Tag Archives: new media art

In This Twilight Sleep

A working still from one of my video episodes

I’m in the throes of working on an experimental video project (and View-Master series) for AXIS MUNDI: The Crucial Role of the Artist in the Age of the Collapsing Global Organism. 

You can read more about the group exhibition and the concept behind Axis Mundi  in this post, including my overall intent.

As I mention in the above link, I’ve turned again to TV to tap into a haunted and melancholic space; the terrain of television becomes an accidental eyewitness to human-induced global catastrophe even as we practice a stubborn and complicated mix of intentioned forgetting and paralytic grief. We’re normalizing global calamity (as a shifting baseline) with each successive generation and our constantly and endlessly distorted sense of the original,  natural environment is the stuff of theses (and nightmares).

I’ve been researching, planning, and producing work for the project since spring, and the moving parts are finally taking shape.

Research, as always, is vital to both idea and image development in my work. In addition to researching environmental melancholia (the category my pieces fit), I’ve also been digging into notions of ruin, the myth of apathy, environmental amnesia, environmental generational amnesia, absence, presence and disappearance. If you’re interested in viewing or mining my research, my bibliography is available here: https://renadamsmfa.wordpress.com/bibliography-fall-2013/ – yes, I know the link says 2013, but it’s current (and also includes research for the other series I’m working on, Channeling – Televisual Memory and Media Seance).

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Video still from one of the episodes (currently untitled). The bodies provide a televisual grounding point (we’re watching a show, but zooming in on the ignored background).

 

The process? Experimental photography. Glitch. Video. View-Masters. These are my alchemical tools. My studio-lab is bubbling with 50 beakers of mourning and mayhem. Videos are coming alive on the proverbial laboratory table and glitched pixels are flying.

Using my obsessive hunt-and-gather image harvesting approach (commonplace camera, flat television screen), I combine experimental photographs into short videos, which are then linked into a ‘television programming’ structure. The videos then fold one ‘episode’ into the next, punctuated by dark, end-stop commercials (more on that in a future post). The videos are currently silent, but I am experimenting with several possible soundtracks (including a melancholy drone).

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Video still

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Video still

And by “television programming structure,” I mean I’m developing a pseudo television listing, like a standard prime time station block. Think of “Must See TV” or “Adult Swim,” where a lineup of carefully slotted programs play out over a multi-hour chunk, often with a thematic or intentioned purpose.

Instead of popular sitcoms or adult-oriented cartoons, my haunted block programming (In this Twilight Sleep) will address the melancholy of Cold War television as accidental eyewitness to a fragile, tangential and rapidly eroding environmental condition. The benchmark once set as our ‘normal environment’ in these older media backgrounds has already shifted since their original filming, just as they changed from what each previous generation also experienced as ‘normal.’

 

The overall programming block piece, In This Twilight Sleep, will ultimately be a chain of linked videos, each serving as an ‘episode’ from a different implied and melancholic ‘program.’ Each ‘episode’ will therefore be carefully slotted, plotted and designed to contribute to an overall sense of erosion and distance, complicity and helplessness, mourning and exhaustion.

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Conceptualizing “In this Twilight Sleep.”

Episodes play out like a distorted, amnesia-inflected prime time lineup, punctuated by dark, anxious ‘commercial’ strings. Each episode corresponds to an aspect of the fading, the mostly lost, the elusive and the eroded.

But the videos are not the only component. I’m also developing a set of View-Master reels, the Lovely… series, which will amplify and expand aspects of the video installation.

Most of us are familiar with View-Masters as a cool, collectible extension of beloved movies and TV shows; neat, interactive kid’s stuff. View-Masters were originally marketed to adults as an extension of literal and armchair tourism (a convenient, commercialized consumption of place and space). Inheriting the 19th century tradition of stereoscopic travel photography (often hand-in-hand with manifest destiny and expansionist ideals), the early 20th century saw a boon in View-Master reels meant for discerning travelers. You visit a place. You bring back souvenirs. You experience a permanent, repeat simulacrum of the original experience via media, via product, via self-haunting cycle.

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One of many vintage travel reels I’m researching for the Lovely… pieces.

My Lovely… series suggests View-Master reels of postcard locations, and their tendency to commodify nature as a fetishized and ownable experience. Also using the experimental photographs I extract from television, I compose reels that serve as souvenirs of a destroyed landscape; ruin and absence the only remaining commodity.  The Lovely… souvenirs are lamentations; a virtual tourism of the end. Combined with the videos, it’s a chorus that features an eroded and unstable space, suggesting the destruction of the site and the eventual decay of the very media that preserved its accidental memory.

More on the Lovely… reels in coming posts.

