Jarrod Beck visited by Nick Naber

I met with Jarrod on a rainy windy Wednesday, right before Thanksgiving. We headed to Governors Island together on a small ferry, taking in the views of Lower Manhattan and the approaching Island. Jarrod is in residency on the island through the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) Process Space 2014 Residency.  His space is littered with work, text, and small sculptures. In a lot of ways his studio is a complete installation in itself. You can feel the artists’ presence there, working intensely day and night.


Tell me a bit about this Lower Manhattan Cultural Council space here on Governors Island.

When you go to these residencies you go with a project in mind, but the reality of a residency is that you’re not alone, you’re going to go to make this project in the context of other people making things, in a place you may or may not be familiar with. I’ve been living in New York City since 2000 but in the last 5 years I have been traveling intensively–to make installations, participate in residencies and to collaborate–around the US and around the world. I came back to New York in a big way this summer, with 30,000 lbs. rubber that became Uplift, a public installation on view through next summer in Sara Roosevelt Park in the Lower East side. It’s been great to grow roots here again with the LMCC, an organization that has supported me since 2008, and to do it in this particular space, Building 110 on Governors Island, because of the other artists I’m in residence with, because of this view of downtown. I see this place as both part of New York and not part of it. It was its protector, but now it sits under its immense shadow. It’s an island swimming, against the current, on its way to the big island.

My neighbors (here at LMCC) are Will Rawls–a choreographer and performance artist, Brendan Fernandes–a dancer, making video works, Jean-Marie Casbarian makes these haunting photographic pieces rooted in her emotions, Leah Raintree traces of the environment of the forces at play with and against us, there are playwrights, architects, painters here. All of these ways of making are represented and they each are a part of my larger practice. The diversity of the ways of making here have helped me develop my project, Falls. This is a safe nest to take risks in. The version of Falls I’m working on here is called Fallt, the fall that comes after Falls alphabetically and a fall with an end to it, Falltstarted with three stories, and one of those stories is about watching the Twin towers fall. It’s been humbling to make work in the face of my view of that area of downtown.

You make work as a solo artist but you also work collaboratively. Do you think your collaborative nature comes from your architecture background?

I think that my education as an architect was training me to be a genius, a Frank Lloyd Wright, a singular director who has a vision that a lot of other people are expected to construct. Not all of students of architecture are going to be starchitects. My experiences of making architecture and working as an exhibition designer have been beautifully collaborative. The projects I’ve built, especially those with the Guggenheim Museum, were amazing because everyone I worked with was inclusive, open with their research and expertise and they all were artists or loved artists. We were all on the same side trying to make a curatorial vision into a space that could be entered. And doing that in a genius building that Wright designed at 1071 5th Avenue. We were always saying,“Let’s try it.”

The collaborative side of my practice also stems from my desire to teach, because education should be a kind of collaboration. I need the time in my studio alone, to sit in the dirty pit I’ve built for myself and to draw and build myself out of it. But sometimes you have to go out into the light, right? I began searching out ways to make installations at universities so that I could work large, work without commercial pressures but mostly to get and give some of that university energy. I love building installations with students participating. And I think they get a lot out of seeing someone juxtapose different ways of making, like take etched copper plates prepared for printmaking, and casting plaster into them. With Balance, created at Universidad de Venezuela, I came in with an idea to build drawings of existing murals on campus, which were under siege. Each of those drawings was the first push–the students or people from the community took ownership and made the project relevant to their place. In that Caracas the participants had to show me (and did, so generously) the ways they understood their city at that moment. We all see things differently and if you can have a voice and express that, it can inspire a reason to make something.

The Falls project is a different kind of collaboration. Players come and go, but each of them is an equal partner while we are making the work. I made a version of Falls in Provincetown last winter with Mark Louque. I am more of a builder and Mark’s brain thinks through sound. I have always wanted to work with a sound artist and the project came at a time for Mark when he was trying all of these different ways to expand from his life. We are both very hands on, good producers and ready to be spontaneous. We were both ready to fall in to something. Regardless of who comes up with the ideas, I feel that in these projects everyone is an author.

