LS: From studying traditional media and working with sculpture, what attracted
you to working with Ellen and other artists and essentially inventing a new
medium and process of working together?

JZ: My history with Ellen and Richard came from a teaching situation that engaged
looking at photography, architecture, and art and cultural history, all in
historical stream. We all spent much time talking about the dimensions and
intersections of all of these historical and contemporary media. I have never
seen them as separate, in that they are essential expressions that through time
have overlapped in their reflection and expression of culture, place and time.
Ellen, Richard, and I shared many ideas, and from its inception I was thrilled
by the potential of (art)n and Ellen’s work to create and deploy this new
medium.

LS: How has your interest in art history and sensibility toward sculpture been
critical in working with PHSColograms?

JZ: Anyone that has any grasp of what artists really do, understands that their work
has some basis in the educated vernacular, which is always tied to art
historical precedents, regardless of the audience they’re directing their work
to—mainstream, self-taught, outsider, whatever. Again, my interest in art
history and sensibility for sculpture have never been separate interests, they
are completely intertwined. So when Ellen started working on this process I
knew that it fused modes of expression in a way that reflected the concepts and
technologies of our time, and thus would be a vehicle for the visual expression
of our time.

LS: The PHSCologram form emerged during Post-Modernism and has continued to
evolve with technological breakthroughs and significant social change. How
have these developments impacted the works you made with Ellen and the (art)n
team over the past 25 years, from PHSCologram '83 to the latest Distortions
inspired by Andre Kertesz and the tribute to Roger Brown?

JZ: In working with Ellen and the (art)n teams, we always responded to
specific concepts, narratives, and other ideas that emerged as a part of the
ever-changing collaborative. For me at least, I never saw our work as
intentionally directed to the evolving critical and art historical analyses,
but rather, we addressed ideas that defined the time or the moment, or
reflected on art historical moments that had strong contemporary currency.

LS: What was unique about the PHSCologram medium when people first saw it and
what makes the work continue to have relevance today with regards to new media
and traditional art forms?

JZ: The PHSCologram was and is unique only when it’s deployed into brilliant and
original compositions. No media can be evaluated on it’s technical presence
only, all media are vehicles. PHSCologram I was an ingenious idea of Ellen’s,
to harness this new media which she forged, to the project of distilling
essential threads from the trajectory of art history into a sculptural metaphor
and a poetic expression. People didn’t necessarily know what to think but they
did see, and then think. Ellen was working with exceptionally talented artists
with expertise in photography, art history and concepts, solid sculpture,
kinetic sculpture, but most of all ideas, and they all fused into this thing. I
actually have no idea of what people really thought about it and I wish it was
around today, for people to encounter. I have always thought of the
PHSCologram as a traditional art form—in that it’s important and here to stay.

LS: (art)n explored many firsts - creating early new media installations, working
with scientists and showing this work in an art context, important commissions
for public spaces, popularizing the web and using the internet to make art
collaboratively, including commenting and critiquing in real-time. What do
you think are Ellen and (art)n members most important contributions to art
history and for new media artists?

JZ: That has to be left to time and space and historical analysis, and this requires
distance. The significance of (art)n’s work and its relevance to new media and
all the things you mention are firmly established, with no question. I hope
(art)n technology can eventually be used by young artists doing bedroom
installations as galleries—or however they negotiate the art world on their own
terms to push the contemporary envelope of exhibiting. It would be great to make
this process more widely accessible. Because of the state of digital technology,
and access to means and techniques, so much is easily accessible. Whatever the
exoticness of any contemporary technologies, the more that practicing artists
from any generation or cultural experience can have access and manipulate their
ideas and artistic expressions, in new contemporary technologies, such as (art)n
has pioneered, is something that we all hope for.

LS: This is the 70th anniversary of the Chicago Bauhaus, in which (art)n was
inspired in part by the process oriented works of Moholy-Nagy, and was formerly
located at IIT. How have PHSColograms and the (art)n style of working
translated into some of the Bauhaus ideals and vision for the
future?

JZ: Anything that we might think about in terms of contemporary visual realization
was in some way predicted in the teaching of Moholy-Nagy and others. If Moholy
was alive and able to see the kinds of tools and techniques that the digital
age has made possible, he’d be very comfortable and at home, since his teaching
manifesto was to use state of the art technologies, which today are so beyond
what they had to work with. But what they anticipated, visually and
conceptually, parallels what we have today, with much more sophisticated
technological access. Moholy and a number of other people who have been
involved in advance thinking of the art of that period always made it clear
that a solution to a new vision was always based on the new technology. Given
their handicaps, the incredible achievement of the artists, and their
connection to the Institute of Design––from the German Bauhaus to the new
Bauhaus––is a wonderful link to Chicago and (art)n. To me it’s demeaning and
depressing that there’s such an unengaged and low level culture of art
criticism in Chicago that has not done enough to champion (art)n and the
concepts and earlier legacies of the new Bauhaus in Chicago.

LS: What is the future of art and how will PHSColograms be remembered? What are
some aesthetic possibilities explored and unexplored that PHSColograms continue
to offer new generations of artists and historians?

JZ: The future of (art)n is held in the constantly evolving collaborative teams’
ideas, visions, and how willing they are to challenge themselves and the
perceived obstacles, and to take risks aesthetically and conceptually, as well
as technologically. It’s too soon to comment on how PHSColograms will be
remembered because they are only 25 years old, and were born just prior to the
digital explosion. And, as previously mentioned, art criticism has not begun to
match or effectively reflect the achievements of (art)n, but it’s certain that
PHSColograms occupy a significant place in the visual expression of our time
and our future.

LS: What are your favorite PHSColograms and why?

JZ: I don’t have a favorite PHSCologram, and here’s why: Many PHSColograms
have beautifully andprofoundly expressed ideas visually, in new and exciting ways,
that I have tracked as a very exciting artistic path, rather than a series of images or
objects. I have strong feelings for the pieces I have worked on, and the
artists I have worked with, as well as people and histories that were expressed
in the content, such as Messiah, a person no longer with us, who nonetheless was
featured in one of (art)n’s seminal works. There have been special aspects of
Chicago history that were woven into PHSColo-expressions, such as freak show
history and Randy Johnson’s grandfather’s achievements, expressed in one of
(art)n’s most pivotal works. The first use of digital imagery with the Johnny
Nolan material that was digitized in PHSCologram I was one of the most
successful and memorable pieces. The technique is not as resilient as it is
today but given the brief time that we worked on this, it was an amazing burst
of creativity in a short time, resulting in work that had a firm basis for
being.

LS: What is your favorite (art)n moment?

It must have been when God told me to quit using a camera and find this artist
called Ellen Sandor.

JZ: Actually, the exhibition at IIT where we showcased Distortion: The Other Window,
because I completed the circle of the re-establishment of the German Bauhaus
legacy in Chicago by Moholy and others, the adventures of many exciting
breakthroughs in Modernist architecture, and to see all of (art)n’s work
showcased on the campus was truly special for me.

December 2008


James Zanzi is a Professor Emeritus, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and
a recent 2011 Visionary Awardee, INTUIT: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art.

Lisa Stone is the Curator of the Roger Brown Study Collection, School of
the Art Institute of Chicago
. Stone recently curated Eugene Von Bruenchenhein:
From the Wand of the Genii
at INTUIT: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art.