PRINT Summer 2003



In April, I met Jennifer Pastor at Carlson & Co., a high-end fabrication facility in the San Fernando Valley where, with a crew of technical assistants, she was putting the finishing touches on a large sculpture titled The Perfect Ride, 2003—an incredibly odd yet credible translation of a dam, which would soon be shipped to the Venice Biennale for its debut. Morphing between a sort of sci-fi behemoth and fantastic hot rod, the work comprised everything from sections of surrounding hillside to a river, with the baroque convolutions of an elegant water-circulation system begging for scrupulous examination. The sculpture was in the final phase of an epic production that began in 1998 (following her “Four Seasons” exhibition at Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art) with intensive research on attempts to harness raw power—whether through awesome feats of engineering or through manifestations of sporting grace. The preparatory drawings for The Perfect Ride bespeak a relative “modesty,” as Pastor puts it, that hardly prepares viewers for the actual construction’s burgeoning complexity. Upping the ante in this regard are two companion works—a sculpture based on the inner ear and a line drawing animation of a bull ride—that describe a constantly mutating system of analogies, as conditions related to the structural interior of these things are raised right to the surface and formal or aesthetic properties are brought to bear directly on content.

Jan Tumlir


It takes a lot of research for me to know exactly what I want to make, and to commit myself to it—a year of reading, traveling, and drawing, in the case of The Perfect Ride. I always feel like I’m starting from scratch, but with some problems or discontents carried over from a previous work. But it’s not really that depressing: If everything that succeeds in a piece is the end of something, then problems are holes or tunnels you can travel through. That’s where the research comes in. I’ve developed this voracious hunger for research, almost a fetish, where I don’t want to miss anything.

Some of my concerns for this project went back to the “Four Seasons,” which was, in turn, responding to something in my “Christmas flood” piece from 1994. In that work, there were fifteen complicated constructions—the water, top ornaments, and the trees all carefully built into relationships with one another and completely married in a single structure. In the “Four Seasons,” by contrast, the extent to which I tried to hyper-individuate every part, playing with different kinds of representation—from cartoonlike shells to a moth sculpture that seemed nearly alive—was almost comical. I wanted you, the viewer, to make this sort of telescoping shift from one piece to the other—becoming their armature, in a way.

In The Perfect Ride I was looking for completely independent armatures. I got interested in the economy and invention of great engineering structures, like the thin shell constructions of Heinz Isler and Eduardo Torroja and the work of bridge builders like Othmar Ammann, Eugène Freyssinet—and especially Robert Maillart. His bridges are so incredibly economical and beautiful. I visited as many of these structures as I could, as well as the Hoover Dam. Later I became pretty absorbed watching cowboy competitions on cable television. I was trying to learn the aesthetic language, or system, that everyone in the rodeo seems instinctively attuned to. There are two judges for the bull rides: One deals with the relationship between the bull and the ground, and the other with the relationship between the rider and the seat. That drew me to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and then to several other rodeos to make my own videos, some of which provided information for my first motion studies.

I could sense some sort of connection emerging between the motion in the rodeo and the circulation of water in the dams. At the same time, these things are so specific, so local. There was no particular point in the research where that connection happened. The tie doesn’t have to do with any location specifically—something clicked in that mass of locations. These three pieces—the ride, the ear, and the dam—all have an armature, something of a ride, which is choreographed. They all have some sort of a movement that is true. The armatures are circulatory systems that are functional and based in reality, be it anatomical (the ear), the circulation system of water (the dam), or the apparent consciousness of the bull. But the exteriors of all three things are completely fictional forms. The animated ride itself happens in this cubic volume of space—it is very taut and geometric, even though the animal being ridden is wildly organic, so the space negotiated by the bull is unrealistic. Likewise, the overall shape of the dam structure—which ends up looking like an automobile or spaceship—is unreal. And so is the exterior of this ear.

The choreography of the bull ride is related to the water-circulation system. And even though the ear is smaller, there is a kind of equivalence—let’s say that the duration of the ride is equal to the scale of this sculpture. It’s very intuitive, but these aren’t just formal concerns. I would also say that the consciousness of the bull is equal to your perception of the water flow—that takes the viewer’s experience in a more conceptual direction. Overall, though, the physical presence of these pieces just gelled, which underscores their connectedness. For instance, the animated bull is almost reptilian, almost seeming to be moving underwater. And the form of the dam and hillside is so strange, becoming a little bit bovine.

I’ve always been interested in the proximity between things that are typically seen as unrelated. I have a strong interest in a deeper structural relationship or likeness—or maybe it is the empty space itself, the “not-likeness,” that gives us room to construct these skeletons, these internal analogies. The skeleton here, it is true, gave me this super license to build whatever I wanted while not having to answer for every single question coming from the exterior.

The Perfect Ride has been my biggest challenge, which is funny because the whole project originated from three very simple line drawings and I honestly thought that there was going to be this sweet modesty to the final piece. I knew that the sculpture was going to be colorless and without surface texture. And while I knew that the bull ride would ultimately be on DVD, projected life-size—it’s quite big, a two-thousand-pound bull hovers about two inches off the floor—the animation is still made with just a black line. I guess I still think there is a supermodesty about this work, even if it took almost five years to make.