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Alan Wiener Text


How do you get those surface textures and what are they about?
The textures are transferred from the surfaces I pour onto. They provide color to an otherwise colorless piece. There's a full range of light and shadow, which adds depth that a flat color can't provide. The associations differ with each surface--some suggest skin while others are more geological. The smooth, liquid interiors contrast the rough exteriors, highlighting the material's frozen state.

Frozen state, that's a perfect word to set up the complexity of the materiality issues.
All of my work originates in a bucket. Liquid one minute, solid the next. I am interested in the moment of transformation. Once I pour, gravity plays its part--I’m only partially in control as the material oozes and pools. The work gets its energy from gravity, but in its finished state appears to defy it.

Would you comment on why and how of the puddles or paddies - they are so amusing and in a way decorative yet essential.
Yes, these appendages work well to hold the structures together, but their odd shapes seem to surpass their functional role. The flat side of each puddle belongs to the exterior while the liquidy, poured side emerges from the interior. Interior and exterior meet at each pour's contoured edge. They are evidence of the liquid life of the material asserting itself from within the solidified structure to which they are integrally bound.

Shape - the basic blocky, chunky shape which permeates your work - any comments on your interest /attraction to this?
What's unique about the block is that it's the most basic structure that rarely occurs in nature. The circle and triangle are everywhere in nature, whereas the rectangle seems to announce the presence of human beings. It's the simplest form that must have been made by somebody. With the organic nature of my process I'm pushing the block towards the natural. Maybe the puddling material suggests that the block has made itself, or perhaps is unmaking itself.

Is the man/nature dialogue underpinning your work?
I begin each piece with a plan, an ideal version of the final work. Drawings and/or simplified three-dimensional models assist me in visualizing the basic final structure. This preliminary activity is the analytical (man) component. The man/nature dialogue occurs when the liquid materials, in essence poured into that plan, fill it entirely and explode beyond it's confines. The block exists as a framework to be punctured and broken. I think I'm always trying to merge the predictable and the unpredictable in my work.


How did you get from plaster to plastic?
I began this body of work with plaster, but for the past two years I have been using statuary hydrocal instead; it’s much stronger. I’ve been working with plastic in the studio for about a year. The process is the same for all three materials: mix a powder and a liquid together, wait (the hardest part), and you’ve got a solid. The plastic allows me to work in a smaller scale with finer detail. It has become important for me to make work in different scales–even the same piece–as it broadens the subject of my work to include not only the individual sculpture, but the structure of that sculpture, a structure that can be envisioned in a different scale and different materials. My schematic drawings depict these structures.

As it’s rare for you to use color, what happened?
White is the natural color of plaster and hydrocal, although I’ve always tinted it slightly gray so it’s not so bright. In these pieces the texture serves as the color, and adding another color would have seemed gratuitous and distracting. So when I began using plastic, I only used muted tones of gray. But the natural color of plastic isn’t just white–plastic looks natural in any color. So I began experimenting.

Is the body currently a more obvious subject matter for you?
Yes. I’ve begun to embrace the figurative aspects that have been lurking in my work all along. By choosing titles such as Double-Portrait Bust and Statuettes I’m referencing bodies via the history of figurative sculpture. But I’m making other forms as well. Ultimately, I consider my work abstract.

What amuses you with the reference to models and model-making?
I’m intrigued by how the mind can wrap itself around a model: when fully involved in its intricacies the regular world blurs and recedes. Several small cityscape dioramas at the Natural History Museum which utilize forced perspective are especially great. I’m most interested, however, in objects whose scale fluctuates. My favorite scholar’s rocks, for example look first just like oddly shaped rocks. Then they being to suggest something larger, more expansive. But they always reassert their identity simply as rocks, sharing the scale of the body.

