Sb Fuller (b. 1990, Miami) received his MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture this past summer, has published work internationally, and remains the current co-director of ΚΘΦ Gallery.
On May 9 1942, the German submarine, the U-352, facing depth charges, sunk miles off the coast of North Carolina. This past fall, working with captains, divers, and the institution responsible for this U-boat’s rediscovery, I took sculptures outfitted with lights and cameras to this site and submerged these structures down networks of rigging to rest in the conning tower of this wreck. Eventually salvaged, reinstalled in a film studio, and again in a gallery, these self-documentary sculptures generated images themselves, but most importantly, functioned as motivating vehicles for divers, actors, and handlers in each subsequent installation, to produce, most importantly, a series of peripheral documentary images. It is these images, from head-mounted GoPros, now published in sequence, in print, that most closely resemble what I work towards, that being the controlled confusion and expression of intent.
Earlier work has taken the form of fountains, uncommissioned public fountains assembled and installed (in parks, restrooms, sidewalks, playgrounds, etc.) all in relative proximity to public water sources, and it was this ongoing series of reconciliatory gestures, queerly constellated bodies and flows, finished and dry on-site indefinitely except for their documentation, that got me to this, the confusion of objects of fountainry with their images. In this, in studies of more structured cinematographic image production compounds (self-/cross-documentary structures), and in most recent work involving divers, it is sculptures that work toward expressing images as subjects, as fountains, as actors, as fathers, and as sons.
In my work, it is in the flow of water that outlines political current, it is in the forms of naval and cinematographic equipment that this work facilitates subjective confusion, and in my own queer friction, against machismo, the machismo of skill sets required to reenact and critique patriarchal infrastructures, through which my work continues to make space.
Q&A with Sb Fuller
by Sidney Mullis
Hi Sb! Emily and I had the pleasure of doing a Skype chat with you in late August (2015) about your current multi-tiered project. In that conversation, you took us back to the beginning. You explained how an art-viewing experience at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) became fodder for what has stemmed into a four-part venture, including a deep-sea dive, film studio installation, gallery exhibition, and, now, book publication.
I left that Skype chat with chills, fangirling over the project and the forthcoming book that is to be released mid-January. To share your work, the following interview questions have been written and formatted similar to our previous discussion.
Could you describe your experience at the MET? What was the sculpture that resonated with you? What was the film that you compared it to?
I wouldn’t say that this form at the Met initiated anything. Before I went anywhere or began anything, I’d been thinking about image fecundity, the semblance of structures of image production to structures of power and abuse, to patriarchy and I was doing a lot of writing on this. The subsequent production, if anything, came out of that. I sought sources that, in themselves, were representations of fecundity and worked to make these sources into subjects of some new production. The sources of the work were all already relatively determined at some point -- Jean Baptiste Carpeaux’s Ugolino and his Sons, a movie poster for J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible, the Greek myth of Cassiopeia, and the shipwreck of the U-352. I wanted all of these sources reproduced, in contact with one another, and abstracted across a range of four locations, each corresponding to a given source. It was all very formulaic, maybe too formulaic, but from the moment of their selection, in effect making myself and the crew involved somehow complicit, the priority then and from there onward was production.
What brought me to the Met was the allure of having unhindered photographic access to the form of Ugolino and His Sons. This allowed me to take 3D scans and rescans of the marble for the sole purpose of having my own digital and eventually full scale material replica of this form.
The movie poster for The Impossible was ordered on Amazon.
This led you and a crew to a deep-sea art-dive at the U-352, a German submarine off the coast of North Carolina. How were you introduced to this site?
Yes, so the U-352 was one of the original sources of this production. I tend to have water running through my work, water in place of political current, water running through things to draw them together, true fountainry, and I’ve worked in lakes and streams and restrooms before, but this time I was looking for a source with some gravity more comparable to the other sources. There are a number of wrecks in the waters I was looking at, but the U-352 was one of the only wrecks I’d found that sunk due to war circumstances. It’s a true wreck and the naval record of its sinking is very intact. I think it was mostly this record; the accessibility of this wrecks history that made it most interesting to me, as geographically inaccessible as it was otherwise.
