Category Archives: Reviews

The Joy of Critique

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

Upon graduation, it stopped.

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

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

So I went on the hunt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Installation, Process

Ren Adams Art installationThe first week of October, I flew to Sacramento, then on to Oroville/Chico to install Whitespace-Bluespace – Televisual Memory and the Implied Catastrophe at the Butte College Art Gallery.

The body of work is adaptable to different kinds of spaces, and for this particular install I brought works on paper (large diptychs, triptychs and quads and smaller grids), videos and View-Masters. I used alternative installation methods, rather than framing, and the smaller pieces were rather modular and flexible in ways I hadn’t quite expected beforehand.

The Butte College Art Gallery was an excellent space–not incomprehensibly large and pretty straightforward in terms of lightning, surfaces, flooring and usable space.

After being given a tour of the art building (more on that adventure in a future post!), my first task was, of course, to unpack and curate. I had already done a mock-up of the potential installation, using the gallery floor plan, so I knew where I wanted the large pieces, and where I wanted grids, but I remained responsive to the unique characteristics of the space itself–its bouncing light, its angles and surfaces.

I laid out the largest pieces, following my original mock-up, ensuring they would interact the way I’d intended. The View-Masters, with each reel already pre-assigned to an informed color choice, huddled until appropriate pillars were chosen for each.

Though part of my first day’s install was interrupted (I gave a printmaking demonstration to one of the Intro to Printmaking classes that afternoon, which led to an insightful and productive pause), I tackled the larger works with their alternative install structure.  No frames. No traditional enclosures.

I had already experimented with traditional framing, only to find the static, predictable nature of the enclosed box killed the dynamism of the pieces, and dampened their cross-piece dialogue. There was just something vital about having them suspended, perhaps indeterminately, between each other, between walls and corners–like the fragile nature of the moments they suggest. To frame/not frame has often been a frustration of mine, and even when conceptual reasons insist on pieces being left unframed, some spaces require framing (probably justifiably so, as framing also helps protect works on paper). Thankfully, university spaces are typically more experimental and open to non-traditional installs and I was able to do what I wanted.

To suspend the works, I used a combination of Gaffer’s tape and Stick and Peel, a special polymer, glue-like product that firmly adheres paper to walls, but does not damage either the paper or the paint.

As an unexpected bonus, the printmaking professor Max and his fellow printmaker/artist friend Dean decided to assist me in hanging the large pieces. We made short work of them and cut out for a tour of downtown Chico.

Installation continued the following day, this time concentrated on the multi-part grid installations. I laid out the many smaller arrangements that could potentially fill the walls I’d outlined as installs:

I only needed about 75 individual works to create the structures suggestive of TV-screens, but I’d brought more than 300. Overkill? Maybe. Flexible? You bet.

Thus, the second day was dominated by the tremendous task of narrowing down the final 9-piece grids, from the 300+ individual image-moments I’d brought. They were already grouped by title, of course, but I had to select which grids uniquely conversed with the large pieces in their final placements. This required real-time review of color, form, and suggested semi-narrative. Were too many of the grids reiterating the larger works, unnecessarily? Which grids brought new dimensions to the dimensional web of “before,” and “after”?

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Having such an amazing, wide floor to work on was beyond useful. I was able to really grapple with the smaller works, addressing each image-moment, each fluid cell, as potential moving blocks in a larger implied catastrophe.

Viewing so many selected extracts from the archive, off the monitor and laid out in real space, invited investigation of new kinds of visual and conceptual connections between the grids, and within my own methodology.

Once the panoply of potential grids had consumed the floor space, I enlisted the help of one of the Butte College Art Gallery assistants. Kong and I analyzed, discussed and dissected the suddenly movable parts, and he was clearly drawn to his own newfound ability to reshape and restructure grid-relationships with his own hands. In fact, he couldn’t resist.

