Category Archives: Papers

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.

 

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Video still

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.”

Before, After (Part 2 of 2)

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Before the machine is tripped and Larry’s chance is lost. From Channeling.

Transformation, Transition and the Song of Myself

In Part 1, I referenced how an experimentation with selfies and the reflexive psychology spent reviewing them led to several new series: Whitespace-Bluespace, Poppy Transitory (formerly Wheel of Fortune) and Channeling.

The selfies are not themselves a new series, nor were they the only impetus behind my new projects, but they did lead into further philosophical exploration of image-making, serialization and methods of re-orienting my idea of “self” and “other” (and self presented as other). They formed the outset of deeper methodology for these new bodies of work, distinct but interlaced, each emergent from The Cascade- Moments in the Televisual Desert and Desert (Loss).

I have always delighted in being a very analytical, even impersonal, artist. I’ve focused on philosophical and social-theoretical contexts, even when the core idea emerged from a secret, personal impetus. I have avoided the self-indulgent biographical–partly out of defiance, partly out of disinterest–denying how fiercely personal many artists can be about their work. But I see things changing. I am allowing more of the personal to guide the conceptual. While this essay reveals much that appears biographical and terribly personal, and I find myself conflating the personal with the public more often in this year’s work, there is still a distance between the private language and the outward manifestation. In other words, I outline the personal-historical here to help support my bigger-than-the-self concepts, though I now adroitly nod to my own participation in the “self.”

In moving through this territory, I also embraced the meditatively self-ascendant Whitman–adopting an aware position of the self, a poetic system of “selfies,” an expansion of self into non-self, and a recognition of our selves oriented within the flow of language and image, thought and word, event and recollection, place and displacement.

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“My Life is not Better than yours,” 2016. From “Whitespace-Bluespace.” Manual glitch (experimental cell phone photography). Size variable.

I sing myself.

The landscape sings itself, sings the self of my re-invented heroes, of my self re-engaging material from my past. My far past. My recent past. My soon-to-be-past in the delicious present.

I sing the association and connections of myself, within myself, within that unique, time-stamped moment that fascinated Charles Baudelaire—that for all of the sameness one moment to the next, there is something vital and undeniable about our presence in our unique moment in time, with our whirl of knowledge and histories, influences, memories and locations; “for almost all our originality comes from the seal which time imprints on our sensations.”

I am a product. A production.

I am a result of the weird, Hollywood-desert-Mojave; an abstract of my parents and friends, memories and lovers (narrative and episodic), my philosophies and writing, the fullness of food and softness of body, the buzzing of screens and static of audio, the shapeshifting Lego blocks of television and music, rocks and sky–commercials and sand, politics and play, spiky Joshua trees and burned-out cars, flaming deserts and earthquake rubble. I am the dialectic of objects lost, objects gained. The childhood-internalized language of Whitman, Heller, Plato, Dostoyevsky, Mom, Dad, truck drivers and trailers, stolen pizza and scribbled poetry, space shuttles and aerospace, mine shafts and abandoned boxes. I am a product of the television narrative, strung across so many series and characters, so many enshrined decades. Those stories written in the spare spaces in old magazines, stuffed dog under my arm (the dog dad and I picked out at an arts & crafts show, from a table of handmade plushies wrapped in coffin-like plastic, in the parking lot of Antelope Valley College in 1979).

I am a side-glance of the weird, plaster King Tut bust, bought for $5 at the Four Points Swapmeet, presented by mom & future step dad, delivered proudly in a white sheet. Brady Bunch orange and ’80s electric blue. Heavy and life-sized. Grounded and cheap. I still think of how I wrapped his head again in a sheet when we had to evacuate my childhood home. He was waiting for me to return, to retrieve him, alone in the leftovers of my room, on the knobbled orange-brown carpet, nestled with my bottle collection and space shuttle, my clothes and childhood books. He waited. I never returned.

Just as the passages above moved from the abstract to the concrete, each of my new series vacillates between the almost-gained and almost-lost, straddling subtle clues and purposeful diffusion. There is a fascinating tension between the nondescript, compressed recollection of moment-as-concept, and the radiant, often fixating pulse of raw detail–of moment-as-exposition, and I try to engage this in different ways with each of these new bodies of work. The tension between specificity and obscurity is certainly the key to much of this new work. The in-between space is where it all happens…

…The space of gray within gray, the cat whose corpse crawled with worms, my foot plunged into his cavernous body, bare in the desert, and who I later buried with a garden trowel, sending his quiet form back to the sand beneath the Joshua tree (the same tree still visible on Google Street View, on David Hockney’s–my–Highway 138, Pearblossom Highway). All those stolen guitar picks I snaked from my brother’s friends when their bands rehearsed in my parent’s bedroom, also buried under the Joshua. All those stubbed toes, seed pods and firearms…

So many luscious and terrible moments, ideas, pinpoints, pinpricks.

Whatever became of my box of plastic animals? My sister’s stories, written on notebook paper and illustrated with plastic toy animals, Scotch-taped to each page as a 3D visual: cows and fences, horses and cats, creating a thick, metered book with strange pages and caverns? I felt guilty pulling the black and white dog from his place near the end of one of her stories… I played with him out of context, with my own toy animals, and his adventures continued. I did not put him back in the book.

Now all the animals are lost. And things are still just things. And whatever becomes of them? Are they lost in the tension between specificity and obscurity, like memory, like each individual held delicately in a photograph? Before they left our possession, after they were lost?

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“These things, in their places,” from Whitespace-Bluespace, 2016. Real time photographic manipulation.

What’s become of my blue bottle and tape player? Those black trash bags filled with ephemera from our old house, piled in the cracked-stucco Model A garage, alongside the single remaining grapevine?

