Semester Summary, Fall 2014

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Ren Adams
Peter Rostovsky – Advisor
Semester 3 Summary – Fall, 2014

Download PDF Version

My work this semester centered on the development and articulation of my interdisciplinary thesis project, The Cascade – Moments in the Televisual Desert, including the production of new pieces and formatting refinement. The semester was punctuated by major decision-making, significant breakthroughs in video work and continued cohesion of the three-part installation.

Studio Work

I knew The Cascade would be interdisciplinary, but the final format had not completely coalesced. This semester, I determined the final media, refining, reshaping and abandoning divergent leads. Research, residency feedback, mentor conversations and personal brainstorming made this shape-up possible. The final three components are: video, painting and digital imaging (View-Master reels), reflecting my investigation of Lev Manovich’s three-screen theory (classic, dynamic, real-time) of new media.

Other developments:

  • I worked with ways of dimensionalizing the television experience. Feedback from my advisor and from the residency encouraged me to consider methods of collapsing viewing into geometric interludes. These interludes locate references specifically in the text and can synthesize, simulate or otherwise add dimension to the act of engaging television. This investigation impacted all three formats—and I considered how large-scale paintings, video and hand-manipulated digital reels played on different qualities of viewing and consuming, literally and philosophically.
  • Working with SOUND. It came up in nearly every residency critique. I needed to work with sound—and I did. Rather than simply add sound to the original video animations, I dug into my audio background and sampled, recorded, remixed and produced entirely new soundscapes designed for the video art (and also to be ‘overheard,’ as we do televisual noise, if played aloud near the paintings and View-Masters). This required a combination of sourcing and recording both appropriated and original material, then deeply mixing the clips into complex, articulated audio. Sound is absolutely pivotal to the project and I made ample use of my musical background, combined with theoretical concerns. My mentor was also very pleased with how radically the sound intensified and complicated the video experience.
  • Developing a clear iconographic system. I investigated ways of using direct referentiality to my advantage. Stuart Steck suggested, “why not embrace Hollywood more directly? Specificity is okay.” In response to this (plus advisor feedback and personal research), I folded more specificity into the mix, allowing some segments to remain ambiguous, others to embrace their Hollywood referentiality. I considered the ever-expansive mythology of the west as a cultural and political construct and I asked how these considerations were playing out in the work. The west behaves as a blank physical and cultural canvas, cut through by human intervention and I added and removed material to create a ‘scape in flux, no longer shying away from specificity. Characters allow a point of entry and disrupt the ambiguous space. Thus I settled in on iconography related to hero types, as well as an iconography of vehicles, colors, marks, shapes, mountains, industrial symbols (power lines, factories) and other rhythmic motifs.
  • Tony Apesos suggested I go either more minimal or intensely baroque—avoid the in-between—and I worked with this. I made the painting denser, more populated and more entangled while simultaneously emptying some of the newer digital stills (and certain aspects of the video work) to balance.
  • I also continued:
    • Allowing the work to collapse the essence of site into a single moment
    • To produce directional entanglements that create a philosophical space where the past erupts into the present.
    • To maintain a sense of time-relativity, ambiguous perspective, contingent and indistinct intervals.
    • To deny finite resolution. There is no single, grounded moment—the instability and contingency speaks to the unreliability of memory, geology, Hollywood fabrication and television.
    • To manipulate a sense of memory, recollection. To use layers to make it a challenge to separate memory from lived experience; a sense of obscuring/revealing occurs.
    • To deal with the space between objective and subjective ideas of landscape, operating in a middle-ground that provides tension; an engagement with interstitial space.
    • To reference our strange reality we’re, where TV informs our memory of real places and events. To manipulate the scripted, the cultural and the real.
    • To suggest that 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.
    • To produce images that act as sites of activity and archaeology.
    • To investigate ways of representing how fantasy-Hollywood happened in real space.

