Megan Snowe, Schlosspost web resident 2016, wants to make her work »messier, stickier, and gooier.« It’s a playful way to describe the New York-based artist’s practice that is paradoxically very deep. But coupling chaos with science isn’t necessarily a paradox, nor are the online and offline tenets of reality. Both exist and both are real, if made distinct in superficial, constructed ways.
Hence, here is an interview between writer Steph Kretowicz and Snowe for her See Attachments online exhibition, executed via email, then Google Docs – tools for communication, fired off via hands, movements, synapses, and electrical currents. From the brain to the body; the computer and the fiber optic cable, ideas and emotions are shared and distributed through any number of physical phenomena – sight and sound travel on electromagnetic waves, energy is a thing – thus complicating the artificial dichotomies we hold dear between the analogue and the digital, the physical and the ephemeral, the funny and the serious.
SK: I remember your work, Sticky, a proposal for a new play, at the White Building (London) there was a zine on display that had been workshopped to have a lot of gross things in it and you were excited by that. What is this fascination with, or fetish for, the ›icky‹?
MS: I’m fascinated with the combination of attraction and repulsion on a visceral level, as well as an intellectual, emotional, and aesthetic one. The icky is alluring. It can create a moment when judgement meets the senses in an interesting way. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to represent immaterial things such as emotions and interpersonal relationships as substances. The zine, Sticky Business: Notes on Emotions’ Texture, Movement and Capital, was a collection of notes and research on this subject. Using substances to annotate the book was an extension of this as well as an experiment in combining the flat surface of printed text with materials that smell, that degrade and mold, that literally sanitize.
In The Emotional Labor Union, an installation currently on view at EFA Project Space (NYC) as part of Once More, with Feeling, I tried this text and liquid combining again. Covering books with vaseline is a quick way to connect the sensual and the intellectual. Don’t forget about your body as you read about emotional labor!
A personal goal I keep returning to is to make works messier, stickier, and gooier. This is a way for me to push against my personal tendency towards the dry and clean. The visceral impact lasts longer; it leaves a residue.
SK: When one thinks about science, they might imagine a clinical, sterile, controlled environment. It feels like your work complicates this conception, exposing science for what it really is: messy, fleshy, fallible. Is this a fair assumption?
MS: Absolutely. I’ve been impressed by the amount we don’t know about our bodies and about the physical world. This is true in particular when it comes to how emotions biologically come about. What is fascinating to me at the moment is the messy union of science and paradigm. In the science of emotion first person reports about feelings are as valid as the brain scans showing neural activity. What does that do to the social valuing of feelings? Also, how do brain training programs, psychological and emotional enhancement regimes meant to improve one’s health, perpetuate particular power structures and paradigms?
In See Attachments I’ve begun to use the language of fluid physics to try and describe social and emotional ›physics.‹ I’m excited about this new interest because it feeds that research I mentioned earlier, giving mathematical words for how we relate to one another emotionally. I keep returning to the impossible and seductive attempt to apply algorithms to allusive lived experiences.
Searching for the rules of things, of behaviors and of health, is messy.
SK: There was a projection in The White Building for Sticky, a proposal for a new play of a gluey, white (always white) substance dripping, a simulation. I’m interested in this disconnection, or overlap between notions of tactility and the ephemeral that appears to pervade your work. For example, with the EEA project, you try to give a physical presence to emotional expression, yet the interpretation of said expression is still something intangible. What are you trying to locate within this ambiguity?
MS: In the past year the visual palate of my projects has increased in subtlety. I can’t quite say why, but the fact that transparency can cause appearance and disappearance seems relevant to mention. Bodily fluids are also worth considering; the excretions of pressure, pleasure and pain.
The tactility of the ephemeral is something I’m trying to capture. I don’t know how yet, but I’ll keep trying. In the meantime I’m looking at the ways that people answer the question, »How should we live this thing called life?« because I think that there is a key in that question. I also keep returning to the language of textures to describe impressions of things I don’t quite consciously understand. There are so many ways of understanding – through the physical senses, through emotional intelligence, through instinct, through repetition. I don’t believe in an optimized, actualized self, but if I did, mine would make the most of all of these ways of knowing.
SK: What role does language play in your work? Obviously you’ve been moving towards using text. I’m curious to know what attracts you to it, as well as its application in a ›visual art‹ context?
MS: Text has been a tool to capture that ephemeral, that sensual, that goopy longing, as well as address the near impossibility of doing so. This impossibility of language, or really any form of expression, to convey your reality to another person is nothing new, but I think that this ›failure‹ is fascinating, and our continued attempts to ›overcome‹ it even more so. The results of our attempts at communication are what creates social dynamics. Every failure is different.
Using text as a material in physical space is a huge challenge for me, partly because I can see how easily it could fall flat. I’ve come at it from an installation background. I’m interested in the space of text – both the physical manifestations it can take as well, as the mental space it can open up in a reader. I also want to use the implied act of reading as a material. I don’t expect viewers to read all of the text I write for a project. I want to put the texts into situations where elements of the content are communicated simply by how the text object is in relation to other objects, and how the implication of the act of reading something relates to what else one is supposed to do in the space of a work.
A side note: my writing has been circling in on a genre I’ve dubbed »soft-core raunch« and I am very pleased.
SK: I use ›visual art‹ in inverted commas because it’s pretty apparent that art, particularly in a postmodern context, goes well beyond the visual. It’s also abstract and conceptual, and there’s performance art, all of which you experiment with in your work. Do you have any thoughts on where the ›art‹ begins and the ›visual‹ ends, are there points where they don’t actually intersect?
MS: I have rarely felt comfortable calling myself a ›visual‹ artist. I like to play mind games. I like to play emotion games. I like to make people wonder if a fiction is a fact, and vice versa. I also love the synesthetic possibilities in art making. A visually haptic image, an audible smell, etc. I think that the reign of ›visual‹ is continuing to deteriorate, though I expect I will continue to say, »I’m going to go see that exhibition,« for a while longer. In short, yes, I think ›art‹ can be independent from the ›visual,‹ but in order for it to be even more so, we’ll need to work on our language.