These mundane things, the coffee cup of our daily greet, the blue toothbrush and broken-prong comb. These delightful, simple things… I sing for them in these new visual pieces. I sing for the simple associations, as much as for the grander connections to personal loss, to cultural grief.

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“In this Moment, he heard,” 2016. From Whitespace-Bluespace. Real time photographic manipulation and additional digital glitch.

I sing the song of ordinary things. Of ordinary selves folded into ordinary moments.

I sing the tones of my self-as-formality, that outlined person on off-white bond, presented and polished, distributed and structured. I was part of the first dot com boom. I’ve been an editor in chief, private investigator, copy writer, video editor, web designer, artist assistant, sheet music salesperson–you name it, from bowling alleys to amusement parks, window painting to entertainment writing. I’ve sold hot dogs and held international conference calls. I performed for the space shuttle Endeavor roll-out at Hangar 10, marched in two Rose Parades, been on TV, built websites and wrote copy, published and rejected, I’ve lectured and researched, even been a “cover girl” for a Japanese technology magazine…

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Currently untitled, from Whitespace-Bluespace, 2016. Real time photographic manipulation and additional digital glitch.

Are employment stats part of the song of ourselves? The linear facts of metered existence?

My resume doesn’t tell the time I was nearly stabbed and coolly disarmed the knife-bearing attacker. It doesn’t reference the summer I saved a friend from wild dogs in the desert, or the after-lunch pause where I yanked a co-worker off the street by her blouse as a bus bore down on her in muggy San Francisco. These are the socially heroic thing, but there are just as many (or more) moments of fear, confusion and longing, and even more points of quiet heroism: the process of waking up each day. Of continuing. My resume doesn’t log the times I’ve been without food and electricity, couch-surfing and family-less, washing my clothes with a neighbor’s hose in high school, when I ate leftovers from friends’ lunches; the tail-end of bananas shared by my friend Dave, the tail-end of everything, all the time. It does not reference the time I missed the chance to meet Allen Ginsberg before he died, thanks to an anthropology final. Or the time I once found a life-sized, headless Buddha in the Mojave Desert. I’ll share the story some time, with or without the formality of our public, published selves.

What is biography but a creative, forced-linear narrative? Accentuating the colorful?

What is a resume, but a forced-linear evaluation of the concrete and ‘important’?

What is biographical artwork? How much biography is necessary (if any) to engage a piece?

Dissipated memory is itself pressed into coherence, and extraneous or negative details often airbrushed and removed, sensations bound to a host of romanticized facts or apprehensions, misaligned and finessed. Fierce details are often distilled into crystalline, prescient moments (but often unstable, unreliable). Other details are skimmed and polished, forming inanimate phrases like “parents and friends.”

What is a resume? Are we the sum of our “jobs”? Our roles and proscriptions? Are we the sum of our experiences, or our perception of those same encounters?

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“The Extended Agony of Finding out (after),” 2016. From Whitespace-Bluespace. Manual glitch experimental photography with digital glitch and manipulation.

Enter the song of my characters, another song of my extended self.

A friend’s large-scale figurative paintings frequently make use of his own “self” as the body-subject, though I am not certain he would consider them “self portraits” in a literal or traditional sense. There is certainly a self-portrait aspect (or else he would have enrolled other male models), and these “self” portraits speak as metaphoric modernity, becoming selfless in their representation of cultural and philosophical typologies, and are themselves headless, homogenized, repetitious, dulled in the face of the antithetic machine. Just as my discussion of the resume and the uncomfortable tension between personal detail and the airbrushed, presented self are in disharmony, the men in his paintings are rendered with sensitive realism, such exquisite specificity that blemishes are elevated to the divine, concrete.

But his figures are denied the specificity of identity, yet they possess a peculiar level of detail that would render the nude, fragile and exposed men utterly recognizable to me, if I happened upon them. There’s a tension here between the face-as-identity and the body as identifier. Quite unlike most selfies, actually, where the map of the body, in its fierce detail, is in contrast to the headless erasure of implied, conceptual decapitation. His “selves” are disconcertingly anchored in predictable normalcy, yet denied any identity through the recognizable face, any ability to communicate or understand.

My selfies are so heavily based on the “face” that they become repetitive and dulled, inseparable and blended. A monotonous stream of the same essential form and set of colors, providing a different kind of tension in the weighted specificity of features. As my friend’s work has moved to embrace first a more complete image of a headed figure (after its early headlessness)–again allowing the face to enter–a kind of non-self-portrait rooted in the self,  it now engages an emptied sense of space. The figure has been, or will be, present, but is not located within the represented moment.

My earliest Cascade works were more focused on that kind of recently emptied, but obviously occupied, urban environment, or lived space. I suggested that figures had recently passed through, left imprints, littered the environment with their stats and biographies. Slowly, vehicles snuck into the landscape, then figures emerged, oddly embraced by my formerly all-abstract eye. The tail end of my MFA work, then, allowed figures to be fully present, but the landscape was potentially more vital than the characters, a division I now find upended. Just as my friend’s work naturally moved into new territory, I bring my characters forward now, into several new phases–and the figures are more crucial than the lived space they inhabit.

My friend’s work was thus an important and direct influence on Whitespace-Bluespace and Channeling.

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“The Extended Agony of Finding out (during),” 2016. From Whitespace-Bluespace. Manual glitch experimental photography with digital glitch and manipulation.

The face and the body are the matrix upon which we exchange and interchange, the space others identify, a literal and conceptual anchor of placement, within place, within culture.  As two of the three new series are filled with figures, these bodies are a curated response to myself, to my insecurities and questions, to my isolation, dignity and indignity–and as I am not particularly an emotional or very personal artist (though these last few articles might suggest otherwise), these new series are allowing me to indulge a bit in the very idea of self.

