Tag Archives: experimental photography

Funaday Ritual (Unraveling)

Ren Adams art. Experimental photography with glitch

Ren Adams. Study for Unraveling. 2017. Experimental photography with analog and digital glitch.

In January, I am working on a daily ritual project: FunADay, hosted by GRAFT Gallery in Albuquerque. 31 artists are producing a fresh piece of work each day, for 31 days, to be installed as part of an exhibition hosted at GRAFT in February.

Artists are tasked with setting up parameters and developing work based on a unique daily practice.

I am using my FunADay as a ritual investigation into new, developing body of work: Unraveling. 

My parameters:

Size: grid of 5″ x 7″ pieces. Five columns wide, 7 rows tall (ish), with a very small space between images.  A mix of horizontal and vertical.

Format: works on paper–experimental glitch photos, physically altered/damaged/destructed. They will stay contained in 5″ x 7″ shapes. Mounted on wall with tape or pins. Might include a video frame at the end of the month.

Concept:  a daily investigation of the space of unraveling / falling apart. Images will move from togetherness to (self)destruction over the course of the month, with each individual image investigating either the space between catastrophes, or a magnified point of no return. It will follow a semi-narrative, start to finish.

Image degradation will suggest the quiet, complicated and dangerous process of falling apart, of losing yourself–that great catastrophe of moments.

The material I’m sampling is a pile of vintage publicity shots from the original Of Mice and Men (1939) film, the film itself, and the John Steinbeck novel; a grand narrative of unraveling. The old publicity stills are also falling apart, yellow, damaged. Losing vitality.

“The best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry,
and leave us naught but grief and pain for promised joy.” –Robert Burns

The daily ritual: I will sample a different publicity still each morning as a kernel. Manipulate and mutate it at night. I am also watching 4 minutes of the film each night, for 31 days, sampling from that 4-minute window to fold into the publicity still. The image I make on each previous day will be added to the following day, so that every day contains a crossover; a conceptual and visual crossfade.

The ritual process will allow for no deviation (sample in the morning, manipulate at night, only four minutes of film, and so on).

More of the backstory:

Publicity shots fascinate me. They’re typically a simulation of implied scenes that aren’t even in the actual film. Instead the shots are a suggestion, a proscribed performance of the staged, the predicted, the laid out, so it’s like you have a memory of a movie-moment that didn’t even happen. Like dejavu (See “Dejavu and the End of History”). They are untrustworthy memories. A record of false memories, even.

The shots are like an uncanny stage arrangement of the already staged, not unlike our vernacular photographs; a social performance, a staging of self and other, of satisfying obligations, of performing happiness, of obliging ceremony, confirming our roles like actors.

They’re also like our narrative reconstruction of memories—except publicity stills are often pre-construction, taken before the film is even made (oooh, what a fun thing to dig into).

I will also go into deeper reasons behind why I chose Of Mice and Men (it ties into Channeling), but no need to do that here/now.

Also, here’s the project playlist (essentially pseudo-soundtrack for Of Mice and Men; the soundtrack of falling apart):  https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/223gordp4up2qxbkiru2pfmfa/playlist/5CeCSlw2qfxEk6FTrmE0tY

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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

January – March (and late 2016) Happenings

I had a blogging dry spell for in November and December, so I missed sharing exhibition updates. Here are my current and recent goings-on:

January – March, 2017

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“Disturbance,” 2016. Single pane from triptych. Variable output sizes (38″ x 40″ for LACDA exhibition). Ren Adams. Experimental cell phone photography with analog glitch.

Electron Salon – at LACDA

What:
I am part of an invitation-only group exhibition featuring digital art and experimental photography, at LACDA (Los Angeles Center for Digital Art).

Exhibition opening: SATURDAY, JANUARY 14, 6-9PM
Exhibition runs Jan. 14 – Feb. 18, 2017.

Where:
LACDA – Los Angeles Center For Digital Art 
Gallery Row, downtown Los Angeles
104 E. 4th St. between Main and Los Angeles Streets.

104 East Fourth Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
http://www.lacda.com


The Write Place at the Write Time Journal will be featuring one of my pieces from Desert (Loss) – update in February


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Walk n’ Talk – Short Artist Talk Series at Gallery with a Cause

I will be giving a short artist talk on pieces from my “Poppy Transitory” series during next week’s “Walk and Talk” with curator Regina Held, at the New Mexico Cancer Center’s Gallery with a Cause. Other artists will also be present, so there should be a rapid-fire series of talks. This is a great opportunity to view the exhibition and hear more about the ideas and techniques behind the work. The exhibition itself runs through March 3.

