Tag Archives: mfa blog

Blog Futures

2015-02-13 10.42.36

This blog’s original purpose was to document my progress through the Lesley University College of Art and Design MFA program, serving as a storehouse of information and a log of my research and production. That phase is complete.

I’m adopting a David Hockney stance and I’m planning to continue using this blog as I move forward. I don’t mind leaving a trail of where I’ve been, as it is all relevant, useful, maybe interesting/boring/wild/necessary.

You may notice, however, that I will be making organizational adjustments to the blog, to suit its new role. If you’re looking for the links that used to fill the right hand side, check out Links and Resources.

And from here, we embark.

The wild freedom, the gamble, the beginning of the road, that terrifying, mysterious visual-desert sublime…

Here’s a Gary Snyder poem for this new departure, (from Regarding Wave, 1970), which I’ve read and re-read over the years (like my copy of Catch-22).

It’s not just what you should know to be a poet (artist), it’s what you need to know.

What You Should Know to be a Poet

all you can know about animals as persons.
the names of trees and flowers and weeds.
the names of stars and the movements of planets
and the moon.
your own six senses, with a watchful elegant mind.
at least one kind of traditional magic:
divination, astrology, the book of changes, the tarot;

the illusory demons and the illusory shining gods.
kiss the ass of the devil and eat shit;
fuck his horny barbed cock,
fuck the hag,
and all the celestial angels
and maidens perfum’d and golden-

& then love the human: wives husbands and friends
children’s games, comic books, bubble-gum,
the weirdness of television and advertising.

work long, dry hours of dull work swallowed and accepted
and lived with and finally lovd. exhaustion,
hunger, rest.

the wild freedom of the dance, extasy
silent solitary illumination, entasy

real danger. gambles and the edge of death.

– Gary Snyder

Thesis Semester, Engage (10-4, Rampart)


A more connective, centralized install, featuring videos front and center. The videos would be displayed on separate televisions, not a laptop, but this arrangement opened discussion into the relationship between the painting and its video counterparts.


My thesis semester has begun…

Fresh from the January residency, crit notes in hand, I face a synthesis of work and research, method and methodology, text and talk.

I had the opportunity to show the interdisciplinary elements of The Cascade – Moments in the Televisual Desert in several configurations, the last of which is highlighted (rather informally) in this post. A tightened space, slightly reminiscent of an entertainment center, invited the most connective read of the work, but the installation is not yet resolved. This semester’s studio component will allow me to finalize the most logical install. 

By and large, viewers felt the project was 90% complete and visually & conceptually fascinating. Most found the work contemporary, rich and relevant and enjoyed (or at least understood) the interdisciplinary approach. Dissonant responses mostly suggested focusing on one medium, rather than employing an interdisciplinary approach.


One of the more linear installs, featuring the Viewmasters on a separate podium.

I also had the opportunity to show the video works in two time-based screenings, as large-scale projections.

For the first screening, I presented three of the “episodes” without context. Viewer response was compelling and surprisingly on-target, even for those unfamiliar with the project. Responses suggested a pervading sense of panic, time-ambiguity, doubt and narrative denial, recognizing an unstable televisual space where actions and reactions occur in a wormhole-loop. Other responses included a sense of confusion (what the hell is happening?) and recognition of color palettes and recast characters as iconographic moments.

The longer screening allowed me to briefly set up context, which actually led to fewer comments and questions after the showing. Perhaps the setup explains everything left confusing (or tantalizing?) in the original works.


Screen cap from “Rental (Requesting Backup”



My info “station,” featuring bibliography, works from previous semester and other vitals.

Though I’m not required to write an official residency summary this semester, I did excavate my residency notes, crystallizing a “road map” for my own backend use.

In a nutshell, my academic component is centered on writing the thesis and artist talk, completing any necessary (additional) side research, polishing my defense and practicing my performance.

The studio component will deal with resolving the installation, completing a third painting for the series, digging into the digital imaging (and true stereoscopy) and working through a few additional video episodes and presentation strings, in dialogue with my final mentor.




Third Mentor Meeting


Kevin and I had our third meeting on 11/10. We discussed several specific pieces, as well as logical directions for the View-Master reels and exhibition display.