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Video

I produced several video art pieces by synthesizing residency, advisor and mentor feedback on the original set of oscillating videos I presented in spring.  The video work made tremendous headway and brought a whole new vitality to The Cascade that has become indispensable to the final project. I made an effort to stay at a critical distance from the exactness of film, instead embracing the mosaic/montage flavor of television and deeper issues of television theory.

Major pieces:

  • So I Asked…
  • Elevator (Finding a Way out of Here, I Hope)
  • Encounter
  • Rental (Requesting Backup)

Rough Cuts:
Early, in-progress drafts which will not be shown at the residency.

  • Ambush
  • Untitled (Car Chase)

I also produced a number of side experiments leading up to the formal video pieces, to investigate formatting, aesthetic relationships and the language of digital elastic-space. They were useful in working out technical details and conceptual rhythm.

Another completed side video, Opening, was a useful foray into overlaying multiple opening credit sequences with painterly flavor, guided partly by feedback from the residency where some viewers suggested trying a literal method of building out the physical parts of a television program. My mentor and I ultimately decided the video was a useful exercise, but not a specifically relevant part of The Cascade, especially when ranked next to the other videos.

Video Display

At the start of the semester, the exhibition format of the videos was literally up in the air—they could have taken nearly any form, from wall projections to tablet playlists. My mentor suggested that I make critical decisions about the final installation format, in order to better work with, and serve, the videos as they are produced. Knowing how they will be engaged, and in what scale, affects viewer response and even production. I comment on this decision in several other parts of this summary, but in short, television will be shown on television.

Finished piece.

Finished piece.

Painting

I need several paintings to form a counterpoint to the digital work and I completed the first in the series last semester. This semester, I finished Roy and the Mojave Subsequence, another 38” x 50” work on Lenox 100 cotton paper, composed of layers of acrylic, watercolor and ink.  

The painting collapses time and a sequence of (potentially) interrelated events that play out in a dramatic urban-desert landscape. There is a sense of anxiety and unreliability as planar intrusions fracture to suggest various moments witnessed simultaneously. I consciously played with establishing shots used in television to indicate location, and I gave critical consideration to the migration of work between painting and digital. When I asked myself what happens in this transitional state, I found there are fascinating ways of expressing ‘digitality’ through the classic ‘screen’ of paint. Paint even made it possible to show a collision that seemed too artificial or noisy in a completely digital context.

During the residency, 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 had this in mind when further investigating landscape repopulation.

My students also gave candid responses to the work as it developed. Some suggested a sense of pervading violence—the car culture of Los Angeles and its hurtle toward physical ruin. Others suggested it captured a rather direct sense of our lived, real space—where industry and accident fuse with geology. All of them gathered a saturated sense of Hollywood. Thanks to the specificity of television, friends who grew up in the same region instantly recognized and cohered an understanding of televisual space-place and its connection to Hollywood memory.

I have also begun work on a third painting, which engages aerospace. I may proceed quickly enough to bring it to the residency, but it is currently in early stages.

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Digital Images

I produced a number of straight screen caps this semester—so many that I have not documented them all on The Cascade sandbox blog. The stills were worked into stop-action sequences, used as stand-alone works, or folded into the View-Master slides. I also produced several new sequences of digital images, abandoning the printmaking and drawing intrusions that populated earlier stills. Selected pieces can be seen in the “gallery” section of my blog.

I also produced a number of stills taken from the video pieces, which added a new dimension to the project.
Interactive

The interactive component underwent major changes this semester. Prior, I had an overwhelming list of possible formats—everything from websites and phone apps to interactive prints on paper (like QR codes). I did some conceptual housekeeping, sweeping away techniques that did not directly communicate my concept and its ties to televisual experience.