This move toward the character, the self as other, and the time-distorted whirl of indeterminate events allows me to abandon some of the ties to regional specificity I’ve been focused on (though the ties remain, if less prominent). The character as being, as figure, as selfie, as referent and referrer, has become fascinating to me. The desert, Hollywood, California, all undercarriage, superstructure now.

The de-centered and de-structured heroes are moving into new territory, allowed to be whole and present in a sense. I grant them access to the previously abstract picture plane, just as I once allowed vehicles to enter the empty expanse. My friend Pam, a fellow printmaker, says “I don’t like the ones with the people,” preferring instead the more abstract environments. The abstraction, for me, is only one variable. I have not abandoned the abstract stills, but now they offer vital tension for the panes with people. I see myself in the people. I’ve seen myself even in the flimsy posters and watery re-reruns, the action figures and advertising.

Two of the three series are centered on men, my ultimate self-as-other (like The Cascade…) More on this gender tension in a future post.

I will also fully flesh out each of these new bodies of work in separate posts of their own, but here’s a taste:

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Whitespace-Bluespace

This is my biggie. My solo exhibition and beyond.

I spent 8 months doing real-time, photographic capture-manipulations of the Miami Vice television show, which is currently airing each weekday evening, 9-10 pm MST on Cozi TV. As with all my media work, I had watched Miami Vice in its original run, in a particular time-and-place context. More on that below.

Each night, for an hour, I did experimental photographic “monotypes” right from the television screen, making good use of the show’s one-hour time slot and its watery, softened, broadcast form. I set rigid parameters for my manipulation times and methods. I could have easily watched it all in a week or two, binge-style, and done my work in this manner, but there was something about slowing down, about restricting the raw manipulations to an hour each day, preventing me from being out, from doing other things, tying me to the TV screen each night–sometimes against my will. Slowing down put me in a different headspace. Different events, moods, daily affects–these all impacted the way I engaged the televisual language on a given evening.

Limiting myself to an hour of generating imagery created both tension and frustration–some nights I was energized, wanting more and more! Other nights, my life-circumstances bogged me and the project was dogged, nagging, relentless. That’s how I knew I was on to something. When I felt like doing more, I curated and glitched selected moments, rather than finding a way to gather more raw imagery.

As always, I used my cell phone. On my knees, in front of the TV. I’ve gotten so that I can manipulate and shift color, form, focus and distortion in fluid ways, and I worked my little iPhone 4S so hard, I killed it.

The project was all-consuming. Gathering became an intense daily ritual that lengthened the scope of the project, requiring focused introspection and systematic gathering. After gathering, I also put some of the stills through additional glitch manipulation, to purposefully lose, obscure and erode key information that might have provided clarity and resolution. I watched the series through twice, researching and taking notes, then on the third time through, one hour each day, I extracted particular kinds of imagery–one season at a time.

The result is a 23,000 + image archive, composed of the original, real-time manual glitch / experimental photographic pieces and digital glitch images. This in itself has a stark relevancy I’m still unpacking. It makes prolific use of the “before” and “after” I describe in Before, After – Part 1, and the characters are trapped in a terrible cycle, suspended within an indeterminate space of the impending and the retreating. Some of the experiemental photographs, rather like monotypes in their single-shot pull from the screen, are left raw. These don’t undergo more manipulation after the fact, and are prescient, alive. Others, as I mentioned above, receive glitch treatment for conceptual reasons I’ll explain in a future post.

Whitespace-Bluespace – Project Statement

Life is a rush of contingencies. The wonderful, terrible sublime of “before” and “after,” a strange and delicate dance of relativity. As we commit experience to memory, details become blurred, lost, remixed—fact folded with sensation, sequencing lost to the abyss of recollection. Over time, we may even embellish, or crystallize moments, often losing more than we retain.

Memory formation relates to the way we engage television—we grab bits and pieces of information about characters and situations, often by viewing episodes out of order. We understand events by assembling a sensitive web of memories, culled, even appropriated, from different seasons. Like episodic TV viewing, we construct a mosaic by assembling clues extracted from the media flow—from our life experiences—allowing us to “know” people, places, and events by collating often disparate pieces of data, much of it reframed (often misunderstood).

Using cell phone photography in a real-time system of manipulation, I spent 8 months capturing digital “monotypes” from the TV screen, generating an archive of 23,000+ experimental images. These image-cells were mined from a personally poignant television series—Miami Vice, which I watched in its original context, during a time of personal loss and disruption. Using an obsessive, ritual system of watching and extracting, combined with manual and digital glitch, I suggest the imperfection of memory and our incomplete understanding of situations. These suspended moments are seemingly extracted from the “before” and “after” of an unclear, yet disturbing, system of events that vacillate between the almost-gained and almost-lost.

The characters, like memory, are composed of fragmented, episodic information, sampled and informed by our own recollection of other images in the installation. The viewer might begin to understand, but true clarity is denied. There is a tense passage of moment into moment, an endless catastrophe of “instants” presented as passive works on paper, active video and intimate View-Master spaces.  My eroded heroes are denied resolution, forever stuck in transition, their lives suspended as frozen, oddly linked moments—undermined, human, uncertain, temporary.

Why Miami Vice?

My engagement with the televisual language of the program is tied to a distinct sequence of “before” and “after” life-moments of personal impact. As I mentioned in the first half of the essay, I watched Miami Vice on our little TV (when we had electricity), recorded at a friend’s house on a watery VHS tape because we couldn’t afford a VHF antenna, watched and re-watched because it was a precious capture. The process of borrowing and remixing media via tape, and savoring each chance I got to watch it, was tied into my parents’ impending divorce, and the downward spiral of homelessness, distancing and confusion that resulted.

The characters seemed so strong at the time, I longed to be both of the male heroes in alternation.

I reacquainted myself with the series quite by accident, just after my thesis work, which also dealt with the impact of televisual media on concepts of self and place. Stumbling across it on Cozi TV also coincided with tumult in other parts of my life, and at first it was a welcome, aesthetically compelling refuge.

