Author Archives: plasticpumpkin

About plasticpumpkin

Ren Adams. New media artist (sound, digital, video, hybrid), printmaker, painter. MFA in Visual Art from Lesley University College of Art and Design. BFA from the University of New Mexico. Native of Southern California.

In this Twilight Sleep – Artist Statement (payload delivery, complete)

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Video still

As I mentioned in this post and this post, I’m working on a multi-part project for the upcoming exhibition: Axis Mundi: the Crucial Role of the Artist in the Age of the Collapsing Global Organism, which opens in September. My video and View-Master installation is part of the Environmental Melancholia wing (more completely explained here), so my artist statement does not provide extensive framework for the big picture “environmental melancholia” theme. The exhibition space and catalog will establish these broader definitions and orientations. Instead, my statement addresses my specific project and its relation to Environmental Melancholia.


 

Artist Statement
In This Twilight Sleep

As our living world collapses into infirmity, dying slowly, dying suddenly—we are surrounded by a seemingly endless cycle of loss most are powerless to mourn. In our paralysis, we turn to media for escape—but that route is haunted. Pervasive media, like television, is an accidental eyewitness, a record of our imprint on the planet. It’s a virtual database of environments ‘caught’ tangentially on tape; an ‘archive’ of our former (changing) landscape exists within the very media we use for avoidance.

Yet, the environment is rarely the subject of TV programming. The land is transient, offhandedly preserved—relegated to the background of a consumable program, itself destined for obscurity. Thus excavating the environment from the backdrop of Cold War television reinforces both the fleeting, secondary representation of landscape, and the notion of environment as ‘accessory’ to human story. This ‘accessorizing’ is part of our misery.

In this Twilight Sleep is a series of linked, looping ‘episodes’ that capture this fading fingerprint, as if recalling the image in perpetuity can somehow mourn and undo human-induced calamity. Using experimental photography and glitch to suggest the partially preserved and the mostly lost, I emphasize the distance between actual loss and our inability to process (or avoid) it. Videos are composed of reanimated, mutated stills extracted from television with a cell phone. This reanimation appropriates life, after the landscape has died. The corresponding Lovely… View-Master set expands this melancholic TV block by serving as memento mori. Suggesting old View-Master reels of postcard locations, my reels are souvenirs of a lost landscape; ruin and absence the only remaining commodity.  Together, they are lamentations; a virtual tourism of a seemingly unstoppable end.


 

In This Twilight Sleep

A working still from one of my video episodes

I’m in the throes of working on an experimental video project (and View-Master series) for AXIS MUNDI: The Crucial Role of the Artist in the Age of the Collapsing Global Organism. 

You can read more about the group exhibition and the concept behind Axis Mundi  in this post, including my overall intent.

As I mention in the above link, I’ve turned again to TV to tap into a haunted and melancholic space; the terrain of television becomes an accidental eyewitness to human-induced global catastrophe even as we practice a stubborn and complicated mix of intentioned forgetting and paralytic grief. We’re normalizing global calamity (as a shifting baseline) with each successive generation and our constantly and endlessly distorted sense of the original,  natural environment is the stuff of theses (and nightmares).

I’ve been researching, planning, and producing work for the project since spring, and the moving parts are finally taking shape.

Research, as always, is vital to both idea and image development in my work. In addition to researching environmental melancholia (the category my pieces fit), I’ve also been digging into notions of ruin, the myth of apathy, environmental amnesia, environmental generational amnesia, absence, presence and disappearance. If you’re interested in viewing or mining my research, my bibliography is available here: https://renadamsmfa.wordpress.com/bibliography-fall-2013/ – yes, I know the link says 2013, but it’s current (and also includes research for the other series I’m working on, Channeling – Televisual Memory and Media Seance).

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Video still from one of the episodes (currently untitled). The bodies provide a televisual grounding point (we’re watching a show, but zooming in on the ignored background).

 

The process? Experimental photography. Glitch. Video. View-Masters. These are my alchemical tools. My studio-lab is bubbling with 50 beakers of mourning and mayhem. Videos are coming alive on the proverbial laboratory table and glitched pixels are flying.

Using my obsessive hunt-and-gather image harvesting approach (commonplace camera, flat television screen), I combine experimental photographs into short videos, which are then linked into a ‘television programming’ structure. The videos then fold one ‘episode’ into the next, punctuated by dark, end-stop commercials (more on that in a future post). The videos are currently silent, but I am experimenting with several possible soundtracks (including a melancholy drone).

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Video still

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Video still

And by “television programming structure,” I mean I’m developing a pseudo television listing, like a standard prime time station block. Think of “Must See TV” or “Adult Swim,” where a lineup of carefully slotted programs play out over a multi-hour chunk, often with a thematic or intentioned purpose.

Instead of popular sitcoms or adult-oriented cartoons, my haunted block programming (In this Twilight Sleep) will address the melancholy of Cold War television as accidental eyewitness to a fragile, tangential and rapidly eroding environmental condition. The benchmark once set as our ‘normal environment’ in these older media backgrounds has already shifted since their original filming, just as they changed from what each previous generation also experienced as ‘normal.’