Instead, I am producing a series of 2D and 3D View-Master reels, which provide a semi-narrative of linked slides. My reasoning (mentor-approved!):

  • The View-Master format provides a relevant, interactive method of negotiating the digital stills. Using an app, website, Processing/Arduino or specifically electronic angle may have pushed the content and concept too far away from televisual language (though they are options for future work).
  • View-Masters have been a popular way of dimensionalizing television, media and even landscape/vacation photography (site as participatory culture) for a number of years, especially during the 60s, 70s and 80s (the related period of TV I’m working with). They may also suggest nostalgia, which is fine, but they are not completely rooted in it as they are still actively produced and consumed.
  • It provides a method of interaction that speaks to the original, semi-narrative forms of the reels themselves (and to my video works).
  • It breaks the digital stills away from a simple life on paper
  • It provides an opportunity to work with micro-narratives, of archival considerations, where reels contain sub-groupings of space, event or specific categories of visual information.

I will have three of the 2D reels and two View-Masters at the residency:

  • Foothill Incident
  • Mojave Superchase
  • First Responder

I am treating each reel as part of the installation, but also as a self-contained work. 

Major Decisions

I had several major decisions to make, in order to direct my final thesis work:

  • I narrowed down my list of television programs. Hundreds of programs were filmed in the area; an overwhelming list of sources. To make matters worse, every viewer suggested their own favorite shows, stretching the list farther. Early in my first mentor meeting, Kevin asked me why I had chosen Emergency! (an admittedly obscure reference). In answering his question, I also answered broader questions related to which programs I was using, why I used them, and which would be allowed to participate in The Cascade (see mentor report: https://renadamsmfa.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/first-mentor-meeting/ and https://renadamsmfa.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/major-decisions-the-narrow-way/.I laid out ground rules for the incorporation process:

1.) They had to be filmed in Los Angeles County during the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s (the heyday of LA County as the seat of American television).

2.) They had to be programs I had originally watched in their first (or partial first) run, or in syndication during those same decades (in-context viewing).

3.) They had to offer some kind of iconographic contribution to the project; the “paramedics” or the “detectives,” yellows or blues, etc…

4.) They had to be dramas (I excised sitcoms, cowboy serials and other programs early on, as the language is quite different–though I can see returning to investigate these genres in the future).

5.) They had to be programs I had actually enjoyed watching, or felt some obsessive compulsion to engage with. This is why, for example, Airwolf isn’t on the list. I frankly didn’t like it. This is important for the earnest angle, which leaves sarcastic critique at the door.

6.) It had to be a distilled, representative array, including highly recognizable works paired with obscure memory-traces (a la Douglas Gordon, Renee Green).

  • I finalized the interactive format: stereoscopy / View-Master, which folds nicely into the commodification of television and landscape, and also functions as a sufficient interactive, digital-bridging element.
    • I also have a backup, in the event response at the residency does not find the View-Masters compelling. Digital images can alternately be shown as looping, semi-static sequences on digital frames.
  • I finalized/narrowed video art format
    • The videos are sticking to a 1-6 minute time frame (most are 2:30, the average length of a television drama lead-in before the credits).
    • Videos are to be presented on television screens, with one screen per video. In the event of space limitation, the display can be limited to 1-3 televisions, cycling through the videos as if displaying timed programming.
      • The video display has been narrowed down from a wild list of on-site projections, digital photo frames, and room-filling environmental shifts to a single monitor or system of multiple monitors which play the videos with out-loud audio on the main display. During the last residency I found viewers were split 50/50 on reception of the videos on a large scale or more intimate size. The larger scale referenced the black box of cinema and filmic language. The smaller scale referenced television. While it would be interesting to construct an enter-able televisual space, with multiple projections in a darkened room, I found that referencing television via the televisual screen makes the most sense, especially the more I’ve dug in to the differences between television theory and cinematic theory. The black box of cinema expects the viewer to sit down and focus on the language of film, much like the novel, which restrains, constrains and uses its own cultivated language–characters and locations are fully rendered in a lengthier window of time than your average television episode, yet it has a much shorter expanse in which to develop virtual relationships than a 24-episode TV season. It’s more complex than this, but in a nutshell, cinema is over-arching, encompassing. Television is episodic, fleeting, but builds a dynamic mosaic for interpretation. We engage with TV on different days, in different moods–but film is meant to be consumed in one shot, one specific length.
      • Television is a “white box” medium which co-exists in our personal, social and lived-in spaces. We don’t turn the lights down (unless we’re watching a filmic experience on television) to engage with it. Instead, TV occupies a light, lively room. We may pass in front of the box, doing chores, talking, temporarily engaging the screen, getting wrapped up in bursts of sound, snippets of dialogue… it is a medium of oral tradition, of mosaic image-memory, of fragmentary, flowing storytelling. It occupies more hours with us in our physical geographies, in our relationship to friends and family in location-situated space.

