In ancient mythology, Osiris, Pharaoh of Egypt, was torn apart by his evil brother Seth, who was jealous of the way he was so beloved by his people. His grieving wife Isis collected the fragments of his body from the Nile and was so moved by seeing him again that her love brought him back to life. In the same way that Isis collected the torn-up pieces of her lover's body, Dustin Yellin has pieced together sculpture, art and photography to create a series of nostalgic images encased in glass boxes for his first London exhibition at 20 Hoxton Square.
The central piece of the collection, 'Osiris On The Table', is a sculpture of the ancient man's dead body weaved from vines, insects, waves and flames, with a slick of oil coming from the mouth. Like the rest of the exhibition, the piece combines hope with sadness, leaving the viewer unsure of how to feel. Dazed Digital caught up with Yellin to find out his interpretation of the exhibition.
Dazed Digital: Why did you decide to use layers of glass as the medium for this work?
Dustin Yellin: So as not to die. I was using resin for years. It's an amazing medium, but it is a chemical; VOCs involved and what have you. The glass was a refuge to simulate clear space. As I began working with the glass, my interest in making a physical specimen suspended in resin transmutated into this feeling of capturing biological information between glass slides. I realized that I could re-incorporate elements of my previous collage work, work that led me to the resin sculptures in the first place. The optical clarity of the glass is exciting. I wouldn't be able to technically bind the glass had I not used resin to bond the earlier work, so there's interplay in mediums there.
DD: What is it about the myth of Osiris that captured your imagination?
Dustin Yellin: Preservation of life. The idea of the parts versus the whole. The fragmented disparate parts of existence. The idea that all of this is too much to comprehend, there is no way to assimilate the information in our systems. Keys... small portholes into new dimensions, mortality, love. I see memory as a compendium of different things - moments also, and physical. Memories occupy physical matter in the brain and the body in my Osiris piece integrates all these bits and moments into one figure.
DD: What is the significance of the oil emerging from the figure’s mouth in Ositis On The table? Is this a political statement?
Dustin Yellin: It could be black sea-men emerging from an underground city, or black water or oil, or the action of forced extraction or cycles or anything that is changing in front of you while you're watching it. Some significance has to go to the white water and the black water. It's not about contamination and cleanliness, but more about chi, yin, yang, the unexpected electricity communicated to us at the blood circulation level of various living beings. We humans are skin containers for liquid. The figure lies down and the glass becomes a sort of liquid pool.
DD: Your work fuses sculpture, drawings and photography, why did you combine these things?
Dustin Yellin: Accidentally over a period of many years. Time is the only thing I feel is alluding me. I am a firm believer in timelessness. i don't think death is an end, it's a contradiction, all of it. Taking photos, or making marks on a canvas, or making a three dimensional form, it's all the same. Music, all of it. Man you can't confine this shit and define it. That's the thing with art. It has a life of its own, we just open the doors.
I first used resin to attach bits of news paper and other images to canvas. Through building that up I discovered I could make entire works out of ink and resin, but not so readily out of bits of images and resin because the resin itself was more wavy and organic. Glass allowed the optical clarity to re-incorporate photography into the work in a progressive way. Glass has always both allowed and in some way necessitated photography. The lens predates a way to stick the image to a surface by a thousand years.
DD: Is Til Human Voices Wake Us pessimistic or optimistic?
Dustin Yellin: Both. The rest of the quote in the title is "Til human voices wake us and we drown" so thats the sculpture. The sculpture is "and we drown," we are we as a collective of individuals and we as a singular society. Whether or not there is hope in TIl Human Voices Wake Us, is entirely up to the viewer.
DD: The theme of nostalgia seems to run through the exhibition as a whole. Is this an accurate interpretation?
Dustin Yellin: Memory yes, preservation yes, nostalgia no. I actually think that nostalgia doesn't just connote a false version of memory but a subjective version that has to do with the nature of personal memory. The type of memory I want to reflect has to do with a collective, or literary thing. I want the work to be a whole book all at once, an entire canto suspended in pages of glass. Even when the sculpture literally represents my body, I want no trace of nostalgia, no sentimentality - it was me at the moment, even though I shaved my beard I never planned its obsolescence!
'Osiris On the Table' is at 20 Hoxton Square Projects, 20 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6NT 17th February - 12th March 2011