Six Questions to Tom Holmes on the occasion of his exhibition Temporary Monument
Fabrice Stroun: All your works belong to the category of funerary art: shrouds, tombstones, reliquaries, death masks, etc. Yet your pieces don’t seem to commemorate anything, nor do they seem to point to any kind of eternity or afterlife.
Tom Holmes: The work invites, along with 101 other experiences, a passing reflection on the inevitable. The pieces are not commemorative, in that there is simply no one, or nothing specific, that is being commemorated. However, regardless of my belief system, the objects are indifferent to a specifically atheistic position. The subject is a bit of a smokescreen, in a way. While my work clearly falls into the genre of the funerary, the work's primary trajectory is that of abstraction.
FS: Are you implying they should be interpreted allegorically?
TH: The works allow for an unhinging from their cultural significations. Let’s say, for example, one tries to make an abstract composition using green-yellow-red, in that specific order. Whatever one does, whatever decisions are made, it becomes almost impossible not to read it, at some point, as “Rasta”. While I put up little resistance to these cultural associations, I'm still primarily engaged with the problems of abstraction - materially and compositionally. This "holding space" is, in itself, an invitation to interpretation.
FS: Indeed, it’s hard not to read a socio-cultural narrative in your work.
TH: Almost everything is loaded with a certain level of class-consciousness, because the objects I use are quotidian, just off WalMart’s shelf, but that's not my primary interest. Some objects take up the space of architecture, like a box. And some become a surrogate for the body, like a bag. These are crude forms to describe that a body is a simple bag and architecture is a whole lot of talk about a box. The off-the-shelf quality of the objects induces a kind of snow-blindness of logo and branding, without the patina of the vintage.
FS: You have talked about these objects being somehow associated with the fear of death.
TH: I don't want the work to be reduced to the ideas that initiated it, but for me it pretty consistently begins with a scouring of culturally specific objects that I, in some way, associate with death - this chip bag as opposed to that brand of chips, this cereal box as opposed to that cereal. And some of the gags are already built in an over-determined way, like the ghost BooBerry, a morning cereal character for kids. So the ghost gets to be a ghost. Some cultural information, which I think is unnecessary to know, almost prevents interpretations. Some very specific jokes, like the rhyme of the Trix cereal commercial jingle "Silly rabbit tricks are for kids", was in my childhood almost immediately turned into the joke "Silly Faggot, dicks are for chicks". That kind of gag is understood by most Americans of my generation. But again, it's a kind of smokescreen. My primary activity is that of abstracting information that resists abstraction - try to abstract a fucking rainbow. It's quite difficult.
FS: You have recently started to make paintings of flower arrangements that seem to call attention to some kind of expressionistic “sensibility”.
TH: I like that old adage that says that it’s ok when people pick up the sensitivity but don’t necessarily have to buy the sensibility.
FS: The installation of your works in Kunsthalle Bern has a real cinematic feel to it, with an El Camino customized right at the entrance, flanking a cemetery in the main room ...
TH: Cinema is one of these forces that’s just simply unavoidable and clutches to almost everything, every subject, most cultural information. The best artists of my generation have taken up the questions of abstraction. Within those problems, metaphor is a hard sell. It really takes some balls to point back to culture and say "An El Camino is infinity" or "A measure of space from this thing to that, measured in inches, is colonialism" or "This cartoon ghost is a ghost”, as well as being 101 other things, including Nothing.