dispersed holdings’s Speed of Resin
A new book celebrates the legacy of Eva Hesse and documents the final days of dispersed holdings's programming in the artist's former Bowery home.
Speed of Resin
(dispersed holdings and Cooperative Editions, 2019)
Eva Hesse’s work forces us to imagine the end of the art object, the simultaneous making and unmaking of forms. In her essay, “7.5 Minute Talk for Eva Hesse,” poet Lisa Robertson wrote of Hesse’s fascination with ephemeral materials, and how time inevitably factors into her work. The “speed of resin,” as Robertson writes, provides a moment of brief and limited possibility for creative potential before the material sets and begins its process of unmaking. For their recent publication, Speed of Resin (2019), the artist-run space dispersed holdings engaged with the idea of truncated time while documenting their final days of programming in a historic building at 134 Bowery.
Sal Randolph and David Richardson co-founded dispersed holdings in December 2015. The two had met six years prior and bonded over a mutual fascination with alternative spaces for collectively experiencing art, sound, and text. During their run they published books and hosted live events—readings, recordings, film screenings, and performances—all thematically and experientially centered around text, transforming the act of reading and listening into a form of relational art.
In February 2016, Randolph and Richardson relocated from a small studio apartment in Bushwick to the Lower East Side where they took out a two-year lease for a loft at 134 Bowery. It wasn’t until after they had signed the lease that they discovered their new home was previously occupied by Eva Hesse, who lived and worked in the space from 1965 until 1970. Hesse was born to a Jewish family in Hamburg, Germany in 1936 and relocated to Manhattan three years later when her family was forced to flee Nazi occupation. She was close to a number of other post-minimalist artists, including Sol LeWitt, who would eventually live down the street from her Bowery apartment. Hesse is known for working with unstable materials—namely latex, fiberglass, and the titular resin—that corrode and degrade over time. She once quipped, “life doesn’t last, art doesn’t last.” In October 1969, Hesse was diagnosed with a brain tumor and succumbed to her illness on May 29, 1970 at the age of 34. With their ephemerality, her sculptures take on their own personhood, not in form but in time. The longevity of her sculptures, like the artist herself, will be cut short. The inevitable decay of her work creates a particular paradox for curators, conservators, archivists, and the like, who must reconcile the intentions of the artist for her work to slowly disappear with the desire to conserve and protect.
dispersed holdings’s time was also cut short. The six-month demolition clause in their lease served as an ominous premonition, as many other art spaces and studios in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood have been shuttered and repurposed over the years. The expiration of their lease in January 2018 may have brought an end to dispersed holdings’s brick-and-mortar incarnation, but during their final weeks in winter 2018, they hosted a series of programs that dealt with the sense of loss embedded in both Hesse’s work and their own community. Speed of Resin, published by Cooperative Editions and dispersed holdings, documents these events, drawing upon the theme of impermanence in Hesse’s work, artist-run spaces, and the geographic and economic makeup of the downtown scene.
With a selection of essays, diary entries, photographs of performances, correspondence, and poetry inspired by Hesse’s work, the book traces varied approaches to understanding the artist’s legacy, as well as the emotional labor of the dispersed holdings community. A postcard writing event, “Dear Eva,” which invited the public to write postcards to Hesse to be mailed to the Bowery address, was inspired by the artist’s many correspondences with LeWitt and the latter’s ardent support of her work. A series of correspondences reproduced in the book between artist Sanna Helena Berger and curator Vanessa Kowalski function like the Hesse-LeWitt letters, emphasizing the importance of rest in the creative process and upending the belief that rest and work are somehow mutually exclusive. Some contributors retraced particular actions: a walking tour led by art historian Sarah Hamerman reimagined Hesse’s route from her apartment to Sol LeWitt’s former studio on Hester Street; Sal Randolph—the other half of dispersed holdings—chronicled a visit to Canal Rubber, a supplier of industrial materials that Hesse frequented. Randolph recreated a work Hesse made in the final months of her life, Untitled (Rope Piece), a tangled, gracefully suspended web of liquid latex-encased rope. In her catalogue essay, she describes the process of making Hesse's piece, and concludes by predicting its natural end. The latex will dry, darken, and crumble in a matter of time, though how much time precisely is impossible to imagine. “If latex made the piece,” Randolph notes, “it will also unmake it.”
In early January 2018, dispersed holdings held the exhibition Always First Demolition curated by Kowalski. The show featured 19 artists working in a range of media including painting, sculpture, video, and performance. Many of the visual works drew upon Hesse’s signature style, emphasizing minimalist forms and ephemeral materials. Allison MacDonald’s For Eva (2018), for instance, was a performative installation for which the artist deconstructed textile fibers and then braided the disassembled red threads into a rope that was placed in the residual gaps in the corners of the apartment (perhaps another nod to Rope Piece). Photographs of each work appear in Kowalski’s essay for Speed of Resin, but the images only provide a glimpse of the work in unlabeled details. The book’s layout may not be pragmatic as a tool for documentation, but it does compel the reader to navigate the pages with care and attention. In essence, it necessitates a kind of archival work to make sense of the disconnected images.
The book isn’t a thorough documentation of dispersed holdings’s time on the Bowery, nor was it meant to be. Instead, it eulogizes lost time and considers how time factors into our understanding of the art object, or for that matter, the art space. It focuses on “sites of impermanence,” writes Richardson, from the ever-changing Lower East Side to the collective experiences of dispersed holdings. It addresses how to document the ephemeral, how to work against temporal constraints, and finally how to commemorate time cut short, whether by displacement, illness, or planned obsolescence. While dispersed holdings considers its future, Speed of Resin bridges a temporal and emotional gap between Hesse and the dispersed community of artists, musicians, performers, listeners, and readers.