16. Desktop Monument – Lee Boroson | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

16. Desktop Monument – Lee Boroson | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios


This week we’re meeting
with Lee Boroson, who can usually be found in
Brooklyn but right now is working in his summer
studio in upstate New York. He’s in high production
mode, getting ready for his largest
show to date, which will open at MASS MoCA this fall. He is best known for his large
scale sculptural environments that emulate geographical
structures and phenomena of nature, like lava fields,
fog, icebergs, and waterfalls. Lee thinks a lot about
nature in his work, and not the flat vista
you see behind me now but the real stuff. The stuff that we humans
experience physically, and the way that it’s
represented in art. So let’s talk to Lee and
see what kind of assignment he has for us. Hi, I’m Lee Boroson, and
this is your art assignment. The inflatable is
something that I’ve worked with for many, many years now. And I’ve pushed it
places where it won’t go. I’ve tried to represent things
and do things with it that are really not suitable for it. And so I’ve tried to figure
out what it does best and use it for that. Moving through fog is about
being disoriented, having some sense as to where you are
at moments and other times not, limiting your perception
of the world around you, although it’s the
world that you’re in. So one moment it can be
clear, and the next moment it’s obscured. And so I’m using materials
that will do that. It’s not fog at all. It’s fabric, and it’s
frosted plastic materials. It’s one of the hardest pieces
that I’ve tried to make, because of the idea that
it’s supposed to be formless. Because fog has no form. It really is–
it’s an experience. It’s like seeing a rainbow. It’s like this incredibly
beautiful thing. And it can move
you, because it just seems so grand and so huge. And then when you
boil it down, it’s not a thing that’s
out there at all. It’s just this reflection or
this transition of the light through the water particles. And then to then turn
the effect into a thing is really what I was
trying to do there or trying to give you the
experience that you could then sort of walk through it. It’s like frozen. That’s the great
thing about sculpture is that it’s not a moment. You move through it, and
your perspective changes. So not only do you
have the experience that this thing was created
over a long period of time and that you’re sort
of unraveling it, but you’re also
moving through it. And you get the experience
of it through time. Here’s your assignment. What you need to do
is go on the internet and find images of a natural
setting– tourist destinations, someplace that
you’ve never been to, perhaps that you’d
like to go to, that you know something about
or you know very little about. And use that as the basis
to create your own desktop monument. We’re not looking for
a realistic depiction of that thing. We’re looking more
for the experience of being there through
what you research on the internet and the
images that you found, or the image that you work from. And the success of
the piece is not whether I would be
able to say, oh, that’s Yosemite or oh, that’s
a geyser at Yellowstone. But to you it has to be the
experience of having been there through the image. That’s the more important part. So this immediately
reminds me of the pyramid of chewed Nicorette gum
that I had on my desk when we first met. It was like this massive
Pyramid of Giza style pyramid. Each time I’d chew a piece of
Nicorette I’d put it on top. I remember it well. I was so horrified
and disgusted by it. But now, looking back, I
think it’s kind of brilliant. But it wouldn’t be a good
version of this art assignment actually, because that just
captures the visual experience of something. I mean, this is about
capturing a broader experience of feeling, in
response to seeing a landscape. Right, like looking
at a picture of Giza, and then imagining what it
might be like to be there. But I think I’m fascinated
by this assignment, because I think all nature
is constructed, right? So you might as well
make it yourself. I mean, there’s no such
thing as untouched nature. Yeah, I mean there’s this word
we use in the study of history all the time, the Anthropocene. That we now live in
this era of humans interfering with every
facet of life on the planet. Right, like when you go
to some natural setting, how did you get there? Did you drive? Well, that road had
implications, right? And there are many
people in history who have thought
about this as well. Yeah, I mean there’s artists
like Olmstead, who are always sort of arranging
how you’re going to look the natural world. I like thinking of
him as an artist. He was actually a landscape
architect or designer, but same difference. As we’re going to find out. SARAH URIST GREEN:
Frederick Law Olmstead is mostly remembered
for his fine work as architect and
chief of Central Park. But one may not think of
his landscape architecture when it comes to places
like Niagara Falls. He was an important voice
in the Free Niagara Movement of the 1860s, which
sought to protect the area from
industrialists and create a scenic reservation, open
free of charge to its visitors. Olmstead’s design for the park
involved a network of paths through the woods and along
the river and creating open vistas that increase one’s
sense of space and perspective, with some darker forms in the
foreground and lighter ones farther away. He was, in a way, turning nature
into an art viewing experience. He constructed the park
goers relationship to nature, privileging the
overall composition over the tiny details. His work shows us how
any human intervention into the natural world changes
not just nature but the way we see and experience it. Olmstead created new
versions of nature. And Lee Boroson
is encouraging you to do the same, to
think about place, using limited information to make
your own version of nature that captures the feeling
of it, rather than just the look of it. And for me, it’s also
about not using the material that we already associate
with that thing. So I’m constantly
trying to use something that is not at all of the
same ilk as the experience that you’re trying to have. So I’m not going to
use water, obviously. But I’m going to think a
lot about water, and the way that it has sort of
broken down to become fog. It’s also a monument
to the time that you spent with that material. It becomes like a
mediation between you and that image, too. So it’s the thing that came
from you towards the image. And it sort of rests
partway between you and that image, which
you have a view of, but you don’t have
the experience of. Hi, I’m Lee Boroson, and
this is your assignment. I feel like I’m on “Top
Chef” or one of those ones. SARAH URIST GREEN:
Yeah, yeah, right. And this is your ingredient. SARAH URIST GREEN:
Yeah, the “Iron Chef.” Chef Morimoto. [LAUGHTER]