After only an episode, I found it stirred a lot of surprising sensations within me–from gushing philosophy to raw emotion, adding fuel to my media-mind. I found a fascinating, compelling thread running through each episode–the male heroes often faced loss, destruction of the self, a terrible sense of distancing–the deaths of loved ones, failure to complete missions, subjugation by terrible enemies, denial of closure–in episodic tenacity. They were rarely successful in an iconic fashion, instead suffering loss and resistance at every turn. Resolutions were complicated, problematic, and even when things tipped in their favor, it rarely resolved the way they expected (or hoped). There were no ridiculously triumphant heroes here.

I had rediscovered heroes already plagued by a strange tension between the appearance of success and the corrosion of endless defeat. A progression that unsettles and warps the main characters, with Sonny in particular emergent as a jaded, unwilling participant. As I mentioned above, I watched the series several times through, savoring each moment as I had in my youth, while realizing I was simultaneously tipping over into a new body of work, with new territory. It’s funny how that happens.

It’s so easy for many artists (and people in general) to deride “old” TV, as if by the very nature of its context, it epitomizes failure and deserves ridicule because it is from the time “before.” You, dear readers, know me by now. I never deride. Each media-moment is vital, worth refreshing and revisiting, or revitalizing in the present moment. I never judge the programs that compel me for being simply themselves. How could I?

 

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Poppy Transitory

You can read more about Poppy Transitory in this blog post, as I went into greater depth about the now completed series.

Artist Statement

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 Transitory is 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.

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Channeling

The most undeveloped of the new series, I see Channeling as a project destined for excavation in fall and winter, bleeding into 2017, just as the seasons echo an appropriate, often monstrous shift in perception and place.

I watched a lot of movies and TV growing up. Obviously. Hell, all of my work in maturity grapples with this, my “self” intricately connected to media. I recorded sounds, voices, music, from the TV screen and remixed them with portable tape players. I took pictures of the screen long before I knew it could ever be “art,” ever be socially relevant in any way. I understood the world, the interactions of people through media, parallel to my own physical dealings in the “real” world, through media.

Thus, I experienced a lot of films broadcast on TV, scrunched and reformatted for the mosaic mass audience. Of particular interest to me were the Universal films with tragic, despairing heroes like the Wolfman–monsters more human than the humans who attempted to subjugate them. Lon Chaney Jr. was a recurrent figure, and my familiarity with his form,  his voice, is tied to an experiential window that speaks to me both of childhood, and of survival-as-desperation; his characters are nearly always haunted, ineffectual. His lifespan nearly echoes my grandfather’s,  born the same year,  died three years after grandfather, before I was born, but after Cindy had died. Another fascinating shuffle of before, after tied to the other two series.

Each time I watched a reprised film, it reactivated the media in the present moment. Each time I watch one now, it’s like raising the media-material from the dead–revitalizing it in the present. Film supercedes mortality in a sense, both the original recording and in the re-engagement of older films… as if the characters, the actors, the movie sets and lived spaces, the flora and landscapes, are all reborn in perpetuity because of media.

I see this work dealing with living memory, re-emergence and the transitional states of bodies (and images) that are positioned between manifestation and death, between the archive and the actively engaged. Watching the performance of before, after, watching the performance of dead performers in lived, current space, is, in essence, a method of summoning. Channeling. Not unlike the Wolfman, who rises from death when hit by moonlight, the act of engaging material in the present moment reinvigorates it, reinforces its presence, its existence. It returns to vitality what has been lost.

Then there’s the added lore of film still impacting living memory. My memories of watching the films years ago–my new memories and connections, made when revisiting each film, when discussing and viewing, capturing and renewing–channeling the before into the after. This will be developed in the series. Artists Renee Green and Douglas Gordon deal deftly with this in different ways, and I am also turning again to their work for dialgoue.

Television as medium becomes, in itself, a medium (think spirit medium) spanning lived memory, experience and the inheritance of media culture as cultural and personal memory. Is watching a film akin to attending a media seance?

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With Channeling, I also see there is something in this utter, diligent sense of despair… recognition and denial, submission and resistance found in Lon Chaney Jr.’s character panoply.

Is it the curse of modernity? The desire to find a place within the chaos?

The deliciousness of silence, each image and its mutations are a recorded, but experiential point—there was the point lived by the actors and creators, the viewers and me as the manipulator, the literal time in which I am photographing and working with the raw digital bytes. The literal time it took to film and cut the original footage. This is the experiential point of both subject and manipulator, mortality and immortality.

 

MFA Thesis – Televisual Memory and the Telescoping Fire Station: Landscape as Media-Memory Site

From "Foothill Incident,"part of The Cascade - Moments in the Televisual Desert

From “Foothill Incident,”part of The Cascade – Moments in the Televisual Desert

MFA thesis – Televisual Memory and the Telescoping Fire Station: Landscape as Media-Memory Site.

Adams Thesis 4.3 PDF 1 – standard PDF

Adams Thesis 4.3 PDF 2 Adobe – Fancier PDF with hyperlinked footnotes

Adams Works Consulted 3.3 – selected bibliography of works consulted, but not directly cited in the final thesis.

Thesis abstract:

‘Landscape’ is an active site of occurrence—a platform of media-influenced exchange. Reflected through televisual language, it offers a relative experience, tied to our sense of geography, time and shifting notions of history. The Cascade – Moments in the Televisual Desert engages TV-inflected landscape as a permeating condition. In this telescoping space, landscape conflates time and memory, location and topography, television and reality.