Wednesday, January 11 at 6 PM – 7:30-ish PM

Where:

New Mexico Cancer Center
Gallery with a Cause
4901 Lang Ave NE, Albuquerque NM 87109.


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The Art of Giving/The Gift of Art

Selected works from my Poppy Transitory series are featured in a special group exhibition at Gallery with a Cause, part of the New Mexico Cancer Center.

Exhibition runs Dec. 10, 2016 – March 3, 2017.

Opening Reception:
PLEASE NOTE: This is a date change from the earlier published time: 
Sunday, December 18, 4-7 pm.

Where:
New Mexico Cancer Center
Gallery with a Cause
4901 Lang Ave NE, Albuquerque NM 87109.


December, 2016 (highlights)

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Snap to Grid

Exhibition runs December 8-31, 2016
Reception: Saturday, December 10, 6-9 pm

Where:
LACDA – Los Angeles Center For Digital Art 
Gallery Row, downtown Los Angeles
104 E. 4th St. between Main and Los Angeles Streets.

104 East Fourth Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
http://www.lacda.com


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Annual Holiday Printmaking Sale and 4th International Juried Print Exhibition
New, current and former members of New Grounds Print Workshop & Gallery offer a variety of original works on paper at excellent prices. 

Fridays and Saturdays from 10 AM- 6 PM, beginning Nov. 21, running through December 31.

Official opening reception is December 1, 2016. 6-8 pm.
I will be giving a public talk on the international print exhibition (I was this year’s juror for the international exhibition) on Dec. 1, at 6:30 pm.

Where:
New Grounds Print Workshop & Gallery
3812 Central Ave SE
Albuquerque, NM 87108


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Stirring: A Literary Showcase

“Moments Before,” 2016. Featured in Stirring: A Literary Showcase‘s December edition cover. Archive pending.


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The Hand Magazine – Issue #14 (December)

Featured several pieces from Poppy Transitory, including “Momentary Monuments,” 2016.

http://www.thehandmagazine.space/?page_id=2179

Also featured an article /exhibition catalog for the Pressient Exhibition by Trish Meyer. Trish interviewed me, and other artists in the exhibition.

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.

Before, After (Part 1 of 2)

Still from "Whitespace-Bluespace," 2016.

Still from “Whitespace-Bluespace,” 2016. (Erasure)Head; the heroes are eroded. Ren Adams. Between signified and signifier.

What is self?

It is easy to dismiss the process of taking selfies as a product of vanity, self-obsession—but it’s now a cultural practice of self-shaping and formation, not unlike our understanding and practice of social photography. If mom says we’re taking a group picture by the fountain, we have a socially programmed method of assembling into a posture of now-historical weight, of establishing the proscribed order of presentation, adopting the necessary behaviors for the creation of said social document. We even naturally understand what aspects can be stretched—that bunny ears over a friend are fine for funny moments, but abandoned during the “serious” method of recording presence; visual data as a tangible record of officiated memory, itself constructed and predicted on cultural behaviors.

The selfie is no different. The ubiquity of digital imaging has made the process of repeatedly snapping shots of yourself, your hamburger, your cat, an acceptable and common practice. As someone who generally avoided having their picture taken for years, I became somewhat fascinated with the self as represented to the self, through the mass-snapping of self portraits, made diminutive by the affectionate (yet fleeting) term “selfie,” as a way of identifying the social presence of yourself as being, your body and face filtered by various easily applied affects and social behaviors.

I’ve lately used the selfie to ask myself who I am. Where do I fit? I asked the selfie, “what is self?”

In high school, I snapped endless rolls of film with dad’s flip-top K-Mart camera: friends, locations, events, moments, rarely turning the camera on myself. I recall one shot of the Pep Band admiring a sunset over the College of the Canyons, as a high school football game played out below (the same game in which our quarterback sacked the ref and got barred from all future games). Jose wore his Rush 2112 hoodie. Jen sported her funky Indiana Jones hat. I was there as subtext, purveyor of the lens, recognizer of the moment’s socially proscribed weight on photographic paper. Each roll developed at the Fotomat film hut in the Market Basket parking lot. Each roll printed, tucked in a chronological album with true archivist intention, shared at gatherings.

