I realized some time ago that there is no point in caring about what I like or want or feel like doing, so I decided to stop caring. This translates into a lifestyle in which I go where people ask me to go, do what they ask me to do, and never discuss money. I have found that I experience happiness to the extent that I do this, happiness punctuated with periods of boredom as I wait for the next gig. Now I am working with Shmulik Krampf at refusalon because he literally got down on his knees and kissed my feet after not seeing me for fifteen years and I asked him, “What can I do for you, Shmulik?” After weathering an explosive spasm of maladjusted genius, Shmulik has managed to rein me in as a gallery artist/associate, a position I had sworn to never be in again.
We recently received word that the Steven Lieber collection is being dissolved and that my work in this collection from over twenty years ago is available, so we acquired it. I had completely forgotten about this work and it is an ironic word choice, ‘dissolved’, since dissolution was the process of its creation. I was engaged in the dissolution of self, a dismantling of that phase of life and a deconstruction of personal mythology in which I obliterated a detested, fledgling careerism by emptying file cabinets and turning CV’s, reviews, proposals, archives and art into art, cannibalizing the very career that I was rejecting. I never resorted to such careerist devices again and refused to collect or provide them. I still do. The only images I have of past work were gleaned online.
Also in this collection is work from my Stigmatic Constellation series in which I mapped scars, denoted them with wood match burns and connected the dots with burned lines. The statistical assumption that, no matter the configuration of points, there will be a corresponding configuration of stars in the night sky, projects the evidence of formative trauma into celestial celebration and permanence, at least for me it does. Kenneth Baker wrote about it in the SF Chronicle, “Isner’s work slyly impugns all representation as a symptom of our compulsion to seek ourselves in everything at the expense of what is merely there.” Ah, but we are merely here as is everything and there is no distinction because there really is no here here, so there isn’t anything here. I stare at the night sky and I do see myself just as I close my eyes and look and I see reality, not at the expense of what is merely here but through its negation.
Some reviews still stand out in my mind, particularly a 2002 Art Forum article which asked, “Where have you gone, Chris Isner (March ’93)? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” And then when I popped up in LA for a show, an SF ArtWeek article characterized me as “firmly entrenched under the banner of the Black Knight, providing an all-too-tangible viewport into the abyss.” Twenty years later, for good or Ill, I more fully embody this characterization because dissolution of self requires the exorcism of domestication and all things civilized and one finds oneself starving in the jungle, assimilated, dying yet never more fully alive. One gets covered in scars. You see it in the eyes.
There is only one question to ask: “What is it?” Don’t ask what it means or what it’s about; who am I to tell you that? But I will tell you what something is which includes what it does. To ascribe meaning by sticky note, as if meaning is some tacked-on externality solely at the artist’s discretion is laughable. Granted, context of histories is important but to what extent of inclusion? Inducing the necessary curiosity to explore contextual histories requires effort and intention but is the rarified niche of ivory-towered art history majors really enough or is that also laughable? And do we eschew common denomination so blatant as to be mere Social Realist propaganda? Interest is generated by being interesting, period. What is more boring than some career artist laboring away in a studio all day, going to openings at night, laughing, schmoozing, opportunistically ferreting information to “achieve” that big break….writing proposals, sitting on committees, jockeying for tenure, etc, etc, ad fuckin nauseum? This to the point where artists and arts professionals are indistinguishable! It’s pathetic. But there are always eyes out there viewing from a vantage point these Covered Wagons of Mediocrity encircling, viewing them with a pitiless intensity. It’s the wild. The wild is exciting. The wild captures the imagination, is always there, waiting, watching. It survives.
While I find the art proposal process quite amusing–a process whereby dilettantes generate ideas and then execute those ideas as if this is art rather than some species of conceptual illustration (then, of course, they’ll tell you what it means!)–I’ve known for decades that my greatest work will be merely an idea executed. Even so, it will be one of the greatest works of art ever made–the last great work of art ever made–because of what it is and what it does. This work will obliterate all existence, being not just a viewport into the abyss but the generation of the abyss itself. And I think it’s time to make this work, to extinguish the universe. I will extinguish the universe. This is a threat and a warning but don’t worry, you won’t feel a thing.
– CHRIS ISNER –