Rooted in a personal connection to Southern California, which permeates American television from the 1960s-80s, I hunt, excavate and deploy conceptual instances of the Mojave Desert and its entanglement with the real, the vividly scripted and the iconic. Mediated by television, Los Angeles County becomes mercurial, behaving as stage and script, environment and blueprint—a mythic, cultural hunting ground. This transitory televisual landscape informs our understanding of place and event, blurring fiction and fact. The Cascade arrests this instability as an interdisciplinary investigation: a hot-and-cool mosaic that asks viewers to seek, receive and connect.

Derived from a body of moments excavated from television, The Cascade suspends semi-narrative traces as elements removed from their physical location by the original filming and further removed by capturing and mutating temporal instants. The environments thus inhabit the actual, the imagined and the transient place of recollection—a collapsed space conflating personal history, geologic reality and cultural production. Using layers as an economical mode of storytelling (focused on suspension in the moment), I compress events and location into a system of surface-screens: layers provide non-linear depth and conversations between media offer different modes of viewing and consuming.

 

Introduction:

Through my multimedia work, The Cascade – Moments in the Televisual Desert, I offer a meta-narrative of the television mosaic and the act of watching and remembering. Populated by a vulnerable recast of heroes engaged in a kind of primal forensics, an endless hunt plays out across time-compressed paintings, through active, audio-infused videos, and via digital montage.  Viewers (and characters) investigate this unstable environment, traveling between media, events and their realizations. There is a pervading sense of déjà vu—such that television becomes its own self-haunting specter.

Television is part of our working memory-experience, blended with the ‘actual’ to form a ‘hyper-actuality,’ linked to experience and place.[1] TV itself enables an image of culture and history as an “assemblage of dissembled distances from the instantaneous present,” but the present is always rebuilding itself, revitalizing the once-old (Dienst 78), just as television cannibalizes its own history in a continuous present.[2] The space between the original filming, its presentation as cultural object, its excavation and manipulation, and its relation to past-present-future are part of this telescoping space. My installation is a way of enabling the elusive hunt, of sculpting the media-inflected landscape itself—taking it and its cast of characters out of the living room and into an elastic convergence-space. Theorists Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass claim “media equals real life…” that familiar, deflated distance between broadcast and reality:   “knowing that fiction is fiction doesn’t stop the emotional brain from processing it as real…” (Gottschall 775).
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[1] Philosopher Gilles Deleuze proposes that “when a film returns us to the scene of a room and we recall simultaneously another scene that took place there, there is an overlay of present and recalled, real and virtual, as if facets of a single image” (Deleuze qted. in Farr 23). Though Deleuze saw this in cinema, I suggest it also occurs in television and in our individual relationship to real and fictional spaces represented through image (moving and still).

[2] Archived and older television still exists with a strange vitality that eludes even classic cinema. The televisual past is renewed via the abundance and proliferation of specialized viewing (with growing veracity thanks to genre channels, Netflix and on-demand delivery). Television is a medium that contains its own history and frequently resurrects and cannibalizes it (Buonanno 21), thus televisual history is constantly mediated by viewing it in an endless present.

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Mind Maps and Theory Icebergs

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I don’t normally make outlines for pieces I write. When dealing with complex information, I do mind-maps and wild zero drafts, which each have a constellation of “side notes” and “extracts” that move forward, parallel to the paper itself, as I weed out eliminated material. I save all of this and continually mine it for future works.

Below are three mind maps I made for my thesis, which take on the role of the annotated outline.

The theory mind map is the densest of the three. I see the theory as a vitally important foundation and I recognize that much of the theory mapped below will be reserved for a future social theory text, and therefore left out of the visual arts thesis. I also see the theory map as a series of icebergs. Though heavily detailed in my “backend” superstructure, only the tip of each iceberg will actually punch its way through into my thesis, in order to highlight or support discussion of the actual artworks. It is important for me to fully flesh out the theories, as a theory-based artist, though the structure of the MFA thesis dictates discussion of the physical works takes predominance.

The Installation
This mind-map addresses which aspects of theory attach to which of the three specific mediums. It also outlines which of my influences (and their specific works) attach to each train of thought.

Click for larger (readable) image.

Installation 1.1

The Theory

Since I’m a theory-driven artist, the theory map is the largest.  As I mentioned above, it was necessary for me to flesh out the sub-structure, even though only the highlights will punch through to the thesis. The rest will be reserved for a future text on social theory.

Click for larger (readable) image.

Thesis - Theory 3

Single Idea Map – Primal Media Forensics

This map shows a detailed “dig” into just The Hunt segment (from the theory map), which turned out to be incredibly important in supporting the reason for my interdisciplinary approach. Believe it or not, this ties into my actual discussion of the installation as a whole. This is just a map of how all of the parts I researched relate to one section.

Click for larger (readable) image.

The Cascade, the Hunt, the Search

I will be submitting these mind maps, along with a thesis ‘latticework’ to my adviser this month. I will share the zero draft latticework when it is ‘complete.’

Haunted Temporality: The Loop as Semi-Narrative Engine

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AJ is trapped in an endless helicopter-gunfire-convertible chase through the desert…

Ren Adams
Research Paper 3
Peter Rostovsky – Advisor
October, 2014

Haunted Temporality: The Loop as Semi-Narrative Engine

Note: Footnotes are below, if internal links don’t direct you there properly.
Download and Read PDF Version

Loops are powerful invocations, abandoning linear narrative for the intensity of a continuous present, capable of establishing, disrupting and directing temporal relationships. Media theorist Lev Manovich suggests the loop is actually “a new narrative form appropriate for the computer age,” even as it occupies a liminal, anti-narrative space between story and instance (Manovich xxxiii).[1] The term ‘loop’ itself describes a complex range of repetitive gestures, from 3-second animated GIFs to middle-ground montage (establishing shots, action sequences in television) and the broader, or nearly imperceptible, cycles found in contemporary art (e.g. Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho[2]). Woven into longer segments, loops can even establish a haunting sense of repetition and reappearance, affecting the viewer’s relationship to the viewed and the recalled. This flexibility allows loops to serve as an effective investigation into the conflated space of time and memory. In the case of my own video work, they allow access and reference to the uncanny familiarity of television and its rapid-fire montage experience. The video components of The Cascade incorporate loops to provide the kind of mosaic understanding of space-place that come from a de-centered, semi-narrative form. The loop provides critical negotiation of the televisual structure and the ways we commit and recall memory-images,[3] opening my artistic process to post-narrative methodology.