Might you see this figuring into building bodies?
If, hypothetically, I was to build a body from scratch, I would do it in sections–the process of constructing a greater whole from the sum of its parts is paramount for me. Bringing life to an inanimate object seems like the ultimate creative act. In my work, a chemical reaction enacts a transformation from liquid to solid. The liquid life of the material is preserved in the final sculpture–it is built out of this frozen life. It’s as close as I’ve come. Sometimes I think about those who succeeded: Geppetto got his Pinnochio; Galatea got his Pygmalion; Frankenstein got his monster.

Do you set out to have a sculpture project a sense of humor?
Yes. It’s one of the criteria I use to decide whether or not to make a sculpture. If the structure is too staid or too calculated, it gets scrapped. I’m looking for some kind of balance between organic and geometric. I think the humor stems from the material being caught in the act of doing that thing that it does–it’s hard to put your finger on it. I like how you put it: the sculpture’s projecting, unavoidably expressing itself.

These days, so many artists avoid pedestals. What interests you in using them in the most traditional manner?
The pedestal is considered a sculptural faux pas by most of the contemporary artworld. Maybe it looks good. Maybe it’s fussy and distracts from what’s supposed to be the focus. I’m interested in the traditional pedestal because it’s the convention and the most likely sculpture-heightening device to attract the least amount of attention. And if you do choose to examine it, it’s actually pretty interesting. It’s minimal – like an early Robert Morris. It relates to the architecture of the room, an extension of the floor. You could put a door on the side–imagine all the stuff you could stash in there. It refers to the history of sculpture, of putting sculpture on pedestals.


Why have you chosen to work rather exclusively with plaster?
It’s comforting to work with the same material over time. Before I found plaster, I envied painters for their consistent process and use of a single material. Plaster’s so immediate and versatile. I think it is to sculpture what concrete is to architecture. The way it transforms itself from a liquid to a solid is pretty amazing. In its liquid form it’s very sensual, and when it hardens, it retains that quality.

Do you begin something from a series of working drawings, an image, a concept, playing with material qualities?
I do drawings to help tease an image out of my head, thinking about structure, proportions, scale. When I make the piece, I’m trying to match the image in my head. There’s always a discrepancy. But each piece has an underlying structure which remains constant, regardless of scale and proportion. After I complete each piece, I usually draw the plan of the structure on the computer. These schematic drawings depict the structure as a template, unencumbered by the limitations of physical material.

Generally, are you following a reductive process?
The structural elements are made at different times, one after the other. It’s additive.

How are you intrigued by architecture; would you be eager to collaborate with an architect on some speculative projects?
Yes. The inside/outside aspect of architect interests me - how a building becomes a boundary between you and everything else. An opening like a window allows an exchange - the interior space flows out, while the outside pours in. I equate it with the skin of your own body where your vision becomes a way to leave your body. I’m interested in situations where vision dominates–walls and windows become irrelevant and you experience a boundless depth. Corbusier used the term “ineffable space.” I think a combination of sculpture and architecture could work.

Do you think of architecture as inseparable from the body?
The body remembers where it’s been, and each time it enters a new space, it compares the space to its past experiences. In our culture we’re so accustomed to the rectangular, it’s what we want. Put the body someplace else for a while and it will get accustomed to that, too. Architecture depends on expectations.

Have you previously worked figuratively?
No. The figurative element emerged out of this body of work, which I originally intended as more architecturally abstract.

Despite your work’s obvious severity or austerity, might you also find them encouraging a sense of humor?
Yes, but it has nothing to do with me. They encourage it on their own.

Mention some things regarding the origin and function of all those puddles.
They’re overflow. They help hold the work together, an extension of the traditional woodworker’s box joint that I use. With plaster, I can allow the material to flow through an opening, creating a puddle. They lend a gestural element to the work, exposing the liquid life of the material. The smooth interior surface flows out. It’s a release.

Why do you prefer abstraction?
When you don’t know what something is, it holds your attention. It’s human nature to ask, “What is that?” Abstraction plays on human nature by refusing an answer.

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