Abandoned Paths
I received a number of formatting suggestions, which informed my final choices. However, there were a few approaches that were attempted and set aside:

  • Print on large paper to test the effect of scale on the viewer’s ability to enter ambiguous space.
    • The painting satisfies the classic screen, past-present-future collapse on paper and offers a similar sense of ambiguous space. The digital images were better received as moving images or as backlit digital components, when viewed in context with the painting. I am therefore relegating digital images on paper to future versions of the project, or side projects.
  • Print many small versions of the digital images and/or try a less modest installation.
    • Will definitely do this for a future version, or adaptation of the project, but the main project is best served by addressing paint, video and digital as manipulation. The three-part installation is growing immodest already. J
  • Try displaying video on cathode TVs.
    • Tried it. Relates too directly to antique, retro or ‘old school’ considerations, making the work more specifically nostalgic or sentimental, even potentially sarcastic, as we have mostly abandoned that technology. Instead, the video art will be shown on what we currently recognize as television in our context, making the work more about re-context in the now, rather than nostalgic, or tease-worthy, retro imaging.
  • Try videos or stills in digital photo frames.
    • This is still a compelling back-up option, as it allows multiple stills to cycle effectively, but I bumped it in favor of the View-Master, which allows a level of interaction by the viewer that the frames do not. If the View-Masters are poorly received in January, I will return to this option.
  • Panoramic horizons refer to cinema, rectangles to television.
    • This was more of an observation made during the last residency, and with deeper consideration on my part, I decided to relegate the widest horizons to a future project, instead choosing to stick with television reference for conceptual reasons.

Mentor

My mentor this semester was Kevin McCoy, of the new media duo, Jennifer & Kevin McCoy. Kevin was consistently helpful, providing clear, conceptual insight into the project and its realization—always able to see right to the core of the idea. He provided direction on which aspects were working and which were leading the wrong way, formally and intellectually, and his insight and familiarity with new media (and other artists I’ve been studying) was indispensable.

Kevin was pivotal in encouraging me to seriously refine and direct the video installation, pulling me out of the ‘stuck in with too many display options’ whirlpool. We worked through the details of the video pieces and the direction of the View-Master reels, philosophically, technically and conceptually. He was also a font of useful information, recommending artists, pieces and projects to consider in relation to my own work.

Since Kevin has worked with televisual material before, he was able to provide critical, experiential responses to each situation. In short, Kevin made the refinement of my multi-part thesis possible. We were able to have enriching conceptual discussions that tied nicely into the more physical aspects of the work. Kevin also took the time to keep up with my blog and to read most of my papers, which informed his response to the work.

I have detailed each of our meetings on the blog:

Meeting #1 – https://renadamsmfa.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/first-mentor-meeting/
Meeting #2 – https://renadamsmfa.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/major-decisions-the-narrow-way/
Meeting #3 – https://renadamsmfa.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/third-mentor-meeting/
Meeting #4 – will happen in December

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Direction of work in Semester 4

Final Videos

As part of my thesis refinement, I drew up a blueprint of additional videos I plan to produce, to round out the virtual programming—treating each as a self-contained work of art. These videos will work with my existing sense of place, dominant iconography and televisual tropes/situations. Some of the pieces included in the timeline (working titles only): Secret Air Base, Auto Accident, Car Chase, Desert Fire, Sniper, Military Action.