The contemporary loop recalls proto-cinema and early avant-garde film[4]—the active image repetition later supplanted by cinema’s reliance on linear narrative (Manovich 315). Early cinematic devices like the zoetrope and zoopraxiscope animated short sequences—dancers whirling, a horse jumping a fence, and so on, by “mapping time onto two-dimensional space” using sequenced, discrete images spaced around a circle (Manovich 51). These analog devices used physical motion to speed through individual shots, simulating activity within a closed-circuit (Manovich 296-7). They were capable of expressing an instant in time, a suspended action, often with its own micro-narrative (the horse jumps, the dancers dance), but without reliance upon storyline. With the emergence of cinema proper, the language of film abandoned the ‘artifice’ of the loop, avoiding repetitious sequences to stress the illusion of realistic ‘capture.’[5] The more cinema embraced capture, the more it bound itself to the forward-moving act of storytelling (Manovich 300-01). Cinema thus behaved like novels and theater, with clear progression through a series of events.[6] Since early television heavily mimicked film, it initially embraced the loop-free approach (Fiske 15), but as television developed its own language and aesthetic system, it integrated (even centralized) loops for defining program elements, story structure, and all manner of serialized and episodic development—even systems of re-run, re-make, programs, commercials,[7] and consumption.[8] Loops also resurfaced in video games, animation and the internet, reincarnated as short videos, animated GIFs and the like, carrying a renewed sense of the immediate present (Manovich 315). In current pop culture, loops are critically, even playfully integrated into the fiber of daily life, popping up in Facebook feeds, apps, games and television, expressing emotion, advertising products, making political statements, and so on.[9]

Thus, loop forms are an alternative to cinematic narrative. Repetitive structure prevents a clear understanding of beginning, middle and end, erasing our reliance on static waypoints while expanding a single moment into a potentially infinite, self-spiraling universe.  This allows contemporary artists to manipulate the viewer’s relationship to time and memory (even to place and event), just as the use of repeated sequencing in television programs reinforces the viewer’s sense of flow, place and character by offering a mosaic[10] of recorded experiences the viewer must link by viewing.[11] Where cinema unfolds an elaborate story system, loops invite focus, even frustration, functioning as discrete, contained occurrences or as open-circuit systems that manipulate the audience expectation set by visual media (Fiske 62).

The loop in a broader sense can also describe the progress of televisual language (and structure) itself. Most programs rely on formula, such that viewers gain a sense of familiarity with series they have never personally watched, simply by participating in televisual exchange (Fiske 17).[12] Unlike the linear drive of cinema, television reveals the nature of its ideas, characters and events as cross-referenced mosaics that may even span years of development (Fiske 125)(Footnote 9). In TV, literal looping segments become intertextual references, suggesting the repetitive structure of the programming and a GIF-like condensation of proto-cinema, while establishing rhythm, expository information and aesthetic value. The re-use of stock footage loops, for example, provides a punctuating rhythm that can link multiple seasons and ideas across, and through, the visual mosaic.

Looping stock footage is an established television practice and though the loop may contribute to the story, it is actually a collapsed, or excised, unit of time, without narrative—used repeatedly to transition the primary material.[13] Driving sequences from Emergency! and Adam 12 are excellent examples of this kind of punctuating loop. Each episode contains pre-recorded, circular footage of emergency vehicles or police cars leaving the station, hurtling through city streets or returning to the garage. The loops are not immediately apparent, but reveal ticks over time: the same cross traffic, pedestrians and clouds populate the time-frozen cycle. Repetition also suggests the endless, grueling process of rescue and law enforcement, so the loops also have conceptual meaning for characterization, but there is a composite relationship here, where action sequences and establishing shots form a kind of nonlinear temporality (135), resurfacing across multiple episodes to mark infinite spiraling points, yet the “narrative does not proceed as simple causality” (Birnbaum 137). Though the story moves forward because the police rush to the scene, the act of rushing is divorced and looped, intertwined with the “indiscernibility of the real and the imaginary, or of the present and the past, of the actual and the virtual…” creating double images, or looping engagements (Farr 23).

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The Day After (1983)

In contemporary art, loops can provide overall structure, as in Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, Cory Arcangel’s Clouds (2002) or Stan Douglas’ Overture (1986).[14] Punctuating longer works, or used in variation, the loop encourages viewers to consider the nature of time and the relationship between the reinvented continuous and the discrete, to see multiple potentialities simultaneously and to establish formal rhythm, as in Claudia X. Valdes’ In the Dream of the Planet (2002).  Valdes employs intense cycles and ‘reincarnated’ excerpts, in order to direct viewer interpretation and to reinforce Cold War conditions. In The Dream of the Planet (2002)(Fig. 1), Valdes appropriates made-for-TV-movie The Day After (1983), compressing the two-hour film into a 56-second loop.  The loop is repeated six times in rapid succession, with each incarnation skewed to emphasize a different aspect of Cold War anxiety: the military complex, social upheaval, survival, detonation, media, etc.… The original film grapples with a fictional nuclear escalation between the United States and the Soviet Union, culminating in a full-scale nuclear war. In the condensation, images hurtle past, allowing only a frantic glimpse of each person, each situation. The cycle slows with terrifying agony as missiles launch, buildings collapse and the media responds—distilling the doom of the original into a frenetic, semi-narrative commentary. The painfully recognizable, yet ultimately unreliable loop incites a state of hyper-arousal that parallels nuclear paranoia. Valdes’ ability to distill the made-for-TV movie, its subtexts and anxiety, with her own queries, is an excellent example of the haunted loop, which refers to, and reenacts, its own apparitional forms—making it incredibly relevant to the distillation of action and interaction in The Cascade.[15]

My video work considers the way loops are capable of suggesting the space of spatial memory and whether repetition provides a condensed sense of the mosaic found in televisual language.[16] Embedded, unstable grooves offer the viewer contextual déjà vu—where they begin to identity recognizable sequences, but are confronted by uncertain, semi-narrative that haunts itself with its own re-visitation. This perpetual re-enactment suggests the denial of traditional story, while establishing a dream-like state where characters engage and re-engage, running over a tight temporality that flirts with story.

