‘Okay, do you wanna hear another Flint story? This one’s super weird and really cool.’ It’s one of many Flint stories Jamie Stevens, incumbent curator at Cubitt Gallery, London, has told me so far. ‘… So Flint gets on stage wearing an Arnold Schwarzenegger mask with a flashing strobe light inside and begins reading a Methodist sermon. He’s switching between registers: first-person singular and plural. It’s quite beautiful…’ The Methodist Schwarzenegger performance occurred on a leg of a toilet-venue tour Stevens booked for Aaron Flint Jamison – known by friends as ‘Flint’ – and Curtis Knapp, co-founder of Marriage Records, in 2007. Passing through Stoke-On-Trent, Northampton and Nottingham, it culminated in London where he opened for his friends Dirty Projectors. Flint is epileptic. Nobody in the crowd knew. And although he didn’t suffer a seizure, this skittish Methodo-Macho goading belied an intensely personal risk-taking.
I’d hoped to meet Flint during the installation of his solo show at Cubitt Gallery. Stevens came instead and talked up this oddball Flint. I soon learnt Flint had briefed him on what he could and could not tell me. What exactly could he tell me? ‘Nothing’. Recently in Artforum magazine Hans-Ulrich Obrist nominated Flint as one of the top 27 most important living artists today. Asked by the magazine for a publicity shot, he supplied a caricature portrait of Liam Gillick rendered in the hand of a street artist – the kind hawked to tourists in Ibiza. Or so Stevens said. He also told me Flint recently organised a yoga class on the Large Hadron Collider as an artwork. There’s about as much chance of understanding dark matter as there is processing information about Flint.
There is intense conscientiousness in these ludic maneuvers, a punk bellicosity sharpened by over a decade of involvement in non-profit gallery spaces, studios, and print and record publishing initiatives. In 2002 Flint founded the Department of Safety (DOS) in Washington, a non-profit live music venue, gallery and studios, with a ‘zine library and artist residency program in a former police and fire station. When DOS closed Flint and Knapp co-founded Yale Union (YU), a contemporary art centre in Portland, Oregon with a gallery, artists’ studios and printing press. At YU Flint has overseen the development of one of the leading independent print workshops in the US.
In 2007 Flint began producing Veneer Magazine, a series of 18 issues, currently at issue number 8, with its own weird pricing system. Veneer is distributed through a combination of subscription and bookshops, museums, libraries and galleries. Subscribers receive all 18 of an edition of 300 copies. Flint has an algebraic formula that inflates subscriber price as new issues release. Unless you understand algebra it’s hard to know the price of subscription at issue 18. One of the many benefits of subscribing is that, according to Veneer’s website, Flint has promised to build bookshelves to house the issues; Sporadically he sends out gifts such as cotton gloves or limited print editions. Those issues stocked in regular outlets are part of an edition of 700 copies. For each issue a 1000 Veneers – two different kinds – are lavishly produced, combining paper stock, and analogue and digital print techniques. Inserted between the leaves are seemingly arbitrary postcards and useless implements in specimen bags, which nevertheless are beautifully printed. Sometimes the pages have been perfumed. Or once, we are told, ritually S&M whipped. Perhaps in homage to Marcel Broodthaer’s Pense-Bête (1964), he sealed an issue closed by edging it in expanding foam.
Stevens told me that Veneer’s liberal libel, plagiarism and copyright infringement meant Flint had to get a good lawyer; Apparently he meets litigation ‘head on’. Remaining copies of the last issue had to be pulped when Margaret Thatcher’s people noticed he had reproduced one of the late Prime Minister’s speeches. Another time he attempted to fund an issue entirely by ‘reverse-advertising’ – running company’s ads without their permission and invoicing them afterwards.
Although artists such as Adrian Piper, George Kuchar and Sturtevant have contributed to past issues, much of the content is lifted from trade journals, promotional material, and textbook literature. In The Century of Artists (2004) books Johanna Drucker characterises an kind of artists’ book ‘structured around the presentation of information as information.’ ‘Which is to say,’ she continues, ‘they are composed of material which is purely denotative.’ No sooner have you read Veneer, then you have forgotten what it is you have read. Yet the seemingly limitless intricacies between Veneer’s printed matter, its anarchic website and Flint’s art practice transcend lumpen denotation. Flint has designs on the noisy surface of information aesthetics.
Flint has a gallery-based practice that incorporates lavish printed matter, and made and readymade objects. Among the latter, purple heartwood, 3D printing and other hi-tech materials are motifs familiar across works. Frank [Canary Book] (2012) is a cloth bound letterpress book presented on a portable laptop table. For Big Buddy (2012) Flint studied sports rucksack manufacturing and produced his own curtain from georgette, polyurethane and zippers. Stretched to Place (2011) is a ‘Mastercool’ infrared thermometer presented as found in its plastic case on a white plinth.
‘Initially,’ Stevens explained to me, ‘Flint needed 20 grand to make the show at Cubitt – four times the budget.’ Told that it wouldn’t be possible, Flint decided to do the research and make the thing himself. At the Cubitt opening I could hear what a quarter of 20 grand sounded like before I could see it. A false wall bisected the space; Embedded in it was a luxury domestic jacuzzi. Its elevation, from horizontality to verticality, precluded any use whatsoever. And the dry pumps were working overtime in the absence of resistant flow. Facing it, two small sculptural works stood on a plinth and a shelf. On the plinth, atop a silver holographic sheet, was a 3D print, a rapid prototype of what could be a machine component isolated from its ensemble. Embedded at the centre of a block of purple heartwood, equal in size to the shelf, was what appeared to be vacuum formed carbon fibre. A door led through a utility cupboard into the rear portion of the gallery where the botched innards of the jacuzzi were plumbed into a conveyor belt constructed of purple heartwood. In the corner, filed away in a plastic form molded case mounted on a camera tripod were five identical handmade books. In one, set in letterpress text on thick paper, I read emblematic questions Flint routinely asks of systems, information and circulation in his work: ‘OUTPUT What? To where? To what end?’