 

The overall programming block piece, In This Twilight Sleep, will ultimately be a chain of linked videos, each serving as an ‘episode’ from a different implied and melancholic ‘program.’ Each ‘episode’ will therefore be carefully slotted, plotted and designed to contribute to an overall sense of erosion and distance, complicity and helplessness, mourning and exhaustion.

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Conceptualizing “In this Twilight Sleep.”

Episodes play out like a distorted, amnesia-inflected prime time lineup, punctuated by dark, anxious ‘commercial’ strings. Each episode corresponds to an aspect of the fading, the mostly lost, the elusive and the eroded.

But the videos are not the only component. I’m also developing a set of View-Master reels, the Lovely… series, which will amplify and expand aspects of the video installation.

Most of us are familiar with View-Masters as a cool, collectible extension of beloved movies and TV shows; neat, interactive kid’s stuff. View-Masters were originally marketed to adults as an extension of literal and armchair tourism (a convenient, commercialized consumption of place and space). Inheriting the 19th century tradition of stereoscopic travel photography (often hand-in-hand with manifest destiny and expansionist ideals), the early 20th century saw a boon in View-Master reels meant for discerning travelers. You visit a place. You bring back souvenirs. You experience a permanent, repeat simulacrum of the original experience via media, via product, via self-haunting cycle.

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One of many vintage travel reels I’m researching for the Lovely… pieces.

My Lovely… series suggests View-Master reels of postcard locations, and their tendency to commodify nature as a fetishized and ownable experience. Also using the experimental photographs I extract from television, I compose reels that serve as souvenirs of a destroyed landscape; ruin and absence the only remaining commodity.  The Lovely… souvenirs are lamentations; a virtual tourism of the end. Combined with the videos, it’s a chorus that features an eroded and unstable space, suggesting the destruction of the site and the eventual decay of the very media that preserved its accidental memory.

More on the Lovely… reels in coming posts.

 

As most of my work deals with the literal, visual and conceptual impact of televisual media on our sense of self and location, mining the language of television offers the perfect kind of elusive, yet pervasive, space of confused mourning. Television thus becomes both method of escape and unintentional, archival monument. Cold War programming even functions as an early form of Google Street View; a proto-virtual database of environments ‘caught’ tangentially on tape. The actual footage becomes semi-documentary; an ‘archive’ of our former landscape exists within the very media we use for avoidance. As I mentioned earlier, the former landscape represented in the original television footage is itself already the ‘former’ environment of an endless string of healthier, better times.

Yet, the environment itself is rarely the subject of television programming. The land is transient, offhandedly preserved—it’s only held in regard by being the background of a consumable program, itself destined for obscurity. Thus excavating and mutating found environments from the backdrop of Cold War television reinforces both the fleeting, non-central representation of landscape, and the notion of environment as “accessory” to human story.

And we’ve been accessorizing our natural environment for centuries, justifying it in the name of religion, industry, money, triumph, politics, power, progress… An androcentric view has already displaced and subsumed other species, other spaces, the health and vitality of entire ecosystems…

 

That our only representation or understanding of some locations might come through television, itself unstable and fading, is another brick in the wall of mourning.

My TV programming also suggests that even when we try to escape facing (and therefore mourning and processing) the nature of human-induced calamity, or when we are unintentionally affected by environmental amnesia: on one level, we can only pay attention when it’s on a screen.

We can only see the simulacrum.

We have already forgotten what has not even arrived.

 

2017-06-14 19.03.59

Video still

Playlisting – The Art of Process

“The Language of Summoning.” 2016. Panel from triptych.

I studied music extensively for years, and in my first-first life (the phase before I majored in English, before I returned for my BFA and MFA in visual art), I thought for sure I’d be a studio musician. A female trumpet-player-keyboardist who didn’t succumb to babies and family and rote domesticity over a prominent role in male-dominated studio music circles. I planned to attend USC, had funding in place–then changed my mind and followed visual art and literature at Berkeley (though I still eschewed domesticity). Because I’m also Indiana Jones, rolling under that slamming stone door, whip in hand.

But the vitality, the flow, the importance of music has never left my studio.

My mono, single-speaker tape recorder was either this model, or very close to it. It was a late 70s device, purchased from K-Mart and first used by my parents, later gifted to me.

 

Ahhh, the classic red K-Mart KMC tapes.

My interdisciplinary work often includes experimental audio and sound. I’ve been sampling, remixing and building audio since I was a kid with cheap K-mart cassettes and a single-speaker tape recorder, capturing audio from the television and playing it back on my parents’ hifi while another TV show played in the background, re-recording the real-time dub on another receiver. The possibilities, layers, and outputs were endless, resurfacing even now in recent projects. The urge to manipulate and receive, polish and process–all tied to a strong audio core. All tied to sound and music.

It doesn’t surprise me that music is crucial to each body of work I develop.

More than just a studio soundtrack, far from “noise” filling voidspace as I work, music, audio and sound play fundamental roles in every step of my studio practice. I carefully construct playlists before I begin work on a given series, allowing the list to mutate and evolve with the project.

