Residency Summary, June 2014


Ren Adams
Group 3 – Fall, 2014
Peter Rostovsky – Adviser

Residency Summary

My digital hybrid investigation, The Cascade, marked an important pivot point in my work. It grew from a sideline experiment into my core thesis, which examines the transient nature of virtual, social geography and the time-stripped environment of digital elastic-space. The work I brought to the June residency was centered on a deeper investigation of landscape as a permeating condition and I included experimental output formats as part of an interdisciplinary installation.



Congruent responses to The Cascade:

  • Fresh, compelling work. Exciting.
  • Sophisticated color combines my core desert/lotus palette with video blue (an improvement over the video-dominant palette of last semester’s Cascade stills). Moments of broken color are also effective.
  • Layering temporally allows the viewer to metaphorically go back in time as they excavate layers. Fluidity is critical.
  • The work collapses the essence of site into a single moment. Directional entanglements create a philosophical space where the past erupts into the present. At times it is even less about “site” than superseded historical memory. What does it mean to reactivate the past as specter, enabling a platform for it in the present?
  • There is a sense of time-relativity, ambiguous perspective, contingent and indistinct intervals—all with unreliable physicality.
  • The work is most novel when it’s difficult to disentangle.
  • Nothing is ever fully resolved. There is no single, grounded moment—the instability, ambiguity and contingency speak to the unreliability of memory, geology, Hollywood fabrication and television. It carries a sense of the uncanny.
  • The density of information leads to a kind of claustrophobia, which at times disallows the sense of space, becoming a kind of passive consumption (as in television).
  • Sense of memory, recollection. Compelling layers make it a challenge to separate memory from lived experience; a sense of obscuring/revealing occurs.
  • Horizontal display recalls storyboarding or linear narrative, without actually providing closure. It encourages flow, yet the story remains elusive, or denied.
  • Characters are vital. They allow a point of entry and disrupt the ambiguous space.
  • There is an intriguing sense of “shimmer” and dimensionality that references lenticular images—which may warrant additional investigation.
  • Shifting horizon provides spatial ambiguity and layers weave in and out of a painterly mode. This diversity in mark-making works well.
  • Pieces deal with the space between objective and subjective ideas of landscape, operating in a middle-ground that provides tension. This engagement with interstitial space is painterly, oddly filmic. It also occupies a liminal space between abstraction and representation.
  • It references the strange reality we’re in, where TV informs our memory of real places and social interactions. It manipulates the scripted, the cultural and the real.
  • Like beginning of a movie—suggestive, not narrative explicit. Work is also like growing up on a movie set, offers discussion of history and the language of illusion in television.
  • Stills exist over time, not physical space, though they’re rooted in place. Lots of formal dynamism, interesting integration of mark and background. Representation emerges from the painterly moments.
  • Panoramic horizons refer to cinema, rectangles to television.
  • Both characters and landscape behave as ephemeral, ghostly, even spectral intrusions—spirits from our own mind (personal or cultural) that inform how we understand landscape, place and time.
  • The compartment view (hurtling across the desert in a vehicle) is of specific temporal and logistical importance to the work, as well as California culture.
  • Images are sites of activity and archaeology. Some viewers see horizontal cross-sections, others felt the layers provide peel-back digs.
  • Tony Apesos pointed out that over time, landscapes became emptied of people. 16th century landscapes, on the other hand, were crowded with characters, events and intersections of activity. I should further investigate (and understand) my desire to repopulate the land.

 Specific responses to the video/animations

Engaging and painterly. Backlighting enhances digital imagery.

Video performs differently at each projected scale, which can be advantageous.

Add action clips, or individually animated objects in the video feeds.



Split responses (video):

  • Some felt the videos were too much like slideshows or screensavers. Others actually preferred the slideshow-like fade that references TV cross-fades.
  • Viewers either preferred the projections to the digital stills, or preferred the stills to the projections.
  • Half of the viewers responded more to the TV-format videos, which directly references the intimacy of television. Others responded favorably to the large, full-wall or screen projection, suggesting it offered a more immersive experience, reinforcing landscape. The least compelling format was the in-between size (30-60”), though some faculty felt the in-betweeners were fine as part of a multi-channel installation, choreographed to deliver a guided experience.

Micro and Macro Reads

My critique with Matthew Meyer is an excellent example of the kind of relational (micro/macro) reading I intended for The Cascade: the play between public and private memory. Matthew knew the California landscape instantly, relating through a personal response rooted in his original experience with the environment: television. His associations with the desert were mediated through the fabricated specter of popular culture—even though he grew up on another coast and had no physical connection to the site. A number of faculty critiques also highlighted this relationship, ranging from activated nostalgia to a broader understanding of the Hollywood-ization of the West.  Pivotal points along this investigative angle include:

  • Fantasy-Hollywood happened in real space.
  • Landscape functions as a site of cultural and geologic relationships and exchanges.
  • The dialogue between the real, the fantastical and the geologic conflates place with time.
  • The landscape indexes time and experience. In fact, landscape is conflated with time.
  • Landscape is a site of occurrence. A location for micro and macro relationships, personal and cultural overlap. As a site, landscape becomes an active platform of exchange.

