Interview: Peter Foucault

Subdivision I

Subdivision II

Subdivision III

Peter Foucault discusses his mechanical processes and influences.

EXDP: Can you discuss how your interest in drawing with systems and machines began? 

PF: My interest with drawing with systems and machines began while I was in grad school at SFAI in San Francisco. I was studying the chance systems that John Cage, David Ireland and On Kawara had used to create drawings and was inspired to develop my own. In my last semester in school I challenged myself to develop a body of work where my hands never touched the surface of the paper or canvas. This resulted in utilizing other machines and devices such as modified remote control cars, robots and environmental systems incorporating pendulums swinging from the branches of trees to generate marks. While conceptually of interest to me many of these experiments lead to finished works that didn’t have a visually dynamic outcome. However the modified toy robots I was using at this time were generating marks that responded to elements of sound and resulted in drawings that could hold up on their own without the viewer’s knowledge of specifics of the system that created them. I began to focus on this trajectory and see how far I could push the boundaries. It also opened up the opportunity for me to collaborate with many sound and spoken word artists and musicians.

EXDP:. How does the tension between control and non-control inspire your work?

PF: I am interested in how loose a drawing can go, how chaotic the marks can get and then how to reign them in to a composition that I am satisfied with. Much of my background is in printmaking, especially intaglio etching and aquatint. In these processes there are so many small incremental steps where only a few seconds difference will yield an entirely different effect. I would experiment to see how I could throw even more chance elements into the process, leave plates in acid baths overnight until they almost disintegrated and inking them up to print from, scratching out marks on hard ground on a plate while it was etching in nitric acid, dragging plates behind my car and printing them, etc. In the current body of work I have been working on including the Subdivision, Centrifuge and Doomsday Machine series and I feel are a greater absorption of the division and tension that are occurring in our country right now. Things are completely off the rails and out of control, you don’t know how south the daily news feed will go or how the current administration will kick this generation into retrograde. It’s really fucking scary. I feel the drawings I am currently working on reflect this tension and uncertainty. They are dark, raw, aggressive and unforgivingly honest. Trying to reign in a better outcome, giving all they can visually but not certain that they will succeed. They keep me up at night.

EXDPCan you talk about the role of the viewer as a participant in your work? Why/how did that become important to you?

PF: I want my drawings and installations to become more democratically made, more participatory in nature. I want people to walk in to a gallery or museum and feel like they have a hand in actively creating something in the space, not just passively viewing artworks on a wall or pedestal. Gallery visitors do not generally talk to other people they don’t know and I want to create systems that break down these behaviors and encourage people to open up a dialog and work together. In addition, the drawings created become an acoustic archive of the particular environment it is installed in and everyone involved has a hand in its making. 

EXDP: Your works have very human like marks, yet they are usually physically made through mechanical system or even robots. Can you talk about your fascination with this?

PF: I am interested in both how an inanimate object can create something that resonates in some way with that created by a living hand, and how I can turn my own body into a machine that makes marks that look repetitive and sterile. Working in concert these marks can be combined and layered. Sadly our society is becoming increasingly more insular. We communicate through machines, we express emotions through machines, seek pleasures and find our prospective mates through machines. Through collaborating with a mechanical system or a robot I can insert myself as an artist into this idea of what is real and what is generated through a mechanical process. It’s a flip flop that I like to explore and put into the forefront for viewers to contemplate.

EXDP:  Do you build you own robots? 

PF: I have been fortunate to collaborate with other artists and makers that have a better engineering and mechanical skill set than myself. The current iteration of the drawing bot I am using is a toy robot modified and hacked into by Brooklyn-based artist Jonathan Grover. He modified the original behavior of the robot to respond to specific sound frequencies and vibrations. Originally it was used as a scientific demo kit and acted much like a Roomba vacuum cleaner. Jonathan tweaked its behavior to “sketch out” compositions created by the human voice, a musical instrument or the ambient environment in which it is installed.