 

As most of my work deals with the literal, visual and conceptual impact of televisual media on our sense of self and location, mining the language of television offers the perfect kind of elusive, yet pervasive, space of confused mourning. Television thus becomes both method of escape and unintentional, archival monument. Cold War programming even functions as an early form of Google Street View; a proto-virtual database of environments ‘caught’ tangentially on tape. The actual footage becomes semi-documentary; an ‘archive’ of our former landscape exists within the very media we use for avoidance. As I mentioned earlier, the former landscape represented in the original television footage is itself already the ‘former’ environment of an endless string of healthier, better times.

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

And we’ve been accessorizing our natural environment for centuries, justifying it in the name of religion, industry, money, triumph, politics, power, progress… An androcentric view has already displaced and subsumed other species, other spaces, the health and vitality of entire ecosystems…

 

That our only representation or understanding of some locations might come through television, itself unstable and fading, is another brick in the wall of mourning.

My TV programming also suggests that even when we try to escape facing (and therefore mourning and processing) the nature of human-induced calamity, or when we are unintentionally affected by environmental amnesia: on one level, we can only pay attention when it’s on a screen.

We can only see the simulacrum.

We have already forgotten what has not even arrived.

 

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Video still

Axis Mundi is Coming

Video still from rough cut for Axis Mundi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Excerpts from my project proposal:

Background: The Absurd (Necessity) of Mediating Grief

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

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

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

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

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

Approach: Television as Accidental Eyewitness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What: Physical Output

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

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

The Joy of Critique

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One of my favorite aspects of being in an MFA program was the intense, expansive, intellectual dialogue I had with my peers–the sense of being refined and targeted, while yet embracing a try-anything, consider-everything philosophy. Nothing was ridiculous. We vetted wrong-way turns, but followed wild-eyed leads–referencing French philosophers alongside MTV, McDonald’s, art theorists, commercials, physics and cat videos. The rich, colorful field of human cultural existence was ripe for analysis and re-context.

Upon graduation, it stopped.

Or, rather, the requirement to attend a specific critique space on a given day, stopped.

We moved into new phases. Intellectual discussion no longer fell easily into the moment, ready to tumble into a circle of metal folding chairs, or float above-head in a coffee house or bar. The critique space became elusive, as desirous a soul mate (possibly just as mythical). The critique itself, the stuff of legends, gradually fading, as all memories do, into a milieu of crystallized details and airbrushed embellishments…

So I went on the hunt.

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Because many of us lived far from our program, we inevitably (and logically) returned to our pre-MFA spaces. Separated. Getting minds together locally has been more of a challenge, though not impossible, and my approach to the critique has turned into a process unto itself. I’ve been dogged about pursuing it–a great hunter of fruitful moments. Pursuer of intelligent feedback.

It’s become a process of hunting, gathering in itself… a system of savoring each precious exchange, of finding and reaping the right connections.

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“He Found Nothing,” 2016. Ren Adams. Experimental photography (manual and digital glitch). 9-piece installation.

Thus, I rounded up selected peers and colleagues. It was a lot of work to arrange, but the payoff was ultimately worth it. And I’ll keep pursuing these exchanges in the future.

Here are few highlights from their analysis of Whitespace-Bluespace – Televisual Memory and the Implied Catastrophe:

