Safety Curtain 2016/2017

Everything is a helix

Tauba Auerbach: When I got the invitation to do the project I imagined a curtain like a piece of fabric – a soft thing – but then quickly learned that this curtain is actually a metal wall. I wanted to address the confused identity of this specific architectural feature as a “curtain”, so I sought out and photographed a flexible fabric made out of rigid metal parts: a piece of conveyor belt for a factory. I also fell for this fabric because most of its elements are helixes and I am in awe of the helix. To me it is the cosmic gesture.

Hans-Ulrich Obrist: The helix migrates through many of your works, your books in the “Diagonal Press”, your paintings and sculptures.

TA: Yes, it arises in all kinds of ways in my work, and I notice that it appears in the world in many forms. My argument would be that everything is a helix because everything is spinning while also moving in relation to something else. And if you combine a rotational path and translational path you get a helical one. In this way, everything has a helical identity, from the smallest particle to the largest entity you can think of. The helix is also amazing in that it can thread through itself, so it has the ability to bind. I think of it as the shape that allows the universe to hold onto itself.

HUO: Could you also tell us about your working process?

TA: The photograph is composed so that the “curtain” in the image is slightly raised and angled. I did not want to just flatly say: here is another description of the thing that you are looking at. I wanted to make a crack in that wall too, to present it as porous, or maybe as an X-ray of the guts of something else. I processed the photo to look a little like one of those doctored images from space – one that conveys sensitivity to heat or wavelengths other than the ones in visible light.

HUO: At a certain moment – and this is also relevant in relationship to the “Safety Curtain” and to many of your works in general – there is a sort of oscillating between 2D and 3D. You said that you had this epiphany and that you wanted to go beyond flatness and think about binaries and the binary between flatness and non-flatness. So I was wondering when this epiphany happened?

TA: I guess that my interest in lettering became an interest in language and logic, or language as a sort of home for logic. Then, since binaries seem to provide the underlying structure for a lot of logic, I became interested in creating squishy relationships between supposedly discrete states. This arose for me in a variety of ways but one way that stuck had to do with spatial dimensionality and trying to find a state that was in neither distinctly 2D nor 3D; and proposing that succeeding at that might open up some kind of portal to other fractional dimensions beyond three … you know that I have always been kind of obsessed with 4D space.

HUO: You declared 2013 to be a year of diagonal thinking and your press is called “Diagonal”. Can you tell us a little bit about this obsession with the diagonal and where it came from?

TA: For me the diagonal line is a model for a kind of psychic motion – an attitude that I’m trying to keep in mind as I move through the world, think about things and do my work. A diagonal line on a two-dimensional drawing represents the dimension extending off the paper. It’s a pretty powerful shorthand for something that can’t be contained. And I think it’s remarkable that we can so easily collapse and inscribe three dimensions on two, then read these inscriptions and – through diagonal cues – re-expand these spaces in our minds.

HUO: I was also wondering about Marcel Duchamp’s comment that the viewer does fifty percent of the work and about the fact that many people will be sitting in front of your curtain. What is the role of the viewer for you?

TA: I agree with Duchamp. Since this is not my typical audience and we are less familiar with one another we both might have to work harder, like you do in a conversation with a stranger rather than a close friend. Different viewers will also have different experiences depending on their seats. One thing I dislike about the culture of opera is the performance of class hierarchy that comes along with it. For this piece, the best seats are in the back of the house. I processed the image with a kind of hacked halftone, so the image resolves best for the people in the cheap seats.