Joshua Shorey and Raymond Padrón
Conducted by VERSA’s Stephanie Loggans and Dylan Pew
10 Feb 2018
Stephanie Loggans: What are you reading right now?
Raymond Padron: I’m reading a book called Hyperobjects by Timothy Morton. It’s about post-humanity, the post-humanity object and that some of the objects that we’re making now will exist past our presence here on earth and the implications of that.
Joshua Shorey: Yeah, I am reading only multi-novel science fiction about time travel and collapsing space. I just finished Hyperion which is kind of a famous one by Dan Simmons. And then I discovered a contemporary Chinese author Cixin Liu who wrote The Three Body Problem, and a few more novels that came out of that. And they are futuristic, humans moving into space. I came about these by talking to everyone I know about quantum entanglement, and I’m obsessively thinking about defeating the limits of time and space. And so in these novels, they are finding ways to do that.
Dylan Pew: Awesome, which is interesting because the next question we had directed at you was, could you talk about the importance of time and motion in your work? Seems like those novels are all about time and movement through space. .
JS: I’m not a scientist, and so I have to skim on the surface of all these ideas that are out there, and I don't really understand the deeper implications, but I think that artists have intuited problems in science for a long time. I am allowing myself to think about those concepts that I know are beyond my field. But my intuition tells me from being around animals, that the limits of time and space are somehow problems of consciousness or related to consciousness.
DP: Right, sort of the way a dog or something doesn’t have this human experience of time.
JS: Exactly. I used to train horses and I’ve just been around horses a lot. There’s something about, you know, when you’re around them - that was the whole exploration. I was looking at horses and trying to imagine how they perceive time. But you couldn’t, right? You can’t make the transition. If you could be a horse and think like a horse, you no longer have the question of time that you had when you were a human. So it’s kind of looking in from the outside that is the whole limitation. And I want to make that portal more than anything. Yeah, space travel. And time and space may... it seems like they are actually one thing. Space-time is one thing. The distance from here to there is measured in the time it takes for somebody to move.
JS: So it’s all just spinning around in there, and I feel like the work is just demonstrating that fixation -- moving materials, mass from one place to another in a range of time.
RP: I wanted to ask a follow-up question. You sort of apologetically, at the beginning of that, say that you were not a scientist and therefore didn’t have access to the deeper understandings of time. Do you think that an artist can access some of those things just as deeply by other means, or are we sort of inherently doomed to be hovering the surface and/or walking around the thing instead of penetrating it?
JS: That’s a great question. Am I apologetic about it? I guess I have to remember that I’m taking other people’s word for it, you know what I mean? Like, when these physicists are like “Yes, we did move a particle in Germany that is also in the United States and we have observed the same particle on different sides of the world at the same time.” I just have to believe them.
JS: But, the question was can artists address these issues validly? In their own way without being scientists?.
RP: Yeah, if artists are just as capable as scientists at making true discoveries about things that are deeply intrinsic to the way the world operates.
JS: Yeah, it’s just that what we call true is different, right? It’s a different standard.
RP: Yeah, it’s a different truth. I personally believe that, I believe artists are just as capable, but that science is just one lens in which we view life.
JS: I feel like it’s part of my job to preface, before I get going, that I’m willing to operate outside of intellectual materialist structure. But the thing is we do that so commonly without question, that if you’re engaging the intellect and you’re arguing with the intellect then you are operating within intellectual material cosmology.
RP: Yeah I mean if I had to bet on who was going to discover space travel, you or a scientist, I would probably put my money on a scientist (laughing), but maybe that work could be a collaboration. You know what I mean, like maybe there’s some sort of way of posing that information that changes the way we think. I mean there are those art works that change the way we think about the world, and that does influence science.
JS: I don’t know if it’s true, but supposedly someone asked Einstein, “how do you make the kids smarter?” and he said, “read them lots of fairy tales.” If you’re going to move beyond how we understand things now you have to have the wildest imagination possible. And I do think that there are people out there that are working towards goals right now that we thought were imaginary. Did you see the Falcon rockets landing? (laughing) A video of them falling from space and then stopping? (laughing)
DP: Since we are talking about time, we have a question for you Ray about your most recent pieces being so time consuming.
SL: And labor intensive.
