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Artist Spotlight: Jerry Gretzinger

Long before Minecraft and Sim City, there was Jerry Gretzinger

Marketing/Public Relations intern Elizabeth sits down with Jerry Gretzinger to discuss the evolution of his monumental mapping project and his exhibition at MASS MoCA (Oct 5-14 in the Hunter Center).

This must be really exciting for you. The whole map is going to be laid out for the first time, all together.

It is exciting! The first time in 30 years.  When it was last laid out, because it’s always growing, it was only 578 panels. Now we’re going to do almost 2,700 (panels). It’s five times as big.

How do you hope visitors will experience the map? Is there anything they should look for?

They’re going to have several options. They’re going to see the object itself; they’re going to see me working on it. With a camera Greg (Whitmore, the director of a documentary about Jerry) has set up, they’ll be able to see close up what I’m doing. And then, Greg has an elaborate plan for hands-on manipulation of the details, projected on a big screen. Everyone’s fascinated with the random card process so we’ll have some of the cards up on the screen.

I wanted to ask you about the cards. How did that process develop? When did you decide you wanted to have structure and rules to govern this world?

Before the cards, I had a stack of panels and I would go through the stack one panel at a time and work on every single one. That became unwieldy and started taking me way too long to get through the stack. I wanted a way of just randomly jumping ahead. A deck of playing cards was a simple solution. A Jack is 11; I would go down 11 panels.

Does a card or direction ever come up and you’re a little bit sad to see the change that has to be made? Do you ever feel attachment to one of the panels that looks particularly interesting?

You know about the Void (The Void card covers a panel with white paper, blocking out whatever was previously on it). When that comes up, if it’s just any old panel, that’s fine. But when it’s a major city, which happened recently, that makes me nervous. I wish it didn’t happen. But I stick to the rules.

Each panel itself is a work of art. The panels are so richly detailed with many different materials.  I think I spotted a cereal box and a crossword puzzle on one? How did you choose collage with found objects?

The first step, leading into where I am now, was to take old pattern pieces. My wife and I had a business of making women’s clothing and we had leftover patterns. Pattern paper is stiff and it’s manila colored on one side and green on the other. I started cutting up old patterns. That led me to using the cereal boxes, beer cartons, pretzels… You’ll see lots of Snyder’s pretzels!

Recently, in the process of moving from New York to upstate Michigan, we were going through boxes in our attic.  I found letters that I wrote in the 1960s.

How great! Will those make an appearance soon?

Yeah. I’m slitting them. There are strips of old letters and envelopes. I’m putting them on the blank panels, the ones I start painting on. I’m hoping I’ll get to them while I’m still here (at MASS MoCA). They’re in the middle of a big stack of blanks; I don’t know when I’ll get to them. That’s one of those things that keeps me going!

 The artist’s materials. Can you spot the Future Predictor card deck?

How did you find out you had a sort of “cult” following among the gaming community? Are you into those worlds at all?

No, not at all. I did, years ago, play the old Sim City. I played it a few times and had fun with it but I never even owned a version of it. But on my blog, I can see the sources of the hits. I saw the Reddit thread come up. I read and I thought, “Holy cow! Wow.”

Then there was reference to the Jerry’s Map mod (or modification) of Minecraft. I didn’t know what Minecraft was but my young cousin, who’s eleven, showed me Minecraft last year. And he’s building things, blocks are flying around… Which is what prompted me recently to write a segment on the blog called “Slow Map.” I know you guys are all into things happening instantaneously and (my map) is something that just creeps along.

It’s true. Yet even though your project is so different than virtual world-building, both reflect an innate human desire to build and construct. It’s like Legos and Lincoln Logs when you’re little but on a much, much larger scale. Can you speak at all to the pleasure in creating your own world?

I’ve met other map-makers in this process and I’ve heard them say… it’s an escape to create something, to build something. I’m a big time gardener when I’m out at the farm. And that’s the same process. Put a seed in the ground, water it, watch it grow. That’s so human, I think. It’s been built into us through the millennia.

We encourage visitors to take pictures of the exhibit! Share your best shots with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (massmoca). #JerrysMap #MASS MoCA

Jerry’s Map will be on display, Oct. 5-14, in the Hunter Center at MASS MoCA. Admission is $5 and FREE for members. 

Posted October 5, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Artist Spotlight, BLOG, Exhibitions, Interns
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