File Note 62: David Askevold - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Tony Oursler



Notes on how to look at A(rt)skevold Images References Quote Biography Credits

Notes on how to look at A(rt)skevold

Is the work an expression of an idea? Or of the viewer? 

You are the director of the movie known as The Gallery Surveillance System. You are walking around inside the electronics that locate you on the screens being viewed by the guards. Send that message. Text it
to somebody. Now.

Farm Window
Look outside. Somehow you can be in the city and on the farm at the same time. On the farm there is always something of great importance waiting to be done. A feeding initiated, an animal kept alive in the symbiotic hierarchy connecting all living things on the farm. The animals rely on you and you rely on them. You can’t escape the connection, the cycle, because you are inside it. There are no secrets here, rutting and slather, birth and play are happening simultaneously. The horse is gelded, a dog eats the testicles. Hank Williams’ songs stream over the computer.

Look at the corner of the gallery, is there any dust in it? 

Pick up your camera and move. Sometimes things synchronise. You want to play the lottery for this reason. You take off your watch for this reason. You want to change your pattern for the reason that you have a hunch: things are about to happen. You have to be open to it, to anything that is in the atmosphere: the person with the blue hair; a strange laugh; the way a street sign blows in the wind.

Always there is music, soft and confusing. You are alone with your thoughts but you are connected to the people walking by, look at the way they move. I never noticed that before. Altered states can be picked up in an image. You have to believe that this can be done / this can be accomplished by the finger pressing down. You see it but will the camera? This moment is unique. Elements are separated, loaded, cast-about. Clear. Life is not flowing past you, it passes through the lens. Now out of register, out of focus, different dstances. Press pause. Come out of a fog, wait… that’s a bad picture. What do you mean by bad picture? There are no bad pictures.


Parts of it (What is ‘it’? Do you mean: Parts of the image or parts of the art, the work? ‘It’ has to refer to something specific) are dark and almost black. Do you see colours in the darker areas or just black? Black is a colour that is deeper than all the others. It is a collection of all the other colours and therefore is the absence of colour. Black literally eats light. Black is confusing and scary. It is well known that black dogs are rejected at kennels and shelters, this phenomenon is known as Black-dog bias.
A black snake is terrifying. Black is just a pigment.

The word black comes from Old English, bloc (‘black, dark’, also, ‘ink’), from Proto-German, blakkaz (‘burned’), from Proto-Indo-European, bhleg- (‘to burn, gleam, shine, flash’), from base bhel- (‘to shine’), related Old Saxon to blak (‘ink’), Old High German, blah (‘black’), Old Norse, blakkr (‘dark’) Dutch, blaken (‘to burn’), Swedish bläck (‘ink’), Latin flagrare (‘to blaze, glow, burn’), Ancient Greek phlegein (‘to burn, scorch’). The camera has a hard time picking up images in the dark and there is a lot of ‘noise’ in the signal.(

If it is too dark, the camera turns black into something else. Inside the computer it turns and turns. Before your eyes it turns and turns. Sounds into pictures into words into objects into faces. Endless faces.

Apophenia is the experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in meaningless or random data. When we see a face which is not really there it is a by-product of our evolution and a result of the brain’s ability to create leaps in logic. What did the face look like?

Game Theory
A viewer’s dilemma is a strategy game between two viewers as follows:

An alarm alerts the police to respond immediately to an art museum. They find two viewers trapped in the museum after hours. Suspicious, the police think that they are trying to steal artworks from the museum’s collection but the viewers claim they were trying to understand the works on display, lost track of time and somehow were locked in. There is not enough evidence to convict them of theft because nothing is missing; they can be charged with trespassing. Each viewer has a receipt for an entrance ticket. How were they missed by the staff at closing time? Was their intention some sort of foul play? The two viewers are separated by the police and questioned. If neither viewer one nor viewer two confesses, then they will both be set free. The first viewer to confess planning an art theft will be given only parole while the silent viewer will be convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to 10 years. How do viewer one and two reach a state of equilibrium? Each viewer must come up with a personal strategy.

