Chase Folsom, a recent graduate from the MFA program at University of Colorado Boulder, is trained as a ceramic artist but now practices across sculpture, photography and installation. His work itself is about tenderness and isolation in equal measure. As Roland Barthes’ wrote in his great A Lover’s Discourse, Folsom describes and rehearses the “logic of desire” (and the logic of anticipation) in every piece he makes.
Carmen Winant: You are fresh off the graduate school boat. How has the experience affected you, or your experience of making and thinking about your work?
Chase Folsom: I thought that graduate school would be an incubator, where all my ideas would quickly evolve and come to fruition. I thought it would be a haven in which I could ‘find answers.’ In fact, what grad school gave me was the luxury of time. Before going back to school, I was waiting tables and bartending in Atlanta, and, even though I had done some fantastic residencies, I never had due time.
CW: And what was the effect of that realization for you?
CF: Well, I used to make constantly. I was sort of a frantic maker — maybe there wasn’t time to think. I was a bit of a slave to the work in that way, and that has since shifted. I spend a lot of time now reading, writing, sketching, and sorting out my ideas before I begin on production. Sometimes it takes me many months to make a single piece. I also shifted from making semi-architectural installations to making objects. That was a pretty stark change, and one that sort of gave me my life back. Graduate school was good for me in that way, teaching me how to be disciplined without losing some inherent curiosity in process.
CW: Can you speak a little bit about being a ceramic artist? You graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder with a degree in ceramics, which is a very established and well-regarded department. However, as you know, ceramicists occupy an in-between place in contemporary art. Your own work crosses mediums, but can you speak a little bit to that position?
CF: My undergraduate degree was also in that field, so I never thought it unusual. But, as you mentioned, I work across mediums, as do many people in the department. I think a lot of people hold the misconception that ceramic programs are far more conventional – or less elastic – than they are. As with any area, some people did not work with clay at all. Leaving school now, and entering the vortex of the contemporary art world, I imagine that being an artist who works in ceramics will afford me certain challenges and opportunities. There is a lot of potential there.
CW: Let’s talk more specifically about your work. It summons up, for me, a feeling of amorous longing. Much more so than a subsequent union, or the eventual meeting of desire. You seem to be interested in describing a perpetual and sustained distance between two lovers.
CF: Here is how it goes: I make work first, and attempt to understand the experience or feeling that prompted it second. Never the other way around. I think I have to produce at that distance like that, at a detach, in order allow myself to do it. The work then serves as evidence more than anything else. Evidence that I must have missed the first time. I don’t psychologize myself. Maybe the work can do that for me.
CW: That premise is a lonely one, though. As if you are forever awaiting the idea of love (or requited love) to come. In your works It Is Never Really 50/50 (2012) and Paper Covers Rock (2012), there is a physical distance between objects, which appear to me to be stand-ins for figures. Without losing an element of hopeful tenderness, they feel like isolated bodies.
CF: The experience of the work is the experience of being with my lover. The questions that arise: what is he thinking? What if this isn’t what I think this is? In fact, I made a piece with that latter title early on in grad school – a white arch-way — so I have always been concerned with that, with making this sort of invisible line of questioning manifest. Cathy Wilkes’ has influenced me a great deal on this subject. She writes about our inability to reach other people. I wonder: What do those feelings look like? What does anticipation look like?
CW: Your work for your thesis show all revolved around one person, your long-term boyfriend, a relationship that has since ended. I wonder about this – creating, or perhaps dedicating, a whole body or work around one person. There is a rich legacy of this of course, from Picasso’s paintings of Olga to Nabokov’s dedication of every book he ever wrote to his wife, Veŕa. Do you consider him a vehicle to approach the work, or the subject itself?
CF: Right. In some ways, he is an anonymous slate, ripe for projection. But in other way’s he’s not. He is a real person, not an idea. Those are both good references. Another person I think about is Felix Gonzales-Torres, and the work he made about Ross Laycock, in life and in death. How to make work about someone without reducing him to material? I don’t have answer to that.
CW: Is there ever a conflict? As in, he feels too vulnerable or exposed by your interest in deriving work from the relationship? Is anything off-limits?
CF: I have never felt that way. He has never given me any indication of feeling violated, and I feel as if I should be able to make work about the relationships my own life. But he has certainly been generous. In one case, for the piece The Shape of Smell #1 and #2 (both 2012), I asked him to stand naked in front of the computer with Skype open, so that I could trace the outlines of his underarms and pubic hair. Other than sex, how much more intimate does it get?
CW: Does it help you two know one another? I am thinking now about what you said earlier about not physcologizing yourself to make art, but using art to psychologize, and perhaps, treat oneself.
CF: Yes, definitely. It has taught me a lot about him. And of course, about my own interests.
CW: There was one piece in particular that really stood out to me in your thesis show, Little Bit of Me, Little Bit of You (2012). This piece consisted of two, touching floor to ceiling pieces of wallpaper, each about 13 x 5 feet. From far away, they appear to be abstract patters, but up close they were not.
CF: Right. Each is a high-resolution scan of a used lint roller paper, one from me and one from my boyfriend at the time. They are banal but completely unique from another; covered in dirt, skin cells, fabric, and little hairs. I liked the idea of being immersed in those little clues, the detritus from our own bodies.
CW: That leads me to my last question. When an openly-out Roland Barthes published A Lover’s Discourse in 1978, he was interviewed by Playboy magazine, where he stated, “I refused to proffer to a homosexual discourse, not because I refuse to recognize homosexuality, not through censure, or prudence, but because a lover’s discourse is not any more related to homosexuality than heterosexuality.” I wonder if you feel the same.
CF: Sexuality is very much inspirational for my work, but, at its heart, it is indeed more concerned with the details of romance than those of queerness. I am a “gay” man, but I prefer to address the work with a more universal approach. I look for in an element of sameness in my work, but not in a mawkish way. There is more pathos and desperation in my search. Regardless of sexuality, we must all relate to this.