It’s not about setting the mood or getting into “the zone” via music. It’s about deep, conceptual and intellectual analysis of each track, each moment, each lyric or note–fitting and associating strings of thought, each delicate audio mark folding into the next, participating in a cross-media dialogue that resonates with the visual art, contributes to it, alters its surface. The playlist construction phase is a contemplative space, speaking to the theory, research and writing that are also done beforehand (and simultaneously) as the new project develops.

Taking the time to produce a playlist allows me to really get inside my project, inside the philosophy that makes it vital (for me). It allows me to refine what I see as the body, the shape, the tone, the voice of a given series.

Each playlist echoes, contributes to, informs, and is itself informed by its corresponding visual series. In the space of sound, I find resolution, direction, clarity, and compliment, even with work that’s intentionally open-ended, irresolute, or defiant against narrative closure. I learn more about my project through this process, through the act of hunting, acquiring and remixing strands of musical thought.

Individual frame from the triptych, “The Language of Summoning,” 2016.

Even the order of the tracks is important. They are carefully selected and placed, flowing one into another. These playlists are not made to impress.  They are meant to investigate, expand, amplify and attend to their corresponding bodies of work. Perhaps they’re even inseparable from the work on some level.

Sometimes the lists are awkward, strange, predictable, surprising… but they’re always earnest. I don’t care if a track is unpopular, wildly timeless or critically irrelevant–each is relevant to my process, to a given moment, a given fold. 

Yes, there are some overlaps. Certain tracks find their way onto the next list, especially when projects are close-heeled. This cross-pollination is often evident in the work itself; relationships between idea, color, form, process, you name it. It’s no accident. I allow it to be.

Playlists themselves are a manifestation of our filter bubble, that celestial-jukebox-global-DJ-remix attitude; hacking, splicing, associating and folding source material into new output… the flexible nature of playlisting is how I work in other media!

A sampling of playlists for recent bodies of work:

Poppy Transitory / Poppy Receding:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/223gordp4up2qxbkiru2pfmfa/playlist/7DIzme2MhEDZKIrLjth9Y8

Channeling – Televisual Memory and Media Seance (early stages, still taking form)

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/223gordp4up2qxbkiru2pfmfa/playlist/56N3aH7VQTVLm9ZvcOHzWB

In this Twilight Sleep (Axis Mundi project) (still taking form)

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/223gordp4up2qxbkiru2pfmfa/playlist/0uPwgeGRYW5xXpri6bTaUW

Sonny Could Not (Whitespace-Bluespace – Televisual Memory and the Implied Catastrophe) – I still find this list is mutating

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/223gordp4up2qxbkiru2pfmfa/playlist/4dXUqJVatJ3fb2InINup0s

The Cascade – Moments in the Televisual Desert:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/223gordp4up2qxbkiru2pfmfa/playlist/0GXRnkxospCVnCq7nouDsa

Axis Mundi is Coming

Video still from rough cut for Axis Mundi

I was invited to submit a project proposal for an upcoming multi-venue exhibition curated and coordinated by Regan Rosburg, Adam Gordon, Tracy Tomko and Alvin Gregorio:

AXIS MUNDI:
The Crucial Role of the Artist in the Age of the Collapsing Global Organism

The exhibition will feature 20 artists, half of which are local to Denver (the project is part of the Biennial of the Americas)–and the other half are national and international contributors.

I am producing experimental video pieces and a suite of View-Masters for the exhibition and I’ll be sharing process, ideas and project shots here on my blog. The other artists are working in photography, video, full-length film, painting, sculpture, recycled plastics, bioluminescent algae, DNA, petroleum distillates, deceased animals, public murals, and natural objects. I can’t wait to see each artist’s response to the project’s conceptual framework.

A little background on the exhibition/project (from the prospectus):

Despite the brevity of our lifespans, humans collectively are changing the face, and fate, of the planet’s species. Be it runaway pollution, our contribution to rising global temperatures, or the fervent gobbling of resources to feed our manic hunger for “progress,” we are manipulating the efficient ecological balance that took millions of years to evolve. Worldwide, the scientists unite in agreement on the causes of climate change. Humans witness changes in their backyards, while millions of voiceless plants and animals succumb to changes beyond their evolved adaptability.

As the situation progresses, clearly the term “climate change” is not large enough to encapsulate the multi-dimensional and far-reaching impacts of humans on Earth. James Lovelock created the hypothesis of Gaia: that the living and non-living components of Earth function as a single living organism. The organism self-regulates in order to maintain a healthy balance, suitable for sustaining its life. In essence, all actions on Earth (no matter how small) can affect the organism as a whole.

If Lovelock’s hypothesis is applied to the calamities of today, Gaia is sick. Her immune system is compromised. Her body is shaking and whipping about with storms, fires and droughts. Her blood has filled with oil and trash, and her lungs with billowing plumes of burning fossils. Her skin crawls with machines that dig, cut, squeeze, and strangle. She resembles a child in a hallucinatory, feverous fit of delirium. In the Gaia model, humans are the mutant cells of a collective cancerous tumor that has metastasized in the global body.