We discussed the completed Encounter video in depth, covering everything from formal considerations to broader intellectual angles, including:

  • Consideration of TV vs. cinema and their underlying paradigms.
  • Kevin was interested in the evolution of Encounter and its narrative flow. The process of events and interactions are enjoyably difficult to entangle, even ambiguous. This is compelling.
  • Encounter has the most narrative of the bunch, though it’s still operating on a semi-narrative level.
  • The repetition, overlap provide a dreamscape feel.
  • The addition of landscape-specific information and desert physicality successfully anchors it in the same ‘scape’ as the rest of the installation; an improvement over the rough cut.
  • The darkness addresses a psychological, mythological space.
  • I made many positive improvements between the rough cut and the final version,

We also discussed the interactive / digital image component, the View-Master.

I explained my reasons for choosing it:

  • The View-Master format provides a relevant, interactive method of negotiating the digital stills. Using an app, website, Processing/Arduino or specifically electronic angle may have pushed the content and concept too far away from televisual language (though they are options for future work).
  • View-Masters have been a popular way of dimensionalizing television, media and even landscape/vacation photography (site as participatory culture) for a number of years, especially during the 60s, 70s and 80s (the related period of TV I’m working with). They may also suggest nostalgia, which is fine, but they are not completely rooted in it.
  • It provides a method of interaction that speaks to the original, semi-narrative forms of the reels themselves (and to my video works).
  • It breaks the digital stills away from a simple life on paper

I also explained that I was a little worried about it being too kitschy or gimmicky. Kevin pointed out the View-Master itself has always been gimmicky, so there’s no reason to shy away from it. It fits well with the project, the language of commodified television, and the moving-stills aspect of the digital work.

He suggested that I make the reels stereoscopic-proper; fully 3D, like most of the originals reels. Kevin felt considering the three-dimensionality of the digital stills in a stereoscopic, or anaglyph manner carries contemporary importance, especially with increasing interest in 3D viewing, and in light of other artists investigating structure (like Godard’s Goodbye to Language, which intentionally breaks 3D, preventing typical resolution).

To do this, I can turn the original stills I made into 3D versions, or I can use tracking shots found in TV footage. Composites can develop spatial distance.

Kevin also encouraged me to consider ways of grouping images from the Cascade archive. I can approach the reels as entries in a system of typologies (gunfights, car chases, joshua trees, freeway shots…). He encouraged me logically group stills, so that there is some categorical relationship to the other stills in the same reel, and then to the project at large.


We discussed several of my original format and exhibition ideas for displaying video works in the installation. Kevin and I were on the same page with my final decision to present television ON television and we went over (agreed upon and expanded) my reasoning for leaving other formats behind, like:

  • Larger scale video projection references cinema, not television, and leads way from the televisual core
  • Projecting images into a self-contained space, to suggest “walking into” television, could be interesting for a future project, but my thesis makes more sense when presented on a contemporary television screen, especially in context with the paintings and View-Masters.
  • Setting up a TV / DVD player with remote and allowing the viewer to choose which video they want to watch directly references television, and could be interesting in another context, but it would shift too much emphasis on the nature of interactivity itself. Kevin pointed out that once the viewer is given creative control of video choice, the flip-through takes center stage, undermining the power of the videos as self-contained works of art. Viewers would inevitably flip around and spend more time engaged with the act of action, than with the works.
  • As with above, any kind of choose-your-own or Jukebox setting would detract from the weight of the autonomous pieces.
  • Presenting the works on a computer screen or as an app does not specifically suggest the language of television and again could be part of another project in the future.

Kevin also suggested that each video feels self-contained, though related through the larger body of work. They are individual works that should be considered as complete thoughts in themselves.

Since each video has that sense of individual impact, he felt they would be best be served with discrete screens set for each of the video. So, if I selected 7 videos, there would be 7 different television monitors cycling through the videos individually.

My idea had been to offer a single television, or a set of three televisions, each cycling through the videos on a playlist. Kevin’s suggestion makes more sense and in an optimal installation, each of the final videos would have a single TV presenting (and looping) them as discrete units. Knowing that my Cambridge installation will *not* be optimal (as in, I will likely be physically limited in the number of television sets that can be displayed), I will limit the video display to 1-3 TVs as originally planned, but I may adjust the videos shown, or the cycle of rotation, to more adequately address Kevin’s observation.

We will meet again in December, at which time we can discuss the newer version of Elevator, Rental (Requesting Backup) and any other final thoughts.


Seeing in Stereo


Geekery: my new View-Master is a Model C, manufactured from 1950-1955. Though it pre-dates both myself and the shows I’m working with, it directly references the original geographic-vacation-slide role of the stereoscopic viewer as method of accessing site and memory.

