Upon entering Resonator, a collaborative artspace in Norman, Oklahoma I am struck by the size of the giant warehouse. Everything from concerts, to experimental performance art, to dance parties has materialized in this space. Eric Piper, a founding member of Resonator, is an avid printmaker, philosophical thinker, placemaker, and community builder. I stopped by the space to take a tour and to hear about Eric’s interesting way of utilizing artist community building as his own art practice.
Your work seems to include an engagement with the greater community of artists. How does place-making and building artist community drive your practice?
The focus I have here is control over context. Often the artist is prostituted out by their owner or whomever is paying them. They are show ponies for a gallery or corporate manager. To change the world you cannot just make artwork in solitude, it must be shared with others. I’ve found the context of how the artwork is shared can affect what message comes from the work. The work being sacred is only a small picture of it’s capabilities. The way objects are placed in glass cases in museums, the way a zine is offered to be touched and folded by the audience. It is the MC that announces and introduces artists to speak or lecture; the context of a cathedral or a labyrinth of tabling humans.
The whole art-world is the real medium with which I work. I found that these events can be abstracted and experimented with as well. Composing events and spaces, curating the work and artists, the impact that these events and shows make can be addicting. The artist is usually trained to think they are at the mercy of some larger other, that there is some divine theory of art or council that says yes and no. The truth is that the world is a beautiful chaos. Every collective, university, museum, music scene, every group of humans creates these unspoken rules and theories of aesthetics and integrity. First maybe you feel insulted and try to teach them the right way of seeing. Then, if you are able, you might look at it through the groups eyes and see their ideas are sacred. It doesn’t lessen my experience to allow them the value in their experience. Sometimes to share these stranger ideas, it takes special consideration in the exhibition process. Every human has these divine ideas and concepts.
Why is printmaking an important medium for your work? Does it drive the content forward?
Printmaking introduced me to a world of art I never knew existed. It was years before I realized that printmaking was intended to replicate a piece which has already been made. My mentors taught me to work directly with the matrix to create original editions that themselves are the original work. Prints allow a greater ability to connect and collaborate as well. Having multiples invites experimentation and trading. Working with a medium designed for mass production gives you a knife to explore the innards of your economic environment. Survival based on selling objects and items that are not food or shelter.
How does the multiple play a part in your work?
With an exhibition of prints it’s possible to book a tour across country and open exhibitions in multiple galleries in one gesture. My life has always been connected with whatever music scene I am around. Printmaking and music goes way back as well. Printmaking is a tool for production. Product creation, to replicate a thing and then distribute it. It’s as if it is the first iteration of social sharing. Old school Internet. It gives the ability to share ideas, concepts and knowledge.There is no need for a sacred object locked away, printmaking allows editions to be made and spread internationally. Symbols to be interpreted by different cultures, a common ground to draw parallels and differences on.
How did collaboration with other artists and community start?
There was this time within the music scene in Norman where people were coming up with the idea for shows and then figuring out how to throw it together in order to make it happen. I got to know a lot of people within this scene and eventually through a Wild sort of team management and collaboration we were doing because we wanted to make things happen for each other. Those were the roots of the stuff. Which led me to Dope Chapel through an interaction with Andy Beard who had a space in downtown [Norman]. He gave me permission to create a show and do whatever I wanted with it. It changed how I looked at curation of art work, I started letting artists figure out how to put their exhibitions together themselves. After working with people and letting them really figure things out for themselves, I started seeing the collaboration as an art practice itself.
Can you elaborate on the idea of social practice and performance in your work? How does performance manifest?
I love performance art, I love the idea of this sacred action, or language that is experience. To think of how to share experience with an audience. Life becomes performance, this is probably what lead me to begin organizing shows. Everything is installation and performance. Action in life is the most effective piece of art.
Conceptually, what resources are you drawing from? Are there readings or processes which lead you to your next idea?