You did a project at the Rauschenberg Residency in Captiva where you allowed people to walk on a work, and then the project was changed. Can you talk about that collaboration a bit more?

 That island is incredibly special because you are occupying the spaces in which Rauschenberg lived and worked. My studio was where he chose to die–these are spiritual spaces–and I was definitely affected by the energy he left in that space. I was with an amazing group there and the staff are so generous with their time and materials. We were given open access to all things Bob. I made prints with the last rolls of paper that Rauschenberg didn’t get to. I can’t express how much that meant to me. There’s a desire to be respectful of the place, but it’s not a museum, it’s a studio. He made like a motherfucker, and you can feel it, the energy was palpable.

There’s a building on the campus called the Fish house–it feels like a satellite because it sits out on the water.  It’s not used during the residency for someone to live in, it’s an open-to-everyone space. You can go there anytime, take a nap or go have a conversation with someone, or be there to see the sunrise. It is this temple and sanctuary for everyone.  I was working on a project with all of the left over plexiglass on campus, all the old plexi from framed works, and the plexi he used as hurricane windows. I needed a dimension to adhere to give all of these different sized pieces a format. I had become especially attuned to the planks on the pier on the way out to the Fish House and one day I just leaped into the decision to cut the plexi to this dimension. Josh and Matt from the residency cut it and I screen printed it made this big plexiglass piece called Unprotected that I showed at the Bemis Center later that summer. At first I thought I would install the piece on the pier, but that would mean a lot of screwing into the pier, and I didn’t like the idea of that. The other part of that was we were a pilot year and they were in the process of renovating. There was this slight polishing that needed to happen and that’s why there was all this plexiglass, and paper around, and why the pier walk was wonky. The pier walk was going to be lost; it’s probably already been taken out, they will probably put in that plastic wood stuff to replace it. This piece could only have existed in that moment, and I wanted to capture that. I was doing way too many things there, I just couldn’t stop, I’m sure everyone that goes there has this experience, you want to be a printmaker, a poet and you want to make paintings. You want to dance, and swim and eat and drive around in golf cart hunting coconuts. Art is life out there. Towards the end of the residency I began planning one last gesture to our time at Captiva. Some kind of grand erasure. But I wasn’t sure when I was going to be able to do the project.

Unprotected, 2013

Unprotected, 2013

I think collaboration is a beautiful thing, but I don’t do it all the time. When I get into certain rhythms, I need to follow those and be by myself to process the work. But one of the last mornings I got up early and decided to put my own projects aside for a moment and make this event happen. I wanted to do some sort of performance. I felt this need to collaborate with the group, but I needed to do it in a quiet and private way. I had not been collaborating as much during my time there, even though that is the idea of the residency, and that has always been the focus of the place. I was focused on my own work.  I wanted to make this gesture and give something to the other ten people that were there.  I got up really early; I stapled paper to the pier. Jim Hodges watched me, but also in his poetic way knew to let me do it in my own space, even though the paper kept flying up and out of my hands and into the ocean. It was the last day and we were having a meeting in the Fish house and basically to get there, everyone had to walk on this white paper.  People did different things when they approached, they noticed if they got their feet wet they could make more of a mark, some people ran up and down it, others rode their bikes on it, it was beautiful––so Rauschenberg to make a tire print. It was solemn, it was white paper, everything at the residency is white (almost too much white). They painted the house I was staying in grey and it was this huge upset, because everything has to be white. In a lot of ways it was a gesture toward that. It had this ridiculousness to it, which is important to my work, there is always something that looks a little funny or a little frail or shouldn’t be there.  With this work the wind would take the paper and I would have to go swimming into the bay to retrieve it. I kept that paper, I kept those prints, I don’t know why. I don’t know what I will do with them.  That piece is about that moment, but looking back on it, the zone of time when people aren’t sure what is going on, I love that moment. That’s the moment I make for.

Can you talk about the role of story, or mystery that happens in your work? Could you talk about that moment more?