The third component of my interdisciplinary thesis is shaping up to be an interesting (albeit challenging) angle on televisual concept.

In an earlier post, I mentioned I had narrowed the digital-interactive component down to a stereoscopic investigation of screen caps/digital stills. The photo above? My new View-Master! I’m working with a View-Master for the Cascade’s mysterious third angle (related to Lev Manovich’s three-screen theory from The Language of New Media) and Minkowski’s diagram of space-time.

I’m building View-Master reels using my digitally manipulated screencaps, referencing the common commercial practice of translating television narrative to View-Master products, and to similiar ‘vacation’ slides that were circulated for stereoscopic viewing. Proud View-Master owners could watch dimensionalized, condensed versions of their favorite fictive, TV heroes (like The A-Team, Adam-12…), popping reels in and out, in any order, to flick through brief, tentatively connected vignettes. The same plastic, human-powered analog device was also designed for viewing photo reels one could pick up as ready-made vacation albums from gift shops at popular landmarks (I remember buying a packet from Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA in the early 80s). A quick eBay search will reveal equal parts Hollywood-reality and vacation-fiction. The perfect conflation of place, semi-narrative and image.

This angle suggests an entanglement of the televisual, the geographically located ‘vacation’ slide, digital imaging, digital screen caps and good ol’ fashioned human-powered manipulation.

I discussed the idea with my mentor during our last meeting (detailed post on that forthcoming). Though I was concerned the analog device might lean too kitschy, Kevin liked the idea (and wasn’t averse to the potential kitsch, inherent in the View-Master itself, anyway). He encouraged me to make the image reels truly stereoscopic (3D) and to sort potential reel topics by typologies.

View-Master reels, in general practice, are sorted and commodified archives. For commercially-aligned subjects, like television programs, cartoons and movies, a broader subject is usually defined: e.g. The Monkees, then broken out as a sub-category (often excerpts from a single television episode, like “Hillbilly Honeymoon”), or as micro-zooms of a favorite character, like scenes from multiple Superman cartoon episodes, collapsed into one viewing. For site-specific, vacation-suggestive reels, images are usually organized by locations: Joshua Tree National Monument, Disneyland, Yosemite National Park, Las Vegas. Still other kinds of reels are further divided by typologies, like Dogs of Soviet Space, Wild Animals of the World or Yellowstone Geysers (for example).

This leaves my own application pretty open. I like Kevin’s idea of sorting by type. Perhaps, gunfights, car chases, rescues… But I also think the original View-Master macro-micro approach (television program > moments in semi-context) makes sense as well.

In order to work through these possibilities, I am currently sorting (and building) digital stills into potential categories for reels. I’d like to have at least one reel completed for the January residency, even if it is not true 3D. Working with stereoscopy proper is challenging and may end up detracting from the actual concept.

A gun-fight reel, perhaps?


Cars in the desert? Highways? Secret air bases?


Car crashes?


Roy and the Dimensional Dilemma – painting #2 progress

It’s been a while since I shared a painting update, and I do apologize! Here’s the current state of the second large painting, plus a gallery below featuring all progress shots to date. Time warps in the desert. Currently untitled. IMG_3836_2

Almost finished!

Here’s the current state, with the previous painting nearby for context.


Progress shots, in order:


Experiment 30 (Simultaneity)

experiment30Layers of digital manipulation, with monotype techniques, scanned, output on lustre paper, then surface manipulated with inks and paints.

Simultaneity (Collapse of A-Series Time).



I  do like to share process photos, if only out of fascination with the way surface can change (physically and conceptually) as different processes are applied. Though I don’t believe it’s necessary to describe step-by-step production of work to access its conceptual core, it’s still fun to share studio shots (it’s the printmaker / demo lover in me).

Here, the plate gets inked. Chocolatey. I love that the newspaper says “dirty.” Hah!


After running it through the press, I pull the print off the three separate drypoint matrices. This piece was also an experiment in using Akua water-based intaglio inks, which are new to me. I’m used to the oil-based inks.


Now, through the magic of television–err, blogging–we suddenly have a finished piece. The drypoint has become part of a mixed media piece, which includes acrylic monotype and ink. The picture plane is almost grubby.

Currently untitled. Drypoint, acrylic monotype, ink.  9" x 14".

Currently untitled. Drypoint, acrylic monotype, ink. 9″ x 14″.

Works in Progress – The Process of Developing


A new, large linocut shape.