I journal compulsively and keep track of interactions I have with other people throughout the day, free write on any odd sparks that go off in the brain, my dreams, use words like tea leaves and explore connections between concepts. I enjoy reading, or listening to books. ‘The Writing of the Disaster’ explores how written word could possibly capture disaster. It is written by Maurice Blanchot after he survived WWII. In Watermelon Sugar and Anti-Oedipus created a ton of energy in my mind as well. The writing of the disaster becomes the disaster of the writing.
The glory of the disaster becomes the disaster of the glory.
The answer of the question becomes the question of the answer.
It’s a simple game to play with words. The reflection that one puts into it can generate interesting narratives to understand the world.
Can you talk about the narratives that lead you to the creation of the work? How do they unfold?
Very much like tarot cards. There are scenes that seem to draw up different relationships to the people viewing them. Depending on your situation in life, looking at these images or thinking of these concepts can bring insight to the situation.Through the abstracted human experience, how we connect to other humans through language.
Language, simply speaking to one another or sending messages…
Culture has already taught each person how to interpret these experiences.
To hack the social scripts everyone is accustom too opens people up to translate and experience things they’ve never encountered. It forces people to come up with a new way to process experience.
How does this manifest in the work or in your social practice?
I believe I began thinking I wanted my drawings to change the world or show some kind of secret, now I think the most important thing for an artist to do is to be traveling and interacting with different humans. We have to work together to build a scene and a culture we want to participate in. Art is often (simply) hijacked for other groups agendas. I think artists should have their own philosophy and build a system to share that philosophy with the big picture. While there is a sad poetic beauty maybe in the human that works for something they hate 5 days a week and make art against that entity 2 days, it is not the way to change this system. And it is extremely dangerous to build solidarity in this complacency. If we want to see real change it takes organizing people creating connections and telling people to take control of their lives. Everyone has access to different resources.
The series you created entitled “We, A lens to the Eternal” which presents the viewer with imagery which situates them in an almost haunting landscape. The way in which the formalistic aspects of the work merge create an unsettling picture of humanity, can you talk about your views of human experience today and how it reflects in the work?
I believe this work shows a transformative oscillation in individual identity. The individual that is separated from all cultures, human activity and consequence. The individual identifying with a group/culture. The individual identifies as the entirety of humanity, all the good and bad, and then has to reconcile these actions with their self image. Self image maybe being their individual self and tied to their group-identity.
You play a big role in your community space Resonator, can you speak about what you are doing here and what Resonator is doing for the community?
Resonator is a collaborative project. Af friend told me to consider Resonator and my previous space Dope Chapel as art pieces themselves. I think of Resonator as a huge part of my practice. The group is incredible and I’m considering pushing towards curriculum building and how to possibly start a school. I’m thinking about If I were going to make an alternative art school what things would we be able to, workshops, classes, etc. and what would be the limitations of that.
Do you have a lot of students coming from the University who use the space?
Yeah, we try to give access to the space as much as we can. When I talk to artists, regardless if they’re at OU or if they’re making work outside of school I try to ask them if they’ve thought about showing their work. I mostly ask just to see what their ideas of an art show should be or how they would do it. I want to try to activate everyone if possible.
Making maps and tracing maps, how we process the world and environment around us. Trying to take control of the other, you are projecting on yourself. I’d like to pass it on to other artists and give them the ability to break out of the normal.
The phrase “imagery from a globalized subconscious linking themes of identity, value, and finding your place in a foreign environment” is in your artist statement, can you elaborate on this idea?
This is a context for the viewer, I feel pairs with the artwork. While this kind of state of mind can be applied to viewing any work, I was journaling and playing with my relationship to these concepts while producing in 2014, 2015.
The idea of your familiar environment being foreign. Trying to shed the programmed way society teaches us of relating to the wilderness of society.
What different cultures find value in and why. How an individual can: trade different types of work for shelter, food, general well-being; assume responsibility for how their employer gathers the resources distributed to them; and keep personal ethics in tact.
After touring the facilities and speaking with Eric about his work I was able to see first hand how community building through different practices engages both Eric and Resonator. Through engagement with students and the larger artist community the Oklahoma art scene is connected to the world. Eric and the space work to build community through social practice and engagement with the broader international community. You can check out what’s happening with Eric and Resonator.