This was a valuable, spontaneous critique and dialogue, and it emphasized the viewer’s desire to rearrange frames for their own sense of understanding. I do plan to allow viewers to install the 23,000+ archive by hand in a future version of the exhibition (a real-time, collaborative event where attendees can stick small versions of each frame anywhere on the wall, in any way they like) and we also addressed the potential (even the want) of each image to exist as a physical, movable, and invitational object. Like words in a sentence in Latin, where order is determined by the writer’s conceptual decisions, not by formal structure, we could see each cell mounted on a sturdy backing, perhaps prepped with velcro, and walls upon which the cells could be arranged with just pressure. I’ll be investigating this further when I return to the studio, but for the Butte College installation, I stuck with my immovable grids.

I swapped, moved, scaled, adjusted and mutated each grid relationship.

A surprising, delicate and uncertain overall semi-narrative suddenly crystallized. Kong saw it. I saw it. We followed the threads.

Reading the completed gallery install, from the south wall around to the east entrance, it began with Sonny suspended in the agony of learning terrible news to the final cell, where Sonny appears to die in his partner’s arms.

If viewers began with the east entrance wall, and followed, the cells seemed to suggest the indeterminate passage of moments prior to the disarmed hero’s apparent death. If viewers attacked the install from any angle, they received a mosaic flutter of information that danced around the before and after of my suddenly emergent main character’s last few days or moments.

Another reason the artist’s conceptual engagement with the gallery space they use is absolutely primary, vital, revealing. And amazing.

The final install:

The opening night (I was so busy, I only got shots at the beginning, but it gives a great idea of scale):

 

Digital Latin America, 2014 Exhibition

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Jessica Angel, Hemispheric Immersion, 2014.

This week I viewed the Digital Latin America Exhibition at 516 Arts in Albuquerque, one of the city’s only true contemporary art spaces. The carefully curated show was brimming with compelling, 21st century investigations of space, identity, perception, language and the line between digital and physical.

The exhibition also proved fruitful (and invigorating!) for my own digital/hybrid work and I was able to enjoy each of the installations as new media objects, while also considering conceptual applications to my thesis. Several of the pieces encouraged me to reconsider how I can engage with the viewer, electronic media and physical space. I went away scribbling tons of notes!

From 516:

Digital Latin America is an outgrowth of the Latin American Forum for the award-winning International Symposium of Electronic Arts (ISEA2012) produced by 516 ARTS last fall (www.isea2012.org).  It will explore the North/South axis of cultural development and exchange between South America, Central America and the Southwest United States.

Connecting individuals, cultures, traditions and social histories to a rapidly expanding global network remains not only a pressing challenge but a profound opportunity and necessity.  The utopian notion of closing the digital divide represents a paradigm shift that encourages the participation of all communities and cultures to express themselves through contemporary methods and continue a progressive existence in today’s technology dependent society.  Digital Latin America looks at the ways in which artists negotiate the complex terrain between global and local, virtual and real, and political and private, in the creation of work that proposes alternative understandings of technology, art and cultural exchange.
The multi-site International Art Exhibition, based at 516 ARTS’ museum-style venue in the center of Downtown Albuquerque, will highlight contemporary artists from Latin America and the Southwestern United States with high caliber, innovative, interactive artworks, accessible to the general public and presented in an educational context.  Satellite artworks and exhibitions will be located at The Albuquerque Museum of Art & History and UNM Art Museum.

 

The viewer is dwarfed, consumed even, by Jessica Angel’s Hemispherical Immersion, 2014. Constructed of offset prints, adhesive vinyl and physical perversions of perspective, this massive piece fills the entrance, rising several several floor. It was delightfully challenging to truly comprehend the scale and distortion–a process my iPhone camera failed to resolve.

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The work demands the viewer to consider their physical and visual position in constructed, deep “digital” space, blurring the definition between the architectural environment and the artist’s mark.

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The viewer literally walks in, on and through Angel’s piece. Angel literally asks us, “Can we fantasize that we are as teeny as a living megabyte, sightseeing through the superhighways of information?”

