Whitehot Magazine

Interpretive Machines and Mourning Spirits: Brian Block and Maria Louizou residencies at the Watermill Center, Watermill, New York.

     Brian Block at The Watermill Center.
Photo: James Salomon.


By JAMES SALOMON April, 2022

The only art I’m interested in is the art that I don’t understand right away.
If you understand it right away it really has no use except as nostalgia.        
Lawrence Weiner


I think mystery… allows us time to dream.     – Robert Wilson


Who... are You... ? (said the Caterpillar)
I grew up in a household with only a handful of books and never saw the inside of a real library (or museum). Later, when I discovered these things on my own, I found my relationship to language and learning to be really charged. There had been a thirst for a broader form of learning about my place in the world than had been on offer growing up. So strong psycho-dynamic charges remain in my relationship to language and ideas.  Also, It is important to add that these multi-panel works are fueled by my encounters with others’ thinking and writing, so these works are heavily indebted to other thinkers from across the history of ideas. 


Language and Ideas…

With these two new larger multi panel works: “Notes of F. Wott: File 12: Theories” and “File 27: Money” I am involved in making these ideas plastic - as one manipulates clay, paint, or any traditional art material. This feels right to me - especially in relation to the amount of information we all live with. Im thinking about how ideas can be sculptural information. 

There is also this complicated issue with the limitations of language as a communication system in this work. I’ve been working on questions of visual coherence and incoherence, legibility, visual noise within the presentation of the form of the texts. Thinking of the printed poster like a screen: on/off/blank/message/noise/and so on.

Printing as an iterative medium is central to that exploration. I suppose in a certain sense, I’m interested in crossing the iterative and repetitive capacities of our minds with the iterative and repetitive capacities of digital printing.

On the Money…

The rich complexity of our relationship with money is indicative of the wide range of holds it has over us. As one text says, "Money sets the clocks.” These texts often operate polemically, and for the reader to determine for herself what the merits of these texts might be. I am following after Jenny Holzer model in this regard - especially her Truisms work which continues to impress me as a very profound, funny, and generous body of work.



What is your Why?

So I have been very interested in working with multi-panel narrative artworks that offer a large interpretive journey for the viewer, if that’s how the work develops. It’s a bit like a film. Frame by frame and thought by thought.

Frank Stella said back at the beginning of minimalism: “What you see is what you see.” Well, I’m working in the area of: what you think you are seeing determines what you see.

A bit like when you are watching a film and noticing every detail, and then how those details change your working scenario of what’s happening of the story. That is a generous participatory journey, which kind of celebrates and exercises the mind of the viewer. It is the opposite of dogma and dogmatic cultural production.

In a certain sense we humans are interpretive machines - which Robert Ryman's work really made clear (unstated by the artist I believe) with tremendous economy: that our minds cannot help but interpret meaning in and out of different pieces of information with intense and eccentric skill. Evolutionary biologists link it with survival mechanisms scanning for dangers. In art, the white cube is the actual operating theatre of this form of head-space of course. "The theory that abstracts the obvious into a tall souffle" to cite a text from "Notes of F. Wott: File 12: Theories”

Yeah, I am aiming to make work that offers viewers an unexpected journey with themselves - with their minds if you will. That seems right to me. I very much enjoy that in the work of others. As these two works continued to grow in the process, I went with them and joined in the accelerationist journeys. Perhaps they are not really suitable to take all in in one sitting. I had to accept these are vast topics - with many river deltas.



On the name of F. Wott: inspired in relation to Beckett's novel "Watt" which I read years ago and was formative.  Absurdist humor to keep the interpretive machine grounded in the tangible.  Also, I liked the sound of the name.




Maria Louizou at The Watermill Center.
Photo: James Salomon


It’s Victorian this embroidering ordering
and sorting of memory to museum quality. 

In a box we are, we are, and we’re art
for the victims and tourists to see.

- Juana Molina (translated)


What are you asking (yourself)?

Where can we find a space that makes us feel safe to express ourselves?
Is our own body always such a safe space? 

I create new forms that change the image we form in our minds about our bodies.

The performer's arms, legs and heads are hidden within my sculptures, they can choose which parts of their body remain visible so they feel comfortable to express themselves though their voices.

Is it possible for me to create a space which allows you to express and hear your own voice?

My exhibitions are arranged in such a way as to allow the visitors to use my art pieces and to interact with them. 

In this way, the visitors can express their own thoughts and feelings.
This, in turn, is important feedback for me.

How does a breath generate our principal means of communication?


"Six Breaths Per Minute" installation in Athens, Greece, 2021. Photo: Petros Toufexis


What are you doing?

I used to create two- or three-part compositions that I gave to the vocalists in order to create a chorus - a polyphony.  

On the basis of this composition we would start a long improvisational performance that the audience could only experience live. 

At this particular moment, for the first time I aim to create electronic compositions within my pieces using my own voice as a starting point and main tool. I have already made some sound designs which I will show this Friday during In Process open rehearsals


 Copyright Lindsay Morris, courtesy The Watermill Center


What are you hearing?

For the last five years I have been listening and trying to understand the composition structure of songs of lament from Greece and Albania. It seems to me that the modern society both in Europe and United States does not have the ways and or the rituals to mourn.

My vocal compositions are inspired by, and refer to, traditional rites and practices of mourning from northern Greece. In Epirus, for example, mourning occurs through polyphonic vocals: the villagers gather and compose, collectively, a chant in order to express their pain and grief and to find consolation.


Friday, April 22 @ 5:30 PM 


In Process @ The Watermill Center is our ongoing series of studio visits that invite the community to gain insight into the creative process of our international Artists-in-Residence, cultivating an understanding of how artists from across the globe develop new work. Reservations are required.  




James Salomon

James Salomon is the Director of Achille Salvagni America in NYC. He occasionally takes photographs and tells stories for Whitehot and various art and lifestyle publications.


Photo: Lori Hawkins


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