In dialogue with Jason Urban & Leslie Mutchler on their collaborative project at Nars Foundation
Artists Jason Urban and Leslie Muchler who have been collaborating on art projects since 2012, share with Art Spiel their ideas, process, and ways of collaborating on their current exhibition, Geochromatic Studies, at NARS.
AS: Tell me a bit about your backgrounds and the genesis of this collaborative project at NARS.
JU: We are both from different corners of Pennsylvania. We met in Philadelphia in 2003 and then followed academic jobs to Illinois then to Texas and finally here to Brooklyn. We spent ten years working at the University of Texas at Austin and that was formative in terms of our research approach to art making. From the beginning, we’ve shared studios and we were always helping each other with feedback and installation but it wasn’t until 2012 that we decided to formally merge our practices. We’ve been working collaboratively ever since.
LM: Yes, there were lots of ways we were influencing each other’s practices. In terms of training, we both have backgrounds in printmaking but I was always more interested in a sculptural or installation-based approach based on the multiple and Jason comes from an image-making tradition. Working together, we complement each other’s strengths.
The idea with the NARS Foundation show was to refer to our experience as academics. We framed this body of work in the context of academic research. We were already investigating the history of the study of color- Birren, Munsell, Küppers and others- and we started thinking about how we accumulate information for classes. We’ve made bibliographies for past exhibitions, but this is a step toward inventing curriculum- in a very abstract sense!
AS: What are your approaches to collaboration? What does each of you do and how do you integrate it into a cohesive body of work in this show?
LM: We’re very much a team and the labor is shared.
JU: It’s not a situation where one of us does one thing and the other does another. It’s evenly distributed… Before we start making anything, we talk a lot and write lists.
LM: We make models and mock-ups.
JU: It’s not uncommon for us to take a thought or idea and go to the library. We collect and read books and then start making notes, sketches and plans. Again, it’s all very much a discussion. From there, we make things as needed, do tests and evaluate them, and then remake. And as we move through a project there’s constant editing and negotiation. We iterate and iterate.
LM: There’s no standard studio day for us.
AS: The exhibition synthesizes a range of your recent work involving papermaking, photography, risograph printing (what is it?), and small press publishing related to images of books about color theory, aesthetics, optics, and poetry collaged with geological detritus. Why specifically color theory and geology? What is your premise behind this exhibition?
JU: The easy question first – risograph printers are like a hybrid between xerox and silkscreen. The machine looks like copier but the results are closer to screenprint. They’re a relatively fast way to generate colorful ephemera. It’s just another tool in terms of printing equipment.
LM: Since we have print backgrounds, a lot of times our work starts with printed matter (i.e. library books, etc). The subject of color is something I started exploring as an academic topic in Texas, collaborating with a faculty colleague on a color course called The New Color, and it became a shared point of interest for Jason and I as well. Our interest in geologystarted making appearances in the work as we sought to reference the physical origins of pigments (and other studio materials) and began thinking about time compressed.
JU: We bought a giant chunk of magnesite on eBay from a guy in Nevada for a show we had in 2014. Magnesite is a raw form of magnesium carbonate that’s used in lithography. Since then, various natural materials have been creeping into the work. Color theories and the history and origins of those theories are a really relevant and timely topic. Leslie and I still have a lot to learn and ultimately, the exhibition at NARS is meant to reflect our research more than to share it in any digestible way. It’s just evidence of the process.
LM: We called the initial body of papermaking work Introduction to Geochromatic Studies. It’s a clear reference to a listing in a course catalog. We expanded the scope of our research and added new elements for Intermediate Geochromatic Studies at NARS.
AS: Let’s get closer to the work – what is the viewer looking at?
LM: The central figure in the space is a low CNC-routed MDF platform. It’s a color wheel that faces the floor which is painted white so as to reflect the color. The piece is called A Geochromatic Library because the surface holds a collection of books related to CMY, RGB and a number of invented colors named after geological materials like limestone, jasper, and pumice. The content of each book is repeated on its pages- viewers can handle them. They’re not meant to function as books given their repetitive nature, but instead draw attention to the language of the color.
JU: Around the circular wheel, we’ve hung paper-works as well as photographs and digital prints adhered directly to the walls. In 2019, we utilized the Dieu Donne Community Papermaking studio to generate a large body of collages- eight of which are in this show. Most of the collages include images of the books and source texts we were looking at, images of geological materials, and color bars made with pulp paint. The idea with these pieces isn’t to share literal information but to evoke the investigation. As the viewer moves from piece to piece, there are a lot of repeated elements and motifs, a bit of a story unfolding.
LM: The photographs that accompany the handmade paper were made later based on elements in the paper-works. We’re calling the photographs Color Focus Groupings. They’re meant to share the physical collection of objects and elements that helped generate the paper-works. The photos were a chance for us to view them again with fresh eyes. Again, we iterate and repeat the inquiry.
Geochromatic Studies at NARS Foundation
201 46th Street, 4th Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11220
Through Feb 19, 2020