DP: And I don’t know if that exactly connects to one another, but…
RP: Yeah! I would say absolutely, because I’m thinking about ways of gaining knowledge, and I describe my studio practice as an epistemology through craft, a way of knowing through making. That space of the making process is really important, so stretching it, or truncating it through technologies, or setting a Sisyphean task in front of myself to cause a reaction, you know. It's definitely something I’m interested in, especially as it relates to human history, and the history of craft. I’m really interested in the degradation of traditions, and the relationship between tradition and improvisation as a form of identity building. As a culture we are rooted in traditions and we draw so much of our identity from those traditions, and there is this interesting shift that happens with how that can be both identity building and also very alienating. We feel separation from those traditions as they morph. And then vice versa, with improvisation. The improvisational act is very personal and self-identifying, and yet also is unrooted. And those two things rely on each other. Tradition relies on improvisation to be reborn continually or it will disappear, and improvisation is kind of boundless without some kind of tradition or framework to respond to. And so, we need rootedness. That’s something I’ve really discovered as a father. Children need routine. They need that, routine to keep them grounded, and to keep them focused, but they’re some of the most improvisational people I know. They’re just like, they can do anything. And so that’s what I’m playing around with in my work really, is thinking about the relationship between those two things, and exploring that space. By expanding the process of making the thing, I hope that somehow comes across in my objects. But that’s also why my practice has begun to expand, because I’m really interested in bringing that space to the viewer through performance or video. The pieces we’re putting in this show are a little bit different, they’re specific objects from my life that relate to specific people in my life… that’s a whole other thing.
SL: You said it’s important that your work comes from a personal place, and we were wondering if you could talk a little about why that is, and role of sentiment to your most recent body of work.
RP: That’s something that I teach all the time to people, is that art is inherently cultural and historical, it’s inherently formal, and it’s inherently personal. I try and teach students that the more you can connect to that inner component to the work, the more true and universal it becomes. And I think for me, once again, it’s something that really shifted when I had kids, because I was a young man, and I was making work about all this cultural subject matter like Easy Rider, John the Baptist, you know, this image of a frontiersman, and all of that was accessing how objects participate in a multi-layered, complicated world in which there are many different ideologies, and many different forces at work to create them. But there’s something sort of intrinsically easy about DJing cultural material like, this and that, and this and that, and we’re going to put these together, and it’s a little bit distanced. And so now being a father, for the first time in my life feeling like there’s something that I should be doing, which is spending time with my children. I only have a certain amount of time with them. I’m very conscious of that. So to sacrifice that time to go and make a work of art just reinforces the fact that it has to absolutely be so meaningful to me personally, that it’s not just like playing around with culture. I’m not navigating social life. I think it just really forced me to say this needs to matter so much to me, and it needs to be this personal thing. Whereas before it was like, “Well, fuckin’ nothin’ matters, so I might as well just do whatever I want, and I want to make art, so that’s cool. Just do that.” That’s a very different feeling than, “Wow, this matters to me more than anything I’ve ever felt in my life,” and now art needs to contend with that. And then sentimentality is something you’re taught is taboo in contemporary art school. It was actually through musicians that make pretty sentimental music that led me to think about that, and want to make some stuff that plays around with that. Also, I’m older now, so I have a personal history. As a college student or graduate student I didn’t necessarily have reference material (laughs). And now I’ve experienced a little bit, and so I have memories. Not like fully inaccessible ones, because childhood is so hard to access sometimes. I’m responding specifically to Jeff Morton, to Kimowan McLain, to Frank Rankin, my grandfather, these specific people through these objects, and I’m still thinking about formal sculpture, and what sculpture is, and craft.
SL: Speaking of craft, we’ve got one more question for Josh actually. You have a table in a furniture exhibition at Dogwood arts in Knoxville right now, and recently Cassidy Frye was telling me it normally lives in your home with you. Do you make furniture often, and how is that tied to your practice? Are you used to living with the things you make, or do you tend to keep studio stuff in the studio?
