In his most recent show at Half Gallery, Investigations of a Dog, New York based artist Dustin Yellin collides Max Ernst and MC Escher to create a series of 3D photo collages laminated between multiple sheets of glass. These pieces highlight a new direction in Yellin’s work with his use of photography and prints to create illusionary spaces that seem to move in two different directions at once. Art Observed’s Jonathan Beer was able to catch up with the artist before the show’s well attended opening on March 20.
Art Observed: The name of the show, Investigations of a Dog, comes from the Kafka short story. Is that something you just recently read or a piece you’ve returned to as a source? Has Kafka inspired other works?
Dustin Yellin: It was something I’d read in my younger days, and Kafka is someone, amongst a lot of different people, that I’ve been moved by. And it made sense for this show, because, if perhaps I had the consciousness of a dog maybe these black and white hallucinations might be one of the ways I might see.
AO: I find them interesting in the way they reframe the format for an experience. They are in line with the idea of an alternative experience from Kafka – they are more closed in and smaller, providing another way of viewing a moment, different from how a human might view a frozen moment. Has your work always been philosophically involved with a variety of source material?
DY: For sure.
AO: They remind me a lot of Max Ernst’s collages.
DY: He was a huge influence. Huge. I love Ernst, [Joseph] Cornell, Rauschenberg, Kurt Schwitters also.
AO: Do you think that If Max Ernst was alive in the era of 3-D television that his collages would look like that?
DY: [Laughs] I can’t answer that.
AO: These new pieces seem to have a more serious and reserved air than your earlier work. They’re monochromatic, and more contained, which I suppose is kind of ironic because they are all contained in the glass. Is this a new direction for you?
DY: Yeah, I’m simultaneously working in multiple directions. This is one vein that I’m tapping, that’s why it made sense for the show, I think. It was a singularity in this multitude of rivers I’m canoeing down, so to speak. Whenever I’m working at a less than 1:1 scale it is very much about the experiment and trying new things. When I figure something out I go with it, but I’m also in ten different places going ten different directions at once. It’s nice to be able to isolate things and focus in.
AO: As a painter also, I can really appreciate that. Paddling in ten directions at once – I’m kind of on the same wavelength with that.
DY: That’s the joy of it, right?
AO: I think that is where art making lives. The real behavior of art is to split yourself like that.
DY: Yeah – you have to split yourself between the experiment and the preconceived, and that’s the water one treads I think.
AO: And somehow arrive at a conclusion, or finality.
DY: I don’t think you ever do. At least I never do. Things feel like smaller pieces of a larger mosaic that make up one large work.
AO: I was very curious about the scale in this work. Your previous work has been 1:1, life-size, and these are more like portable capsules of frozen moments you could take with you—
DY: They would be pretty hard to carry.
AO: True. And on the other end of the extreme are objects life-size or larger than life-size.
DY: I mostly work at this size to experiment and to try things. Eventually these ideas will evolve and grow into larger works or parts of larger works.
AO: Where are you pulling your collage material from?
AO: Do you have a favorite source? These look kind of cinematic…
DY: With these works I’m appropriating old photographs and bringing the dog’s view or the hallucinatory view as a placeholder. But I really love books, I like ripping up books and in those books there are photographs and text. There are so many different things you’ll find in old media. In that sense the work can be a consistent microscope slide where you trap this real media forever in a new context, re-contextualizing things that exist. To answer your question, I don’t have one place that I look, I love to go through books and rip them up as much as I like to read them.
AO: In a sense, reading is a kind of ripping also. You won’t remember all of what you read, you hold onto mental pages—
DY: Little moments of memory…little pills of memory.
AO: How long does it take to create one of these pieces?
DY: Well, some are going at once, some are not. Something I sit with and rework, other things I get right away and put in. So, anywhere from weeks to months, it depends on what other things I’m doing.
AO: Is there a point of no return after laminating the layers?
DY: No, I do it all at once. I get the composition – I’ll rework the composition a few times or many times until I figure out where I can live with it and then I can stop and put it all together. So there is an editing process, a reversal of sorts, going back and forth. Once I put it together I can never go back, and hopefully I’m happy at that point. Sometimes I say “Fuck I wish I could go back!” but this is a small show and I feel pretty resolved about these works.
AO: And you’re not trying to grasp too hard on a final thing, these are more about play.
DY: Yeah, and I might take all four of these and put them into one work and let it turn into something else.
AO: You were just in the Brucennial correct? Your piece there was larger, the “Ghost Man,” and more typical of your other drawing based work?
DY: Yeah and that’s just another vein I’m tapping, working with these ghost people. They start with the figure but slowly turn into vapor.
AO: Have you ever done any animations with these works?
DY: I don’t know…I’ve been planning on it, but I don’t think I have.
Images included in the text of the article are courtesy of Jonathan Beers for Art Observed.