If I was included in a photo, I allowed someone else to take the reigns in order for me to include myself in my own memory-media record, because I didn’t grasp (or lend import to) the idea of turning the camera on my own face, with my own hand. The process seemed to require an external agent, as if another body could help confirm the formality and importance of the capture. These high school albums are crammed with individuals I sometimes chat with, others yet who have died, are physically lost to me, or emotionally distant, but recorded and archived in a string of now-past moments. To quote Roland Barthes, “whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe,” the endless catastrophe of having-been-there, of endless, interminable passage. Indeed, “whatever its nominal subject, photography was a visual inscription of the passing of time and therefore also an intimation of every viewer’s own inevitable passing” (Geoffrey Batchen on Talbot and Barthes).

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That’s me down front, with the funky, unmatched rainbow shorts and pink top. This was the drama cast of The Wizard of Oz at Palmdale High School, gathered on a Saturday to do cleanup after the final performance. We felt it necessary to document the occasion. Someone else took the shot, so I got to be included. Notice how we all fall into a system of posing, posturing and presenting togetherness, with one boy standing defiantly against the tree, yet remaining part of the social arrangement? Of course, I once had a crush on the boy who stood apart. LOL. And I refused to match my clothes or wear socks.

These physical documents, in my mind, are “photographs,” yet I now find myself calling all photographs, and all other visual output related to photographs, “images” instead. “Images” as a term becomes diaphanous, embracing paper and digital output alike, separating the visual from the inherently physical.

Much of my work on The Cascade – Moments in the Televisual Desert was a method of engaging the impact of visual (and audio) media on our concept of self and site, memory and spatial distinction, but this was of course connected to me as individual, not based in a randomly chosen location or system, even though I expanded in order to be less personal. This connects to the way selifes (combined with my close-up, cell phone method of extracting a conceptual California through television) has led into a new angle of media-memory portraiture; capturing that much-debated, well articulated concept of the photograph as index of life-in-a-moment, and of the imminent, undeniable and future death of the physical being, as well as the eventual erosion or eventual change of places and things.

For those of us who warp, manufacture and sample imagery, some of which results in images that are not indexical of a physically real event or person, I remind the humble viewer that neither are most photographs truly indexical of anything tangible at all (addressed well by countless art historians and theorists, of course, including Geoffrey Batchen, Roland Barthes, etc.), neither are they completely fabricated–existing in an odd, in-between space that I enjoy.

"First Responder" View-Master and stills from "Elevator (Finding a Way out of here, I Hope) on display at The William Platz Gallery, the event my student references in her description of the reel vs. the paper images

“First Responder” (2014) View-Master and stills from “Elevator (Finding a Way out of here, I Hope) (stills 2016) on display at The William Platz Gallery, the event my student references in her description of the reel vs. the paper images

I recently had excerpts from The Cascade in an all-abstract exhibition, and several of my students attended. One student described my First Responder View-Master reel in a fascinating way. She said clicking through the reel forces the individual image cells together, implying a certain continuity, even though the language of each individual image prevents a clear reading of the total event. Instead they are frozen, oddly linked moments, seemingly extracted from the “before” and “after” of an unclear, yet disturbing, event.

She felt the act of putting images together (on the reel) asks the viewer to consider each shot in continuity, even when the order of events is unreliable and fleeting. The separated images, printed on paper and distanced by a few inches and physical frames, represented a different kind of engagement with the same proposed event. Each framed still became a single, contemplative moment that she could not specifically tie to a continuous string of events, but which gently suggested a relation through presentation (and color palette, characters), in which she could choose to ignore aspects of the moment, where the reel was inescapable. She looked at me hopefully and asked, “did I get it?” Yes, indeed. Something may have happened, but she is unable to determine at true order of events, instead receiving snippets and clues which described to her a sense of emergency, where something terrible must have happened on a highway, but the exact order of events was unimportant. The reel encloses you in a private sense of before and after, the paper allows you to fixate on certain moments and leave others behind.

This rotating reel relates to my process of selfie-taking, and to several new series I’m working on, which behave as punctuation marks and spokes on a bigger churn (Whitespace-Bluespace and Channeling). Lots of things in the works, all turning, turning.

