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Travis Jeppesen talks to Leslie Deere about his installation 16 Sculptures

Photo by Mario Dzurila

Inspired by the artist edition, Travis Jeppesen’s 16 Sculptures explores the space between writing, sound and visual art.  The American artist, who lives in Berlin and London, incorporates several creative friends and interesting characters vocally within the installation, which references historical sculpture. There is also a short sound byte from Jeppesen’s good friend and artist Brian Tennessee Claflin, who sadly passed away last month. Travis is currently a Creative Writing PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art and will be taking part in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. He recently spoke to Run Riot's Leslie Deere about the work exhibiting now at Wilkinson.


Your work showing now at Wilkinson, 16 Sculptures, offers participants the opportunity to sit and listen to audio bytes through headphones whilst wearing blacked out glasses.   How did you go about choosing those specific 16?

Intuition was my sole guide in selecting the sixteen sculptures. There’ s no over-arching theme or concept, they were all just works I was personally drawn to, that I’ve encountered in my travels over the years – with the exception of Spiral Jetty, which I experienced second-hand via James Benning’s wonderful film Casting a Glance, and Dieter Roth’s Staple Cheese (A Race), which no longer exists, but has sort of a legendary back story…So a very personal selection, I’m afraid; in that sense, I guess you could call it anti-curatorial!


5 voices vocalise the 16 passages of text for this work.  How did you choose who did what?  

I actually did nearly all of the voices, though some of them don’t sound like me because my voice was often heavily altered and layered with effects in post-production. My favorite, actually, is the one that sounds least like me – the Isa Genzken. At a certain point, it just made sense to bring a few other people in, and this is mainly because some of the texts were written for female speakers. I recorded one of them, the Venus of Willendorf, but in terms of post-production effects, there’s only so much you can do to change a man’s voice to a higher pitch without it sounding silly – the technology is surprisingly limited, in this respect. So then it made sense to bring in two women, both of whom are friends of mine and artists with voices I happen to admire. Christa Joo Hyun D’Angelo did the voice of the Virgin Mary in Vierge a l’enfant and Sophie Iremonger recorded two – the Femme Assise of Giacometti and the Relief with the Liberation of a Besieged City.


Could you talk us through the audio - were the passages written by you as a response to your friends, or did you sample them talking in real life?    

All of them were written as an exercise in what I call “object-oriented writing,” which is a way of writing that positions itself within the art object. So it’s a writing that attempts to animate inanimate objects, essentially. The texts were generated as a result of my encounters with the specific sculptural works, so the audio recording came much later and wasn’t on my mind so much in the actual writing. That being said, sound is a very important component to writing, and so I knew I wanted to work with Snax, who is first and foremost a musician and songwriter, as he would be someone sensitive to the musicality of the texts. I wanted the sound on each one to be unique, to respond to both the physical qualities of the original sculptures, and the literary qualities one finds in the textual re-creations of those sculptures.


You collaborated with producer Paul 'Snax' Bonomo to process the audio.  Can you tell us a little bit about how that worked?  Did he respond to the voices in an intuitive way, or did he know the 16 works or 5 people personally as well?  Did he have free reign to create certain FX or did you both sit down together and go through each voice separately?  

For a lot of the texts, I had a concrete idea of how I wanted it to sound, but for others, I went into the studio with no clear idea and just came up with something together with Snax on the spot. Snax is incredibly talented, so I left a lot of room for input from him, and I think it also helps that we’ve been friends for so long that it was really easy and straightforward to communicate our ideas to each other. I think he had a good understanding of what the texts were trying to accomplish, which is difficult as some of them are quite abstract. I have no technical expertise, so sometimes I would have a really precise idea of how I wanted something to sound and would just have to describe it to Snax, and he was always able to capture the sound I wanted.


This work is about limited editions / artist editions / series of works.  One of the voices in this piece is Brian Tennessee Claflin.  I would imagine his inclusion makes this series cherished on another level.  Does the work also become about preservation in a way?  It ends up capturing a special moment in time.  What are your thoughts?

Brian actually only reads one sentence in the whole thing, it’s a line from the Thomas Houseago sculpture, Walking Figure I (City): “I just feel transsexualized by this vermin.” It just sounded like one of the absurd, random, hilarious things he would say, so when we were doing the recording, I kept hearing his voice and knew I had to get him to read this one line.


He was my best friend and my soulmate, and like a lot of best friends, we had our own private language that we spoke, a language that occasionally pops up in my writing, especially a book like The Suiciders. He was a tremendous influence on my work, and will be an enduring one.


In your essay for the show you mention ... a world of too much information and not enough reverberation. Can you explain that a little for us please?  

Well, I think of reverberation in sound as the equivalent of reflection in thinking – not mere repetition. I know I’m generalizing, but I think one of the unfortunate characteristics of the so-called information age is that, while people are able to gain access to more information than ever before, they often don’t reflect on it or put it to much use. This is one of the trappings of technology – you can find out everything about a particular subject within minutes or seconds, then move on to the next without further reflection. (You encounter this a lot in the art world, actually, where people are like walking encyclopedias of names of artists, but when you ask their opinion on a particular artist’s work, they don’t have much to say.) So people know more, on a superficial level, without having a very deep knowledge of anything in particular. For most, it’s all about possessing information (quantity) – but it’s what you do with it that counts (quality). And for most, it’s in one ear, out the other, as the saying goes. So I think 16 Sculptures strives to be a radical act of reverberation. The original sculptures – the information, as it were – are missing; you are denied access to them, you won’t even know what they look like unless you’ve seen them before or want to visit the museum or go home and Google them. If I were to have just written banal descriptions of what the sculptures look like, then I would be doing the lazy thing that most people do with information nowadays when they’re not simply forgetting – relaying. What you get in the book and the installation aren’t reproductions of the sculptures, but reverberations of them.


What else do you have coming up in 2014?

I have a book coming out in the fall, called All Fall. It contains two novellas, both of them about…falling! I plan on spending the month of August in Tangier, where I hope to finish writing my PhD dissertation. Other than that, lots of travel, most likely.  



16 Sculptures - Wilkinson Gallery on Vyner Street until 17th August.

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