Adriane Herman and Laura Mullen

Adriane Herman, “A Good Cry”


Adriane Herman Artist Statement


Studying other people’s “to do” lists allows me to trace the seemingly alchemical trajectory from intention to action. In both form and content, these humble documents of other people’s intentions to get things done move me to collect and reflect them back in ways that might yield new kinds of attention to detail(s). One way I monumentalize selections from my growing collection of ephemera such as other people’s grocery lists is through a process of inlaying burnishing clay that combines drawing and printmaking processes with ceramic media. By utilizing this and other labor-intensive techniques to re-present evidence of human commitments, tastes, priorities, accomplishments, and procrastinations, I hope to bring to these clues about people’s lives the kind of intensive attention often reserved for objects encountered in environments that imply their contents have cultural value.


Response by Laura Mullen


It’s an honor to be asked to respond to this artist: by guiding our gaze to ephemera we tend to ignore, Adriane Herman does for the list what Duchamp did for the urinal and bottle drying rack. The “Dump”—as Wallace Stevens reminds us—is the proper location for serious artistic inquiry: we need to look at the (“the”!) constructed and abandoned realities carefully. In her work, Herman enacts a certain transparency (the “artist” disappears), becoming the glass through which we see the world differently, and she takes us over the jealously guarded line between art and life. I see her exploring  “borderlands” (in Gloria Anzaldua’s sense) and place her work in conversation with that of contemporary artists whose subjects are memory and identity (I think of Christian Boltanski), as well as feminist artists who take on the problem of work (“women’s work”) that is not meant to last (the image of the artist Janine Antoni mopping / painting the gallery floor with her hair comes to mind). It is more and more clear that, if we are to survive (politically, physically, spiritually) we must expand our gaze beyond its current margins: “byproducts,” “collateral damage,” and “garbage” are some names for areas under denial, spaces we are taught not to look at, not to weigh. But it is precisely those spaces, left out of our calculations, which shape the spaces that we agree matter, and we cannot find our way to any truth without accounting for those (objects, landscapes, others) we’ve insisted are (or rendered) invisible. Because of Herman’s work, I picked up and held onto the grocery list (written on a paper plate) I found blown up against one of my tires in the vast parking lot of a Target superstore; in the franchised, impersonal spaces of America, fragile traces of the individual are resonant treasures, essential to our understanding of humanity and community. These monumentalized lists are powerful evocations of embodied presences (the “hand”) and time (the crossing out and discarding of what seemed urgently necessary information…) as well as the unreliability of memory and the brief ferocity of will. And of course these clues give us vivid images of other lives: “So everyone’s a poet,” as Gertrude Stein put it, or perhaps I should also say, “so everyone’s a detective,” which is a pairing—since she admired the genre—Stein might have liked: reading, at this level, is writing. I would call these lists (found) poems—which is part of the reason I have chosen to respond in prose, and with some images inspired by Herman’s work.

Harvey’s query regarding his project reached me at Wood’s Hole, where I had gone to interview a scientist referred to as “the oil spill guru.” I was starting a sabbatical dedicated to the completion of a hybrid text playing with the Romance genre, but I had spent the summer trying to understand the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, attempting to clock both the representations of the event, and the problems in the response—problems that seemed tied to failures of vision. (Oil producing areas are evidently, and this is true globally, places it seems difficult to look at directly or to focus on effectively.) The work I had been doing, and the presentation of this particular opportunity, took me into a joking / not joking space, in which the complications of desire became my subject: the first two lists felt transgressive (even abject) in different directions and, like the last one, also seemed both sad and silly in a way that pleased me… (Who hasn’t said to themselves, “Breathe!” Who hasn’t, if they thought about it, been grateful that that is not something we have to think about?) These images (or ‘exposures’) of lists are thank you notes to the artist whose work and the poet whose kindness invited me.

Adriane Herman investigates consumption through appropriated imagery and media ranging from archival to edible. Her independent efforts to normalize consumption of fine art dovetail with collaborative efforts such as Slop Art and projects undertaken with students at Maine College of Art.  Laura Mullen is a professor at Louisiana State University; her fourth collection of poetry is Dark Archive.

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