What can be done? It is apparent that we have enough information, and still nothing changes. Why? What is the human psychological block that keeps us on a path towards global eco-suicide? Where does one put the pain, when the pain is relentless? What actions can be taken, when everyone knows they are partially to blame? What does it matter?

Axis Mundi addresses the psychology behind these issues. The aim is to expose hidden motivations, unspoken shame, un-mourned losses and forgotten love for our world. The aim is also to evoke awareness, personal or otherwise.

Axis Mundi will explore and expand upon three crucial, contributing, interconnected aspects of the current crisis: Environmental Melancholia, Collective Social Mania, and Biophilia.  The first two aspects are connected in a hedonic loop of capitalism and buyers remorse. The last plays a crucial role in re-establishing our instinct to protect that which we have co-evolved alongside and are genetically predisposed to love: The Earth.

 

Another still from a working video I am developing for the exhibition

For this project, the artists were asked to develop work within one of three categories: environmental melancholia, collective social mania, and BiophiliaReading the prospectus sparked a flood of ideas and I found the first two categories the most relevant and fertile for my method and methodology. The curators selected my proposal for the environmental melancholia category, so my project will be developed within this framework:

  1. Environmental Melancholia: the pathology of being melancholic about the collapse of the environment.

    This happens when “deaths” around the world (global or local) are not properly mourned because 1) time is not given to properly mourn the losses 2) the losses are abstract due to sheer enormity (example: the melting of glaciers, the collapse of bee colonies world-wide, or the massive deforestation of the Amazon), or 3) when the losses are abstract due to overlapping, continuous events (an oil spill one day, a flood the next, etc).

    When one turns on the TV or log onto the Internet, the amount of horrific and saddening images he sees make him have an emotional response of overwhelming, unarticulated sadness. When the dead bodies, so to speak, are not buried, he or she has no symbolic release of those he or she has lost. Essentially, those deaths cannot be mourned, so the person becomes melancholic. Conversely, if he or she has a symbol or symbolic action that can represent that loss, and is able to grieve, then this allows for healthy mourning.

    Artworks in this section must address melancholia and/or mourning. For more information on this topic, please read “Environmental Melancholia” or “The Myth of Apathy” by Renee Lertzman.

Our world is on fire… video still from rough cut in progress

 

Excerpts from my project proposal:

Background: The Absurd (Necessity) of Mediating Grief

Mourning is a complicated, abstract process, no matter the focus. Even grappling with the passage of individuals presents a nearly insurmountable gulf—the distance between specific loss, ongoing post-loss reality, and our ability to process such loss effectively.  In our attempts to mediate the space of grief—flowers, cards, and condolences become the trappings of a cultural process of mourning, often our only recourse in dealing with the unexplained.

How then do we address environmental grief? That permeating sense of awareness and enormity, blended with feelings of helplessness, complicity, confusion? As vast swaths of our living world collapse into infirmity, dying slowly, dying suddenly—we are surrounded by a seemingly endless cycle of “before” and “after,” one great loss after another. It’s an overwhelming cascade, causing cultural and personal paralysis. Without processing, how can we possibly move beyond the paralytic and into a space where we have the confidence and mobility to arrest the next wave of global disaster?

How do we begin to process such vastness? Do we, in futility, send a card to Gaia?

In Poppy Transitory/Receding (recent work), I investigated the sincere absurdity of processing “small-scale” loss with decorative memorials, themselves transitory tokens of grief. I sourced shapes from the clothing and desert location where my sister Cindy Adams and family friend Gram Parsons died, developing a visual language that applied to their specific moment. For Axis Mundi, I will again develop a visual vocabulary drawn from the “source material” of passage—imagery that supplies specificity, immensity, and the mediated erosion of the real.

My videos are layers of glitch, experimental photography and noise.

Approach: Television as Accidental Eyewitness

As most of my work deals with the literal, visual and conceptual impact of televisual media on our sense of self and location, I turned to television to investigate this elusive, yet pervasive, space of mourning.

Media influence our daily lives. The ubiquity of televisual media impacts our process of self-shaping and our understanding of relational space-place, even serving as a surrogate experience for the physical world; some people only “know” the Grand Canyon through media (for example).

If we construct an understanding of our world through media (Henry Jenkins) and this media is often used to escape from reality, while simultaneously encapsulating an undeniable record of our imprint on the planet, media becomes both intentioned forgetting and accidental historian; the perfect source material for a language of mourning. Television itself plays a central role in disseminating the paralyzing information about what’s been destroyed—even as it provides a zombie platform for the proliferation of politics that encourage or dismiss these same global catastrophes.

Television becomes both method of escape and unintentional, archival monument. Cold War programming itself even functions as an early form of Google Street View; a proto-virtual database of environments ‘caught’ tangentially on tape. The actual footage becomes a semi-documentary—an ‘archive’ of our former landscape exists within the very media we use for avoidance.

