Adam Putnam is a New York–based artist. His latest exhibition, which runs September 8–October 17 at Locust Projects in Miami, will feature a collection of fragments: broken brick pillars, portraits, and film stills, among other works. Putnam is scheduled to perform in the space on September 8.
I HAVE A HAZY MEMORY of a dinner at my house when I was a kid. My father was telling stories about the 1970s, one of which was about a friend who dragged my parents down to a gallery in SoHo, which “was empty, except for a guy jerking off under the floor.” I was ten or twelve or something and was both traumatized and amazed by the fact that not only had my father said “jerking off,” but that art could look like this. Years later, in art school, I heard that—oh shit––that was actually real and not some made-up fantasy. I discovered Vito Acconci much later.
Recently I’ve been thinking about thresholds between insides and outsides—of interior-exteriors as a kind of working geometry, as the places where things get confused or rupture or break apart. A face can be a threshold space, a portal to who you supposedly are. In the context of a performance, I found that by not showing my face, I immediately got rid of the idea of biography. My earlier performances—stuffing myself into a dish cabinet, for example—were more about a detached, bodily presentation as opposed to presenting myself as a person with an identity. There was always a part of my body that would be under stress in some way, like a bent back or restrained neck or shoulder. In my new work, I’m more interested in having my entire body visible. At Locust Projects, I am trying to tap into some of that earlier energy. I want to be tied to a pole with my face at foot level, pressed against the floor, under duress, having gravity, heat, and everything acting upon it. I would also like to play with the perspective of the room by producing an invisible line that extends from my face toward an orphaned brick column that casts shadows on the wall in another perspectival way. The performance will form another complete space, but only in shadows.
When I first started making drawings of architectural spaces, it was definitely about another, mysterious sort of space. They used to be exterior spaces where the doors and windows were locked up. Around 2008, I began to draw these vaguely indeterminate interior spaces: half-remembered sites such as Romanesque abbeys, gothic vaults, and crypts. I wanted to see if I could make them bigger and bigger, as if you could get lost in them and never find your way out. The drawings have become more performative for me too. My ambition has always been to finish them, but I never do.
People often ask me: Why all the bricks? I couldn’t tell you straight out without it sounding a little disingenuous. But the first artist I fell in love with was Giorgio de Chirico. I have memories of arches and columns that remind me of his paintings. There’s also a portrait from the late ’70s done by a neighbor, of my mother and me under a brick arch in our old building. I often wonder how memory can be a condition of perspective—how memories change and are activated or repressed, and how all of that relates to portraiture, architecture, and stillness.
For instance, the translation between a performance and a photograph has always been really intriguing to me. Photographs are more than documents. Something active happens and it becomes a still image; I wonder if that’s the same as an architectural image, which is this still thing that is actually derived from something performative too. It’s funny––I’m taking a lot of photos in my studio that are technically “unfinished” in the sense that they sit around for a long time. But then all of a sudden something triggers them, and I think: “This is the photo. This is it.” It happens quickly, almost in a panic.