• Interview

  • May 12th, 2014 05.12.2014

    In Conversation: Deb Sokolow // Part II


    Read Pt I of the interview here.

    Posted last week was the first of a two part conversation with Deb Sokolow, contemporary art’s own private detective. Her drawings and artist’s books take the form of exposés, revealing imagined pasts of mystery and intrigue. Her compositions skillfully combine text, diagrams, schematics, and collage while her drawing style follows a lineage set in illustration that, like a great mystery writer, humanizes the narrative.

    In Part II of this follow-up interview from last week, I speak to Sokolow about her style and research process, as well as four new drawings she has in the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art’s ongoing ICA@50: Pleasing Artists and Publics Since 1963 series of microexhibitions.

    Joshua Michael Demaree: A beautiful motif in your work are the erasures and redactions. It makes the process seem frantically done, like you had to get it on the paper before being killed so the knowledge wouldn’t be lost or some power from above is censoring information. Like in The Problem Solver, the institution is fine with letting you reveal that it drugs its artists, but not ok with disclosing which artists needed it the most (a.k.a. who had the biggest egos). Where and when did your interest in forensic structures begin?

    Deb Sokolow: Absolutely to all of the above. I think you’ve pretty much captured my thoughts with regard to the erasures and redactions. And I think of them sometimes as the plumbing of the drawing, as an underlying structure that supports a story’s most current version. I will say that no institution has ever censored anything I’ve ever exhibited, but I do censor myself sometimes. If I feel I’m being too disparaging about a topic or individual, I change the tone of the text. I try to write in a more nebulous, more subtle way that I hope will allow a viewer to read between the lines. And my interest in forensic structures—this comes from watching a lot of television and reading a lot of mystery novels. And from playing the board game, Clue.

    JMD: In The Curse of the Building, you suggest that in Rocky, Rocky and Adrian’s first date was filmed at an ICA exhibition but the scene ended up being cut (and so was the potential funding from the exposure). I love this idea because, of course, Rocky’s most famous seen takes place outside another art institution in the city, when Rocky runs down the Benjamin Frankling Parkway and up the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It creates this tension between the two places that only a few viewers might put together. How does an idea like this begin; meaning how does your process take shape? How much research do you put in to an interest before you start sketching it out?

    DS: Absolutely. I do a lot of research in preparation to write a piece. The research is always the fun part, it takes months to do and much of it never makes it into the project. And if it becomes boring, I stop and move it in a different direction. And it’s a fairly organic process. One book leads to another which leads to a random conversation with someone which leads to something else. Sometimes research involves traveling somewhere to experience a place firsthand. A few years back I made a piece about Denver International Airport and the supposed existence of a New World Order headquarters located beneath it. Part of my research involved buying a plane ticket to the airport, flying there, and spending 16 hours at the airport and its grounds. I rented a car and just drove in circles for about 4 hours around the airport, hoping to see something that might trigger an idea or plot development. And I did see something and started taking notes and pictures, but then realized I was being followed by a white van and decided that it was time to return the rental.

    JMD: On your website I saw you made a lengthy chart over ten years ago about Rocky, Adrian, and yourself [referring to Rocky and Adrian (and me) from 2003]. So I take it you’re a big fan of Rocky? Specifically of splitting him and Adrian up. Did you go see the Rocky statue outside the museum while you were in town?

    DS: I’m a huge fan of the first Rocky movie and the fact that Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay. I’ve always felt that the story of Rocky, small-time boxer/thug, paralleled that of Stallone’s life at that time. Writing Rocky was Stallone’s big, intense attempt to leave behind small roles and porn and break into the mainstream movie world, to go the distance. And yes, I do think I would have made a better love interest for Rocky, as opposed to Adrian. I have seen the rocky statue, and I certainly did write the fictitious part about the scene in the ICA being cut out of the Rocky movie as a wink-wink to the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s actual inclusion in the movie. I was standing at my kitchen sink washing some pots when I came up with this connection.

    Deb Sokolow’s microexhibition, curated by associate ICA curator Anthony Elms, will be on display alongside a bi-weekly growing collection of works in the ongoing ICA@50: Pleasing Artists and Publics Since 1963 through August 16.