Yet, the environment itself is rarely the subject of television programming. The land is transient, offhandedly preserved—it’s only held in regard by being the background of a consumable program, itself destined for obscurity. Thus excavating and mutating found environments from the backdrop of Cold War television episodes reinforces both the fleeting, non-central representation of landscape in their original context, and the notion of environment as “accessory” to human story.

Using this language, I will construct a looping video of found landscape material, as if recalling the image in perpetuity can somehow undo the seemingly unstoppable avalanche of global changes resulting from human impact; a vain attempt to hunt, save, preserve and present—a digital gesture of condolence.

Unable to completely divorce itself from collective social mania, my video shrine will be a quagmire of paralysis and anxiety, highlighting locations that have been lost (or will be lost), or those forever altered due to “progress,” but which remain filed in now-fading media, itself actively losing ground and relevance. That our only representation or understanding of some locations might come through television, itself unstable and fading, is another brick in the wall of mourning.

The earth, the landscape–all captured as secondary to the humans and the story; television becomes an accidental eyewitness

I’ve begin work on several video sections and View-Master reels, with this overall structure in mind:

What: Physical Output

  • Looping video played on a television
  • Probably silent, but may experiment with droning noise or natural sounds
  • Imagery is layered, disturbing, melancholic, distant, failing, uncertain
  • Imagery will be created with experimental photography and glitch, in order to suggest the missing, the incomplete, the partially preserved and the mostly lost. This should emphasize the distance between the real state of loss and our abstraction of it through media
  • Video will be composed of re-animated, glitched, mutated stills extracted from television, using my preferred method of obsessive excavating with a commonplace camera (cell phone)
  • Rather than using active footage, which would suggest the still-living, still-vital, I will reanimate stills that are obviously frozen and separated from both nature and their original filmed source. This reanimation appropriates life, after the landscape has died. Thus, stills become a melancholic suggestion of life, rather than the continuous movement of the living.
  • The flat void of the television screen is a fitting metaphor for the swallowed-whole destruction of our real environment
  • An eroded, unstable video suggests both destruction of the site, and the eventual decay of the media that preserved an accidental memory of the site’s existence

When the earth is lost, guess who else gets swallowed by oblivion

Poppy (Return)

 

2017 Poppy Transitory series, works in progress – Ren Adams

This body of work isn’t done with me.

I thought I was done with it, but like poppies, it keeps resurfacing. Blooming again, dying back. A little different. Tenacious.

In early 2017, I began working on another set of about 50 smaller works for the series, completing one wave in March. They refused to be framed, so I mounted them on wood. It gave them a certain decisive “objecthood,” but I am wary of getting too product-like.

There’s also a lineup of 11″ x 14s:

Some of the finished, mounted works installed:

Series Artist Statement – Poppy Transitory

Poppy Transitory investigates the sincere absurdity of processing loss with decorative memorials, themselves transitory tokens of grief. Based in a fiercely personal, yet oddly abstract pain, the series considers the story-infused space of mourning—colorful, obsessive layers behave like memory extracts.

Conflating the mysterious Mojave Desert deaths of my sister Cindy Adams (1972) and musician Gram Parsons (1973), I ask what it means to “know” someone through location-tied story; to “understand” events via embellished clues, just as I “knew” both individuals through family narrative. What does it mean to assuage loss through well-meaning transference? Do gifts for the dead resolve our perplexity?

To engage this, I use transparent layers to suggest recalled memory, story cycles, and the deluge of tokens posthumously offered to Cindy and Gram. I deconstruct and reframe the language of the Mojave Desert, the visual vocabulary of memorial shrines, and personal iconography from Cindy and Gram’s clothing, whirling them into a sensitive system of overlaid shapes. The desert they loved represents and consumes them.

Aware of its own artificiality, the work earnestly embraces our candy-colored attempts to mediate the space of grief with flowers, cards, and condolences—the physical trappings of a cultural process of mourning, often our only recourse in grappling with the unexplained. Poppy Transitoryis itself a fragile, momentary monument to the passage of imprints, the trace of Cindy and Gram, and to our moment, an undeniable passage of its own.

​(2016-17)

Finished works are part of this exhibition:

Inspiration 101 – Works by New Mexico Art Educators

Most artists will name their art teachers as one of their greatest influences along with famous artists in history. The knowledge, encouragement and criticism of their teachers will stay with an artist for the rest of their career. Gallery with a Cause wants to celebrate these hardworking men and women who dedicate their lives to inspire and instruct the next generation of artists. This museum quality exhibition – curated by Regina Held- features paintings, watercolor, pastel, printmaking and mixed media by New Mexico art educators from elementary to college level.  The Cancer Center Foundation raises funds to alleviate non-medical needs for cancer patients. 40 % of each art sale goes to the Foundation and is tax-deductable.

​Exhibition dates: March 12 – June 2, 2017.
Reception: Sunday, March 12, 4 -7 pm
Awards ceremony: 6:30 pm during the reception for the following awards: People’s Choice, Curator’s Choice, Patient’s Choice and Staff Choice.
Cost of event: Free and open to the public


Gallery hours:
 Monday – Friday, 9 am – 5 pm by appointment only, please contact Alexandria Tavarez, alexandriat@nmohc.com, or call 505-857-8460. Admission is free during regular gallery hours.

