Tag Archives: body of work

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):

 

Poppy Transitory

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“1972, Before,” (left) and “1972, After,” (right), 2016. 22″ x 14.5″. Hybrid Printmaking (linocut, serigraphy, acrylic) on Evolon.

As many of you know, Poppy Transitory is one of three new series I’ve been working on this year, which grew from a selfie experiment married to a recurring, media-inflected investigation of loss (read Before, After – Part 1 for backstory).

Visually, Poppy Transitory suggests Alchemy of Image, with a substantive correlation to The Cascade – Moments in the Televisual Deserteven as it occupies an absurd, candy-colored space between desert and monument, memory and displacement. It grapples with the strange, abstract grief I carry for two individuals I knew only through memory-narrative, and our mutual, familial ties to the Hollywood-infused Mojave Desert.

"1972, Before," 2016. 22" x 14.5". Hybrid Printmaking (linocut, serigraphy, acrylic) on Evolon.

“1972, Before,” 2016. 22″ x 14.5″. Hybrid Printmaking (linocut, serigraphy, acrylic) on Evolon.

Artist Statement – Poppy Transitory

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

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

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

Aware of its own artificiality, the work earnestly embraces our candy-colored attempts to mediate the space of grief with flowers, cards, and condolences—the physical trappings of a cultural process of mourning, often our only recourse in grappling with the unexplained. Poppy 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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“Momentary Monuments,” 2016. 30″ x 22″. Hybrid Printmaking (linocut, serigraphy, Akua monotype, acrylic) on BFK Rives.

Winter and spring, 2016 were marked by a recurrent obsession with my sister’s murder, with Gram Parson’s connection to my family (and sense of place)–and the conflicting, mysterious accounts surrounding their sudden deaths.

They perished in the Mojave (not far from each other physically, or chronologically). Their deaths were violent, unexpected, colored by narrative, encoded with misinformation–true clarity and closure denied on both counts, even if official records claim otherwise. Their deaths have followed me as I grew, rooted in my formative years, finding a voice in each decade, adapting to different moments, always clouded, sometimes comforting.

This desert-tainted connectivity (and obfuscation) fueled Poppy Transitory on a conceptual, even physical, level and I followed my obsession dutifully, turning again to printmaking for execution. (Continued below image gallery)

I printed more than 50 pieces in May, 2016, after a poignant entanglement with a friend led to a sharp break (another well of dislocation and loss), itself a suitable subtext for a series that addresses dislocation, distance… (the short time with, the inevitable time without).

Printing the series was physical, intense.

I combined several techniques in a furious and responsive manner, and most of the individual works have more than 30 or 40 printed layers, some bearing marks so transparent, they can only be seen from delicate side angles. I would print for 5 – 8 hours continuously, without breaking, and often as long as 10 to 12 hours, sweating and grinding at the hand crank, madly inking and placing hand-carved linoleum blocks and monotype plates. Printing consumed the entire month and by the end of May, each piece had passed through the etching press hundreds of times, then mercilessly passed again under my silk screens as they accumulated more layers, more obfuscation.

When adding silk screen layers, I filled the entire classroom at New Grounds with tables and screens, ink and prints-in-progress, each work on paper fluttering with the blowing air conditioner. The loose, fragile surfaces submitted to a cycle of layer-hammering, turning, layering, turning, stacking, turning, until the surfaces were ready for additional linocut, monotype and final layers of directly marked ink.

I tore my rotator cuff printing this series. I felt it to the bone. I carried a physical pain-imprint of the work and its ideas, its subtext, through the summer and I’m only just now getting normal rotation back. It’s as if the pieces had re-imprinted their garish concerns, their selves back on my tissue, invading my body.

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“In the Desert, Still,” 2016. 30″ x 22″. Hybrid Printmaking (linocut, serigraphy, Akua monotype, acrylic) on BFK Rives.

William Kentridge suggests every print is a “trace” of the original surface; a memory of the plate impressed on paper. Thus, printmaking was the perfect vehicle for investigating this webbing of interrelated moments, images and clues—explored and combined like memories themselves. I did not know Cindy or Gram personally, yet they are intertwined with my life, their presence (and glaring absence), always a veil away. They are present-not-present, both signifier and signified, just as the plate surface was once autonomous, then acquainted with the paper through impression.

