Jefferson's Bible (2017-2020) A contemporary "translation"—using silkscreen, plaster, wood and newspaper—of Thomas Jefferson’s cut-and-paste of the New Testament, which he completed in 1820
My work is often sparked by an interest in a certain history I find in photo archives. This most recent work, Jefferson's Bible, reworks the daily newspaper, treating the paper as if it is an archive of history in the making. The series started at the On Kawara retrospective several years ago when I had a new encounter with the work. On Kawara, you may know, is a Japanese conceptualist best known for his date paintings—spare canvases with only the date they were painted—this was his daily practice for nearly five decades. I have long been interested in this durational work particularly the way it transformed the idea of painting into a kind an artifact of the time and place it was made. The exhibition included boxes he constructed for the work which were lined with the paper that day, and the work often had subtitles pulled from the newspaper. I left that exhibition with a strong desire to somehow pay homage to On Kawara’s durational project via those fragile, information-rich newspaper linings.
That exhibition happened right before the current profoundly destabilizing, political moment we are in with the administration targeting the press and trying to manipulate coverage with great reality-TV relish (my partner is a journalist so I’ve had a front row seat to this) my own experience of trying to bridge the news with the immediacy of my day-to-day life has been one of a growing sense of irreality. I started this work just after Trump’s inauguration and have been culling fragments from the physical paper every day since.
Simultaneously to this political shift, I noticed a marked increase in the usage of “biblical” in mainstream news outlets to describe the extreme natural events—tornadoes, wildfires, floods—that have been occurring as a result of human- induced climate change. I started to think about another iconic American document: the Jefferson bible. Thomas Jefferson, towards the end of his life, set out to make his own version of the bible. He literally cut out all the irrational bits, the miracles, and rearranged the stories in gospels in chronological order. I think of the Jefferson bible itself as a very influential American artwork, a collage before the term had gained art world usage. The Jefferson bible was routinely given to new members of congress as a welcome gift as recently as 1999. So, throughout this project I’ve carried this vivid image of our current ecological situation—of “biblical” floods and fires—as a blooming of all those events Jefferson couldn’t get rational hold of, that lay on his cutting room floor and then grew like fantastic weeds in our contemporary American life.