Where:
New Mexico Cancer Center
Gallery with a Cause
4901 Lang Ave NE, Albuquerque NM 87109.

10 Minutes Before

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“10 Minutes Before,” 2016. Diptych. Ren Adams. Experimental photography with manual glitch.

I’ll admit this year feels like “the time before.” Hell, it’s felt that way since last November.  It feels that way right now. There’s ozone tension around me, within me. In my living room. In my social feeds. In my work.

My work, I realize, is all about this extruded moment. It is time before, the time after. The extended agony of the moment itself, before it collapses into the next phase. It always wants to hold its breath. When it exhales, it catches. It assumes and subsumes these time-bent spaces.

Being inside my work is exceptionally uncomfortable. Being in this moment now, in myself, in the world, is a form of living while holding my breath. It seems a collective breath, though not an all-inclusive one.

We seem suspended in that transitory space right before the piercing, forever-change of “the event” eclipses our understanding of everything that’s come before. Everything we hold consistent, understandable, even joyfully reckless. This is the night before the pivot point.

This is two and a half minutes to midnight.

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“The Distance Between Us,” 2016. Upper left panel of quadriptych. Ren Adams. Experimental photography with manual glitch.

But there are two kinds of suspended moments at play here: 10 Minutes Before (the unaware) and Two and a Half Minutes to Midnight (the mercilessly aware).

The difference between the painfully ambiguous suspended moment (two and a half minutes) and the blissfully unaware “night before” is the way in which the experiential “time before” gains importance in retrospect. The person experiencing the “time before” has no awareness that there’s about to be a very divergent “time after.” They live life unknowingly, with no specific sense of doom,  no specific doom-turning lined out. They don’t wake up and say, “tonight my wife will die from an accidentally fatal combination of doctor-prescribed medications, complicated by her undiagnosed heart condition!” They wake up, take a shower, eat, go to work. 

Once the “time before” is defined by the “terrible event,” the moments leading up to the change are reevaluated with a fresh perspective. They now form the final moments of normalcy before the illusion was shattered.

The night before my sister was murdered holds merciless clarity for my parents–the ordinary, domestic rituals they performed, the unremarkable process of events. Mundane conversations. Simple things ignored. The fact that my sister asked for pudding only “10 Minutes Before” her actual death still haunts my mother, 45 years later. Mom refused to give her dessert because Cindy had been naughty earlier that evening and was being punished. In this case, “10 Minutes” was actually a matter of hours, but the gravity remains. And the simple act of doling out punishment, not abnormal on its own, now takes on the mythical role of “what if I had…” … “if only I could go back in time and give her dessert, knowing what I know now…” … “if only I could go back to the time where I only had to worry about giving out dessert.” If only life was still the time before, with pudding and punishments and school the next day.

This kind of retrospective moment-before is one without weight before the pivot point. It’s an ordinary pizza night. Work as usual. Kids grounded for misbehaving. A dripping faucet. Frustration over Netflix hiccups. The mechanics and methods of domesticity only gain monumental importance (or monumental emptiness) after “the event.” This is everyday life. We are always “10 Minutes Before” something, we are simply unaware.

Lost normalcy might even be recalled fondly–recognition that it can all radically shift. The simple joy of walking to the couch is exalted the day after one loses the ability to walk. How easy it was to walk over, to sit, to watch TV.

It really is a great privilege to live in a space where you can expect things to  be “normal,” where you can assume life will flow without incumbency or tragedy, and that “terrible events” are allowed to be the aberration, not the norm.

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Individual still from installation: “When I Looked Through You,” 2016. Experimental photography with manual glitch. Ren Adams.

But what of this moment? This extruded moment that seems to have no day-after realization of a deceptively comfortable time before?

What is this unyielding, elusive “Two and a Half Minutes to Midnight?”

It is a strange, merciless space. We know something is coming. We know it deeply, naturally. We don’t know exactly what is is, or whether it’s a series of somethings, webbed and suffocating, invasive and evasive. We don’t know if it permeates the lives of millions, or pierces the moments of a select few. Some of us have been in this space before, and millions of us are in this place right now, as much as we try to combat, avoid, adopt, subvert or destroy it.

Many have spent their entire lives two and a half minutes to midnight.

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“I Could not Watch You Fall Apart,” 2016. Manual and digital glitch with experimental photography. Ren Adams.

It’s a paralyzing sense of impending doom. Truly impending doom. Not an archetypal apocalypse, which proves certain people right/wrong and ends the cycle of confusion in a swoop–but a system of disturbances and moments leading to a bizarre, extruded “apocalypse.” An extended moment that refuses to collapse. Such that every moment is “10 Minutes Before” the next terrible thing.

When the clock is 2 1/2 minutes to midnight, however, you are fully aware of each excruciating time before. You simply cannot conceive of the time after. There is no release.

I have been suspended in this sense of collective breath-holding, of video-pause action delay that permeates everything for me, and for many, at this moment… I ask myself, what is this space? What is it that we’re feeling, this bizarro-world social cabinet of opposites? I have been here before on a micro scale, so this touches a deeply ingrained sense of unease. I know there can, and will be, extended “time afters” and no one is immune or exempt.

