Richard Williamson (MFA candidate, Visual Art) was selected this year as one of six 2014-2015 Arts, Science & Culture Graduate Fellows. The Arts, Science & Culture Graduate Fellows program is for UChicago students whose work is firmly anchored in the humanities, social sciences, or sciences, but for whom crossing disciplinary boundaries is integral to the particularities of their research, writing, artistic practice, or scientific inquiry. The Fellows meet monthly over dinner to discuss their work, and to exchange insights into their disciplinary methodologies and research practices.
Williamson's work is playful, absurd, deadly serious, and often (quite literally) a little off-color. Channeling the visual artist's uncanny power to create strange encounters and odd conjunctions, Williamson disorients his viewer with an eye towards generating new possibilities of engagement within our tightly regulated social and material ecosystems. Drawing on his background in photography, Williamson's installations and ephemra experiment with displaced objects and misplaced contexts to create impossibly strange spatial configurations. He works, often off-stage, to disrupt the logical order of things: magnifying and mirroring the mundane via repeated gestures; building unstable furniture constructed from exotic woods and cheap modernist materials; and speaking of his objects as commrades.
In the spirit of Williamson's work, we sent him a number of redacted interview questions for him to interpret and respond to. The conversation moves through a discussion of his traveling project space Good Times Waiting Room, the role of "free zones" in his work, and his experience as an Arts, Science & Culture Graduate Fellow.
"Sure, no problem. Uh... [laughs] well, the Good Times Waiting Room is a project without a specific site or character but which has taken on a few different forms, in addition to sub-pieces and spin-offs, throughout its life. So far, the waiting room is partially furnished with its own line of furniture and has its own storage locker and antechamber. Soon it will have its own currency and maybe even a panic room. Good Times Waiting Room might be an event or celebration which invites other artists to participate by contributing work the waiting room. How the waiting room comes to be at any given time is determined by the venue and the artists involved so I wouldn't really know how to discuss every detail or aspect."
"That sounds pretty personal; I really can't go around asking everybody about that—everybody who comes in the door, you know? Plus, there are some things that shouldn't or don't need to be discussed. What I can do for the Waiting Room, especially the soirees, is provide a dynamic that is set in motion by the things in the room but doesn't live within these things. If all goes, then this dynamic (group dynamic?) itself becomes 'visible' and will be the object of scrutiny. [coughs] This connection is unfortunate... I'm really only getting every other word of yours."
"[sips] Its fortunate that art and comedy are friendly with one another. A golden rule in improvisation comedy is that you never say 'no' to your fellow performer. This stalls the scenes development and can often derail the set. There can be something similar in research (of course, in art you're not really beholden to correctness, or anything, so you can end up anywhere; the playing field is quite large). Once a line of inquiry begins you can follow it to its logical or illogical conclusion as you see fit. This is a great way to start, I think. You make something of a 'free zone' as a result. [sips, chokes, sips] Excuse me. Gosh. For instance, Fedorov, the early soviet theorist, determined that the only way to create a truly fair communist future was to resurrect all deceased generations because they should be rewarded for their contributions by participating in the new utopia. I like to think that Federov said 'yes' many times to himself along the way to developing this idea."
"Certainly, these qualities are not required for either research or practice but I like to think that they serve an important role. Conviviality is in danger of seeming to be the milk toast of time-spending, very polite and inoffensive. I prefer its more ecstatic connotation, its joyousness. This energy is necessary for cross-discipline dialogue as far as I see it; you need that stimulation to get over the hump of potentially speaking different professional languages. Humor is necessary here as well as it can so succinctly puncture a nearsightedness or point to an overlooked idea. Of course, this doesn't make the humorist correct but it certainly stirs the pot. There might also be an comparison to be made with comedy and research as they both specify otherwise lofty, abstract concepts and potentials. [listens]"
"Ooh, that's a tough one. I wonder how well these things compare. The installations are very sensorial and accidents do occur but this is all to move towards a certain perceptual awareness. As to how this relates to being a fellow... I guess if we generalize there might be some overlap. We meet in well lit locations and arbitrarily bump into different ideas? [laughs] I'm kidding! But, there is an off kilter-ness that I think is to be encouraged. Our backgrounds, interests, and ideological peccadillos are distinct and fairly diverse which begs a different kind of thoughtfulness and attention that is very positive in my opinion. Keeps one on ones toes, yes?"
Good Times Waiting Room at The Honey Hole, featuring David Lloyd, Great Northern Labs, Zachary Cahill, and DJ Phoenix (Richard Williamson)
Richard Williamson (MFA candidate, Visual Art, UChicago) holds a B.F.A. in Photography from the School of Visual Arts, New York, where upon graduating he was awarded the Fellowship for the Royal College of Art, London, which he attended 2010-2011. He is currently pursuing an MFA from the Department of Visual Arts where he carries out soft experiments in photography, sculpture and installation. An Aquarius, his interests include the consequences of cultural imagination, ecology and preparations for the future, and the role of Imaging in these three spheres. He has exhibited across the U.S. and U.K., most recently work-shopping Prototype Furniture for the Good Times Waiting Room.