In Caracas I was showing them a drawing, and I told them we were going to make a project with all of this discarded furniture that had enclosed part of the architectural school, this kind of slowly aggregating barricade in a UNESCO-protected building.  And there is this moment where they don’t believe you, they think you’re crazy or they don’t really understand you.  At Rauschenberg I was dealing with people in the arts and they know the artist life, they are more comfortable not knowing the intent of the project, looking closely for clues, trusting that they are in the supportive hands of an artist.  And they make a story from that. I want all of my work to have that. I have a huge story behind all of these things. I am constantly talking to myself, that’s what all this text is (points out his studio), I don’t usually show this in a gallery situation but it’s a big part of my sketchbooks and studio space. It’s out a lot more then usual in this space on the island.  The story is not so obvious when you look at my work but I offer it freely when asked, but my first desire is to present materials and situations that grab you, that link up to some memory that you have, or some relationship you have with a material. A deep emotion that sits with you but doesn’t isn’t always visually and materially manifested for you. I want the viewer to start there, there is very little magic in my work, it’s pretty straightforward. I don’t think it works with everyone, but I know it works with some people and that’s great. I realized this when I built an installation for the LMCC Swing Space program 6 years ago, there were hundreds of people that came through that space, and some of them were looking for the Bodies exhibit, because it was at South Street Seaport at the time. A lot of people didn’t get it but ten people out of all those people got the installation, I mean, they connected to it. They had an experience, and we had an experience together in it. It was a huge space, 3,000 sq ft. It was like being inside my head, it was insanity.  The ten people came in over the few months and we connected and they connected with something in the work and told me about it. It was important because it made me realize that’s the kind of artist I want to be, I’m not sure I want to make experiences for only ten people, but I definitely care more that ten people connect with it then a quantity of people seeing it. I want that kind of engagement with the work, I want to make opportunities for that kind of engagement to happen. It may not be a gallery, sometimes it is, and I love to show in a gallery, its great to have that focus. Its in performance, its in plays, the collaborative performance stuff I started to call processions, because they have this sort of walk that goes with them, and if you walk long enough together, something is going to happen. I have been setting up these walks with people, and sometimes we build things, and other times we are just walking and talking. And not talking.


We should be walking now! As humans we evolved as we walked, and we talk while we walk, there is this essential thing in that locomotion even more than drawing (which I think is essential too). It’s so beautiful when people walk together. There is something about your energy, your blood is pumping you’re in motion and there are different things coming out of you. I just had this walk in Italy with the Siena Art Institute, two weeks ago it was a 9-hour walk from Siena to where a symposium called Territori was happening in Colle di Val d’Elsa. These three students said, “Yea, we’ll get up at 5 am and walk with you,” I didn’t expect anyone to participate; I thought it was going to just be me and I was ready for that. I thought, “Ok, we’re not going to have this big discussion,” but then it just happens. With each person, I had this moment where we had this deep connection, where intimate things were shared. One was about the end of a relationship; the other about being an architect.  It was incredible. I would never have gotten that experience if I were standing in front of a drawing in a gallery. I like to stand in front of drawings in galleries, and I do have great experiences there but the walk kind of speeds things up, it’s also a reason to spend 9 hours with somebody.

Walking is an architectural thing, moving through space and how space affects people.

I think about that a lot, who I am, who I started as. I am still an architect in a way. I’m an architect in the way that I make work and approach the world. I’m not capturing a story, not telling you the story. I am putting you in this environment and asking you to give something too.  That’s the kind of architecture I wanted to make, I realized that if I called myself an artist and operated as an artist I would have more opportunities to do that on more intimate scales, that I could build myself. My ideas weren’t ready for a million dollars; they would have been thrown out if they were for a lobby of a skyscraper. I need to approach my work this way.  I think of the work I make now as architecture, its not always habitable but I see myself making habitable space in the future. And also making a drawing or something that doesn’t have a use. There is freedom in that.

 Is space/place the impetus for most of your work?

 Before I left for Provincetown, the first time, in 2011, I had been making drawings in New York that were about New York, the streets of New York and the broken pieces of the city everywhere. I was collecting stuff off the street like broken glass and plexiglass, and I would take it to the studio and trace the breaks over and over again. They were super laborious drawings but they created this time for me to contemplate that break, the break in the glass and all that a break references. I would wear the break down and I would change the line, it was a slow way to change the resultant forms that the lines built up to.