So I Asked… (2014)(Fig. 2) establishes this kind of haunted, repetitious cycle via deeply interlocked, repetitious passages. Opening with two firefighter-paramedics caught mid-conversation (then interrupted by an emergency call), the tumbling, heavily altered stream collides with a rotating sequence of loops (a landing helicopter, a high speed gunfight, rescue vehicles en route, etc.). The loops continually intertwine, ghosted, as intensity builds. The increasingly anxious, overlapping dialogue suggests “something happens, is happening, goes on happening…” (Drucker 23), though sequenced temporality ruptures: the ‘goes on happening’ may actually occur before the initial ‘something’ that sets off the chain. The paramedics seem to be responding to a gunfight, yet the rescuers themselves are caught in a disruptive loop that leaves the title question unasked and the rescue unresolved, though viewers can rely on their knowledge of televisual language to determine that a rescue has been, or will be, attempted. We are unable to rely on linearity, yet the hurtle of loops describe the events most likely to have occurred, though order is unclear—rather like catching episodes out of sequence, leaving us to infer connections.[17]

I also take into consideration the telescoping stages of video itself: the time of the original filming, editorial time in appropriative postproduction, the immediate present of the watching viewer, the viewer’s present-into-past transition and the after-processing (and any subsequent recollection). The intensity of repetition is meant to reinforce the experience of an immediate, unyielding present, both in terms of ‘story’ progression and reception. The moments-after transition through what has immediately passed suggests: “time flows and each present fades but doesn’t disappear” (Birnbaum 139), amplifying the sense of déjà vu as almost-identical snippets continually resurface. This holds true in Valdes’ work, as well as in the stock footage loops I reference in my own work. So I Asked… (and other Cascade videos) may even behave as fragmentary, fragile archives—bound by our desire to sort out the phenomena of “haunting,” and the activation of memory that occurs with reappearance (Farr 12). Are we seeing the same event as an instant replay? Are we remembering an earlier incarnation, or is a similar event happening repeatedly in the same space, over time? The embedded loops thus recall the instant-moment introspection of proto-cinema, or the characterizing, time-independent stock footage of the appropriated programs.[18] The semi-narrative is stitched, overlaid and underwritten by time.

Loops possess a kind of visual déjà vu adapted from proto-cinematic experiments, re-contextualized by digital culture, manipulated by television and increasingly fundamental to contemporary art. They are versatile vehicles of conceptual delivery, raw enough to link and characterize television and capable of leading to surprising engagements with the haunting re-enactment of contemporary life. Loops can be semi-narrative, providing time-introspective context for larger stories, or they can perform as narrative-defying moments of their own, operating outside traditional viewer expectation. They fundamentally speak of time, memory and reflective space, especially when divorced from big-picture enslavement, becoming a postproduction, anti-narrative engine, disruptive and interstitial. Repetition changes our engagement with the ‘place’ of moving image, making loop investigations a relevant, even vital, expression of our time—a way of zeroing in on the atoms of information flow.

Works Cited

Adams, Ren. So I Asked… 2014. YouTube. 8 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.

Birnbaum, Daniel. “Crystals.” Memory. Ed. Ian Farr. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012. 137-144. Print.

Boyd, Mark Cameron. “Postnarrative Structure.” Theory Now. 10 April, 2008. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

Culley, Peter. “Two Works by Stan Douglas.” Vanguard 16:4 (1987).

Dienst, Richard. Still Life in Real Time: Theory after Television (Post-Contemporary Interventions). Durham: Duke University Press, 1994. Print.

Drucker, Johanna. “Temporal Photography.” Philosophy of Photography 1:1 (2010): 22-28. Print.

Enwezor, Okwui. “Documents into Monuments: Archives as Meditations in Time.” Memory. Ed. Ian Farr. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012. 133-136. Print.

Farr, Ian. “Introduction/Not Quite how I Remember it.” Memory. Ed. Ian Farr. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012. 12-27. Print.

Fiske, John and John Hartley. Reading Television. Florence: Routledge, 1978. Print.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001. Print.

Valdes, Claudia X. “In the Dream of the Planet.” Portfolio. Claudia X. Valdes. 2002. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.

inthedream_valdes

Figure 1. In the Dream of the Planet (2012). Claudia X. Valdes. Video (Installation View).

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Figure 2. So I Asked… (2014). Ren Adams. Video.

[1] Manovich also suggests it is “relevant to recall that the loop gave birth not only to cinema but also to  computer programming,” thus tying loop logic to database execution—a fundamental 20th and 21st century interface   (Xxxiii)Loops are found in proto cinema and at the beginning of cinema, then re-emerge in new media. (215).
[2] Gordon’s installation incorporates two projection screens which simultaneously play an endless loop of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), one proceeding forward, the other backward. The loops move at only a few frames per second—so slowly that casual viewers may not even recognize change or directional progression at all. Longer consideration of the piece reveals the uncanny, unnerving and crystallized sense of frozen (yet endlessly progressing) cinematic time, as they loop in such long spans, few could sit through the entire motion—even as they are aware of the sweeping loop.

