The Joy of Critique

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One of my favorite aspects of being in an MFA program was the intense, expansive, intellectual dialogue I had with my peers–the sense of being refined and targeted, while yet embracing a try-anything, consider-everything philosophy. Nothing was ridiculous. We vetted wrong-way turns, but followed wild-eyed leads–referencing French philosophers alongside MTV, McDonald’s, art theorists, commercials, physics and cat videos. The rich, colorful field of human cultural existence was ripe for analysis and re-context.

Upon graduation, it stopped.

Or, rather, the requirement to attend a specific critique space on a given day, stopped.

We moved into new phases. Intellectual discussion no longer fell easily into the moment, ready to tumble into a circle of metal folding chairs, or float above-head in a coffee house or bar. The critique space became elusive, as desirous a soul mate (possibly just as mythical). The critique itself, the stuff of legends, gradually fading, as all memories do, into a milieu of crystallized details and airbrushed embellishments…

So I went on the hunt.

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Because many of us lived far from our program, we inevitably (and logically) returned to our pre-MFA spaces. Separated. Getting minds together locally has been more of a challenge, though not impossible, and my approach to the critique has turned into a process unto itself. I’ve been dogged about pursuing it–a great hunter of fruitful moments. Pursuer of intelligent feedback.

It’s become a process of hunting, gathering in itself… a system of savoring each precious exchange, of finding and reaping the right connections.

hefoundnothing_sm

“He Found Nothing,” 2016. Ren Adams. Experimental photography (manual and digital glitch). 9-piece installation.

Thus, I rounded up selected peers and colleagues. It was a lot of work to arrange, but the payoff was ultimately worth it. And I’ll keep pursuing these exchanges in the future.

Here are few highlights from their analysis of Whitespace-Bluespace – Televisual Memory and the Implied Catastrophe:

  • The videos are powerful without sound, as they leave the viewer mired in uncertainty; they leave more to analysis and inference than the Cascade videos did. They work effectively with the ambiguous content present in the stills.
  • There is a tension between specificity and anonymity, detail and abstraction, that suspends the viewer in an indeterminate space, like the territory of memory (itself transient, unstable) and the self-changing landscape of trauma; the place between action and inaction.
  • Different viewers were able to connect dots differently, some making good use of their storytelling minds to construct a system of events that seemed plausible. Some felt they simply *must* make sense of the vignettes they encountered–an ultimately pleasurable, if obsessive, endeavor.
  • Most viewers found themselves hunting (enjoyably) for the resolution to the implied events. Others enjoyed being mired in the confusion, knowing something had happened and was going to happen soon–but finding themselves looked into a certain interpretive pause within the frame.
  • Several viewers felt the desire to rearrange the image-cells both physically and digitally. What happens when the viewer is allowed to participate in the suggestion of before and after? How does it change the viewer’s engagement to the characters, their moments, the potentials? Can the images be mounted on physical surfaces that allow user participation?
  • The multimedia environment allowed viewers to access the content from various angles, gaining insight into the total sequence of implied catastrophes by combining clues like puzzle pieces.
  • Individual image-moments are powerful, fully present, often disturbing. The images are engaging and speak to both to television and art history.
  • Some individuals preferred the heavier abstraction, others found the newly formed characters more compelling. Most indicated they found the interaction (and tension) between specificity and abstraction to be a fertile, fascinating and important space.
  • Good use of digital glitch proved very effective for the viewer (as in The Extended Agony of Finding Out…). Glitch becomes a tool capable of obfuscation as easily as it emphasizes that which is already painfully clear.
  • The grids are very effective. They allow both linear and sampled viewing–viewers can choose to read them cell-by-cell, or bounce from one moment to the next, dancing within the grid shape. The grids themselves suggest television screens.
  • The silent videos pick up the “soundtrack” of ambient noise around them. During the exhibition opening, my colleague Nancy Meyer suggested the melancholy music performed by Megan meshed perfectly with the videos.
  • There is a sense of voyeurism that’s unsettling, perfectly in step with the obsessive excavation. We enter a space, especially in the installed version, where we’ve run across material we’re not sure we are allowed to see. We view, consume and analyze moments that seem private, sneaky, perverse in a sense. Not unlike the voyeuristic consumption of television itself.
  • Primacy and an odd lack of privacy abound.
  • The images are soft, painterly. Pixels are allowed to be themselves.
  • View-Masters allow for a contained, suggestive cycle that denies resolution.
  • “The Extended Agony of Finding Out,” is a strong cornerstone piece–a good introduction to the body of work.
  • “When I Looked Through You,” suggested Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Theaters–the form and photographing of screens especially.
  • The blog essays nicely supplement the body of work
  • Perhaps monitors can make the distinction between different models of making. Perhaps blurring the line more could be interesting?
  • Matte art paper good choice
  • Do they need to be printed on paper at all (can they exist as just View-Masters?) vs. printed on paper is the best choice; especially matte, as it freezes the frames and gives raw edges.
  • Framing might not be problematic, even though I thought it would kill the pieces. Consider clean plexi and wall, with L-hooks.
  • What if I sandwiched small pieces under one large sheet of plexi, like multiple windows on a monitor?
  • A brilliant observation by Kiera Reese: “White is easy to see as memory. Blue-artifact of process, digital/analogue maybe? Artificial as pigment, natural as sky -the personal aspects of this project feel more evident in the writing and perhaps the printmaking. -cell phone captures.”
  • Atemporality, a juxtaposition of past and present.
  • Love the “almost” aspect of the images. Suspended moments. From Kiera: “I like to think of that as an anti-decisive moment in my own work for photo history purposes, but it feels different in your work I think because of the film aspect. The photo-taking seems more like a means to an end than an actual interest in photography, which makes perfect sense in this body of work.”
  • Images with double image/drag affect provide the sensation of something slipping from grasp.
  • Ones with text feel a little out of place with the rest.
  • What happens if I separate the colors in the physical presentation, like printed on separate transparent layers or two separate projectors.
  • It would be fascinating/compelling to somehow experience immersion in all 23,000+ images.

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Their analysis helped strengthen my understanding of what the series was doing, pointed out new potential for further development, and helped me refine areas that hadn’t been fully developed. This is the joy of critique. It is valuable. Precious. Treasure it. Seek it out. Never let it go.

I want to personally thank: Kiera Reese, Allison Conley, Sean Stewart, Nancy Meyer, Cindi Gaudette, Susan D. Hopp, Joshua Sevits, Les Ann Holland, Adria Crossen Davis, John Kramer, Carol Felley, and Kong (the awesome gallery assistant at Butte College). Your feedback and analysis are much appreciated. Check out my links page to view (most of) their portfolios.

 

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5 thoughts on “The Joy of Critique

    1. plasticpumpkin Post author

      Your feedback was crucially important, Kiera. I so wish you could have seen the installation in person. You’ve given me a lot of material to work with for the future direction of this body of work as well. 🙂

      Reply
  1. Cindi Gaudette

    Not sure if you’ll get this….but loved the post. As you know, the direction of this body of work is evidence of your growth and am excited about watching you and the work unfold and continue to become more sophisticated. ❤

    Reply

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