February 3 – March 17, 2001
The photographs David Askevold developed for his exhibition at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions are based on images taken by the artist throughout Nova Scotia, Iceland, and Germany, and expand his continuing investigation of landscape. The foundation of each image is natural phenomena — harbor floors, waterfront cliffs, etc. — onto which are applied references to a range of cultural phenomena including rock and roll album covers, hieroglyphic Native American drawing, and comic book characters. As part of his process, Askevold kept an on-going bank of images he considers “cultural artifacts”, from popular sources, such as logos and comic books, as well as historical art and architecture references. Askevold then digitally built these icons into his landscapes, where they can be found imbedded in rock like fossils or piled on top of each other like cultural silt which has drifted to the bottom of the Halifax harbor floor, (example “Pilescape”, 2000). The interest in the end result lies within the placement of images next to each other within each composition, and the cross coding of signs that come about through a highly selective and articulated editing process.
Throughout his career David Askevold’s artistic and conceptual interests have included the environment and the relationship between nature and society. His work examines and portrays strategies used by people both to inhabit and alter their environments to suit their needs. Less an environmentalist than an anthropologist, Askevold is interested in society’s invention and cultivation of resources and the manipulation and use of them to create and exercise power. “By heightening awareness of the acculturation of nature and the complicity of cultural production within the colonization and commodification of the natural environment, ‘landscape’ is affirmed…not as a scenic entity, but as a textual construction that is subject to change over time.” (from “Cultural Geographies and Selected Works”).
The selection of video tapes included in the exhibition span twenty-four years of production, from 1970 to 1994. The earlier videos demonstrate Askevold’s nascent interest in performance-based process work as well as his fascination with allusion and implied narrative, interests he has continued to cultivate throughout his exploration of the medium. In an important early work entitled “Fill” (1970), Askevold uses two simple props — a microphone and sheets of aluminum foil — to conduct a documented sound performance. Beginning with just the microphone, the artist simply and systematically, wraps the mic with sheets of foil. The sound, at first loud and static-ridden, becomes muffled as more and more sheets are applied. After a period of performing, the screen is filled with the image of crumpled foil, at which point the artist reverses his process. In “Rhea” (1982), Askevold elaborates on his interest in allusion and implication, using images that seem to be fragments of a larger narrative to suggest, rather than tell, a story. The piece consists of a series of close-up shots of numerous people, each stating a name or a small phrase. The shots themselves seem familiar and gesture towards the type of staged reaction shot, often used in soap operas or made-for-TV movies, that momentarily interrupts the linearity of the story. When edited together, the sequence of images sets up and then confounds conventional narrative expectations.
David Askevold is an early conceptualist with roots in this city, but has not shown or lived in Los Angeles for nearly 20 years, and has not done a solo exhibition outside of Canada since 1991 where he exhibited with PS1’s Clocktower Gallery in New York. His project with Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions was a special opportunity for us to present Askevold’s explorations while in Canada, and introduce them to Los Angeles audiences, while reintroducing an artist who has had a significant impact on the Los Angeles art community. Through his artwork and his teaching here in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Askevold has influenced — directly or indirectly — numerous emerging and established Los Angeles-based artists.
As a teacher at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in the 1970’s, David Askevold developed and led what he called the Projects Class. In what was identified as “the most innovative and interesting aspect of the NSCAD curriculum of the period,” (Gil McElroy, ARTSatlantic, Spring/Summer 1996) Askevold selected artists, including Lawrence Weiner, Robert Smithson, Lucy Lippard, Joseph Kosuth, and Mel Bochner, and invited them to submit projects that he and his students would then carry out. His artwork, often manifested on videotape, is usually the result of a non-strategy based on favorable happenstance, collaboration, and selected circumstance. This method evokes those used by many younger artists today, such as Dave Muller and Rirkrit Tiravanija, who invite the unscripted, unchoreographed participation of others as a necessary part of their artistic practice.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s he taught at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CalArts in Valencia, and UC/Irvine. Askevold showed at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in 1983 in a group show entitled “Head Hunters.” He had solo shows at the Thomas Lewallen Gallery in Los Angeles in 1978 and a survey entitled “Selected Works 1972-1976” at UC/Irvine in 1976. His group shows in the area include “Reconsidering the Art Object 1965-1975” at MOCA (1995) and “Michael Asher, Richard Long, and David Askevold” at Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art (1977).