[3] Theorists like Paul Ricoeur and Jean-Paul Sartre suggest the uncanny, layered experience of memory is a process part logic, part hallucinatory. Ricoeur applies some of Henri Bergson’s memory theory, when interpreting Sartre’s psychology of imagination by describing a kind of intermediary memory as a mixed state, where “the ‘memory-image’ [is] halfway between ‘pure memory’ and memory reinscribed in perception” (Farr 14). The memory-image, or mixed media we construct in our minds, is never wholly factual, or entirely reliable, instead a play between the imaginary and conscious, between the interpreted and the understood.

[4] Dziga Vertov’s 1929 Man with a Movie Camera re-enacts the proto-cinematic loop, embedded in longer experimental montage that remains relevant to new media considerations (Manovich xiv, 316).

[5] Manovich suggests “narrative cinema avoids repetitions; like modern Western fictional forms in general, it puts

forward a notion of human existence as a linear progression through numerous unique events” (315-316).

Cinematic linearity is not just a storytelling structure, but an attribution of larger psychological ordering techniques in Modernity.

[6]       At least mainstream/dominant cinema. Avant-garde cinema plays by different rules.

[7] Television theorist Richard Dienst claims television endlessly cuts away from program moments to return to the “traffic of images and sounds, to all the messages carried by all the messengers crossing through the world” (129). This creates a loop of program-commercial-program-commercial.

[8] Artist Nam June Paik echoes television theorists when he suggests “the fundamental concept of TV is time…” (Dienst 159). Television is recorded, produced, cut and offered in terms of time, so time is not only a fundamental concept, but also the fundamental shape of television. The familiar loops we encounter in viewing owe much to the backbone of the medium. Thus, “time is the substance of television’s visuality, the ground of its ontology and the currency of its economy” (Dienst 159).

[9] Their ubiquitous culture-wide return can be attributed to larger postmodern and ‘digimodern’ cultural shifts, not expounded here.

[10] Which more closely resembles oral tradition than novels or theater, where characters repeat, refrains establish elastic structure and context, but in which stories exhibit a kind of fluidity not found in directional cinema. Television has been likened to oral tradition by more than one theorist (Fiske 125). Viewers gain an understanding of characters and events by viewing, digesting and cross-referencing visual information. We get a sense of who Jack Bauer is, not because of lengthy cinematic development, but because we cross-patch, experience and unite threads from 9 seasons of 24. This is similar to the way in which audiences might come to understand the epic poetry or folktales of Odysseus or Coyote.

[11] Cinema and radio are considered ‘hot’ media because they extend and deliver a focused sensation; the viewer or listener watches, listens and receives to gain understanding. Television is considered a ‘cool’ medium because the viewer must do most of the work; “the screen supplies mere metonyms, we make them meaningful” (Reading 123). Because information about characters, events and plotlines are stretched across multiple episodes, even multiple seasons and years, and TV occupies living space, rather than the black box of the focused theater, television asks the audience to perform and engage. Episodes do not even need to be viewed ‘in order’ to garner a sense of the program’s reality. Thus, it is “only at the moment when the semiotic codes interlock with the cultural awareness supplied by the viewer, whose own context will play a part in shaping that cultural awareness” (Fiske 123).

[12] We may catch an advertisement for a new detective show or medical drama and already have a sense of the kind of language, pacing and aesthetics that are likely to be offered, related in part to past viewing experiences, or to general cultural understanding of genres. We know how sitcoms are meant to behave, etc.
[13] Thought it may contain the kind of micro-narrative present in the spinning zoetrope: the vehicles turn a corner, the firemen jump into the engine and leave, etc.
[14]  Arcangel’s Clouds is a new media projection piece, endlessly rebuilt in real time from a modified Super Nintendo game cartridge. The background clouds from Super Mario Brothers provide an infinite, fabricated loop.

In Stan Douglas’ piece, a 16mm Edison Company promotional film is looped under a narration from Proust. In the cycle, a train curves through a British Columbian landscape in an infinite circle (Boyd)(Culley). The voice-over is contemplates the transition from waking to sleeping, echoed in the uncanny monotony of the endless train ride. Here, the loop is at first uncertain. The film lasts 6 minutes—enough time to seem discrete, yet the viewer realizes the train is passing through the same terrain, just as our minds do (especially during the process of recollection). Here, the loop offhandedly illustrates the philosophy of Proust’s memory-grooves (Boyd).

[15] The Cascade is my three-part, interdisciplinary thesis, which includes painting, video and interactive elements. The interactive component also makes use of loops, though it is not discussed here.
[16]  A number of television theorists describe cinema as ‘linear’ and television as ‘mosaic.’ Viewers gain a sense of who the characters are, the world they inhabit and t, mosaic, oral tradition(reading television 125)

[17] Due to my schedule, I was unable to watch the first four seasons of The Office in real time, or in ‘proper’ order. Instead, I watched their non-sequential re-broadcast in syndication, which made no attempt to present the series in linearity. Instead, I saw snippets of the before and after of several relationships and dramatic story arcs, piecing together the total experience by seeing events out of turn. The overall mosaic offered a smattering of details that came into focus only after viewing each puzzle piece separately. I thought of this as a critical motive when constructing my videos, as this is often the case with shows in re-rerun, or for viewers who miss a week’s installment. We understand television as mosaic, and we know how to complete the metonymic role of television (Fiske 123). We are the connotative agents (Fiske 41).

[18] My videos intentionally reference the looping stock footage of the appropriated television programs. Loops invoke re-enactment, whether suggesting repeat activities or behaving as discrete repetitions in themselves. Thus, the overall atmosphere recalls previous stories and future adventures, while flirting with narrative, but not offering closure.  By overturning cultural expectations of narrative progress, the videos undermine the process of viewing that we are most familiar with (Boyd).