Chris Engman is 32 years old and is looking for a New York gallery.
MOSSLESS: Your artist statement on your site is really fantastic. You wrote about drawing inspiration from “epic novels, epic histories, and fiction rich in visual imagery.” What are some of your favorite pieces of literature and have you made any direct references in your work?
CHRIS ENGMAN: William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” is almost a sacred text for me, and this is somewhat inexplicable to me, to be honest, I’ve never been able to comprehend why it is that I like it so much. The story is about four siblings who are distinctly different. One is developmentally disabled, Benjamin is his name, he’s my favorite. I’ve made two pieces for him, they’re both called “Landscape for Benjamin.” The second one is very intelligent, but morose, and he commits suicide. That’s Quentin. Then Candice. She is the only one who never gets a voice. You know about her only through the voices of her male siblings. I made a piece called “Transplant” that also has a second, unofficial title and it’s “Landscape for Candace.” Lastly there is Jason, who is belligerent and an asshole (can I say that on the web?). I’ve never made anything for him and I doubt I ever will. Faulkner is lucid in this book, really brilliant. I like the way he talks about time.
Other than that, let’s see. Oliver Sacks’ “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” and “An Anthropologist on Mars.” Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities.” Salmon Rushdie. Gabriel Marcia Marquez. Milan Kundera. Annie Dillard, especially “We the Living,” which is set- amazingly, as it is a great book set in a small town- in the town where I grew up.
ML: In “The Meeting” you show a photograph of the piece you installed into the desert several months after the original photo was taken. Do many of the structures that you build stay left behind or is everything disassembled after you get the photo that you wanted?
CE: Most of the time everything is disassembled. The photograph inside of the photograph “The Meeting” stayed on site for about eight months, then got burned for firewood on a cold night in the winter. It was the only wood around and I was glad it was there. “The Artist as an Explorer” remained where I put it until it was washed out to sea, presumably, by a storm. I burned down “Ode.” “The Library” stayed on site for several months. I like thinking about all those books out there, people’s ideas, their treasured thoughts, not being read, not being seen. Because ultimately that is what will become of my ideas. And yours. I find a little bit of both sadness and release in that. “The Claim” was left on site. This piece was a fence I had constructed on an irregular, conventionally useless piece of land, a fence that lacked an entry or exit, built on public land operated by the Bureau of Land Reclamation. This is land that I love and that I hope will not be abused. I had to go to court over it but the charges were dropped, and the fence was removed but not by me. In a recent photograph called “Dust to Dust” I used borrowed gravel to make a very large mound, photographed it, used heavy equipment to rotate the whole thing 135 degrees, rebuilt it to look as it had before down to even the light and shadows, then made a second photograph. In this case the material for my shoot was disassembled and turned into the foundation for someone’s house, probably, or a road maybe. Every piece has a different ending, and how they end is important to the work.
ML: It’s obvious that you have an immense respect for the land you create your work out of. Some of your photographs feel like this beautiful collaboration with the horizon. You wrote about a particular desert in eastern Washington, are you originally from the North West?
CE: The western third of Washington State is all trees and rain, and the rest, on the other side of the Cascades, is desert and farmland. I was born and raised on the west side, but my parents came from the east side. We still have family over there and when I was a child we made a lot of trips over the mountains to see them, and I guess my attachment to those landscapes started then. I live in Seattle now, and I like it, but I have to get out of the city sometimes and that is where I go most frequently.
ML: What did you want to be when you were very young?
CE: I wanted to be an astronaut. I even saved up paper route money for a year so I could go to space camp, and I went, and it was great.
(guest interview by Bobby Doherty)