In Progress Update: Lou Mallozzi and Joseph Clayton Mills

As we gear up for this year’s Ten x Ten Release, we invite you into the collaborative process between two of Chicago’s foremost multimedia artists, Joseph Clayton Mills and Lou Mallozzi. Tasked with an open exploration of space and location, the pair literally took the matter in their own hands, laboriously rubbing the floors of Experimental Sound Studio to create an audiovisual aesthetic hyper-tactile in process and utterly ethereal in outcome. Enjoy this generous look into Lou and Joseph’s intentions and be sure to see for yourself the true breadth of their work Saturday, September 9th, at Experimental Sound Studio.

How would you describe the themes and underlying ideas you are exploring in your collaboration?

Joseph Clayton Mills (JCM): One is the question of history—the passage of time, the contingencies imposed by a particular location and particular materials that can bear the marks of their interaction with other bodies and other histories. This history of contact between bodies is registered in the traces that are left—dust and detritus, scratches, and scars. In the case of the ESS studio, this is most noticeable in the deeply incised burn marks left behind as a result of its previous life as a metalworking shop, but there are also perhaps less noticeable traces left behind by everyone who has played there, recorded there, or passed through as an audience member. The superimposed rubbings and the sound of their making compress that history into something that can appear to be at once both abstract and absolutely concrete. The rubbings record the surface of floor at a scale of one-to-one, but their superimposition disorients the viewer and frustrates any easy resemblance between original and copy. I think that, in some ways, this mirrors how we often relate to the traces left behind by others or ourselves. We are left with recordings, histories, and stories that register our experiences, the meaning of which we can intuit but not fully capture—signs that can seem both deeply significant and opaque. Our experiences invariably exceed our ability to represent them—to touch them or to hold them—and the persistent, perhaps hopeless need to do so is another theme of the work.

Lou Mallozzi (LM): The interactions of site, time, and body seem to be the basis of the work. There is the historical time of the site; the implied time that I, in particular, have spent there since 2006; the time taken for the process of making that we pursued, which was in direct contact with the floor. Circulating around that is the way so many others have interacted with the site over time, some it documented, most of it ephemeral and irrecoverable. Perhaps some of the melancholy of that irrecoverable time is also encased in the pathos of the activity that generated the work: two men sweeping and then rubbing the floor, on our knees for two hours. Traces and layering -- both sonic and visual -- are the physical manifestation of these interactions. The process of executing the two-hour action of floor sweeping and rubbing and then collapsing it into 13 minutes of multi-track audio and three images from the 39 rubbings is a distillation of sorts, yielding results that are of the original but certainly distinct and somewhat autonomous as well.

How does narrative manifest in this project?

JCM: I think that it functions as a kind of background to the project or as a necessary antecedent to the finished work. Part of what hopefully makes both the screen print and the sound piece compelling is how they each record experiences—whether that’s the history of the space and the lives of those who have passed through it or the sequence of activities that Lou and I performed in making the pieces. Those experiences could conceivably be represented as a sequential narrative or series of narratives, arranged in a linear fashion through time or extended in a kind of grid across the space of the studio floor. Instead, the rubbings and the sound of their making are layered into dense, essentially nonnarrative artifacts that fold space and time back on themselves and present them as a kind of superimposed simultaneity. What might have been straightforward narratives are instead compressed and distilled until they verge on complete abstraction. At the same time, the print and the sound piece each invite the audience to imaginatively unfold them to recapture the human scale of the original experiences. What’s retained and what’s lost in that process of translation is one of the questions that the work hopefully asks.

LM: For me, the collapsing process that I mentioned above is a way to excite a tension between narrative and non-narrative modes. The simple repetitive linearity of our actions, which function like "work" and not simply "art-making," implies a narrative in the sense of a linear sequence that fluctuates over time and carries in it something like what we call a "story," that is, something that puts us self-reflexively in the world. Conversely, since the action is not in itself any kind of story making, it acts like a frame around the narratives inherent in or implied by the site (its histories).

How does collaboration fit into your current practice? Does it vary for visual and audio art?

JCM: Collaboration is central to my work, particularly the musical projects I’ve been involved in. Haptic was specifically conceived as a vehicle for collaboration with different musicians and artists, and I’ve also been involved in numerous duo projects with Marvin Tate, Michael Vallera, Noé Cuéllar, and numerous others. This affinity for collaboration extends to working across genres and in hybrid forms—providing soundtracks to films, creating scores that use text and graphic imagery, and working with dancers and poets to create performances that cross disciplines. The small label that I run, Suppedaneum, focuses on presenting musical scores and their realizations and by its nature is centered on exploring collaboration between composers, musicians, artists, and designers. My visual work also tends to take a collaborative form, although perhaps less explicitly—it often draws on the lives and work of other artists or writers and explores issues of influence, canonicity, and authority. More generally, my work relies on a global community of collaborators and peers who inform and sustain it.

LM: I have a fluid relationship with collaboration in my work, and I don't consider it an inherently superior method of art making. Some of my practice is solo and exclusive, some is work in which I participate and contribute, and some is truly collaborative. Interestingly, the visual work tends to be at the solo end of the spectrum and sonic work tends to be at the collaborative end. I think all of my work is porous to the influence of others, whether present or not at the time of the making. But for me, collaboration specifically means that all participants have equal responsibility throughout the work. So, this project with Joseph is certainly in that realm, as are my improvised music projects and a small number of others, such as some performance work from a few years ago with Alessandro Bosetti. I tend to think of collaboration as something like what's articulated by Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs in The Third Mind, where the personalities of the collaborators meld into a third creative entity in some ways independent of the individuals, if only for a moment.

Lou Mallozzi is a Chicago-based artist known primarily for his work in sound, often with a focus on dismembering and reconstituting language, gesture, and signification. His work includes performances, installations, music works, recordings, and radio works. In addition, he has a visual art practice that includes drawing and other media. In addition to his solo works, Mallozzi often collaborates with artists, filmmakers and musicians. He is on the faculty of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is co-founder and former executive director of Experimental Sound Studio.

Joseph Clayton Mills is a musician, artist, and writer who lives and works in Chicago. His text-based paintings, assemblages, and sound installations have been exhibited in Chicago, New York, and Europe and his work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New Yorker. He is the author of the short-story collection Zyxt, and in 2012 published Nabokrossvords, a translation of early Russian crosswords by Vladimir Nabokov. He is an active participant in the improvised and experimental music community in Chicago and his recordings have appeared on numerous labels, including Another Timbre, FSS, and Entr’acte. In 2013, in conjunction with Noé Cuéllar, he launched Suppedaneum, a label focused on releasing scores and their realizations.