Close up of the linocut, pre cutting. Plus some of my small artifacts. Still making these like crazy.


Laying out work from 2012, to analyze and re-examine.


More work from 2012. More analysis.


New work (2013), except for the pillars on the left). These are small pieces, experiments in combining printmaking technique. Some will be adapted into larger works.

Sorting out previous work, “living with it,” so to speak, allows me to crystallize ideas that have mapped the inside of my sketchbooks. I’ll make marks, grab quotes, pin images–finding connectivity that can be developed into complete, visual relationships.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve pulled out piles of work and re-examined the familiar with a new eye. I’ve hung pieces that once felt finished, allowing them presence in my daily movements, being open-minded to the possibility of working back into them, or of using them as launch points for bigger executions.

I’ve currently got two large linoleum blocks underway (first stage photos above), as well as more of my tiny artifacts (also seen in the top photos). I’m experimenting with layered ink on canvas, working on a stack of plates to print this August when I have access to the presses (including drypoint, linocut, woodcut and intaglio plates) and playing around with beeswax on printed rice paper.

I’ll be using the University of New Mexico’s print shop this semester, which means I have a bit of delay in producing final intaglio, litho or serigraphy elements, but at all serious printmakers are good at time management and crazy, crazy spiral planning. We can generate piles of plates, knowing we can fire them off once the press is hot n’ ready. This suits my style of work, anyway. I spend time planning, percolating. Then furious, intense printing sessions take my project blueprints and mutate them on the fly, allowing for spontaneity and “one breath” moments, even within a heavily premeditated flow.

Residency Summary 1 – Fall, 2013 Semester


Ren Adams
Group 1 – Residency Summary – Fall, 2013

My most recent body of work, The Archaeology of Being (2012-13), is primarily concerned with exploring the nature of emergence—depicting the way being materializes from non-being, matter from the void of non-matter. It synthesizes ideas found in Eastern philosophy, physics and art history and unites them with individual practice, generating a time-neutral space; a seemingly non-contextual moment. Layered images are meant to be explored like an archaeological dig, the viewer brushing away details to reveal information. The work exists in a sort of “subspace” generated in part by recent scientific discoveries, but without direct comment on 21st century concerns. I entered the Fall, 2013 residency at a transition point, knowing future work would build upon this conceptual base, but that it was turning toward a conversation with the “information age” itself.  Dialogue from the residency has generated a trajectory for future work, joining existing ideas with digital culture, data, language and spatial relationships.

Prior to the residency, I had been examining ways to evolve the work so that it addressed contemporary currents, but the residency itself offered the breakthroughs needed to begin. I was already interested in digital culture, visual media and the information cascade, finding relationships between the flow of data and its counterparts in physics and philosophy (as Fritjof Capra did in The Web of Life—information and virtual systems uncannily reflect biological and atomic patterns).  I had noticed that after installing Picasa, the program dumped all of the images I’d collected since the early 90s into a single, compacted database. An 1885 photo of my great grandparents suddenly cohabitated with 90s eBay banner ads, a candid shot of The Kinks and a snap of lunch. It was as if, in this spatial moment, all time, physicality and perspective collapsed into a kind of visual remix. Likewise, a Google search strips the moment of location and time, collapsing all data into a single space. The viewer again becomes an archaeologist, finding and remixing reference points and visual data, with access to all points on earth, all times, locations and moments in a single click, a single database query. In this digital space, time exhibits a new kind of relativity—a kind of “rewrite” culture expounded upon in Oliver Wasow’s elective seminar: Visual Culture in the Age of Social Media. The seminar addressed some of these ideas and provided excellent resources and stimulating discussion related to digital communication. It also opened dialogue about the nature of the “visual remix” itself, relating ideas of art, commodity, information and digital social interaction to the unstoppable cascade of data married to daily life. Of particular interest was the notion of the inherently mutative character of information as it exists in the digital flow—how a series of numbers come together to generate form that can then be modified, adapted or remixed by users into new material, recalling oral storytelling of the past. Activity itself becomes vaporous, dematerialized and rematerialized in an instant, in that collapsed space. Our daily interactions get plugged into what Lawrence Lesley calls a “Celestial Jukebox,” with access to chosen culture anytime, anywhere. I was understandably excited by the seminar, the artists presented and the potentiality of future work that could synthesize these considerations. Our online curated exhibition project was a nice finishing touch, itself leading into my daily practice project, The Cascade.