A sampling of raw, real-time manipulations from Whitespace-Bluespace:

I also think of image-cells as life moments or even expectations, in a way. When I’ve heard people describe a “mid life crisis” (really a culturally propagated construction, much like the “seven year itch”), which asks us to evaluate whether our lives are fulfilling a certain, proscribed linearity, we determine whether our circumstances are satisfying (ourselves, society) or failing to satisfy a projected set of needs and understandings, milestones and way posts. Some of this falls into a real field of suffering, realizing one has resigned themselves to a certain quality of existence due to obligation, expectation, denial and repression. Anyone who allows self-analysis can pass through such a “mid-life” crisis, many times, and at any age. The imagined mid-point, framed by expected progression through an average life span, is famously pivotal, as we perceive ourselves to be halfway to the finish line, never taking into account our lives might end well before the first turn–or that we might again live longer than the standardized mid-point, and that all expectations and requirements are manufactured and superimposed. Perhaps it seems we’ve only just begun, or we’ve “frittered away the hours in an offhand way.”

What are the individual image cells in your reel? Do they fit any kind of continuity? Should they? Is there only one reel? Only one View-Master?

What have you denied yourself? What have you indulged? Who are you? Can a selfie suggest what you have, or what you lack? Do we find ourselves in the mirror of the other, even our other halves, as Socrates suggests? Or is this like his attitude toward love: that love itself is an unending quest for immortality, found within the passionate unity of self-and-non-self, the desire to propagate DNA, including the fiber of ideas and concepts. This relates to a bigger philosophical discussion, of course, but I mention it here, as it connects to the emerging bodies of work that are resulting from all of this material.

Thus, I’ve been taking a lot of seflies. At first, I wasn’t sure why, until I realized I am looking at myself as a structured and p(resented) self, then looking at my image as “other.” Looking, seeking, attempting to uncover what it is to be me, through the fabrication of “me” as digital object. Who am I? How does the camera dismantle and rebuild my sense of “me”?  Who is Ren? Renee? Why am I “Ren” and not “Renee” here and now? Why have I been so afraid to include myself in photographs in the past, when the images were on film, and why so many selfies now?

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It’s as if a string of self-portraits document your humanness, your presence, your flaws and strengths, presented and even polished, your space of being, your stamp of mortality. They ask you to think about where you stand within your physical environments, your society, your sense of physicality, sensuality, both virtual and physical, your broader cultural connections, your sub-cultural belongings, within a point on the planet surface, the sheer disposable joy of repetitive shots, once the luxury of expertise and film roll, now snapped, shaped, delayed, displayed, posed.

Am I cute? Am I ugly? Am I worthy? Do I belong? What will I lose? What do these terms even mean? None of these posed images are me, yet they are all me. Within a string, a screen full of myself becomes severely repetitious, a bold formal pattern, homogenized and dulled. A screen full of me becomes a mass, a distilled rhythmic pattern, digital beats that follow a flow of costume and direction, of pose and misdirection.

In a mass-row faced with my own face, I no longer notice flaws and ridiculousness, instead I see raw prescience, suspended and removed from the flow. 

I am also reminded that I have the luxury of taking selfies. I can experiment with displays of the manufactured self, because I am still present as a potential signified, a real and living significator. I am alive.

 

Looking through the crossfade. There is the before and after, the action and reaction. From Whitespace-Bluespace.

Looking through the crossfade. There is the before and after, the action and reaction. From Whitespace-Bluespace.

The time before, the time after

I recall a series of photographs in my parents’ photo box—taken at their home on 70th St. East, in Palmdale, California, then again at my childhood home at 3255 East Ave. S (near 35th St. E, also in Palmdale, on Highway 138; Pearblossom Highway).

They took this series of photos the year my sister was murdered (at night in the desert, outside the house next door). The year they buried her, changed residences, shifted slightly across the Mojave desert, but only a few miles from their shared ground zero.

They took a lot of photos during this time. A time when you might think they would retreat into sheer grief and silence. Instead, they took photos of each other. Of themselves. The white border at the bottom of each picture was clearly labeled:

“1972 Before”

“1972 After”

They never mentioned what the “before” and “after” meant explicitly, of course.

There is a shot of my dad, serious, bending down over a six pack of bottled beer in front of the carport. He is wearing an odd hat, jeans, a T-shirt. He is not smiling. It says “1972 After,” in capital letters.

There is the suggestion that all photos inevitably record and shadow the represented subject’s own mortality, but in these, the photos inevitably bore the presence and absence of a significant being. The signified and the signifier, present and invisible in the same frame. The suggestion of relocation, based on the loss of the distantly signified, was heavy in the yellow dirt, the artificial white borders. I suppose they wondered if they would remember when each shot was taken, that there might have been some passive, nearly invisible sense of completeness in the “before” that was absent in the “after.” Rather than happiness and grief as dichotomy, though, the portraits were quite the same—the words “before” and “after” the only identifier delineating the process of grief that was just beneath the surface.