There is no way to access any other part of the exhibition without negotiated the semi-real space of Angel’s information-scape.

 

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Another artist (whose name I shamefully did not note) produced a work that invites touch. A wired system of braille is framed and lit. Viewers interact with it by looking, touching and listening. As you run your fingers across the braille, it triggers atmospheric, ambient sounds. Not knowing how to read braille myself, the raised bumps suddenly elicited a new kind of meaning and understanding.

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Rejane Cantone and Leonardo Crescenti produced Speak / Fala, 2011. This hybrid work makes use of voice-responsive software and interacts with the viewer, or with itself if no words are spoken into the microphone. It cycles through a variety of languages, preventing it from being lodged in one linguistic tradition or association. It also means the viewer can speak almost any language into the mic and receive integrative responses. When I said “hello,” I was greeted by a gradual chorus of international “welcomes.” When I said, “tomorrow,” the speakers fell silent briefly, then one said, “to-morrow” and another said “24 hours” before diving into variations of days, passages and time.

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New Mexico Diné artist William R. Wilson sucked us into Talking Tintypes, 2014. Several richly textured, digital enlargements of hand-processed tintype photographs created a corner of pause–the subjects in each panel equally paused in mid-action, quietly considering the viewer. We took the time to read the panel and discovered the photos were actually embedded with QR codes and could be scanned.

You can see the photos above and below as an example of the way the work shatters the separation between digital and physical, shifting our understanding of the “still” in a provocative way.

Pointing a smartphone to “read” the portraits instantly opened an active video of the same tintype. The portrait literally comes to life and the subject completes a process (reading a poem, dancing, playing an instrument) as a virtual extension of the frozen still. This recalls, for me at least, the 19th century work of problematic photographers like Edward R. Curtis, who frequently presented the “vanishing Indian” as a colonized archetype of the tame-able wild, often posing them in a hodge podge of cultural items and dresses drawn from nations outside their own. The Native American of Curtis (and photographers like him) became a generic, iconographic non-person. Here, a Native artist provides access to portraits of human beings as active, engaged, creative individuals that spring to life through a digital-physical crossover. Each individual demonstrates the kind of agency denied to most of the 19th century subjects.

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Above: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Surface Tension, 1992. Plasma screen, computerized surveillance system, custom-made software. Hemmer’s eye is closed when you’re out of range, but opens and watches you impassively as you move about the gallery, especially as you speak with the smartphones in the work mentioned earlier. As you talk into the mic, engaged with another work of art, the eye considers your actions ambivalently and unabashedly.

Below: Giselle Bieguelman’s Cinema Lascado (Chipped Movies), 2010 and 2013, was incredibly compelling. Projected into a separated space (just out of eye-shot of Hemmer’s piece), the viewer is confronted by disturbing, fractured sequences–stills that are animated by the force of their forward momentum. Ambient, sometimes grating, noise fills the room, swelling and dissipating as you occasionally uncover strains of action (is explosion a natural part of the harbor function, or an attack? A destructive moment?) but it denies resolution. Instead, it brings montage and filmic compositing together. Fractured moments provide a mosaic-like overview of an urban industrial space, where you understand change takes place, sometimes drawn out as archaeological moments, other times in the blink (or melting) of a still.

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Hernando Barragán, Interactive Lamps,

 

 

Above: Hernando Barragán, Interactive Lamps.

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There were many other pieces in the exhibition and it’s worth ordering a copy of the exhibition catalog if you’re interested in the cross-platform, cross-cultural investigations of these artists. You can also view additional images of other works, and read more about some of the artists I did not mention here, by viewing the links below:

Related links:

http://www.santafenewmexican.com/pasatiempo/art/art_reviews/art-in-review-digital-latin-america-at-arts/article_b057ba10-490b-5cdb-9d11-37f351ab00e0.html

http://516arts.org/images/stories/PDFs/2014/Review__516_Arts.pdf

http://adobeairstream.com/art/albuquerques-digital-latin-america-etches-parallel-visions/