Tag Archives: loss

In this Twilight Sleep – Artist Statement (payload delivery, complete)

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Video still

As I mentioned in this post and this post, I’m working on a multi-part project for the upcoming exhibition: Axis Mundi: the Crucial Role of the Artist in the Age of the Collapsing Global Organism, which opens in September. My video and View-Master installation is part of the Environmental Melancholia wing (more completely explained here), so my artist statement does not provide extensive framework for the big picture “environmental melancholia” theme. The exhibition space and catalog will establish these broader definitions and orientations. Instead, my statement addresses my specific project and its relation to Environmental Melancholia.


 

Artist Statement
In This Twilight Sleep

As our living world collapses into infirmity, dying slowly, dying suddenly—we are surrounded by a seemingly endless cycle of loss most are powerless to mourn. In our paralysis, we turn to media for escape—but that route is haunted. Pervasive media, like television, is an accidental eyewitness, a record of our imprint on the planet. It’s a virtual database of environments ‘caught’ tangentially on tape; an ‘archive’ of our former (changing) landscape exists within the very media we use for avoidance.

Yet, the environment is rarely the subject of TV programming. The land is transient, offhandedly preserved—relegated to the background of a consumable program, itself destined for obscurity. Thus excavating the environment from the backdrop of Cold War television reinforces both the fleeting, secondary representation of landscape, and the notion of environment as ‘accessory’ to human story. This ‘accessorizing’ is part of our misery.

In this Twilight Sleep is a series of linked, looping ‘episodes’ that capture this fading fingerprint, as if recalling the image in perpetuity can somehow mourn and undo human-induced calamity. Using experimental photography and glitch to suggest the partially preserved and the mostly lost, I emphasize the distance between actual loss and our inability to process (or avoid) it. Videos are composed of reanimated, mutated stills extracted from television with a cell phone. This reanimation appropriates life, after the landscape has died. The corresponding Lovely… View-Master set expands this melancholic TV block by serving as memento mori. Suggesting old View-Master reels of postcard locations, my reels are souvenirs of a lost landscape; ruin and absence the only remaining commodity.  Together, they are lamentations; a virtual tourism of a seemingly unstoppable end.


 

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.”

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.

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.

 

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

Last Days and the Situated Hour

 

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Still from Chase (Calling Palmdale), 2015.

The “situated hour” referred to in my “Last Days” excerpt references Proust:

“We may, indeed, say that the hour of death is uncertain, but when we say so we represent that hour to ourselves as situated in a vague and remote expanse of time, it never occurs to us that it can have any connection with the day that has already dawned, or may signify that death — or its first assault and partial possession of us, after which it will never leave hold of us again — may occur this very afternoon, so far from uncertain, this afternoon every hour of which has already been allotted to some occupation. You make a point of taking your drive every day so that in a month’s time you will have had the full benefit of the fresh air; you have hesitated over which cloak you will take, which cabman to call, you are in the cab, the whole day lies before you, short because you have to be at home early, as a friend is coming to see you; you hope that it will be as fine again to-morrow; and you have no suspicion that death, which has been making its way towards you along another plane, shrouded in an impenetrable darkness, has chosen precisely this day of all days to make its appearance, in a few minutes’ time, more or less, at the moment when the carriage has reached the Champs-Elysées.”
Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way

And what is death, but change? 

And what is change, but the process of process itself? The sublimation of the ordinary and extraordinary. Scary as it moves from the incomplete to the possible. Curious, lonely, lively…

My Last Days poetry manuscript deals with the space between beginning and ending, a field of stasis (perhaps, the plane in which everything actually takes place), suspended between our understanding of movement and cessation.

The space between is literally the process of existence itself. We spend nearly every moment there.

It also speaks to the indeterminate state between loss and gain, manifestation and dissolution; a mystical, shifting moment subject to physics, forensics and fantasy.

What does it mean to have, lose, gain, enjoy–to vanish or be erased? That such a weird, in-between moment can be extended and investigated also speaks to my recent visual artwork, as well as personal experiences that seem lodged in an eternal space of processing and incompleteness.

There are points between time, location, knowing and mystery… Do we ever really know how others feel about us? Do we ever really see anything whole?

Snippets from Last Days have found their way into (and helped shape and inform) the Desert (Loss) series I completed this September and October.

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