29 thoughts on “16. Desktop Monument – Lee Boroson | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

  • October 16, 2014 at 3:30 pm
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    Olmsted was also involved with planning George Vanderbilt's Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC.

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  • October 16, 2014 at 3:38 pm
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    This was filmed a while ago! Most of the leaves are gone now. 🙁

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  • October 16, 2014 at 3:59 pm
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    wonderful, as always! his work seems to me like poetry in sculpture form, portraying whatever subject more accurately by consciously avoiding direct "description."

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  • October 16, 2014 at 4:04 pm
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    Great, but I have no clue what a desktop monument is… Is it like a little sculpture you can fit on your desk?

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  • October 16, 2014 at 4:30 pm
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    I might do this! I think I have a pretty good idea and I'm really inspired.

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  • October 16, 2014 at 5:03 pm
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     I live in the Falls! On the Canadian side though. Never knew about that architect, I'm glad he fought for the beauty of the area 😀

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  • October 16, 2014 at 5:32 pm
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    Haha the moment when he said " it's like.. frozen!" and his eyes ! Lol

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  • October 16, 2014 at 6:08 pm
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    John smoked?!

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  • October 16, 2014 at 9:59 pm
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    I had to watch this video a couple times before I really got what the assignment was, (partially because I kept getting distracted by the lava-lamp type thing in the background) but I really love this concept, and I think I have a couple of ideas.

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  • October 16, 2014 at 10:06 pm
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    This is so cool! I love thinking about all these art assignments, though as a senior in college looking for jobs I have absolutely no free time to do any of this cool stuff :/

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  • October 17, 2014 at 12:10 am
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    This is probably the most unique assignment. I like it!

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  • October 17, 2014 at 1:43 am
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    Ooh! Olmsted designed Mount Royal park, in Montreal, too. Seconds from where I live. I'll have to do this assignment!

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  • October 17, 2014 at 4:06 am
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    1. Find an image online of a natural setting you have never visited
    2. Use the image to create a desktop monument
    "Desktop monument" conjures a mental image of a giant computer for me; so if I were to take a picture of my monitor's reflection displaying Google street view of natural surroundings in my CPU case's window, would it be artful at illustrating that most of us do arm-chair travelling? –Although we are visually (and perhaps mentally) there, it is just a virtual experience…

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  • October 17, 2014 at 4:57 am
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    I want his 'lava lamp' in the top left corner 

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  • October 17, 2014 at 5:29 am
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    Can't wait to see these responses.

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  • October 17, 2014 at 5:41 am
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    What's a desktop monument?