Specific Suggestions for The Cascade:

  • The form The Cascade eventually takes is centered on the construction of an interdisciplinary project, which articulates (and mutates) the concept across varied mediums.  Multiple mediums open dialogue with transitional spaces, allowing the viewer to recognize each medium’s ability to articulate different aspects of the total concept.[2]
  • Formatting suggestions:

o   Print on large paper to test the effect of scale on the viewer’s ability to enter ambiguous space.

o   Do the prints need to be large, or are they best served as a string of smaller moments?

o   Avoid traditional photo papers (concept better served on matte paper).

o   Try displaying video on cathode TVs.

o   Try videos or stills in digital photo frames.

    • Consider ways to dimensionalize the television experience. Collapse viewing into geometric interludes. This locates references specifically in the text.
  • Try less modest installations.
  • Use of text intriguing—references the larger framework of the collaborative, appropriated experience. It questions/overturns the nature of authorship.
  • SOUND. It came up in nearly every critique. I need to work with sound. Whether I include videos in the final project or not, most felt I should investigate soundscapes and sound mixes, sampling everything from music to ambient background noise as a counterpoint to the stills. The sound can be integrated with the animations, or used as a separate comment.
  • Develop a clear iconographic system.
  • Stay at a critical distance from the exactness of film. The work’s unreliability, denial of resolution and references to television are richer than the explicitly cinematic.
  • What will the final forms be? Painting, digital and video?
  • Use referentiality to my advantage. Why not embrace Hollywood more directly? Specificity is okay.
  • Will more negative space/void improve some pieces?
  • Horizons may be more effective if they’re really long.
  • Try inserting blanks into the video projections, or into the longer, more encompassing still installations. These breaks reference TV formatting (commercial breaks, transitions).
  • Play with the establishing shots used in television to indicate location, think more cinematically.
  • Give critical consideration to the migration of work between painting and digital. What happens in this transitional state? Do mediums become subordinate to each other, or to concept?
  • I need several paintings to form a counterpoint to the digital work.
  • Try looping animations of un-manipulated screen caps.
  • Generate an entire video with only stills.
  • Consider the ever-expansive mythology of the west as a cultural and political construct. How are these considerations playing out in the work? The west behaves as a blank physical and cultural canvas, cut through by human intervention.
  • Curate, choreograph and activate different spaces and marks, in video and stills.
  • Tony Apesos suggested I go either more minimal or intensely baroque—avoid the in-between (a few responses indicated the work was too dense and I should consider simplification).


Out of step critiques and comments:

One faculty member felt the photographic stills were not working at all (he called them “overworked” and “flat,” denying narrative and resolution.[3] This response was at odds with most, who liked the difficulty resolving, or disentangling, individual moments. I asked if printing the digital images at a larger scale would solve some of his issues—and he indicated that larger scale and different paper would improve his response. He preferred the painting and wanted to see a direct narrative, with simplified images. One other faculty member also pushed me toward narrative, though I am not interested in explicit storytelling.

Direction of Future Work:

I plan to focus on further investigation of the Cascade, both in terms of conceptual excavation and physical manipulation, considering new micro and macro layers of meaning and interaction. I will be refining my varied output techniques, in order to solidify a multi-part, interdisciplinary project. I expect to produce 2-3 additional paintings, new video work and new methods of developing the digital stills on paper.

Artist suggestions included:

Albrecht Altdorfer, Diana Thater, Doug Aitken, Jack Goldstein, Jennifer Steinkamp, Joachim Patinier, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, TJ Wilcox and 16th century panoramic landscapes. As always, I will continue researching influential artists from previous semesters.

Suggested readings/videos:

Readings that were suggested during the residency:

Appleton, Jay. The Experience of Landscape.

Barthes, Roland. “The Third Meaning.” Image-Music-Text.

Benjamin, Walter. “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” Illuminations.

Casey, Edward. Representing Place: Landscape Painting and Maps.

Clark, Kenneth. Landscape into Art.

DeLue, Rachel Z. Landscape Theory (the Art Seminar).

Malpas, Jeff. Place and Experience: A Philosophical Topography.

Malpas, Jeff. The Place of Landscape: Concepts, Contexts, Studies.

Mitchell, W.J.T. Landscape and Power.

Schama, Simon. Landscape and Memory.

Since I’ve been working with digital projection, I also received a smattering of video recommendations from faculty including: Bladerunner – The Aquarelle Edition, Michael Snow – Wavelength (1967), Chris Marker – La Jetée (1962), The Birds (1963), Psycho (1960) and Richard Altman’s Short Cuts (1993).


[1] I had group critiques with Ben Sloat, Stewart Steck and Andrew Yang, and one-one-one critiques with Lynne Cooke, Peter Rostovsky, Tony Apesos, Judith Barry, Matthew Meyer, Britt Snyder and Jonathan Macagba. Members in my like-media critique group were: Wendy Wolfe Fine, Sean Quirk, Jesse Stansfield and Anna Spence. My large-scale videos also garnered feedback during the time-based screenings from a variety of students, including Mark Teiwes, Regan Rosburg, Susan Donatucci-Hopp and Ann Olsen.

[2] This is becoming rooted in the read-only, write-only and read-write culture articulated in Oliver Wasow’s Digital  Visual Culture in the Age of Social Media lecture.

[3] It should be noted that the work intentionally attempts a denial of clean resolution and elusive narrative.

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