Tag Archives: contemporary art

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

Axis Mundi is Coming

Video still from rough cut for Axis Mundi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Excerpts from my project proposal:

Background: The Absurd (Necessity) of Mediating Grief

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

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

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

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

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

Approach: Television as Accidental Eyewitness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What: Physical Output

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

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

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.”

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.

 

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.

 

Pressient – Cotemporary Abstract Printmaking Exhibition

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Selected works from my Poppy Transitory series are featured in Pressient – Contemporary Abstract Printmaking, an August exhibition at The Weyrich Gallery. Curated by Trish Meyer, the show offers a selection of contemporary printmakers and their works on paper.

Fore more information on the exhibition, and to download the exhibition catalog, please visit my portfolio.

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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.