author, I’m still left with a lot and I want to know what exactly that remainder is and how it looks. I don’t think it’s my place to answer what that remainder does or exactly how it works, but I can hopefully offer the opportunity for a viewer to find out by looking at it.
Selections from the series Un-titled
What is your relationship to the title?
Un-titled is partly a way of acknowledging the fact that there was a specific title and I’ve done my best to remove it. It’s also a bit of a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that the easy way out of naming your artwork is to just call it un-titled. I do think that titles are immensely important, but I also think that they are only part of the work as a whole.
How does your work engage with the way in which culture proliferates images?
The fact that our culture is becoming more image-centric is perfectly natural. As far as I know, the brain processes images so much faster and more richly than it does text or written language that it doesn’t make sense not to use images. People like Flusser think writing might not have much of a future, and he makes some compelling arguments to that effect. That sentiment is definitely present in the work, but I’m also interested in the way historical and cultural identities are constructed, given the fragile nature of memory and physical existence. Santayana’s famous quote “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is very familiar to most people but it holds a great deal of truth.
The Dissemination series is a sequence of falling books and pages gliding through space. What medium is employed in this series, photography? How did you achieve the effect? Were the books photographed while falling in space, or were they photographed separately and then placed in a unified composition?
These are photos, yes. There’s not a lot happening behind the scenes beyond some high speed flash and a little bit of Photoshop. They are definitely manipulated, but a lot less than most people seem to think they are.
What inspired the series? What do you hope to communicate?
The work I started with books is something that I’m still working with today, and probably will be for quite some time. So in that sense, it’s coming from very much the same place, just looking at it from a different perspective. I wanted to record the process of dismantling these books, in this case by simply letting them fall to the ground over and over. The word “dismantle” as opposed to the word “destroy” is an important distinction to make in this case. I’m not destroying these books, but I am letting them fall apart. There’s an important difference in that I’m not trying to obliterate anything but rather I’m trying to uncover something hidden. The results might look similar in both cases but the reasons for doing each is very different.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve been working on a few book-related projects, and have been starting to construct my own from multiple sources using a combination of digital and physical processes. It seems like a natural progression from the work I’ve been doing over the past few years. I have also been writing more recently, which is something that has always been an important part of my practice.
It’s hard to say what I will do next in terms of work, but I certainly feel as though I still have a lot of unanswered questions and I think that’s a good position to be in as an artist.