Breaking Down the Stage - The
Work of Denise Tassin
by Jack Livingston
"Two things that determine much of what happens
in our lives are circumstance and chance. It is no surprise
then that they play equally important roles in the art
of nonfiction stories about our lives. It is in a sense
the chance nature of reality that draws our attention
to one thing instead of another, that sets in motion
the combination of eye and hand movements which point
a camera in this direction and not in that and which
compels us through some urgency to follow and preserve
what we see."
Robert Gardner — "The Impulse
to Preserve" from Beyond Document — Essays
on Nonfiction Film
A relentless constant accumulating
mass, Denise Tassin's work is equal parts opacity and
transparency. It becomes opaque through sheer volume
and velocity - every idea rushes down endless streams
and tributaries evoking myriad layers of formability
and formalism; it is transparent in that it is in the
end autobiographical. As in all good autobiography it
tells us something about ourselves as well as the artist.
Something hidden, something important, often something
we hadn't considered before.
Welcome to the Jungle
Tassin has a taste for complexity,
even when cloaking it in the often deceptive simple.
The complexity is more than the amount of work presented
and voluminous intrusion of space she favors. It is the
swivel-headed action and reaction, the swelling thought
processes, the stripping and regrouping of her incessant
grid foundations. Like our human jungle it is filled
with incongruities, not opposites. Violence and passivity,
glory and absence, purity and muck, candy and bone. It
is a sultry overwrought Tennessee Williams's cackle laid
over the signature idiosyncratic pianoistics of Glenn
Gould. It is the ecosystem of humanity.
Signature Verité — Pulp
Fictional documentary is often more accurate
and appealing than so-called pure documentary. Like a
diary, the 'pure' documentary is in fact deluded by its
own perceptions of 'honesty' and 'truth'. Tassin's autobiographic
work uses a form of fictional documentary to reach for
something beyond fact; it is gutsy faux because it is
In much of her work, Tassin sifts through
her world for transfixing objects and materials, particularly
the serial and discarded. She seeks out things with a
past but not too overt in their drama. These objects
and materials are manipulated by the artist directly,
through context, or association then re-edited for presentation.
Her work is not collage — she does not combine
in the usual sense. She is much more the heir of Joseph
Buey's spiritual serializations than of Edward and Nancy
Kienholdz's massive odes to the common man.
Tassin has generally chosen to forsake new technologies
herself (i.e. electronic technology) in favor of the
slosh of fluid upon surface, and the arrangement of object
in close proximity to object. She has chosen paper over
She instead chooses to embrace collaboration
with techno enthusiasts.
Sticky Goo Persuasion
The debris of wind-strewn and
crawling involuntary nature stuck in cruel beatific chance
on her large format outdoor paintings is the most explicit
example of her stratagem. What appears at first look
to be chance fact is actually controlled fiction. The
artist has chosen the marks, the size, the location,
and, most telling, the place where the sticky goo traps
lay. What is trapped simply serves her purpose. A greater
Through these acts of serial exploration
and mock scientific experimentation Tassin's work achieves
a transformation. This isn't an explosive, orgasmic epiphany;
there's no dramatic arc. Instead, there's a sustained
and prolific moodiness, an externalization of chains
of internal thought. Tassin's constant serialization
of these chains is so extreme they fuse the viewer with
the experience. It's difficult to step back and reflect
because there's nowhere to go.
Manipulation is Tassin's forte, her most
human aspect. Rendering the ALL through piles and layers
of form, modalities, and concept fever. The rapid manipulations,
shifting fact to fiction and back again, leaves the viewer
dazed. Through this relentless orchestration the artist
comes to terms with herself and the events —past
and present —which surround her. She plays with
chance à la John
Cage but like any smart maestro (Cage himself included)
she is always seeking a balance between cool control
and mind-altering accident, humor and pathos.
The choice to be an artist — choosing to
work in a visual language rather than a verbal — means
something. Words rarely enter the work itself, but Tassin's
well-constructed titles reveal a taste for the poetic.
In interviews Tassin is always articulate, earnest, funny,
and very concise — yet one
senses that she's frustrated by her own answers. This
makes sense. Like many visual purists Tassin's work is
all about getting beyond language. Language is the barrier
we seek to break so we can feel.
Linear to Circular and
the Great Leap
Tassin works most often on the platform
of a grid or frame. The grids can be read as a whole
(geometry) or in sequence (cinematic). The work begins
in a linear way before veering into a seeming haphazardness,
bending toward the circular — endless
looping, sequencing blots and bleeps, clipped stories
within stories. And always, the circle is broken. At
that break, the artist and the viewer hang suspended,
Any topography near Tassin's work becomes yoked
there simply because she is a tremendous overt human
force, an observable entity with an intentional human
face. The autobiographical lamb from which to feast.
Tassin's work though dense with postmodern
reference and materials is in fact more modernist than
post. She is an idealist, a re-modernist. For Tassin
to take a step back in time is necessary.
profound, because it wrenches us into an ocean of possibilities.
This work is about fusion not confusion. The veracity
of her personal fictions is that idealism pays off. Release — a
blood purge with secrets told — feeds
the heart of being. The jungle of humanity is a place
to occupy not a place to simply observe.
In this world the round bright colored candy wafers the
artists adores, the glorious enamel Chesapeake greens of
her new colorfield paintings, the blue velvet shelves of
pseudo-science display, the myriad psychotropic medications
in playful configurations, all the smeared blood and carcass
now in retreat, the line and ephemeral ceiling strips,
photograms, the Magic Marker attacks and swirl brush hits,
are as much a pure thing as the single fallen leaf ghosted
on the white white field of gesso divine.