So, I come to another kind of “time before.” Is my work still relevant in the face of this? In the space of global crises? Everything that seems poised to unfold? Everything that is simultaneously unraveling and intensifying? Everything that’s streaming from and filling the floodgate?

Am I still relevant?

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Individual still from installation: “The Language of Falling Apart,” 2016. Manual and digital glitch with experimental photography. Ren Adams.

What’s the point of creating work if everything is two and a half minutes to midnight? What is the nature of political artwork? What is an artist’s role?

These are complex, multi-faceted points that I raise as rhetoric, better investigated in other essays. I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I do come equipped with a desire to question.

And I realize… this is a familiar terrain. A familiar external Cold War. A familiar internal Cold War. A familiar war.

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Individual still from installation: “When I Looked Through You,” 2016. Experimental photography with manual glitch. Ren Adams.

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Individual still from installation: “When I Looked Through You,” 2016. Experimental photography with manual glitch. Ren Adams.

As an artist, watching arts funding end up on the chopping block, watching the NEA, PBS, and other arts agencies recede into the distance–the act of making, of our presence in the studio, of our voice in the classroom and the exhibition space–the strident motion of being ourselves become political in their own execution. They have weight. They are the weft and warp of interlocked experience.

My work is relevant. I allow myself to be. I acknowledge that it is relevant. I allow myself  to continue.

I am relevant.

My work need not carry images of specific politicians or incidents to relate to the sense of anxiety I’ve carried, an anxiety that subsumes this moment, that plagued my Cold War childhood, that plagues millions now.

My work is relevant. It expresses, investigates, indulges both forms of the philosophical “time before” and isn’t afraid to stand inside the “time after.” It lives in the now, in its own relentless, unresolved present moment. In my moment. In our moment.

It emerges from a space of uncertainty, dancing with abstraction and specificity, giving gravity to my own entanglement with knowing and unknowing. This is life, after all. An uncertain dance.

I intend for my work to blueprint a sense of anxiety that’s familiar terrain to many; the uncanny connection we have to feeling almost-safe. That it connects to Cold War television is no surprise. That I use the language of television, with its soft-and-hard dichotomies, its ability to simultaneously offer shallowness and depth, its incomplete, mosaic presentation–is also no surprise. I am always prepared for these moments, even in my direst state of unpreparedness… I am always suspended.

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Individual still from installation: “The Glass and the Fire,” 2016. Experimental photography with manual glitch. Ren Adams.

Having decided that it’s okay (even important) for me to continue making work, in my own way, allowed me to view my recent series with the kind of fresh perspective that comes with “the time after.” My most recent bodies of work have preemptively suggested the sensation of “two and a half minutes to midnight,” and they’ve always dealt with describing a rather indescribable space without being too pedantic or obvious. At least, that’s my intention.

The title of my piece at the top of this essay, “10 Minutes Before,” is a reference to an Alfred Hitchcock Presents television episode title from 1964: “10 Minutes from Now.”

Police grow suspicious of unsuccessful artist James Bellington, after the city commissioner receives a series of bomb threats.  James attempts to meet with the commissioner, in order to personally condemn the commissioner’s choice for the city’s public art display–but he shows up at city hall with a suspicious box.  The police assume it’s a bomb and stop him, only to discover the box contains art supplies. At a public art museum, James is again stopped for carrying a suspicious package, which also turns out to be harmless. As a side note, James is considered “unsuccessful” by the police because he hasn’t had luck selling his artwork and his style seems “all over the place.”

After a cycle of bomb threats paired with faux bombs, the police force James to see a psychiatrist. He tells the psychiatrist that his next bomb threat will be real. The police again stop a bomb-carrying James at the city art museum, where he gives everyone ten minutes to get out, before he blows the place, all while making a political stand for a change in the way art is chosen and represented by the city. Spoiler alert: with the museum empty, and James keeping the authorities at bay, James’ unknown accomplices steal the museum’s most valuable paintings, replacing them with fakes painted by James himself. When the theft is complete, James surrenders. He opens the box to reveal a harmless alarm clock. Unaware of his part in the theft, the police let him go.

“10 Minutes from Now” is a fascinating title choice, as is the tension between the way the artist is supposed to behave if he’s to be perceived as “successful” (i.e., selling works for money), and the way in which the artist actually behaves (his own body of work becomes the strange game of manipulation played out through performance, bomb-like sculptures, and hidden use of forgery). This is a microcosm of the 60s revolt against the museum-structure. I could analyze this episode for pages,  but I won’t do that here. I think the episode speaks for itself, as does the expectation of what an artist should be, could be, can be, subversive or not. The funny thing is, using his artistic talents to forge paintings would probably garner a populist recognition of his “ability,” even as his execution of such works are illegal. The episode itself suggests the forgeries may be James’ literal retaliation, in support of his original protest, at the same time it presents the potential that his protest is entirely meant as smokescreen. Dichotomies, hello.

