Iampayingattention

June 21 - August 4, 2007
at Howard House

In a sense, all of Haven's oeuvre is a plea for us to pay attention. She has asked us to pay attention to the geometry of nature and to the way in which man-made structures creep in to the way we relate to landscape. She has opened up and highlighted the in-between spaces where the two and three dimensional meet, where the visible and invisible, drawing and installation, sight and object, vertical and horizontal, spatial illusion and perfect flatness merge. Where space shifts and where worlds collide. She has made us go down rabbit holes and peer through portals, she has made us acutely aware of shadows and corners, and even occasionally made us doubt our own eyes.

Haven's main medium has been a particular kind of drawing. Even when working with large fields of color, Haven painstakingly fills these in by tiny lines of ink. One line next to another makes for seemingly flat expanses of color. By focusing on collapsed space, those areas where dimensions meet and transformations occur, Haven is asking us to look in a non-linear way. Her work is in a sense a non-temporal indulgence in line as line. In line as a concentration of space where the eye has to learn to look as though a drawing is not a two or three dimensional object with a left-right, top-bottom structure, but the spatial equivalent of the impossibly intangible temporal present.

Let's rewind 34 years. Bruce Nauman prints his PAY ATTENTION MOTHERFUCKERS in angry backward majuscules. The text on the lithograph carved like scars by testosterone fueled force. This is not an immediate gesture, but a reproduces and multiplied accusation. And none of the vitriol or scorn or pure fury is lost in the process. It is as though the venom is pushed through the paper with each roll of the press. Pay attention, or else. And yes, I am talking to you. Motherfuckers. Haven's response is white and round and assertive in its quiet solidity. It is a determined whisper in the face of Nauman's splattering scream, summing up Haven's ongoing investigation into perception, mark making and the ephemeral. Her curvy iron letters are pinned to the wall and they read I am paying attention. I am. I am . I am. And I am paying attention in my own handwriting. I am paying attention in drawing and in delicate steel. I am paying attention to the shadows and to the space between the words and the wall. To the unseen space where attention is not paid. Where we forget to look. Where looking itself resides and where looking itself looks. Where the visible and the invisible meet. This is where I am paying attention. My attention spans that which is there and that which is not there and that which might be there. And somehow the absence of the oedipal insult makes it all the more urgent. -Sarah Callahan

Billy Howard Interview with Victoria Haven

BH: When we did the show 'Borg Drawings—Resistance is Futile', there was a sense of multiple directions but it also felt very cohesive in that geometry was a recurring theme tying all these pieces together.
VH: The notion of a single unit morphing, proliferating and adapting to create another separate entity was reflected in the show, not only in the way each drawing was made but also in the way these drawings co-existed to comprise a 'show'. I got really excited thinking about the layers of a city, about old buildings being fixed up and torn down, and the way scaffolding acts as a visual structure, as a necessary support system for the transformation of these buildings. The idea of the shifting city led me to think about how things get homogenized by built space and the 'Borg drawings' grew out of that. It seemed very specific to 'my' geography but also universal. Everything I looked at or read seemed to related to this idea of the 'Borg', especially the idea of pop culture closing in on itself in an instantaneous monopoly of taste. One can see the references to scaffolding in this work as a sort of homage to that which is put up and then taken down, to the ephemeral and the temporary.

BH: Despite the intensity of the act of making your signature dashed lines, it seems very effortless on a purely visual level because it's done so well. Could you talk a bit about the space that you are simultaneously creating and denying?
VH: What interests me is this sense of shifting territory, of space not being totally solid or stationary. The dashed line operates like a semi-transparent border that allows a kind of visual opening that the viewer's eye can move through. This movement adds to the physical presence of the piece creating what I describe as an abstract 'hum' or vibration.

I think of it almost like a pulsing, involuntary result of being alive and present. It comes back to the idea of focusing, of paying attention to the tiniest details. I am always trying to balance the concentration that goes into the making of the drawing, with a feeling of tranquility that is conveyed when looking at it.

BH: You've been known to use non-traditional materials like rubber bands, tape and mylar. In your new body of work you seem to go back to a more traditional use of materials...
VH: The first rubber band and tape pieces evolved from a sense of immediacy and urgency. Those materials attracted me because of their availability and the ease with which i could manipulate them to convey an awareness of three-dimensional space. I have continued to explore this three-dimensional space through cut structures and drawings that intervene directly with the architecture of the space they inhabit but have simultaneously tried to "capture" space through drawing in a two-dimensional format. My experience with the transparency, color and reflective qualities inherent in materials like tape and mylar have led me to explore the possibilities of more traditional materials and experiment with them in a way that brings the new work a different sort of dimensionality.

BH: When you were using the woodgrain paper to create a mountain, that reflected back to the landscape and forest both directly and conceptually. And when you made the large bolt out of reflective mylar, that was a flashy material. This new body of work is not as explosive but more contained.
VH: I agree it's contained in that it is not boisterous like the lightning bolt for example, but I also see it as expansive. I think this work is inviting you to look more closely than perhaps other more dramatic work I've done.

BH: Iampayingattention is both the title of the show and a new piece that you've produced in conjunction with Baer Press. This is a very important piece because it speaks to what you were achieving with the earlier work and echoes conceptually your relationship with the current work.
VH: Yes, it is a title that exists in three dimensions, but it also functions as an artist statement, as well as a sculpture. It's an oblique request that is instantly granted by those reading the text piece and a direct response to a legacy. For years I've been playing around with work that challenges ideas of perception. In this case, the formed steel has been dipped in a white rubber coating, giving more weight to the shadow than to the actual material.

Visit Iampayingattention project page

Related press:
Victoria Haven at the Frye Art Museum and Howard House by Suzanne Beal
Art in America March 2008

Abstraction takes on fresh dimensions in Haven's 'Iampayingattention' by Nate Lippens
Seattle P-I June 28th, 2007

An Infinite But Invisible Center by Craig Brownson
The Stranger June 27th, 2007