I would share them here, but none are in my possession, so instead I’ll use entries from my new Whitespace-Bluespace.

So instead of this:

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They really looked more like this:

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Not much different. Only a subtle shift, with text to guide in the originals, no text here.

I see the same thing, at different conceptual levels, within each digital photo I work with:

before I knew her

before he vanished

after he went dark

before the bag was stolen

before Pants had his ear removed

After my thesis

That all my selfies, in relation to Cindy Adams are

After

“2016 After”

That my newest work is before I am writing this blog post, after I was rejected by you, before I enjoyed tomorrow, after I go down the spiral again.

That my images are definitely “before” things yet to come down the pipeline. That they are all after other interactions, losses, events, recordings, other bodies of work. That it is all a dance of relational interlacing. I think of the term “Relational Aesthetics” and though that’s not what Bourriaud meant, the phraseology seems to apply to this.

After I noticed (but yet before I knew him at all)

So here, in some of my newest work, the selifes led into a deeper spiral of time and associative image-memory, allowing me to revisit concepts of the self in image, the image as time moniker, the image as segment in narrative and non-narrative association. I thus began three new bodies of work: Whitespace-Bluespace, Channeling and Wheel of Fortune (tentatively titled). Each related to the excavation of media, to memory and temporality, and to additional, emerging associations.

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Before and after lives and deaths, moments and experiences

before you knew this, after you read the above

Before I knew you didn’t love me, after my brother disappeared

Before you left us without food and we had to sit through an hour-long sermon about how we were terrible, broken people to get a box of peanut butter and margarine

After I watched Miami Vice on the little TV, recorded at Misty’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

After they rebuilt the freeway onramp (after the Whittier-Narrows earthquake made me late for school and broke her windows, after the 1994 Northridge quake knocked down the I-5 and 14 Freeway interchange and killed Officer Dean on the bridge from so many movies and TV shows)

Before the earthquakes, but after Cindy

Before I decided never to do this again

Before we had to steal food and starved in the dark

 

All of these television programs recorded after mom was born, some before Cindy died, some before the beginning of me, all before the end of me–are all before, during and after my work, they are excavated and integrated and I always seem to live in a desert fused with Hollywood.

Loss and distance, “before” and “after” on the time-stamp of their visual lives, my newly re-emergent and disarmed “heroes” are lost, wandering, on the highway, at various stages of before and after. Like the heroes in The Cascade, they are undermined, human, uncertain, temporary. They move through conceptual and literal environments, they are indexed by image, yet they are neither real nor unreal.

My work is moving more toward the character, still rooted in the land, but now somewhat freed from the bounds of the Mojave itself. More on that in Part 2.

For now, these heroes in my new series borrow from the selfie, the reel, embodying The Cascade, the conceptual distance of event and memory, of idea and placement. Whitespace-Bluespace and Channeling are each grappling with related, yet explicitly different material in this vein, and I’ll be sharing more specific information on each new series in the second half of this update article.

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A working image from “Channeling.”

Before Larry killed an innocent man

After Larry was cursed and awoke confused, despairing

After despair, before release

Before Sonny realizes his desires will be denied again

Before Sonny eats tacos and kills a kid by accident

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After Tubbs’ girlfriend dies in his arms (again)

More in Part 2

737 La Brea and LA County Fire Station 127

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737 N La Brea, Inglewood, CA – 1972 – former site of Sparling Buick (closed 1997). Luckor Plaza and Bekins buildings still around in 2014.

 

luckar plaza

 

As a side investigation, I plugged precise shooting locations from several TV series I’m working with into Google Maps to gauge distance (historical, physical, architectural, conceptual).

What I found was compelling, but ultimately too centered on the progression, or mutation, of space over time, rather than on a collapse of time and culture rooted in an elastic sense of place. Placed side-by-side, the photos told a linear narrative of urban change, freezing the landscape as an inactive sequence of moments united by off-screen “progress.”

Pairing the photos pleased the investigator in me, but opened a borderline sentimental dialogue, risking ironic detachment, amusement or simple spectacle-response to change (or lack thereof, as with Fire Station 127).

 

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Fire Station 127, Carson, CA – 1972

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Several people suggested I try playing with contemporary shots of pop-cultural locations this last residency, and it was a worthwhile investigation, perhaps able to lead into a new project in the future.

Ultimately, it heads a little too far in the wrong direction for my thesis, but underscores my fascination with the cultural database that can churn out such instant geographical instances!

Oh yeah–and I always seem to have an Amazon tab open. LOL.