How much time was used planning for the dive? What were the logistics like to get access to the submarine? How large was your diving crew?
The dive was a challenge. The wreck we worked with, a WWII German war vessel, was initially lost after sinking, its location unknown, until a team rediscovered the site years later. It was nice to me that sons of the men in this original rediscovery team now work as the captains of boats that now go out to the wreck, and it was nice that we ended up with one of these sons as our captain. There were five of us on board, two master divers, an art handler I dive certified, the captain, and myself. We secured access with an initial site visit months before the planned date of installation, and remained in touch, monitoring sea and weather conditions, up until the date of installation. It felt like a strange thing to ask of people to be involved in, but it turned out I really couldn’t have asked for a better captain or crew.
What were the objects that you installed on the conning tower of the wrecked U-352?
There were two structures. One structure consisted of a full-scale fiberglass replica of Ugolino and His Sons coated in silicone and mounted to the top of a barrel. In this structure, in place of the figure of Ugolino, was a marine grade aluminum frame. The other structure, an abstraction of this form made entirely of welded marine grade aluminum, again was built with a frame in place of the form of Ugolino.
There we’re 4 glass tanks that, in different recombinations for each installation, were installed in the aluminum frames of these “vehicles”, and, framed inside the first of these, was the poster for The Impossible. It is this first tank that was installed in the frame of the fiberglass Ugolino “vehicle” for the dive.
How long were the sculptures installed?
The structures were installed, meaning that they were independently attached to the wreck, for maybe an hour and a half. The wreck sits on a sandy bed in 115ft deep water, so it was the depth of the dive that gave us the most firm limits as to how long we could stay down. As our air ran out we had to ascend and return with fresh tanks to retrieve the work.
This way of considering space, a cinematic space determined by lung capacity, was something that’s still very exciting for me, something that continued to come up in the other installations. With all of us wearing head mounted cameras to document the entire install, the cameras turned on when the objects first flipped into the water, and turned off when they returned.
What happened next?
Well we had lift bags mounted to the forms, so on a second dive we returned and filled these bags with air. This made them extremely buoyant and this was how we got the forms back to the surface. From there the crew spent the evening very ham fistedly roping up the waterlogged forms and towing back into the boat.
What occurred in the film studio?
Months later, we reinstalled these forms in a sound stage – the superficial goal in mind being to recreate the image of the movie poster. The fiberglass form was chained up, hanging upside-down from the scaffolding of the sound stage at one end of this studio, and the more abstract form sat upright at the other end of this space. The plan for this install was to invite four actors to the space to dress up as the sons from The Impossible, for these actors to hang on the more abstract of these two forms as if it was the father from this movie, for the sea water trapped in the barrel of the other form to be dumped onto them in this position, recreating the tsunami graphic of the movie poster, and for these actors to engage in sexual acts, as brothers do, around the set using jellyfish collected from the dive as sexual accessories. The head mounted cameras turned on when the actors entered the studio and the cameras turned off when they had all finished.
How was this translated to the gallery?
Again these forms were reinstalled, months later, in a gallery space for my thesis exhibition. For this, a 2500 gallon wave pool was built to house the forms installed at the same angles of their installation on the U-boat. It was a diorama of sorts. This all required a crew of four handlers, who we’re, again with head-mounted cameras, all documenting this install, from the arrival of the work to the space until its complete installation.
Could you discuss your interest in the subject, documentation, and self-documentation?
I think there are a lot of ways, some more interesting than others, that people are thinking about documentation, especially self documentation, right now, e,g, “selfie” theory, narcissism, documents as standards of proof, indexicality, and so on, and I think this is all very fair territory to cover when dealing with self documentation, but I think, for me, most importantly, a document, or image, or image production is first and foremost the figuring of a relationship and, in this, ideally, a frustration of what is assumed to be agency or justice in these or any other relations.
