New York

Sandy Skoglund

The University of Hartford

Sandy Skoglund’s Xeroxes, drawings, and object could also be considered as part of this reaction against single viewpoints. More interesting is that supposedly contradictory positions are now possible within the framework of a single show. Skoglund’s show is a homage to various “mistakes”—the mistakes of machines, the mistakes of people, the mistakes of objects. Let me explain. The mistakes Xerox machines make determined a number of works or objects put through various stages of transformation by “Xerox” and “re-Xerox.” I’ll not discuss these works, however, since the area is somewhat well documented. What I want to talk about are Skoglund’s drawings, consisting of the mistakes she made, and her single object in the show which consists of a mistake made by its altering position. Suffice to say the tension in the show is for me between what I call art “mistakes” and its polarity—“cultural mistakes.”

For Skoglund, a drawing begins once a mistake is made. Mistakes, instead of reason for rejecting the drawing, are accepted as part of the process. The marker with which she usually circles her mistakes, a red or blue crayon, itself a sign of cultural reprimand associated with school exercise books, becomes part of the drawing process. With it she sometimes makes hundreds of little red circles in just one drawing.

The kinds of instructions Skoglund sets herself vary. In one set of drawings, Make a line and then go back over it, she does just that in each. Drawing a series of parallel lines in pen and ink on different pieces of paper, she tries to retrace them exactly. I presume the tracing activity is one stage of the drawing, and spotting the mistakes is another. Wherever the second line separates from the first, it’s circled. But in deciding what was a mistake Skoglund faced an interesting question: How do you judge a mistake, or how do you decide where a line misses another line? With some definitions of congruence one line never corresponds exactly to another line. She solved the problem by creating another condition for picking out the mistakes: the viewing distance of the spectator. If the separation of the two lines could be seen from a predetermined distance it counted as a mistake. If the line could be seen to separate from the other from four feet, it was circled in blue, if from eight feet in red. In fact, none of the mismatchings could be seen from eight feet, so all the mistakes here are circled in blue.

Skoglund does a similar kind of thing with Stay Inside the Line. Only this time she has to stay within two lines without touching them while doing a scribble across a page. The difficulty is increased progressively within a series of drawings as the two lines get narrower. Still using the same circling of mistakes, they incidentally vary in number from 69 mistakes in the largest drawings to 270 in the narrowest. As the increments of measure become increasingly refined is it easier to make mistakes or are there more mistakes to be made? Skoglund asks herself in a note alongside the drawing.

A third set of “lap drawings” are also graphically interesting. These differ from the other mistake drawings in that the mistakes are implicit rather than explicit; ’for there is no circling on any of these six 20“ x 30” drawings spread in a line along the wall. What happens on them is a consequence of perhaps the simplest instruction: draw as many pencil laps across a piece of paper as quickly as possible. A pencil line is looped backward and forward across the paper until it’s covered—without the pencil ever leaving the paper. Any imperfections in looping determine the growth of the image. Each imperfection is a kind of mistake organically affecting the ongoing drawing. You can see, for example, what a slight veering to the right of an early line will do to absolutely change a drawing in mid-course. It’s also interesting to note Skoglund’s comment on impossibility of practice having any meaningful consequence on the kinds of drawings she produces: “It is possible that there are acts which are so irreducible that they cannot be learned so practice has no effect. The alternative to increasing proficiency must then be a range of probability.”

All these three sets of Skoglund’s drawings, however, accept an art frame of reference. That’s why Skoglund’s one mistake in the show with an extended cultural range of reference—which I’m sure she did as a throwaway gesture—is such a delicious surprise after these art-entrenched drawings. Her “cultural mistake” is so unacceptable within a single idea philosophy, yet completely acceptable from a pluralist standpoint.

The piece is very simple. It features a portable, white Panasonic TV on a stand in the middle of the gallery. The set is on. Both the sound and picture of what seems a random channel are normal. The TV, however, rests on its side rather than its base. It’s as simple as that. The TV is performing its function of transmitting sound and sight messages, yet the basic premise of normal visual accessibility you take for granted is denied by Skoglund’s just moving the picture from vertical to horizontal. Turning your head to see in no way compensates for the simple, but outrageous rape of the vertical. Skoglund trades off the disruption of a lifetime’s reinforcement of vertical image reading. Apart from being the simplest—and I’d say the best—piece in the show, it has the added advantage for the artist of not having to accept or invent an art-rule structure, she just makes use of a readily available cultural one. My interest in Skoglund is she uses the same reticence in her cultural as she does her art mistakes. Perhaps this is the beginning of a case for the retention of both positions rather than the dominance of either.

James Collins