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Mesa Artist Steve Gompf on Punking Gallery-Goers with Televisors

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What happens in the studio shouldn't always stay in the studio. Studio Visit is a monthly series that profiles artists in their studios. We ask them questions, they provide answers, and then we have a nice discussion about their work. This month: Steve Gompf, whose work is currently exhibited in the North Gallery at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum

Bits and pieces of assorted objects, from candle sticks to bookends, cover most of the surfaces in Mesa artist Steve Gompf’s home. “I’m a hoarder,” Gompf says. But that’s not quite true. Because much of what he snags at favorite haunts, including Goodwill thrift stores, is used for making art. And there’s a clear path for meandering between the two rooms where Gompf, 53, spends most of his time. One gets used for storage, he says. The other houses his desk and computer.

Both spaces are essential to his art practice, which includes making mixed-media assemblage works Gompf calls televisors. They’re fictional machines, presented as precursors to televisions. Gompf assembles his televisors by repurposing common objects such as jewelry boxes, curtain finials, door knobs, lighting fixtures, and drawer pulls.

Sometimes more unusual fare makes it into the mix, as evidenced by close inspection of pieces currently on view at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. His solo exhibition, titled “Distant Visions: Apparatus and Ephemera from the Televisor Era 1884-1928,” includes pieces made with bread molds, stethoscope parts, and television antennae. For one piece, Gompf chose a plate he'd used during dinner the night before.

He’s been known to sit on a bench outside the gallery containing his works, watching and listening to the ways visitors react to the exhibit. Some catch on quickly to his ruse, but others assume the televisors are actual historical artifacts. Text labels with Gompf’s made-up histories fuel the conceit. For visitors who get it, Gompf’s pieces prompt reflection on the nature of reality, the workings of the human mind, and the modern predilection for obscene amounts of screen time.

Gompf says he sometimes tells visitors he made the works in the show, often getting looks that suggest they assume he’s a random person with some sort of mental problem. In reality, he’s a skilled video and mixed-media artist who holds a BFA in photography and MFA in intermedia from ASU. And he has extensive teaching experience in several related fields.

Inside each televisor, there’s a video loop Gompf created in his home studio, primarily through digital manipulation of stop-motion studies by an eccentric 19th century British-born photographer who used the name Eadweard Muybridge. Muybridge is renowned for inventing a way to animate his photographs through short motion sequences, which influenced subsequent developments in cinema. Gompf’s videos play on small tablets placed behind round televisor screens.

But there’s more to Gompf’s art practice than collecting objects and creating his curious cabinets – which he’s been doing for about 20 years now. He’s also devised a fictional world his televisors inhabit, drawing enough material from the historical record to make it seem plausible. Go to www.teleseum.org online and you’ll find his faux Televisor Museum International, replete with accounts of significant televisor advancements.

Until recently, he’s been working with former New Times art critic Kathleen Vanesian on a book meant to catalog the Mesa exhibition and expound on all things TMI-related. But now it's hot off the press. He’ll be selling and signing copies at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum on Thursday, April 28, from 6 to 8 p.m. Gompf's exhibition continues through May 1.

Tell us about your work in haiku format.
It’s about TV-
Machines called televisors
and their histories

What artist(s) are you really into right now?
Lindsey Bessanson and James Turrell

What are you reading?
The Discovers by Daniel J. Boorstin; A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musahi; The DaVinci Notebooks Leonardo DaVinci

What’s the last TV show, film, or video you watched?
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)

If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be? And why?
The Brothers Quay, because I am in awe of their work.

What was the last exhibition you saw and what did you think of it?
"Distant Visions: Apparatus & Ephemera from the Televisor Era 1884-1928" — why in the hell has the video stopped playing in this one?

Jeff Koons or Marina Abramovic? And why?
Really? This is such a stunningly stupid question, ambiguous to the point of being meaningless – so I’ll respond by saying – I wouldn’t do either, just not my type.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
That I should apply to the graduate Intermedia program at ASU.

What are you currently working on?
I just finished an art book in the form of a catalog for the Mesa "Distant Visions" show and I am always working on a televisor along with animations to play in them, but I am starting to think it’s time for revamping the Televisor Museum International website.

What’s your most valuable tool as an artist?
My computer.

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