Jae Carlsson

Erik ReeL, Opus 2074, acrylic on paper, 2015, at the Morris Graves Museum of Art.

Q: How did Jae Carlsson change your art?

ReeL: It’s not a direct thing. Jae was not interested in “reviewing” art or anything like that. His scope was much wider. In a sense he was interested in consciousness; how humans work, how the mind works and how that leads to culture and civilization. How does all that work deep down inside and in its most nitty gritty manifestations.

This led Jae to penetrate things deeper than a lot of other people; to see things others missed; to get below surfaces.

Remember, this was all at a time when the art world, the greater art world was for the most part obsessed with surfaces, with strict formalist analysis of purely material, completely external concerns.   Even the word “consciousness” was often meant to be some sort of relatively superficial awareness  of the external manifestations of history or a shallow, materialistic realization of things.

About this time Jae and I collaborated on a zine. This was very early in the zine phase of things; when we started the word “zine” didn’t even exist yet.  I say “collaborated” but it was really me making a few minor contributions to a project that was primarily driven by Jae’s vision. He did some very experimental stuff in it, even invented entirely new systems of punctuation. Things like that.  If I remember right, it was even distributed as samidzhat behind the Iron Curtain.  It is quite sobering to realize that people are willing to risk their lives, or at the very least some severe torture, just to distribute your publication.  It definitely throws a whole new light on things.

Q: I suspect a lot of our readers may be too young to remember the Cold War and not know what  samidzhat is.

ReeL: It was underground publications and literature distributed illegally behind the Iron Curtain at great risk.

Q: What was this zine about?

ReeL: I’d say it was critical theory before Critical Theory.

Q: So, back to my question, how did he influence your art?

ReeL: Oh, what I was getting at is that Jae’s approach put an emphasis on consciousness, on how the mind works, how cognition plays a part in the creation of something, and how this becomes culture or a civilization. It was a very different approach from  say, McEvilley,  who was very much into looking at beliefs and the cultural substratums as these structures and influences that then re-generate culture over and over again.  This led McEvilley to become a tremendous esxpert on religions who could then extend this expertise to key insights in the visual art of his time. Jae’s approach seemed to me to take one toward constructs that were determined by how cognitive processes worked on very deep levels.

Q: I’m not sure I follow. How would you characterize the difference between the two?

ReeL: When I read McEvilley, I get the feeling that I am reading someone who would have been very comfortable walking around in India three thousand years ago, but he’s a totally contemporary guy at the same time. When I read Carlsson I get the feeling I am reading someone visiting us from the 22nd century, some place we haven’t quite gotten to yet, and he’s giving us a few hints about how we might go about getting there in better shape than we are now.

Probably why Jae seems to me to be so impatient with Post-Modernism; he gives the impression that he finds it quite tiresome and oddly archaic, not quite as advanced as it should be.  He seems one of the few around that seems to see clearly beyond it.

Q: So, again, how did he change your art?

ReeL: He helped me realize the extent it had to do with cognitive processing; how my mind works, not necessarily anything to do with the material surfaces of the external world, but with consciousness itself.

This was, eventually, quite freeing, and brought me to my present work.

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