The images prove that these installations happened, these images maybe evince some excessive self interest and maybe that’s exciting somehow considering culture more generally or histories of gay villainization or something like that, and that all good, but for me, I think its been most interesting to me not only that images chart connection, but that this connection entails the pain, unembodied, of anything else hierarchical.
I think when something documents something else, there is a marriage of sorts, one composition motivates another and some family of images becomes more visible, and it’s this potency of images to form connections and to do so, so violently and irresponsibly, that I try to refer to.
Like, who is blamed for your dreams?
You mention in your statement how documenting the self-documentary sculptures as they travelled from location to location became as significant as the images that the sculptures produced. Could you discuss the importance of this layered documentation?
Well, I think I felt that in order to get to a point where a system could function and most appropriately demonstrate or illustrate somehow an “apatriarchy” of images, it was important that there be some gratuitous production of images.
Sure, cameras mounted to the structures themselves kept them in contact, aware of one another, kept us working toward the reproduction of the movie poster and other compositions, but, for me, these core compositions these “father images” we’re reallyjust place holders, vehicles for the production of these more peripheral documentary head-mounted “son” images.
The core compositions, “father” images, original structures, narratives of installation, all deprioritized, all but lost, ghosts in place motivating the production of more images, a rotten linearity -- the imaged apatriarch is this.
How did you become interested in the confusion and expression of intent? Is it imperative that confusion precedes expression?
I don’t think expression is so intentional. Expression, to some extent, IS confusion. For something from inside, in whatever form it is, to come outside and exist as it did before, or to demonstrate some erotic agency between camera equipment, I think this requires some confusion.
I don’t think there’s anything easy about accomplishing confusion. Before one image can fully fail in securing a subject, in resisting confusion, as images do, there will always be another image to take its place. Finding and expanding that space of failure, embarrassing an image, allowing that insecurity is the point…that’s the freedom.
You mention that in your own queer friction you make work in opposition to machismo, an exaggerated masculinity, that is necessary to not only perpetuate, but also critique patriarchy. Could you discuss this notion?
Yeah, this tends to snag some people. Simply put, it involves role play, and ego building and so on, but what its more about is something a lot more difficult. I think in part it has a lot to do with insecurity, seeking insecurity, or seeking a space between positions. I mean it doesn’t really work at all and that’s totally ok. I ended up a lousy patriarchy and a lousy critic.
Generally speaking, I think to critique something requires some assumption of superiority over the critiqued and I think that when making such an assumption, especially when targeting something like patriarchy or machismo, the assumption can start to resemble the very thing being critiqued. I can’t not acknowledge the relativity of these identities or positions, but it gets messy. I mean, I don’t think there is such a clear structure or definition of roles in critique as most assume. I’m not thrilled with any positions required to supposedly accomplish any empowered gesture, critique or otherwise. “Power”, “critique”, “machismo”, “family”, “security”, “restoration”, etc, I think these are ultimately very flimsy images in themselves and would like, by any means, to work towards their disturbance, toward disturbing assumptions of any of these identities to begin with.
I think its very painful for some to try and imagine or relate to such a lack of a position, or such a comfort in pushing against position, but I think its really only there that images break down as they should.
Tell us about your book, IMG Apatriarch. Where can we get our hands on a copy? Where is the formal release?
Yes, the book is IMG Apatriarch. It's Swiss bound behind glass, contains a text, broken apart across the length of the book and a sequence of stills taken from the head-mounted documentary footage of each of these installations. The fourth and final installation of this work, its a literal demonstration of an imaged apatriarchy.
Its been really great having the chance to work with Small Editions to get this book out, so I'm happy to announce we’ll be releasing the book this month, January 22nd, at their space in Red Hook...otherwise, the book should be in stores around New York and LA as soon as this February and online at sbfuller.com.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us? Any forthcoming installments or art-sea dives?
No dives planned at the moment, but I’m working on getting a boat and getting in touch with Roman Polanski for something up coming…in case any one has some contact info they like to share :)
To find out more about Sb Fuller's work, check out the artist's website.