Final Paintings

Had originally intended 5 paintings in the series, expecting only or two to be exhibited in the Cambridge show. I will aim for at least two more in semester 4, rounding the total to 4. The third painting has already begin, related to aerospace.

View-Master Reels

I will be digging deeply into the production of 3D reels and additional 2D reels, working with digital images and screen caps. Target number of reels currently undecided.
Research

Topics included, but were not limited to:

The Celestial Jukebox

  • Remix, appropriation, sampling, recombination, mashups, plagiarism.
  • Remix culture and its relation to Information Age concerns.
  • Remix and database logic, open-source and collaborative remix in digital systems.
  • Relevant artists: DJ Spooky (Paul Miller), Eduardo Navas, Douglas Gordon, Jennifer & Kevin McCoy, Anthony Discenza, Claudia X. Valdes, Cory Arcangel.
  • Fan culture
  • Contemporary paradigm shift—read, write, read/write culture replacing old models of strict ownership and idea theft.

Television Theory

  • The nature of televisual language, television as medium, television as critical investigation.
  • Televisual impact on daily life, socialization of the medium, domesticity.
  • Television history (and subsequent conceptual changes).
  • White box medium. Fundamental differences between cinema and television.
  • Television as oral tradition, mosaic, montage.
  • 1970s and 1980s television – common tropes, heroism of middle class and underdogs, valorization of civil servants. Television formula, structure.
  • Nature of channel surfing, commercial breaks and program shifts as form of remix, rapid-fire editing, pause and re-context.
  • Televisual impact on memory, cultural history, social roles and understanding.
  • Television as vital component of 20th century thought and as transitional 21st century medium embodying Postmodern and Information Age collaborative flux.
  • America packaged, presented, distributed to the world (and itself) via television.
  • Understanding or constructing knowledge and mythology of place by televisual viewing.
  • Fan culture as expression of subjugated ‘other.’ Fan culture collaborative research.

Video Structure

  • Loops, patterns, anti-narrative, semi-narrative in video art
  • Semantic webs
  • Using stills within motion
  • The “third meaning” and its application to video art (Barthes)
  • Relevant artists: Zbigniew Rybczyński, Dziga Vertov, Anthony Discenza, Len Lye, Maya Deren, Tamás Waliczky, Cory Arcangel, Chris Marker.

Memory

  • Critical modes of memory. Process of memorization and recall.
  • Scientific and psychological understanding.
  • Memory as abstract attachment, method of processing.
  • Memory as incomplete, truncated, montaged, mosaic, relational form.
  • Memory through media, memory of television (and cinema) blended with memories of the ‘real,’ deeper considerations of whether memory of fictional media is real in itself—questions of the real, artificial, experienced and implied.
  • Mediated memory and cultural, personal, historical understanding.
  • Cultural memory, social memory, regional collaborative memory.
  • Televisual memory carried within television programming itself, television cannibalizing its own past. Re-runs, remakes, revisitations.
  • Déjà vu. Haunting, specters, information and media haunting. Re-enactment, re-enactors.

Landscape

I continued research into this broad category by digging into sub-categories like:

  • landscape and memory
  • landscape and cultural identity, political power, social leverage
  • landscape as identity, nationalist ideal
  • 16th century landscape paintings


New Media

I continued investigation into new media and interdisciplinary modes of thinking. Additional sub-categories included digital imaging and questions of remix and authenticity, new media installations, web objects, games and music videos.


Individual Programs

I also did specific research into individual television programs, including documentary material related to filming locations, personal accounts of media impact, etc.
Visual Research Archive

http://www.pinterest.com/renadamsart/research-board-residency-3/

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