I took that process to Provincetown. It was a 7-month residency and within 24 hours of arriving I had my worktable set up and I just drew like crazy. I would get up early (5 or 6am) and I would draw, draw, draw and at 4 in the afternoon I would say, “I should probably go outside because it’s this beautiful day.” Before arriving I didn’t know that Provincetown was more than a small port town. It’s mostly the Cape Cod National seashore. I began going on runs and walks and experiencing the landscape. I had been drawing all day and I’d get out there and I’d be searching for lines and tracing things with my eyes.  Noticing the landscape I thought, “my drawings need to get bigger,” they were already around 8 foot long, but they didn’t have bigness to them, I wanted more expanse. I started paying more attention to where I was. There is this amazing thing called the breakwater, which is this stacked boulder dike that connects the west end of town to the beach. I was amazed, it was 100 years old the year I was there.  It’s not nature, it’s so completely manmade, but it’s unquestionably of the environment. I wanted to make work like that. Someone took all these boulders and put them in the sea. Fit them together. And so many people and I could walk on them, to get somewhere, to experience the place. I learned later that during the height of the HIV epidemic so many people asked for their ashes to be scattered there. I mean, who need the Spiral Jetty? I tried many ways to make work about it, or with it. I ended up doing one of the first walks as part of that. I’d be on the breakwater, or on the beach, staring at the ocean and into the horizon and then eventually those experiences began coming into the work. I had figured something out with those lines in those drawings, and I remember thinking––it was Thanksgiving, and I had made more drawings in 2 months then I’d made in the previous 3 years. And while I’m obsessed with quantity–the ways thousands of line can bundle to make a form, or slices of mining conveyor belts can stack to make a cross section of the earth–my work is about an experience, about an experience of some essential quality of a place. The light in Provincetown was incredible. I knew that I could take the next 5 months and make more drawings, more drawings then anyone has ever made, or I could want shift it a bit, and let this place come in a little more rather than sticking with this path that I knew and was really about New York. The broken things were so much bigger, and slower on the cape. I just started to make these huge drawings and every other thing would fail, at one point I was mixing plaster in bags and throwing them into the ocean. Doing these dumb things in order to figure out what man’s place is in this landscape and Provincetown is a great place to test it because it’s pretty small, you can run most of it. I made this huge drawing calledTerminal Moraine (2012), which is over 20 feet long, made of dusted charcoal and a plaster horizon that was this big breakthrough because it was a drawing but it was also an installation. It was spiritual and emotional; people stood in front of it and started crying. They got it. The audience in Provincetown is so special, artists, poets, playwrights, and lovers. Maybe I’m a junkie for this emotional outlay but I want to make that, I want to make those types of experiences. Because, I am an architect and I look at site and program I try to find a story I am interested in and go from there. The Provincetown project was a moment that I was reminded to be humble and let this big powerful thing come into the work.

Terminal Moraine   (2012)

Terminal Moraine (2012)

Can you tell me more about the project you are working on here?

 It’s like throwing bags of plaster into the ocean; I’m kind of at that stage with it right now.Falls, now Fallt, started with three stories. I used to work with and had an intimate relationship with a sculptor named Glen Seator who fell off his house in Vinegar Hill and died in 2002. In 2003 I had another friend Patrick who attempted to kill his wife and jumped to his death from his fire escape. This was in the East Village, and he died from injuries from the fall. Finally, thinking about 9/11 and the people who decided to jump out of the windows of the twin towers. I’m replaying the moment of watching the towers fall from a spot on Second Avenue, actually, not far from the current site of Uplift. It takes those three falls and tries to make sense of them.

