Residency Summary 1 – Fall, 2013 Semester


Ren Adams
Group 1 – Residency Summary – Fall, 2013

My most recent body of work, The Archaeology of Being (2012-13), is primarily concerned with exploring the nature of emergence—depicting the way being materializes from non-being, matter from the void of non-matter. It synthesizes ideas found in Eastern philosophy, physics and art history and unites them with individual practice, generating a time-neutral space; a seemingly non-contextual moment. Layered images are meant to be explored like an archaeological dig, the viewer brushing away details to reveal information. The work exists in a sort of “subspace” generated in part by recent scientific discoveries, but without direct comment on 21st century concerns. I entered the Fall, 2013 residency at a transition point, knowing future work would build upon this conceptual base, but that it was turning toward a conversation with the “information age” itself.  Dialogue from the residency has generated a trajectory for future work, joining existing ideas with digital culture, data, language and spatial relationships.

Prior to the residency, I had been examining ways to evolve the work so that it addressed contemporary currents, but the residency itself offered the breakthroughs needed to begin. I was already interested in digital culture, visual media and the information cascade, finding relationships between the flow of data and its counterparts in physics and philosophy (as Fritjof Capra did in The Web of Life—information and virtual systems uncannily reflect biological and atomic patterns).  I had noticed that after installing Picasa, the program dumped all of the images I’d collected since the early 90s into a single, compacted database. An 1885 photo of my great grandparents suddenly cohabitated with 90s eBay banner ads, a candid shot of The Kinks and a snap of lunch. It was as if, in this spatial moment, all time, physicality and perspective collapsed into a kind of visual remix. Likewise, a Google search strips the moment of location and time, collapsing all data into a single space. The viewer again becomes an archaeologist, finding and remixing reference points and visual data, with access to all points on earth, all times, locations and moments in a single click, a single database query. In this digital space, time exhibits a new kind of relativity—a kind of “rewrite” culture expounded upon in Oliver Wasow’s elective seminar: Visual Culture in the Age of Social Media. The seminar addressed some of these ideas and provided excellent resources and stimulating discussion related to digital communication. It also opened dialogue about the nature of the “visual remix” itself, relating ideas of art, commodity, information and digital social interaction to the unstoppable cascade of data married to daily life. Of particular interest was the notion of the inherently mutative character of information as it exists in the digital flow—how a series of numbers come together to generate form that can then be modified, adapted or remixed by users into new material, recalling oral storytelling of the past. Activity itself becomes vaporous, dematerialized and rematerialized in an instant, in that collapsed space. Our daily interactions get plugged into what Lawrence Lesley calls a “Celestial Jukebox,” with access to chosen culture anytime, anywhere. I was understandably excited by the seminar, the artists presented and the potentiality of future work that could synthesize these considerations. Our online curated exhibition project was a nice finishing touch, itself leading into my daily practice project, The Cascade.

In addition to the brain-food seminar, critiques and group discussions were mightily beneficial. Overall, faculty and students had positive, often echoing responses to my work. The consensus felt I was effectively communicating the concept, with a few deviations based on viewer perception. I made a list of overlapping impressions like: weightlessness, ambiguous gravity, collapse, generation, excavation, architectural decay, judicious negative space, ambiguous orientation, suspense of time, analytical process made manifest, mysterious medium, accretion and dissolution, cataclysm, alchemy, language, the space between and calligraphic moments. The repetition of these terms cemented the impact certain elements had on varied viewers. Other observations included: a sense of the paranormal, the importance of text and title in orienting the work, explosiveness, micro and macro environments, nature and/or architecture, relation to scientific drawings, scaffolding, dystopia, even science fiction and phenomenology. The color palette received positive support, as did the use of paper and layers.

I also received excellent, motivating suggestions for future work. Jan Avgikos encouraged attempts to re-invent the spiritual itself, to consider it in relation to further studies in consciousness. John Kramer encouraged more reflection and a balance of continuation with derivation, to make sure the work changes over time, while also recommending that I invent a language that has the life of calligraphy within it. Fia Backstrom was pleased with the current palette, but wondered what might happen if I tried radically different palettes—to experiment with how color affects the communication of concept. She was also eager to see even more involvement in process and attempts to isolate moments within a piece, expanding them into new investigations. Laurel Sparks wondered what would happen if the floating shapes merged and morphed , encouraging me to take “field notes,” to stir the pot and observe time while continuing the idea of the diagram, the glyph, language and line. She recommended creating a vehicle to produce amalgam, inventing a language, distilling all manner of pictography and icon into an alchemical pot—to become a mad scientist of vocabulary and symbols, which in turn reminded me of Oliver Wasow’s impression of the pieces as an “alchemy of images.” Both faculty and students recommended experimenting with the physicality of the paper, taking a more three-dimensional approach in order to convey the idea of matter vs. non-matter more directly.  Several also encouraged the idea of moving parts, suspended display and rotation. Almost every faculty critique encouraged the expansion of language, iconographic or textual, exploring ways to make language central, to distill a new language, or to morph calligraphic marks into new spaces. Linguistic information and the relay of symbolic marks are already important to my process, but this invites even greater exploration. I’m thrilled by Laurel’s suggestion that language and pictograph can embrace everything from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to phone app icons and logos.

My 11th hour, Sunday critique with Oliver Wasow was peppered with epiphany moments, pages of notes mutating into info graphics, which evolved into research. Understandably spring-boarding off the elective seminar, our discussion generated rousing new paths, including ways of relating the purposeful collapse of physical space, perspective and time in Chinese painting to the digital collapse of deep, digital space. Combining an acknowledgement of my existing influences, Oliver encouraged a push into even wider-reaching aspects of digital culture, including literal digital methods and research into systems data, flow, fragmentation, data and process and the play of surface. Similarly, my Sunday meeting with Laurel Sparks vibrated with possibility and we discussed continued use of the direct and indirect mark along with intense development of a more complex vocabulary of signs and marks.

While several faculty members enjoyed the idea that my imagery walks a thin line between abstraction and representation, Stuart Steck disagreed, indicating he disliked the occupation of a liminal, in-between space and encouraged me to work in either representation or straight abstraction in the future (he leaned toward an illustrative approach).  He felt that I need to construct the viewer’s understanding more directly with thematized work. He also did not feel the work was communicating my concept effectively, though he found the analytical philosophy interesting—but he, like the others, encouraged further investigation of communication systems.

Artist recommendations often overlapped, reinforcing the group’s overall reaction to my work and emphasizing commonalities. Julie Mehretu, Amy Sillman and Cy Twombly were three such artists whose names frequently came up in relation to mapping, complimentary forms and resonation (Cy Twombly was already in my stable, but Mehretu and Sillman were exciting additions). I was also encouraged to study the works of Charles Burchfeld, Cao Guo Qiang, Elliot Porter, Hans Hoffman, Charline Von Heyl, Sarah Sze, Christopher Wall, Arshile Gorky, Edward Tufte, Joanne Greenbaum, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Emma Kunz. Readings that were recommended included works by Donna Haraway, Jane Goodall, James Gleick, Edward Tufte, Arshile Gorky, Andrew Darley and others as well as research into consciousness, mapping, resonation, communication systems and artists who play with the unconscious.


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