EM: You can actually see the width of the brayer in her strokes when she’s going over the gravestone.
SF: Right. So the tool that was used to make the work is visible in the composition. And then you also have this element of assemblage, which places Tomb not only between a drawing and a print, but also between a drawing and a sculpture. There’s a dimensionality with both the addition of a flag, a textile, an object from the world.
So here we can see a few images of Dienes working in the Trinity Church graveyard in downtown New York. And you can see the way that she’s taken a large sheet of paper.
EM: For our artwork, and I think probably in this image, too, she’s using something that would come on a roll so she could get the length she needed. The paper we have is probably somewhat like newsprint, so a thin, short-fibered paper.
SF: And the thinness of the paper probably would have made it easier for the texture of the gravestone to come through, right?
EM: Yes, definitely. Here you see her holding it. But she might have also taped this paper to allow her two hands to be able to do the printing. That would have definitely aided her, because this technique of doing gravestone rubbings is really to reproduce the information on that gravestone. And she’s using it more in an artistic way, it’s a little more atmospheric, maybe not trying to record every single detail, but to make the image she wants to use for her assemblage.
SF: That’s a crucial point, Erika. I’m so glad you raised that. And, in fact, she says this very beautiful thing, creating a little bit of distance between her own practice and the traditional use of a rubbing: “My use of rollers and natural surfaces is much freer than that. It is a kind of jumping off place for my imagination.”
And I think that’s so great, because it reminds you that she’s not going for a one-to-one accuracy. It’s not a kind of factual recording. It’s the first step in the process of a larger, more imaginative work of art. During this time, she’s becoming really interested in Zen Buddhism. She reads Alan Watts’s book The Way of Zen, and I think that idea of being a reception point for different impulses that are happening around you, and that paper being a reception point for different textures, is very much in line with that kind of Zen thinking, rather than any fanatical desire for accuracy.
EM: There was an article in Life magazine about her tombstone rubbings, and that actually led to the National Park Service hiring her to do rubbings of petroglyphs, and they would have wanted accuracy.
SF: It’s ironic.