JS: Oh, yeah. My undergrad was in ceramics, and I was a potter. I envisioned myself building a wood kiln, wood-fired porcelain, and that was really my introduction into studio art at Columbus State University. It was me and fifteen other students with all these world-class artists in this huge building, and I was an obsessive potter, working by the ton. I just couldn’t get away from it. Everything in my life was getting in the way of making pottery. That was my entry way into making. The doing of making is a survival thing for me, and it’s necessary for me to sustain my life. So, that ends up being in my work in both directions, and I have two lives right now. I have two paths. I have a shop, a workshop in Knoxville, where I make custom furniture that is ultimately meant to go in people’s homes and has a place to live. Whereas, for work intended for a gallery, people are meant to come to it. And they cross-inform each other, inside me, they’re all together, and they operate together, and those things share space in my mind and in my practice, but they go out into the world in different ways. My home is full of things that I’ve made.
I actually helped an established artist move out of a storage space, and I was so frustrated by the assumption of disposability of artworks. This is a person who makes robust, durable things. And it was like “yeah, I showed that here, there, and here and there, and now it’s in storage.” There’s something really uncomfortable with that. These things that I’m going to show here I’m engineering with this durability as though it’s going to last for centuries. That’s a larger issue in our culture that we undervalue the object, or, I don’t know, or I over value it, I’m not sure which is the case, but yeah, I live with my stuff.
This salt! I’ve had this amount for two years. I’ll tell you some of the things that are in this salt. My studio mate’s dog hair. The dog sheds, and the hair gets mixed in with that, and I can’t get it out. I have this really long relationship with this material. It has clumps from the moisture from when it rained the last time that I showed it. I mean, there’s a ton of history there.
RP: So, it’s not pure salt, there’s like, something in there.
JS: You can’t really get just salt. It always has something added to keep it from caking together. I wanted to know what they put in salt so I could put it in mine, and every Google link was like, “Did you know there’s blank in your salt? - Health food dot org.”
Do we have a few more minutes to go back to what Ray was saying?
JS: Well I want to commend you, and let you know that I’m encouraged and inspired by you talking about embracing that the work is important to you and letting that sentiment be your guiding principle.
I think maybe that comes with age. You know, a lot of people that go to art school they fall off. People encounter other things in their lives that carry them forward, you know? And so, there’s something about a person who has decided to persist in their work into the fullness of their life. It proves something to me.
RP: To progress into your adulthood, to progress into older age as an artist I think is a really hard thing to do.
JS: Yeah, unless you have something that’s already out there working and can carry you through, the other thing is going to be “critically important to me,” and if you can decide that it is, then it seems like the right answer is, “Okay, how do I invest in this critical importance?” And I think that being willing to bring this quality of your own life into the work is... that word “sentimental,” is a huge risk, but also probably fundamental to this whole venture.
RP: I know what you’re saying.
JS: And I think that gets more important. It’s so easy when you don’t have other things competing for your time, especially when you’re young.
RP: Yeah, yeah.
JS: For me it seems like a huge risk to bring in your story, who you are, because it’s so easy to criticize, and it’s so easy to dismiss within that academic art system… It’s easy when you’re young, it’s what everyone does, right?
RP: I don’t know. And I certainly have that question. Yeah we’ll see. I appreciate that.
JS: Because I’m still hiding, you know? I have this level of distance, where I protect myself in the work.
RP: Yeah, I mean it is multi-layered too, in a lot of ways it’s not terribly different than the stuff I’ve been making. It’s definitely getting a taste of something different, but what I’m making now is presumptive of all the other things I’ve done.
JS: Do you have anything in you that wants to do that raw nerve?
RP: Oh, for sure! I mean, I think that if I could I would, because I am supremely confident that it would be the thing that would propel my work to another level.
JS: Then what are the criteria for if you could?
RP: I don’t know. I feel like I’m always wading through -- my practice is competing with so many other things right now; my teaching practice, my business, my family, social life etc. I would say the things that are the most raw nerves are the things that take my primary focus. Somehow if I could encapsulate that into art it would be interesting. Beyond me being stretched so far beyond my comfort zone in terms of being somebody’s boss, being somebody’s business partner, being, you know, responsible for people’s livelihoods and their families livelihoods, and all of that. That’s super real. That’s such a comprehensive experience. I would love to see my artwork be that comprehensive and that integral to what’s happening right here in front of me on a day-to-day. And how to do that? I don’t know. But the practice has to be comprehensive. It has to be something that I do more than one hour a week, or whatever. You know? It’s gotta be real.