|Larry Carlson: As artists who use the assemblage process, we both sample fragments from the world of media streaming around us. I spend a lot of time collecting images, sounds, and videos on the internet as well as thrift stores and garbage cans. This process of searching for and categorizing media samples is an important part of my work. How do you go about dealing with so much stuff?
Ry Fyan: I’ve actually moved away from the collecting and storing of imagery to be used later in my paintings. Recently I sold off my massive collection of records and books, and have been cleaning my studio much more often, disposing of any piles of unused images.
Larry Carlson: As artists who use the assemblage process, we both sample fragments from the world of media streaming around us. I spend a lot of time collecting images, sounds, and videos on the internet as well as thrift stores and garbage cans. This process of searching for and categorizing media samples is an important part of my work. How do you go about dealing with so much stuff?
Ry Fyan: I’ve actually moved away from the collecting and storing of imagery to be used later in my paintings. Recently I sold off my massive collection of records and books, and have been cleaning my studio much more often, disposing of any piles of unused images. I’ve moved more towards deciding upon images that have some sort of intrusive resonance in my memory by subconscious and conscious bombardment. I’m trying to paint images while their communicative power is still fresh in my mind, while they still have the power to repulse or seduce. Often I’m attracted to imagery and symbols that exude an uneasy frisson, a cognitive dissonance if you will, which seem to resist quick uptake and consumption.
For instance not long ago I was watching people play a videogame. The two people playing were fairly intoxicated, yelling at the enemy soldiers as they killed them onscreen. For the first time in years I got a sort of removed, visceral feeling—suddenly something stuck on the outer surface of my mind, an image that I felt passionately uneasy about, and which could not be quickly filed or assimilated. So a few days later while flipping through a paper I was drawn as if by tractor-beam to a tiny image advertising a war game involving US Navy Special Forces. This tiny image—which I would not have normally registered—appeared to be a sort hieroglyphic talisman representing a complex web of meaning. I painted it immediately, probably because this was the only way I knew how to comfortably assimilate it and move on.
LC: I think really great artists are doorways between the sleepy world of everyday life and the world awakened. They can—for a few brief moments—awaken and capture a pinhole view of this immense other reality, giving the viewer a much deeper perspective on life.
In our overload of media culture, sometimes people need to be jolted and altered to really see anything important. In some of my flash movies and multimedia work I like to see how far I can push it, inducing a trance-like overload of sensations, like shining a hot strobe light right into an imagination cortex. I like making work that shocks and awes people out of the rational thinking process into a wonder of it all.
RF: It’s interesting to think about an artwork as a transitional device for moving beyond everyday rational complacency. I experienced a sensory vertigo while watching some of your videos, which calls to mind the possibilities of manipulating the nervous system to induce a transformative experience in the viewer. The flashing pulses of light and color in your videos are just enough to trick the brain into relaxing. It’s like using science and technology to do what was previously accomplished through the repetition of myths, icons, mantras, or drumbeats. It reminds me of what’s being done with certain types of electronic music that replicate the rhythm of a heartbeat to make the mind reconnect with the feeling of being in-utero, but then throwing in some other analogous yet foreign algorithm as a kind of catalyzing monkey wrench.
I think the kind of consciously induced transformative state we’re talking about can be reached in social ways as well. In these settings there are so many factors working to suppress the safeguards of rational control: lights, music, images, people, and booze add up to make a shit-faced artist forget about the conscious process of art production. I think it works best when one forgets s/he is even making anything at all.
LC: I work best in a kind of trance state where the influence of light, color, image, and rhythm comes out intuitively. Whack the machine till the ghosts pop out of it. These psychoactive effects you noticed in my work are particularly effective when viewed on the internet—as a medium it allows me to access an audience that is usually relaxed and at home, and more open to a hypnotic state.
Something I like about using computers to make art is they can be used like an alchemical device—you put a piece of media into it and then burn it, dissolve it, expose it to some warped code, and see what remains. Maybe in the future I’ll be able to download my visions directly into peoples’ brains.
RF: I really hope computers never physically enter our brains, though I suppose it may be inevitable. I think computers in the technological sense as well as in the sense of being a sort of grand “spell” have already made us into cells that make up a greater organism, an idea which may be the next step beyond forms of control previously embodied by governments and economic systems. The difference being that these previous forms primarily tap abstracted labor and accumulated potential labor, or money; while computers deal more with knowledge and communication as resources.
I do get a glimpse of my subjugation to “Spiritus Mundi” occasionally. I’ve made too many paintings involving pyramids, but I had this panel on the floor and every time I looked at it, I saw two pyramids. I would say to myself, "no, get a better idea,” but I gave in and outlined what was there… You see I didn’t have a choice. Perhaps some overmind energy wave categorically demanded that I reinstate two pyramidal triangles into being, but fuck I’m the one who has to put my name on it!
Obviously the idea of the artist in a “trance state,” doing things by compulsion, is extremely problematic for contemporary art criticism. This reminds me of a discussion I had about the recent Paul Noble show at Gagosian. I loved the show, but a friend dismissed it for lacking “meaning” or social-political commentary. I asked whether or not he would admit that Noble drew beautifully, which he agreed that he did. I think the need to drag something beautiful down through the filter of “art rules” or preconceived templates to establish meaning and intent is often a defensive reflex. A truly beautiful object or text is inherently meaningful; it potentially threatens the complacency of the matrix we use to establish meaning by wielding mysterious powers over the viewer’s less rational senses. This also can be related to the discussion we were having about manipulating someone’s consciousness through light and motion.
LC: What if you just went all-out and made a huge painting with as many anomalies as you could pack in—like a pyramid covered in Masonic and Mayan symbols interconnecting to secret chambers that lead to the center of a hollow earth. In the background a giant UFO beams up a family of Sasquatch, while being chased by a swarm of black helicopters in a sky that’s raining fish and frogs! In the foreground the New Jersey Devils are using a Ouija board with Jack the Ripper, Saint Germain, and Jim Morrison, and as Atlantis slowly rises from the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster pokes its head up to watch a gang of tripping hippies on the beach wearing tin foil hats hold hands in a circle levitating a crystal skull!