I vividly remember my studio visit with Lordy Rodriguez last fall. It was my first trip to Hayward since I had moved to San Francisco the previous year. The whole experience felt like an adventure. I have a very great appreciation for being invited into artists’ studios, and I felt the same way as I walked into Lordy’s studio. One can tell a lot about an artist’s practice from the way he or she arranges the space and organizes art supplies. One thing is certain: the precision of his drawings is matched by the precision of his organization of materials, from paper to markers. This video should illustrate what I mean by the precision needed to make these drawings.
Lordy showed me a drawing in progress for his show Code Switch at Hosfelt Gallery, which closed last week. As I pored over the drawing, we talked everything: neighborhoods and cultural districts, brands, language, typography, and topography as they related to this new body of work. Between these ideas, layered with the intricacies of the artwork’s patterns, and combined with a unique system of mapping, there was something different happening with this work. During this visit I learned that Lordy and I share an affinity for reality television, and we are both pretty open about how it inspires each of our respective work. I interviewed Lordy about how his Artists Drawing Club project Copy Right/Copy Left might engage with some of these ideas.
Marc Mayer: When we first started talking about your participation in the Artists Drawing Club, you were in the middle of working on your recent show at Hosfelt Gallery, called Code Switch. During a visit to your studio you showed me a work in progress, now titled Gangnam, America. I was really struck by the work and your use of words/text, but also a certain visual language. Can you describe this work, your original thinking behind it, and the show as it relates?
Lordy Rodriguez: I knew that I wouldn’t have many pieces with text in the show; actually this is the only one. It was just this one piece that helped set the course for the show. I wanted to treat text the same way I was treating the visual languages that I was using. The premise for this show was to experiment with the meaning and cultural context associated with visual languages by using cartography as a “grammatical” infrastructure.
The name Gangnam, America came from the popular YouTube music video Gangnam Style, a pop song by South Korean rapper and singer PSY in 2012. At the time I was working on this piece, this song was at the height of its long popularity. The music video takes tropes from western rap, hip hop, and pop videos that seem to concentrate on emphasizing personal style and identity. The name Gangnam itself is derived from the Gangnam District, which is a very affluent area in Seoul. It is similar in stature to Beverly Hills or Ginza in Tokyo. PSY uses the cache of Gangnam to represent an ideal identity. This kind of identity appropriation is seen a lot in American music videos, and PSY capitalizes on that so well with this video. By using the cache of a place and the visual languages that are used to support that kind of identity appropriation—it was this idea that really set the foundation for this piece.
All the names in this piece are the entertainment districts in the U.S. that I gathered from Wikipedia and Google searches to create a data set of sorts. The core of “mapping” is the data set. By using a source that is most commonly available, I’m getting the most accessed data set regardless of its accuracy. Accuracy has never been a focus of my work.
These neighborhoods run the range from corporate entertainment districts by developers like Omni in Miami, which centers around the Omni Mall—once culturally thriving, gay neighborhoods that have gentrified and became popular shopping districts like South Beach in Florida and North Beach in San Francisco—and old historic neighborhoods that are now hosts to clubs and bars like the Gaslamp District in San Diego. The neighborhood you live or where you go out can act as a signifier in the same way that the clothes you wear, the music you listen too, and the TV you watch do. All of these elements, the visual look of the text, the background water of the Burberry pattern (another visual signifier with cache), and the reference to the music video Gangnam Style are all concepts that set the foundation for the rest of the work in the show. It really serves as conceptual guide to the various ways I use visual languages in the other works in the exhibition.
MM: I find the title of show really interesting. Code Switch can be applied in so many ways. What significance does the title have for you?
LR: I am making a direct correlation between visual language and verbal/spoken language. Code switch is a linguistic term that refers to conversational switching between differing languages. That term has expanded to include other elements like accents, slang, and individual utterances. An example of this linguistic code switching is “Have a hotdawg, y’all.” The code switch is starting with the New York accent of hotdawg and switching tone with the southern vernacular term y’all. I like to think that I am doing the visual equivalent of code switching. By using popular and recognizable visual patterns that already have a meaning in the social dictionary, I can make “etymological” lineages or connections between those visual languages without changing the original meaning.
MM: How did your thinking for this project develop?
LR: My work using the concept of mapping is essentially a way to explore notions of identity. At first, I used it to figure out my own identity and how complex it can be. Now it is more an exploration of the things that can signify identity like how we consume entertainment and culture, from the ways we embody music or wear fashion to reflect or even influence identity. It is interesting to think that some of the most “successful” artists are the ones who seem able to create a “brand” for themselves and their work.
An art collection is also loaded with signifiers as well, things that might tell us something about the collector, whether it is their personality, interests, a certain perspective with which they view the world. I learned that Larry Ellison’s Japanese art collection was coming to the Asian Art Museum and I wanted to see how his collection might reflect some element about his sense of the world. To be transparent, my mother works for Oracle so the company “brand” has become of part of my family. This brand culture trickles down from the corporate identity, which impacts her experiences, and trickles down further when it influences my siblings and my interactions with her too. This is kind of where the project started.
MM: Can you describe your project Copy Right/Copy Left?
LR: For Copy Right/Copy Left I am appropriating a few of the most recognizable patterns from objects in the exhibition In the Moment: Japanese Art from the Larry Ellison Collection. I will create a template where people can play with these patterns (as I interpreted them), mixing and matching them to create land masses on a map, which might look similar to one of my drawings. It is a way to get people thinking about patterns and give them a focus to view the exhibition.
People will then go into the galleries and look for a pattern they find interesting. Through their eyes, they will draw a swatch of the pattern as they interpret it. There is a little flexibility in creating this swatch. This should not be an “amazing” drawing, but more a study or a diagram that shows how each person interprets a pattern. Once someone comes out of the exhibition with this study, I will then give them a postcard-size drawing, partially completed. The drawing will show a land mass filled partly with one of the patterns I created. But this is an unfinished drawing. I am going to ask each person to take his or her study as guide and draw a pattern to complete it. I am excited to see how other peoples’ patterns interact with the patterns I created. Will the patterns match, clash, line up or not register at all? It is going to be interesting to see how these different patterns relate and speak to each other. After the drawing is completed it will be documented. Participants will give me the study or diagram they did in the galleries in exchange for the drawing they completed.
In a sense, this project is a code switch between my own visual language and the code created by each participant’s visual interpretation of patterns in the exhibition. People will be able to leave with the drawing, and I will study and interpret their diagrams and patterns to interpret and try to incorporate it into some drawings done on site. But this project also might tell a bigger story of the connective transfer of visual language and meaning that I have through my mom, Oracle, Larry Ellison, and his art collection. It becomes signatory of the evolving meaning of visual tropes, giving one more way to create a workable structure in understanding visual languages. It is more than just copying.
Come to the museum on Thursday night, July 25 at 6:30 to be part of Lordy Rodriguez’s project Copy Right/Copy Left. RSVP here and share with your friends.
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