Try to imagine the thoughts of the people on the other side of the gallery.

Snakes are everywhere. You can’t see them but they are a fact of life. Surely they dwell below every horizon line just as the reptilian zone resides deep within the executive function of the modern brain. Can the snake shed the history of symbolism too voluminous to recount? How do you feel about snakes? Snakes are sheathed in a dark past as they go about the innocent activities of a lower life form. Are snakes below the foundation of the exhibition? Snakes can’t speak to us for themselves but they do facilitate the channelling of the voice of god in the Pentecostal ritual of serpent handling. The following biblical passage inspired the Pentecostals to handle poisonous snakes, drink poison and speak in tongues:

And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:17–18)

The Artist’s Secret
Somehow an image is formed, drawn, snapped or recorded. Finally after all the decision-making is done it is frozen or fixed as an artwork. The artist’s involvement has ended / is finished as the work begins its voyage into the world. The dimensions, materials, title and date of completion are definitive components of the artwork but a true definition of the artwork is evasive. Epistemologically speaking, art changes all the time from person to person in the mind’s eye. Look at a work in this exhibition, then go outside for some fresh air, make a call, have a drink, relax. Then return to the exact work of art. Is it the same?

Analyse a day and you will find that you have spent most of your time involved in mundane tasks. You are looking at someone’s face while they are talking, a simple activity and this becomes overwhelming. Now you can’t understand what the person is saying because you stopped listening, you just watch the way they are moving as they speak. Read the emotions on their face, read the message below the message of the words coming out of the mouth. You can never really control what people are doing, even if they are reading a script in front of the camera. Whatever is happening on the screen is also happening to you.


Kenneth Anger Hollywood Babylon Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group (1998)

Paulo Coelho The Alchemist HarperCollins (2006)

Gilles Deleuze, felix Guattari Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Continuum International Publishing Group – Athlone (1984)

Z’ev Ben Shimon Halevi Tree of Life: Instroduction to the Kaballah (rider pocket editions) Rider & Co (1983)

Alfred Hitchcock (Dir.) shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Sergio Leone (Dir.) The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Russ Meyer (Dir.) Black Snake (1973)

Sam Peckinpah (Dir.) The Battle of Cable Hogue (1970)

Bruce Stephenson  The Music of the Heavens: Kepler’s Harmonic Astronomy Princeton University Press (1994)

The Tibetan Book of the Dead Penguin Classics (2006)

Hank Williams The Complete Hank Williams Mercury (1998)

Colin Wilson The Occult Grafton (1979)

‘I have at times thought of David’s work as being a kind of structuralist take on Kenneth Anger’s psychosexual film rituals. Can delirium, while being experienced, be analysed? Wouldn’t doing so disrupt delirium’s seductive, mysterious qualities? Well, Askevold seemed to have his cake and eat it, too. He was a disorientation scientist.’ Mike Kelley


David Askvold was born in 1940 in Conrad, MT. He studied art and anthropology at the University of Montana and in 1963 won a Max Beckmann Scholarship at the Brooklyn Museum School of Art in New York. Beginning in 1968, Askevold taught at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD University) where he developed and led the innovative Projects Class. In the late ’70s and early ’80s he taught at the Art College of Design in Passadena, California, as well as at CalArts in Valencia and at UC/Irvine. Askevold exhibited widely including his solo show Selective Survey at Van AbbeMuseum, Eindhoven, Holland (1980) and significant institutional group exhibitions: 7th Lyon Biennal of Contemporary Art, Lyon, France (2003); Seventies: Art in Question, Musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, France (2002); In the Real of the Phantoms: Photography and the aparitions, Stadtisches Museum Abteiberg, Monchengladbach, Germany, touring to Kunstalle Krems, Austria and Fotomuseum, Wintethur, Switzerland (1997); Reconsidering the Object of Art, 1965-1975, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA (1977); Documenta, Kassel (1970); Information, Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, NY (1970). He died in 2008 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


Tony Oursler is an artist who collaborated with David Askevold.

With thanks to Anne Protégnie and Norma Ready for their advice regarding David’s interests and influences.