The Joy of Six

By Lynn Lieu

Posted September 16, 2010 in Arts & Culture

Known for crossing between media, Los Angeles artist Steve Roden makes another bold statement for the modern fluxus movement at the Pomona College Museum of Art in Claremont.

“Steve Roden: when words become forms” consists of a large-scale installation and a series of new paintings in conjunction with writer Michael Ned Holte. In true fluxus form, the series focuses on the process of creating art rather than the outcome which highlights the influence of each piece. The title of the series references Roden’s take on translation. In this exhibit, Roden translates other pieces of art into his experience of those artworks using very accessible materials.

Through Dec. 19, the main gallery room is transformed into what seems only possible in a child’s dream. Bowrain, now occupies this space and takes you into what it must feel like to be inside someone else’s head. The installation was inspired by a small notational drawing made by Buckminster Fuller (of “buckyball” fame) in the mid-to-late 1960s.

The drawing indicated the use of six numbers, six units and the six colors of the rainbow for the building of a structure. Roden takes this drawing and builds his translation of the structure using six types of wood and six different colored strings, piecing the wood together at random. The result is an eerie forest-like tangle of wooden sticks and colored strings reminiscent of a coloring book where no one stayed within the lines.

Coupled with the structure is Roden’s video and audio element. The visual is a series of colored images that loop with its audio counterpart. The sounds were created using six ceramic bowls—each a different color of the rainbow—and other elements associated to color, for example, the dropping of an orange (the fruit) representing the sound of orange the color.

For the second part of the exhibition, Roden teams up with writer Holte to pay tribute to artist Fredrick Hammersley. Staying true to the theme of process, Roden reminisces about a conversation with Hammersley in his introduction: “He told me my work was too contemporary and that I needed to see as many of the ‘old master works’ as I possibly could. He said there were seven tools that make up every picture (although he never mentioned what those seven tools were).”

Roden then tells of how he stumbled upon a set of postcards that were given to the museum staff by Hammersley and was inspired to create his translation of those postcards with the help of Holte. From these postcards Roden selects 20 to work with. The postcards themselves tell little of a story and are more of a collection of scattered images. But from these postcards, Roden and Holte develop a series of subconscious paintings and writings. For each postcard Roden paints his experience and Holte writes what comes to his mind.

The corresponding paintings are often too obscure to identify with their original counterparts—aside from a few similar characteristics. The writings, on the other hand, are better indicators as to which set matches with which postcard. But all together, the series makes a strong comment on the process of art.

Roden’s intention was never to duplicate pieces of art; instead he wanted to draw from the postcards, or whatever piece he was viewing, a translation or interpretation of the images, sounds, words, etc. that will then affect his process of artistry and thus show the process in his final work.

“Steve Roden: words become forms” exhibition at Pomona College Museum of Art, 330 N. College Way, Claremont (909) 621-8283;, Thru Dec. 19.


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