Interview by Myles Haselhorst
“I do not feel that art is an answer or a form of enlightenment
or even a question. I wish it could be approached as something else.
—Jordan SullivanFor me, art is an exploration of the void.” — Jordan Sullivan
Jordan Sullivan is a writer and artist living in Los Angeles, California. His work has been exhibited in solo and two-person exhibitions in Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, and Houston. His previous book, “The Young Earth,” published by Peter Hay Halpert Fine Art, is a photo-illustrated novella. His collaborations with Ampersand include a group exhibition in 2014 and a solo presentation of “An Island in the Moon” in March, 2015. Copies of the book, including a Deluxe Edition, can be purchased online through Ampersand.
Myles Haselhorst owns Ampersand, a gallery and art bookstore located in Portland, Oregon. Committed to cultural preservation and the promotion of work by emerging artists, the gallery serves as a platform for dialogue between contemporary artworks and the printed matter that informs, inspires and in some cases serves as raw material in the creative process. His publishing imprint, Ampersand Editions, serves as a corollary to exhibitions, providing a printed medium for artists to expand upon ideas and to extend their artistic vision beyond gallery walls.
Jordan Sullivan’s exhibition of over 300 photographs and collages coincides with the publication of “An Island in the Moon,” a small edition photobook published through our imprint, Ampersand Editions. I first encountered his work at the LA Art Book Fair a couple years ago. I was, of course, seduced by the beauty of his women and the landscapes in which they seemed to exist. But I was also captivated by his method of printing his photographs on found scraps of paper and pinning them to the wall. Coupled with his collages, the installation at the fair was almost sculptural and really captured the narrative quality of the work. The photographs in “An Island in the Moon,” printed in muted tones, evoke emotional states of longing and wonder, yet the relationships between one woman to another and the settings in which they reside remain undeclared. The collages, too, made up of fragmented landscapes and torn book pages, resemble something forming or coming into being. One of our intentions with the book, which was sequenced and designed by Jordan, was to emulate his photographic installations and the way in which the collective message of the work changes with each hanging, or, in the case of his book, with how one chooses to engage its pages.
“An Island in the Moon” opened at Ampersand Gallery, Portland, and is being showcased at Paris Photo Los Angeles 2015.
Myles Haselhorst: In “An Island in the Moon,” settings and landscapes are hinted at but never really defined. Does the place you make your photographs influence the work? You live and work in Los Angeles, but these photographs aren’t necessarily about LA. Or are they?
Jordan Sullivan: This body of work was intended to represent an undefined space. I make most of my portraits and still lifes in my home, which definitely has an influence over me and I think gives the work an intimacy. Me and the subject are surrounded by all the things that make up my day-to-day existence – my bed, my kitchen, my books – all these things are right next to me when I am shooting. The landscapes are shot usually while I am driving around alone. It was important for me to be alone on these trips in the same way it is important for me to shoot people in one-on-one situations.
MH: You’ve mentioned being inspired by a line in “The Snow Leopard” and the title of your book possibly alludes to a satire written by William Blake. How else does literature and writing influence your work? What other writers do you admire?
JS: I saw the title “An Island In The Moon” out of context and only later
realized it was a work by Blake. I have completely taken it out of context for my own purposes. I am also a great admirer of Franz Kafka, Paul Auster, Milan Kundera, Carolyn Forche and Charles Simic.
MH: “An Island in the Moon” is the latest in a long list of books either made by you or published by others. What is it about the book as a format that’s so suitable for your work? Do you find it difficult to translate the experience of your books to gallery walls?
JS: I came to photography through literature, so the book has always been the form I feel most comfortable with. Since I was a teenager, I have been making zines and things like that, so it was just natural to apply all that to photography. Yes, it has always been a challenge to work in galleries, but a good challenge and exhibiting is a regular thing for me now. Still, most of my projects are conceived first as books.
MH: Early on, as you and I discussed the design of “An Island in the Moon,” we both agreed that it should be loose and open ended. Now that the exhibition is up, people keep asking me, “What is this about?” I invite them to answer that question for themselves. But we seem to live in a time when people want the meaning of artworks to be defined or explained. Do you work in opposition to this trend?
“I gravitated toward
places with books growing up –
book stores were like churches to me.
I’ve spent far more time
in book stores than art galleries.”
— Jordan Sullivan
JS: I am definitely in opposition to the idea that art needs to be defined or about something. I do not feel that art is an answer or a form of enlightenment or even a question. At least, I wish it could be approached or even dreamt of as something else. To come to a work looking for meaning or to feel like an outsider for not getting what a work is about is unfortunate. To make art that somehow tries to send a message or teach in any traditional sense seems regressive. I wish art could be taken as its own language without the burden imposed by academia, Hollywood or institutions. Art and literature will not make you any smarter than working on a construction site and they should not be expected to do so. The way art and literature are taught in schools is very much from the point of view that if you look at this or read this, you will be somehow smarter or ahead of the curve. Ultimately, that just makes art all the more intimidating.
Art and expression should be a natural part of our lives the way it is in some non-western cultures. For me, art is an exploration of the void. And in regards to my own work, I create from an emotional place first and foremost. I hope the work will be able to be approached and most importantly experienced. That experience can and most likely will be different for everyone, and that’s ok.
MH: As currently installed at the gallery, the exhibition includes over 300 pieces that circumnavigate the walls. There are small C-prints, but there are also several collages and photographs printed on found paper. When did you first start experimenting with printing and showing your work in these “non-traditional” ways.
JS: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in not only non-traditional ways of working but working with found material. My first job in New York was working as an artist assistant to Mike and Doug Starn, and that opened me up to a lot more alternative ways of creating and also introduced me to a lot of materials like Japanese papers that were unfamiliar to me at the time.
MH: Here at Ampersand we offer a curated selection of photography books alongside our exhibitions. You also work with Clic Gallery in New York and they have a similar platform. Is this just chance, or is it important for you to exhibit work in places where art books are also sold?
JS: I would like to say it’s chance, but I don’t necessarily believe in that. Perhaps I have gravitated toward places with books since growing up – book stores were like churches to me. I’ve spent far more time in book stores than art galleries.
MH: I know you’re in the concept/design phase for at least one new book, but do you also have any new exhibitions scheduled? Have you started a new body of work?
JS: I have exhibitions coming up in Los Angeles and in Copenhagen at Les Gens Heureux, and a number of projects in the works.