I think about Glen and Patrick specifically, because they were important to me in my life and I lost them in ways that are hard for me to comprehend. Glen was an artist, who had a design element to his work, and I left my job as an architect to be a manager for one of his public art projects. I never went back to architecture. He showed me what you could do as an artist through public projects. I met Patrick at the Art Students League and we were printmakers together. In addition to our weekly etching class with Sylvie Covey, we only had a few moments with one another, but one of them was when he asked to draw my portrait. It’s such an intimate connection [having your portrait drawn] to have with someone, a totally sweet guy and something bad happened to him in his head. The third experience that Fallt touches on is the events of 9/11. I was living here, had been for just over a year, and I was supposed to fly on the 12th to go work for Glen but I didn’t end up leaving. Trying to process that day, a lot of people lost people that they knew, I didn’t but I feel the need to process it. Sometimes this project has been specifically about these stories. I did a project at the Institute Cervantes in 2011 where I wrote a play that was mostly about Patrick’s story and built an installation for it to be performed in. The play had six scenes; it was directed by Bill Oliver, that were based on moments from Patrick’s last month alive. In Provincetown with Mark Louque, Falls became more abstract and more about the idea of a body falling from great heights, about falling in love—what that means, a power dynamic between two people.  I want to figure out a way to express gravity. I’m thinking about how you could architecturalize the feeling of your stomach dropping. Falls, as we showed it at the Hudson Walker gallery at the Fine Arts Work Center consisted of a series of drawings in space with many layers that we moved through and acted on, we made marks on them and that became the artwork, the thing people saw when they entered the gallery later in the evening.

On Governors Island I am trying to bring Fallt into more of a walk. What happened in Provincetown was intimate. It was between Mark and I. It was a project for one another and less so for the people that live there. I want to bring the project back to a larger group and into a larger public. To do that I’m writing as much as I can and printing it and putting it on the floor. I’m pacing the studio. I’ve created a landscape that I walk over and on everyday, and from time to time excavate from it. I recently made a project for the Time Equities Art In Buildings program on West 10th street. It is this small window showroom space; you can see it 24 hours a day but you cannot get into the space. On the two windows I placed text that was pulled from this (pointing to the floor) that was kind of the first time that the text was shown so prominently in my work. I chose two portions that dealt with unraveling, a scene of two people taking apart their furniture thread by thread and the second window, facing the street was about two people standing at a fence looking into the horizon.

 This text has strayed from those specific stories; I think it might be recited during a walk. I’ve learned from this installation that people will act as they will act and sometimes they will see the text, just like I have these days where I have to do something else, I can’t look at these words and at what they mean for one more second. Sometimes it’s the last 5 minutes before the ferry and I write and then I go home and write all night and print it out and put it in here. The text is driving me crazy, I’ve also started to–because I was homeless for most of the fall–make little models of studios and apartments.

I’ve been living out of hotels for a lot of the fall, and at one point when I was not in NY I was going crazy without a workspace. I just started drawing and these forms kept coming out that are slick and monolithic, I don’t know where they are coming from and I don’t know what they mean. They are these kind of shields, they have nothing to do with the heavy layered, laden, works I’ve been making these past few years. I started making tons of folded paper forms, out of the note pads and stationery they shove in the drawers of your room at a business hotel. When I came back to the island in the morning it spurred these things that you’re seeing around, hovering over the floor. They are macquettes for sculpture but they have become their own thing, pieces in their own right. I like that they hover over the text pieces. This is kind of a city, my city, I feel very placed, in all of this dirty chaos. I don’t think I’ll ever have text on the ground in a project because its too direct a translation for me. I can’t describe the relationship between the museum board pieces and the text yet. They are so opposite of one another but I have a feeling that eventually they will come together and I’ll see what was happening at the same time. The tension between them is perfect. In times of stress it’s good to go back to things you know. I know dry pigment and how to cut and score cardboard. So that’s what I do when the text is too tangled. I’m also getting ready for a residency at Dieu Donné Papermill and these paper sculptures have been great for thinking about that because I want to make mammoth pieces of paper that are a piece, not paper to draw on but paper that is the piece. I want them to be huge, I want to build breaks into them so that they have a performative moment in them and then they dry and exist forever. I’ve been putting this museum board through the wringer, soaking it with ink and solutions of pigment and acrylic. I’m also scoring it, they aren’t in plane anymore and they are bending. They have a crispness but they also look like they’ve been in a flood. And maybe that’s a way I think a great fall would be like. I moment you decided to step into the air, the feel of that decision and the air against your skin and the wet and overwhelming sensation, the push on your organs when you realize what you’ve done. When you are about to hit the thing that finally stops you.


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