Widgets Magazine

A talk with Tauba

"0-9 From the Center Out" (Courtesy of Tauba Auerbach)

Tauba Auerbach is a recent Stanford graduate (bachelor’s in studio art, class of 2003) whose artistic practice has been gaining quite a bit of attention lately. Her paintings and photographs have been prominently featured in esteemed showcases for emerging artists, including the “Whitney Biennial” (2010), P.S.1’s “Greater New York” (2010) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s “SECA Art Awards” (2008). Additionally, in September 2010, her work “0-9” (2005) was featured on the cover of ArtForum, the preeminent publication of international contemporary art. The content of Auerbach’s work most often interrogates the intersection of systems and style, whether through alphanumeric fonts or abstraction. Auerbach sat down with Intermission to discuss her practice, process and inspirations and the way in which her time at Stanford influenced her career trajectory.

In a recent interview, you said that you have always thought of yourself as an artist. Did you ever consider attending a more traditional arts school, and what eventually inspired you to attend Stanford? Is there anything in particular that you learned in your undergraduate years that still resonates with you either personally or in your practice?

TA: I considered it, but then decided I wanted to have access to other things besides great art resources. I think it was the right decision for me, but in a way I wasted the opportunity because on a day-to-day basis, I just kept choosing painting over everything else. I wish I could go back and take some of the classes at Stanford that I didn’t make time for. I’ve actually watched some of them on the Internet in the past few years, particularly a modern physics class that I’ve always regretted dropping. The mechanical engineering classes that I took while I was there were truly pivotal for me. I loved those courses, but they were also where I decided that I really couldn’t be happy as a designer, that I had to be an artist. A conversation that I had with my ME instructor, Mark Bolas, was a big part of that. I should write him to thank him for helping me make the right choice!

"Creation Reaction" (Courtesy of Tauba Auerbach)

The content of your work often foregrounds language, particularly through handwriting, typography, and fonts. What drives your interest in these forms? And in an increasingly digital age, do you view the waning importance of the written word with a sense of nostalgia, or perhaps inevitably?

TA: I’m not nostalgic about things like handwriting or hand-set typography, I just think they are beautiful and still wonderfully useful. In the past, I took sort of a Luddite’s position against digital technology, but I’ve changed my mind about that. I use a computer all the time now, and I’m totally enchanted with what is possible in that realm. I guess the most important thing to me is that I believe older technologies still retain their special properties even when new ones are introduced.

Who do you consider your primary audience? Do you worry about the accessibility of your work, and if so, how do you reconcile these worries with the need to challenge yourself conceptually?

TA: Wow, that is a tough question. It’s so hard to know how other people see you or your work. It seems impossible to really understand that objectively. But when I think about what I want to have come across, I know that I want the things I make to exist right on the line dividing the accessible and the difficult to penetrate. Too far in the accessible direction and the work doesn’t stay compelling for very long; it’s apprehended, and then there is nothing else to think or wonder about, but work that is too opaque can be ungenerous and almost hostile. I suppose I simply want my work to keep giving the more you think about it.

"The Whole Alphabet From The Center Out" (Courtesy of Tauba Auerbach)

Describe a typical studio day. What is the environment when you are creating?

TA: I have a lot of trouble sleeping, so my whole day is shifted a few hours later than I’d like it to be. I am a very un-routinized person, so each day is different. I basically cycle through painting, working on the computer, going to hunt for materials, researching, and there is a lot of just thinking, taking notes and making decisions. Art making is really just a series of choices. I listen to music, most often without any words.

Who outside of the visual arts inspires you?

I was recently really inspired while reading about John Milnor. I’m trying to learn about topology, and he just won the Abel Prize for his work in that area.

I’m ceaselessly inspired by such a variety of things: the Ethiopiques record series, boundary-pushing origami, the writing of Jorge Luis Borges, the designs of Rodarte and Hermes, just to name a few.

As a long time Bay Area resident, are there any “can’t miss” arts locations that are a bit off the beaten track?

TA: Steven Leiber’s basement.