Cindy died January 11, 1972. Gram died Sept. 19, 1973, only four months before I was born (January 22, 1974), in the tenuous window between Cindy’s departure and my arrival. Our going and coming, all in the Mojave. The shrines, epigraphs and cards (as much “them” as the stories and photographs of their lived experience), all in the Mojave. These pieces, all tied to the visual language of the Mojave.

The memory-imprint of each carved linoleum block, each silkscreen stencil, each unique printmaking plate, is thus transferred to paper with this in mind, generating transparent, shifting layers that collide, disperse and even co-exist.  Each moment is a trace of the original plate-event, each shape a touch of the original signified, just as our memories offer a hint of the original experience (however layered, mentally mediated, fictionalized). Each imprint a trace of my hand, of my considerations and judgments. Each time I recall a story, a trace of the original encounter is proposed, engaged. Maybe forgotten.

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“Mojave Epigraph (Lost),” 2016. 9″ x 12″. Hybrid Printmaking (linocut, serigraphy, Akua monotype, watercolor monotype, acrylic) on BFK Rives.

Layered like transparent sediment, each “stamp” suggests the way pinpointed moments and memories freeze with a fictionalized quality, yet remain transient and insubstantial (yet often hardened as iconic distillations), until built up with other layers of memory and experience (additional strata). Here, the indeterminate qualities of stamping and highlighting, and the tension between crisp pinpoints and veiled passages, allowed me to suggest that information is only partly reliable, just as my knowledge of Cindy and Gram will always occupy a clouded in-between space. Our memories are composed of constellations. The stars, partially decoded clues…

We build our understanding of people, events, even places in collected, layered and associated pieces. Each time we share, recall and disperse memories, we collate them into understandable stories, homogenizing certain aspects, amplifying specific details. They may even become stripped down, or wildly embellished, reoriented like layers of understanding… the understandably real is no longer important or necessary.

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“The Language of Lost Urban Poppies,” 2016. 10″ x 24″. Hybrid Printmaking (digital image transfer, serigraphy, linocut, acrylic, ink) on BFK Rives.

Each of these pieces contains a whirl of desert-infused shapes, extracted from the Mojave landscape, distilled as iconography from the life and death of Cindy and Gram, from my own childhood connection to the area, its aridity, its refusal to reveal its mysteries. I drew on the visual vocabulary of Gram’s colorful, flamboyant suits, Cindy’s floral patterned clothing and sheets–and folded desert rocks, highways, Joshua trees, telephone poles and poppies into the mix (the poppies as represented on Gram’s garish patches, as patterns on Cindy’s sundresses, and as real Mojave wildflowers).

These direct elements were then blended with odd, colorful elements culled from condolence cards kept in a box (cindys-not-cindys), and from the plastic flowers, cards and trinkets left by fans (grams-not-grams), left by family for both (for a time), and the inevitable passing of their offerings, as they inevitably fade from living memory. I found the relationship between the delightful, decorative language of their living clothing–and the grief-laden, posthumous florals were part of an uncanny chorus. There was a visual collision where the objects of mourning conflated with the patterns of  the living–a crossover I purposefully investigated in the surface of each layered piece. While the work dances with decorative elements, it remains broken, unresolved.

The repetition of shapes suggests our attempts to reconcile transient grief, the appearance and reappearance of detail, our attempts to unify dispersed moments and to make vivid the unclear and hidden. The shapes are a whirlwind self-haunting pieces,

 

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“Time-place Elegy,” 2016. 9″ x 12″. Hybrid Printmaking (linocut, serigraphy, watercolor monotype, ink) on BFK Rives.

It actually seems fitting that poppies are the California state flower. They exist in a state of constant rebirth as annuals, bursting briefly into being, then dying away. Transitory. A hot flash, a cool dispersal. There were poppies on my sister’s clothing. Poppies on Gram’s embroidered suits and shirts… poppies growing alongside the plastic flowers and gifts left in their honor. Poppy Transitory is thus the perfect title, the perfect way of looking at movement through the desert wasteland.

Selected works from Poppy Transitory are featured in an exhibition this August, Pressient – Contemporary Abstract Printmaking, curated by Trish Meyer. The show runs through the month at the Weyrich Gallery in Albuquerque, NM.

View my exhibitions page for more information.