Interview: Cynthia Laureen Vogt
Cynthia Laureen Vogt is an artist exploring the concepts of time, language, motion, and the body through the mediums of photography, collage, and book arts. Cynthia lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her newest works are part of an exhibition at Amos Eno Gallery in Bushwick, New York, from May 4 - 28, 2017.
L.E. Brown: What would you say is the most difficult part of making one of these books?
Cynthia Laureen Vogt: I begin a collage by cutting out many, many different pieces of materials and arranging them. This includes laser prints or xerography on acetate transparencies or paper printed from photographs or video film stills. I usually have an idea of what kind of book I want to create, and I move these cut-outs around to see how they can work with my idea. That’s the most difficult part: cutting and re-cutting materials and not knowing exactly how it’s going to work out. But the most satisfying part is sewing up a book, when the piece comes together and takes on a new life according to the rhythm of the pages. It's a combination of discovery and problem solving.
LEB: How do you produce the letters that you use in your collages? Are they all photographed?
CLV: Yes, for the most part, I photograph wooden blocks letters, print the images, then cut them out. Sometimes I use the blocks as stencils to trace around and cut out, but I like to photograph them because wooden blocks are thick and can stand up on their own, which gives them a three-dimensional quality—like bodies—even as images on a flat surface. I also use the back sides of these printed images in my work. I will print a picture of the block letters and turn it over. The back of the paper can show just a hint of the photograph on the front, which gives it a little tonality and shading.
LEB: Tell me about the other materials you employ in your work.
CLV: Well, like in my photography, they all deal with movement. I started to think about time as layered, because at any given moment, an infinite number of things are occurring at once. I started printing on transparencies when they just started making Xerox color copiers. I liked the added sense of movement I can get from layering with transparencies, but also the conceptual idea of two things happening at the same time. The book is the perfect vehicle for every concept I’m trying to explore: text, the body, movement, and time. I use photography because it explores time as non-linear. I don’t like documentary photography’s claims to truth, which is inherently flawed. So I’ve always wanted to make it obvious my images are fabricated and I’m messing around with the idea of “document” to create different, multiple truths.
LEB: Besides the physical letters, how does your work interact with language?
CLV: I think a lot about paper and ink as the materials of the book, and playing around with ideas of figure and ground. Collage is a sort of meta-language where the ground—for example a page in a book—becomes an absence when you cover it up with other pieces of paper which now read as the ground. It begins to represent something other than itself—the absent ground—which is really similar to what language does. In my work, I like cutting away the letters and switching them back and forth, so a letter can be part of the ground and an image of the body can be part of the text. Normally in a book, the paper is the ground and the ink is the figure. I like to have figures that play and repeat differently. Through different ways of cutting out images of the body, they become both a presence and an absence. I’m also trying to make an analogy between the body and language. These works really explore the rhythms, patterns, and fluidity of language, which all comes from the body.
LEB: How would you say the role of photography in your collage work has evolved through the years?
CLV: I first became interested in using Polaroids because I liked taking a photograph and seeing it immediately so that I could take it again if necessary. What interests me most about photography is its ability to show time and movement in a still image. So when I photograph, I usually try to capture the figures or letters moving, with tracers that become evidence of time. And I’ve recently acknowledged that the mediums I work with are not considered “high art” like oil painting and marble sculpture. Photography has long been the bastard child of the art world, and photographers have had to fight to be considered artists.
LEB: I imagine the scale of your work has something to do with that too.
CLV: It does. But I like the size of these works because they’re very intimate. Smaller works pull you in, and make you look closer. I like the physical intimacy you have to share with one of these books because it relates the viewer’s body to the work. And books are intimate; you don’t take a painting to bed with you, but you would take a book.
LEB: How do you think the use of images or representations of the body in your work has evolved?
CLV: The representation of the body has definitely become more abstract. Feminism also ties strongly into my work. You’ll notice that most of the photographs I use depict male bodies. Early on, I felt that women were overrepresented and oversexualized in images, and that the image of the nude woman was so overloaded. I knew that I wanted to photograph nudes for my work, so I either imaged male bodies or myself, disguising the fact that I was a woman. I’d often take images where the gender of the figure was completely obscured. My concerns with imaging the body have evolved very formally. More than imaging an actual human figure, I’ll try to draw correlations between the shapes of letters and the shapes of the body, which ties back into language and patterns. Every now and then I return to a theme I call the River Series. It comes from the concept of Japanese ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world”—the sensual life of the body. But it’s also homophonous for “this life of sorrow.” The dual meanings resonate with concepts revolving around the fluid sensuality of language with its relationship to the body, absence, and the fluidity of water.
LEB: What are the most common questions people ask you about your work? What is a question you wish was asked more?
CLV: Someone always asks me if the letters spell out anything in particular. A lot of people look at the pieces and try to read them, but that’s something that I consciously avoid. I don’t spell anything out because I want my work to focus more on the mechanics of language—the rhythm and pattern and repetition that make up language—rather than a literal meaning. People also often ask me what my work is about, which I like to subvert and ask them to interpret it instead. I’d like to be asked more questions that startle me. Questions that show me that someone is thinking about my work in ways I hadn’t thought of. It would be a question I can’t think of.✶