Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I have been thinking a lot about coincidences.

Last weekend I was in Chinatown with a friend. It was around 5 on a cold, grey Saturday afternoon. As we walked, chatting and window-shopping, we couldn’t help but notice a man in front of us. He looked normal at first, but he was weaving back and forth on the sidewalk, and as we got closer we could hear him muttering about lesbian parents and artificial insemination. “Damn them and their splitting eggs,” he spat at us. To avoid him, we ducked into a bright, glossy furniture store.

Inside it was a monumental palace of tiered chandeliers, king-sized beds, and enormous bronze and marble statues, rip-offs of famous paintings in heavy (handed) gilt frames overwhelming the walls. On a display table near the front of the room, there were seven or eight fist-sized, bejeweled eggs, each split open to reveal a ballerina or a flower, maybe a dancing bear. That’s funny, I thought. Splitting eggs. The coincidence may not even have caught my attention if I hadn’t just been reading a book on the same subject, Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body (by Frenchman Armand Marie Leroi), and at the time been toughing it out through the chapter on conjoined twins, literally all about the splitting of eggs. A strange zeitgeist, but it seemed to mean something...

Back at Crown Point, we’ve opened a new gallery space downstairs for private parties, “By the Sea,” where we’ve hung about 14 prints. I spent much of last week writing short, three-sentence blurbs on each print in the new space. The paragraph that gave me the most trouble was the one on Tuttle’s: Naked I (2004). It’s hard to talk about Richard Tuttle because his work is so abstract and his process is so personal and cerebral. After working on it for a day or two, I was more lost than when I started. Deceptively simple at first, Tuttle’s work seemed to get more complicated as I looked at it and thought about it.

Richard Tuttle, Naked I, 2004
Color soft ground etching with foul biting and hand staining printed on white Hosho
27 x 21”, edition 10, $4,500

For help, I turned to master printers Dena Schuckit and Catherine Brooks. Dena has led all of Tuttle’s projects since she came to Crown Point Press in 1995, and Catherine has assisted on many. Tuttle completed his Naked series two years after another series he called Costume, 2002. Working on Costume, he was concerned with the concept of costume versus clothing; in Naked, nakedness vs. nudity. Dena and Catherine told me that while he was working on Naked he would often take walks in the area. On one of these walks he found a flower, which he brought back with him to the studio and used to mark the surface through a soft ground on the plate of what would become Naked I. They described how mindless the decision to use the flower seemed, but how after he had done it, it came to mean something quite theoretical.

In the 2005 Overview for his Naked series, Tuttle wrote about how nudity “is a part of the Greek solution” for nakedness. I think by “Greek solution” he is referring to the Greek ideal nude, marble and perfectly proportioned, so unlike our own flawed bodies that are constantly changing and decaying. We replace naked with nude in the same way that we replace the stars with groups of constellations: because the proportions and rules of nudity are clear, it is more easily conceptualized. “The nakedness we seem loath to accept/ Because it hurts or is painful may be/ Just the sign of a material dilemma,” he writes. Nakedness is vulnerability. And when we feel vulnerable, we have (fortunately!) language and concepts to smooth our thoughts into familiar paths. Of course Tuttle’s work was the hardest for me to write about— it was the least familiar, the most personal, the most “close to the bone.”

One thing I learned about Richard Tuttle (though I’m not sure how much of this is rumor) is that to make decisions he uses a something called “muscle testing” or “applied kinesiology.” Imagine a printer asks him what color he wants in a certain print. He’ll make a ring with the thumb and forefinger of one hand and use the index finger of his other hand to tap the spot where thumb meets finger. If the force of his index finger is strong enough to break the connection, he’ll choose red, say; if the ring does not break, pink. Based on the concept of internal energy fundamental to traditional Chinese medicine, muscle testing is supposed to evaluate the body’s imbalances and assess its needs. The idea is to tune into the needs of the body over the wants of the mind: sometimes we need to turn off our thoughts to realize what we most deeply know.

In the first days of the life of a fetus, its cells begin to organize themselves by type. The way they ‘decide’ to become, say, spine or skin, is by responding to signals from ‘organizer’ cells. From either end of the little proto-fetus, cells will receive Morse code-like vibrations. From one end, these vibrations will signal them to become spine; from the other, skin. “In a way,” writes Leroi in Mutants, “the embryo is just a microcosm of the cognitive world that we inhabit, the world of signals that insistently urge us to travel to one destination rather than another, eschew some goals in favor of others, hold some things to be true and others false; in short, that moulds us into what we are.”

In a way, every decisions we make is a negotiation of the pulls we from different directions. I really think all you can do is be open to receiving them all, and let yourself go in the direction that pulls the strongest. If I had not already been thinking about coincidences and decision-making, the split egg affair that seemed like just a strange, funny coincidence last week might have led nowhere. As it was, it ended up taking me to a totally unexpected, but welcome conclusion.

- Rachel Lyon


Anonymous Anonymous said...


It was very nice to meet you at the KiKi Smith reception & kudos again on the blog! We told you we would write some commments, but it's taken us a while...Rachel & I also met Kathan that night for the first time which was a lot of fun for us. Looking forward to the next Crown Point event.

J.P. & Rachel Walsh

3:03 PM  

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