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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):

 

Whitespace-Bluespace – Televisual Memory and the Implied Catastrophe, Solo Exhibition Opening

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“They Held On (defending),” 2016. Ren Adams. Experimental cell phone photography (digital monotype with manual glitch). Extract from 30” x 45” installation.

The Butte College Art Gallery Presents:

Whitespace-Bluespace – Televisual Memory and the Implied Catastrophe, an exhibition of experimental glitch photography (digital monotypes) by New Mexico artist Ren Adams.

About the exhibition:

Exhibition runs October 5 through Thursday October 27, 2016.
A gallery reception: Wednesday, October 5th, from 4 – 6 pm.
Artist talk: Wednesday, October 5th, 4:00 pm.

The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served and Butte College Music instructor Eric Peter will play his jazz guitar from 4:30 – 5:30 pm.

Butte College Art Gallery
First floor of the Arts Building, Main campus of Butte College
3536 Butte Campus Dr., Oroville, CA.
Current gallery hours are Monday – Thursday, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.

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“I could not,” 2016. Ren Adams. Experimental cell phone photography (digital monotype with manual glitch). Variable output formats.

About the work:

Whitespace-Bluespace – Televisual Memory and the Implied Catastrophe is a multimedia installation that combines works on paper, video, and View-Master toys to address the unreliability of memory and perception. By investigating the wonderful, terrible sublime of “before” and “after,” Adams’ television-infused spaces offer a delicate dance of relativity.

Using cell phone photography in a real-time system of manipulation, Adams spent 8 months capturing digital “monotypes” from the TV screen, generating an archive of nearly 24,000 experimental images. Mined from Miami Vice, which she originally watched during a time of personal loss, Adams used an obsessive system of viewing and extracting. Her glitches suggest the imperfection of memory and our incomplete understanding of sequence and situation. The resulting environments are soft, fluid and abstract, inhabited by a cast of “heroes” who are undermined, human, uncertain and temporary.

In fact, characters in Whitespace-Bluespace… are composed of fragments, like memory itself. Adams’ work suggests that our memories, like episodic TV viewing, are an abstract palette. We construct a mosaic of understanding by assembling clues extracted from media—from our life experiences—allowing us to “know” people, places, and events by collating data, much of it reframed (often misunderstood). Her work uses passive and active media to investigate the tension between specificity and obscurity, emphasizing the distance between what is known and unknown.

Read the complete artist statement here.

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Currently untitled, 2016. Ren Adams. Experimental cell phone photography (digital monotype with manual glitch). Extract from 30” x 45” installation.

About the artist:

Ren Adams is a printmaker and art educator who works cross-media, from art installations to video, digital, painting and sound. Adams exhibits internationally, participates in collaborations and print exchanges, and regularly publishes visual art, poetry and critical writing. She teaches through the University of New Mexico and New Grounds Print Workshop and is a frequent visiting artist, lecturer, resident critic, juror and instructor. She earned her MFA in Visual Art from Lesley University College of Art & Design and her BFA in Studio Art (Printmaking) from the University of New Mexico, with honors. Recent solo exhibitions include Desert (Loss) (2015), Alchemy of Image (2014) and Whitespace-Bluespace – Televisual Memory and the Implied Catastrophe (2016). Her recent visual art publications include: The Bombay Gin, The Hand Magazine, First Class Lit, Cactus Heart, Box of Jars and Fickle Muses. Adams is a UC Berkeley Alumni Scholar and received a merit award from the Art Institute of Boston in 2013. She continues active experimentation in printmaking, new media and interdisciplinary approaches to art.

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“Our Conversation Turned,” 2016. Ren Adams. Experimental cell phone photography (digital monotype with manual glitch). 16” x 20”.

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“The Glass and the Fire (desperation),” 2016. Experimental cell phone photography (digital monotype with manual glitch). Extract from 30” x 45” installation.

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“My Life is not Better than Yours,” 2016. Ren Adams. Experimental cell phone photography (digital and manual glitch) as View-Master reel.