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  • October 17, 2014 at 7:46 am
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    Jesus, a pyramid of chewed Nicorette?  How the hell did you convince Sarah to not run out of the room in terror, much less marry you?

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  • October 17, 2014 at 10:10 am
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    I have a feeling this assignment will produce some really wild and rad pieces. Looking forward to it!

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  • October 17, 2014 at 12:14 pm
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    Hopefully you guys went to Storm King while you were in the area.

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  • October 17, 2014 at 12:46 pm
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    I probably won't be doing this assignment, but I did think a lot about this. I would cover my entire desk in soft white cloth and spray it wet, making me feel as if my desk is made of clouds (or snow)

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  • October 18, 2014 at 1:48 am
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    Wonderful stuff as usual, but I have to give a shout out to that great lipstick you're rocking. PINK!

    This assignment seems really familiar to me in some ways. I just graduated from Geology, and I have spent the last 4 years of my life trying to accurately imagine and understand natural structures that I have never seen, and probably won't ever see. Many places other people think of as "monuments" or "destinations" I now think of as processes, or examples of processes. 

    I feel like this assignment deals more with the feeling of a place than the scientific pursuit of understanding it or how it was formed. But the act of trying to acutely recreate or represent a natural process or feature is a huge part of trying to communicate and teach geology. Using decks of cards to show cleavage or faulting, using plasticine to make tectonic models. Constantly throughout lectures my profs would search for the right word or metaphor to describe something that occurs thousands of miles away or Kilometres under ground. Trying to get us to understand its consistency, the way it moves, what feels like, how it mixes, or melts, or decays, by using substances or objects we were familiar with in our every day lives.

    Scientists are constantly looking for ways to accurately model processes so that we can run experiments and better understand them. Geologist have gotten pretty creative with it over time, as we are often dealing with processes that occur on a HUGE scale (either physically or time wise), that we need to recreate representatively rather than just replicate. Something like the Lee's challenge of trying to reproduce the experience of being near a huge waterfall in a much smaller studio installation.

    I love that Lee searches for accuracy in his installations with the same focus with which someone creating a scientific model might also use. Their pursuits are fairly similar, but while a scientist is trying to recreate the exact physics or the chemistry of a thing, Lee is trying to recreate it's impact, the experience of it, it's emotional or tactile ambiance if you will.

    This assignment has given me lots to think about.

    Thank you!

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  • October 19, 2014 at 12:00 am
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    Oh no, I have ideas forming.  Now I'll have to do this.

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  • October 23, 2014 at 9:20 am
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    I can't place his accent it is driving me crazy lol, also Ideas forming for this assignment, nothing concrete but ideas.

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  • October 23, 2014 at 7:01 pm
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    Is it bad if one of my favorite parts of this series is still Hello I'm blankity blank and this is your art assignment.  Its fun watching how everyone says it different.

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  • October 24, 2014 at 7:04 pm
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    I'm a nerdfighter who just recently got involved with this wonderful channel. However, I'm a little confused–can someone explain what the art assignment ultimately is?

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  • October 24, 2014 at 9:52 pm
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    In essence this art assignment is very cool, but there is something that I fail to grasp. If Boroson is creating a sculpture based on his experience driving through fog, why ask us to look online for something to recreate? Why expect us to use another artist's photographs to speculate on the experience we might have? It would be infinitely more valuable to recreate something that we have personally experienced, even if it as simple as the tree we sit under during lunch, or the crows overhead.

    I think this exemplifies our habit of viewing Nature as a destination that we travel to and not something that we live amongst daily.

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  • November 3, 2014 at 8:58 pm
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    I think this one took me the longest to think of a subject. Got it now though! Done and done. 
    The Art Assignment 16: Desktop Monument of Polar Ice Caps

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  • January 16, 2015 at 4:12 am
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    I love how John so easily glosses over the idea of the nicorette pyramid, he doesnt even realize he's made such a distinct metaphor and visual representation of the process of quitting. The pyramid represents each piece of gum chewed instead of cigarette smoked until he gets to the top of the pyramid (his goal) of finally quitting his habit.

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  • May 13, 2015 at 3:12 am
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    Thanks to John Green for sending me here from his video of "Becoming Someone Else"! <333 Definitely going to do this!

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