My piece, “10 Minutes Before,” is not intended to suggest the content or motives of the original Hitchcock episode. Instead, it’s meant to grapple with the same sense of suspension–that 10 Minutes from this point, this interminable, unavoidable and suspended point, that 10 minutes from now, all things have changed. All things have shifted. All things are different. There’s a bomb in the museum, and it might be fake, or it might be real, but it definitely is.

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Left piece, detail, from the diptych, “10 Minutes Before,” 2016. Ren Adams. Experimental photography and manual glitch.

What causes him to cover his face, in anticipation of what’s to come? What do you bring to this piece, that attempts to resolve the gravity of their forms?

What kinds of moments-before are suspended now?

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Juan Carlos Romero, Jan. 20, 2017.

My first draft of this blog post was written February 6th, 2017. The day before my dad’s 80th birthday. The day before my friend Juan Carlos Romero, fellow printmaker, artist, philosopher and fellow maker, was shot to death on Stanford, between Central and Silver, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was 26.

His death is an active murder investigation. His life was full of ideas.

His then-unknowing final Facebook post was:

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

William Ernest Henley, Invictus, 1875

As I was writing this essay’s first draft, I had no idea (how could I not?) I was again working “10 Minutes Before” another suspended moment, and the mundane coffee-drink, edit-delete writing was another comfortable space, even as it explored the continuously uncomfortable.

At 3 am, February 7, 2017, Juan Carlos was dead. I have the luck and privilege of enjoying a “time after,” as painful as it is. For Juan Carlos, there was only the final “time before.”

January – March (and late 2016) Happenings

I had a blogging dry spell for in November and December, so I missed sharing exhibition updates. Here are my current and recent goings-on:

January – March, 2017

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“Disturbance,” 2016. Single pane from triptych. Variable output sizes (38″ x 40″ for LACDA exhibition). Ren Adams. Experimental cell phone photography with analog glitch.

Electron Salon – at LACDA

What:
I am part of an invitation-only group exhibition featuring digital art and experimental photography, at LACDA (Los Angeles Center for Digital Art).

Exhibition opening: SATURDAY, JANUARY 14, 6-9PM
Exhibition runs Jan. 14 – Feb. 18, 2017.

Where:
LACDA – Los Angeles Center For Digital Art 
Gallery Row, downtown Los Angeles
104 E. 4th St. between Main and Los Angeles Streets.

104 East Fourth Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
http://www.lacda.com


The Write Place at the Write Time Journal will be featuring one of my pieces from Desert (Loss) – update in February


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Walk n’ Talk – Short Artist Talk Series at Gallery with a Cause

I will be giving a short artist talk on pieces from my “Poppy Transitory” series during next week’s “Walk and Talk” with curator Regina Held, at the New Mexico Cancer Center’s Gallery with a Cause. Other artists will also be present, so there should be a rapid-fire series of talks. This is a great opportunity to view the exhibition and hear more about the ideas and techniques behind the work. The exhibition itself runs through March 3.

Wednesday, January 11 at 6 PM – 7:30-ish PM

Where:

New Mexico Cancer Center
Gallery with a Cause
4901 Lang Ave NE, Albuquerque NM 87109.


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The Art of Giving/The Gift of Art

Selected works from my Poppy Transitory series are featured in a special group exhibition at Gallery with a Cause, part of the New Mexico Cancer Center.

Exhibition runs Dec. 10, 2016 – March 3, 2017.

Opening Reception:
PLEASE NOTE: This is a date change from the earlier published time: 
Sunday, December 18, 4-7 pm.

Where:
New Mexico Cancer Center
Gallery with a Cause
4901 Lang Ave NE, Albuquerque NM 87109.


December, 2016 (highlights)

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Snap to Grid

Exhibition runs December 8-31, 2016
Reception: Saturday, December 10, 6-9 pm

Where:
LACDA – Los Angeles Center For Digital Art 
Gallery Row, downtown Los Angeles
104 E. 4th St. between Main and Los Angeles Streets.

104 East Fourth Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
http://www.lacda.com


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Annual Holiday Printmaking Sale and 4th International Juried Print Exhibition
New, current and former members of New Grounds Print Workshop & Gallery offer a variety of original works on paper at excellent prices. 

Fridays and Saturdays from 10 AM- 6 PM, beginning Nov. 21, running through December 31.

Official opening reception is December 1, 2016. 6-8 pm.
I will be giving a public talk on the international print exhibition (I was this year’s juror for the international exhibition) on Dec. 1, at 6:30 pm.

Where:
New Grounds Print Workshop & Gallery
3812 Central Ave SE
Albuquerque, NM 87108


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Stirring: A Literary Showcase

“Moments Before,” 2016. Featured in Stirring: A Literary Showcase‘s December edition cover. Archive pending.


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The Hand Magazine – Issue #14 (December)

Featured several pieces from Poppy Transitory, including “Momentary Monuments,” 2016.

http://www.thehandmagazine.space/?page_id=2179

Also featured an article /exhibition catalog for the Pressient Exhibition by Trish Meyer. Trish interviewed me, and other artists in the exhibition.