In addition to the brain-food seminar, critiques and group discussions were mightily beneficial. Overall, faculty and students had positive, often echoing responses to my work. The consensus felt I was effectively communicating the concept, with a few deviations based on viewer perception. I made a list of overlapping impressions like: weightlessness, ambiguous gravity, collapse, generation, excavation, architectural decay, judicious negative space, ambiguous orientation, suspense of time, analytical process made manifest, mysterious medium, accretion and dissolution, cataclysm, alchemy, language, the space between and calligraphic moments. The repetition of these terms cemented the impact certain elements had on varied viewers. Other observations included: a sense of the paranormal, the importance of text and title in orienting the work, explosiveness, micro and macro environments, nature and/or architecture, relation to scientific drawings, scaffolding, dystopia, even science fiction and phenomenology. The color palette received positive support, as did the use of paper and layers.

I also received excellent, motivating suggestions for future work. Jan Avgikos encouraged attempts to re-invent the spiritual itself, to consider it in relation to further studies in consciousness. John Kramer encouraged more reflection and a balance of continuation with derivation, to make sure the work changes over time, while also recommending that I invent a language that has the life of calligraphy within it. Fia Backstrom was pleased with the current palette, but wondered what might happen if I tried radically different palettes—to experiment with how color affects the communication of concept. She was also eager to see even more involvement in process and attempts to isolate moments within a piece, expanding them into new investigations. Laurel Sparks wondered what would happen if the floating shapes merged and morphed , encouraging me to take “field notes,” to stir the pot and observe time while continuing the idea of the diagram, the glyph, language and line. She recommended creating a vehicle to produce amalgam, inventing a language, distilling all manner of pictography and icon into an alchemical pot—to become a mad scientist of vocabulary and symbols, which in turn reminded me of Oliver Wasow’s impression of the pieces as an “alchemy of images.” Both faculty and students recommended experimenting with the physicality of the paper, taking a more three-dimensional approach in order to convey the idea of matter vs. non-matter more directly.  Several also encouraged the idea of moving parts, suspended display and rotation. Almost every faculty critique encouraged the expansion of language, iconographic or textual, exploring ways to make language central, to distill a new language, or to morph calligraphic marks into new spaces. Linguistic information and the relay of symbolic marks are already important to my process, but this invites even greater exploration. I’m thrilled by Laurel’s suggestion that language and pictograph can embrace everything from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to phone app icons and logos.

My 11th hour, Sunday critique with Oliver Wasow was peppered with epiphany moments, pages of notes mutating into info graphics, which evolved into research. Understandably spring-boarding off the elective seminar, our discussion generated rousing new paths, including ways of relating the purposeful collapse of physical space, perspective and time in Chinese painting to the digital collapse of deep, digital space. Combining an acknowledgement of my existing influences, Oliver encouraged a push into even wider-reaching aspects of digital culture, including literal digital methods and research into systems data, flow, fragmentation, data and process and the play of surface. Similarly, my Sunday meeting with Laurel Sparks vibrated with possibility and we discussed continued use of the direct and indirect mark along with intense development of a more complex vocabulary of signs and marks.

While several faculty members enjoyed the idea that my imagery walks a thin line between abstraction and representation, Stuart Steck disagreed, indicating he disliked the occupation of a liminal, in-between space and encouraged me to work in either representation or straight abstraction in the future (he leaned toward an illustrative approach).  He felt that I need to construct the viewer’s understanding more directly with thematized work. He also did not feel the work was communicating my concept effectively, though he found the analytical philosophy interesting—but he, like the others, encouraged further investigation of communication systems.

Artist recommendations often overlapped, reinforcing the group’s overall reaction to my work and emphasizing commonalities. Julie Mehretu, Amy Sillman and Cy Twombly were three such artists whose names frequently came up in relation to mapping, complimentary forms and resonation (Cy Twombly was already in my stable, but Mehretu and Sillman were exciting additions). I was also encouraged to study the works of Charles Burchfeld, Cao Guo Qiang, Elliot Porter, Hans Hoffman, Charline Von Heyl, Sarah Sze, Christopher Wall, Arshile Gorky, Edward Tufte, Joanne Greenbaum, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Emma Kunz. Readings that were recommended included works by Donna Haraway, Jane Goodall, James Gleick, Edward Tufte, Arshile Gorky, Andrew Darley and others as well as research into consciousness, mapping, resonation, communication systems and artists who play with the unconscious.