  • The videos are powerful without sound, as they leave the viewer mired in uncertainty; they leave more to analysis and inference than the Cascade videos did. They work effectively with the ambiguous content present in the stills.
  • There is a tension between specificity and anonymity, detail and abstraction, that suspends the viewer in an indeterminate space, like the territory of memory (itself transient, unstable) and the self-changing landscape of trauma; the place between action and inaction.
  • Different viewers were able to connect dots differently, some making good use of their storytelling minds to construct a system of events that seemed plausible. Some felt they simply *must* make sense of the vignettes they encountered–an ultimately pleasurable, if obsessive, endeavor.
  • Most viewers found themselves hunting (enjoyably) for the resolution to the implied events. Others enjoyed being mired in the confusion, knowing something had happened and was going to happen soon–but finding themselves looked into a certain interpretive pause within the frame.
  • Several viewers felt the desire to rearrange the image-cells both physically and digitally. What happens when the viewer is allowed to participate in the suggestion of before and after? How does it change the viewer’s engagement to the characters, their moments, the potentials? Can the images be mounted on physical surfaces that allow user participation?
  • The multimedia environment allowed viewers to access the content from various angles, gaining insight into the total sequence of implied catastrophes by combining clues like puzzle pieces.
  • Individual image-moments are powerful, fully present, often disturbing. The images are engaging and speak to both to television and art history.
  • Some individuals preferred the heavier abstraction, others found the newly formed characters more compelling. Most indicated they found the interaction (and tension) between specificity and abstraction to be a fertile, fascinating and important space.
  • Good use of digital glitch proved very effective for the viewer (as in The Extended Agony of Finding Out…). Glitch becomes a tool capable of obfuscation as easily as it emphasizes that which is already painfully clear.
  • The grids are very effective. They allow both linear and sampled viewing–viewers can choose to read them cell-by-cell, or bounce from one moment to the next, dancing within the grid shape. The grids themselves suggest television screens.
  • The silent videos pick up the “soundtrack” of ambient noise around them. During the exhibition opening, my colleague Nancy Meyer suggested the melancholy music performed by Megan meshed perfectly with the videos.
  • There is a sense of voyeurism that’s unsettling, perfectly in step with the obsessive excavation. We enter a space, especially in the installed version, where we’ve run across material we’re not sure we are allowed to see. We view, consume and analyze moments that seem private, sneaky, perverse in a sense. Not unlike the voyeuristic consumption of television itself.
  • Primacy and an odd lack of privacy abound.
  • The images are soft, painterly. Pixels are allowed to be themselves.
  • View-Masters allow for a contained, suggestive cycle that denies resolution.
  • “The Extended Agony of Finding Out,” is a strong cornerstone piece–a good introduction to the body of work.
  • “When I Looked Through You,” suggested Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Theaters–the form and photographing of screens especially.
  • The blog essays nicely supplement the body of work
  • Perhaps monitors can make the distinction between different models of making. Perhaps blurring the line more could be interesting?
  • Matte art paper good choice
  • Do they need to be printed on paper at all (can they exist as just View-Masters?) vs. printed on paper is the best choice; especially matte, as it freezes the frames and gives raw edges.
  • Framing might not be problematic, even though I thought it would kill the pieces. Consider clean plexi and wall, with L-hooks.
  • What if I sandwiched small pieces under one large sheet of plexi, like multiple windows on a monitor?
  • A brilliant observation by Kiera Reese: “White is easy to see as memory. Blue-artifact of process, digital/analogue maybe? Artificial as pigment, natural as sky -the personal aspects of this project feel more evident in the writing and perhaps the printmaking. -cell phone captures.”
  • Atemporality, a juxtaposition of past and present.
  • Love the “almost” aspect of the images. Suspended moments. From Kiera: “I like to think of that as an anti-decisive moment in my own work for photo history purposes, but it feels different in your work I think because of the film aspect. The photo-taking seems more like a means to an end than an actual interest in photography, which makes perfect sense in this body of work.”
  • Images with double image/drag affect provide the sensation of something slipping from grasp.
  • Ones with text feel a little out of place with the rest.
  • What happens if I separate the colors in the physical presentation, like printed on separate transparent layers or two separate projectors.
  • It would be fascinating/compelling to somehow experience immersion in all 23,000+ images.

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Their analysis helped strengthen my understanding of what the series was doing, pointed out new potential for further development, and helped me refine areas that hadn’t been fully developed. This is the joy of critique. It is valuable. Precious. Treasure it. Seek it out. Never let it go.

I want to personally thank: Kiera Reese, Allison Conley, Sean Stewart, Nancy Meyer, Cindi Gaudette, Susan D. Hopp, Joshua Sevits, Les Ann Holland, Adria Crossen Davis, John Kramer, Carol Felley, and Kong (the awesome gallery assistant at Butte College). Your feedback and analysis are much appreciated. Check out my links page to view (most of) their portfolios.

 

Installation, Process

2016-10-05-12-17-52The 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 2 of 2)

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Before the machine is tripped and Larry’s chance is lost. From Channeling.

Transformation, Transition and the Song of Myself

In Part 1, I referenced how an experimentation with selfies and the reflexive psychology spent reviewing them led to several new series: Whitespace-Bluespace, Poppy Transitory (formerly Wheel of Fortune) and Channeling.

The selfies are not themselves a new series, nor were they the only impetus behind my new projects, but they did lead into further philosophical exploration of image-making, serialization and methods of re-orienting my idea of “self” and “other” (and self presented as other). They formed the outset of deeper methodology for these new bodies of work, distinct but interlaced, each emergent from The Cascade- Moments in the Televisual Desert and Desert (Loss).

I have always delighted in being a very analytical, even impersonal, artist. I’ve focused on philosophical and social-theoretical contexts, even when the core idea emerged from a secret, personal impetus. I have avoided the self-indulgent biographical–partly out of defiance, partly out of disinterest–denying how fiercely personal many artists can be about their work. But I see things changing. I am allowing more of the personal to guide the conceptual. While this essay reveals much that appears biographical and terribly personal, and I find myself conflating the personal with the public more often in this year’s work, there is still a distance between the private language and the outward manifestation. In other words, I outline the personal-historical here to help support my bigger-than-the-self concepts, though I now adroitly nod to my own participation in the “self.”

In moving through this territory, I also embraced the meditatively self-ascendant Whitman–adopting an aware position of the self, a poetic system of “selfies,” an expansion of self into non-self, and a recognition of our selves oriented within the flow of language and image, thought and word, event and recollection, place and displacement.

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“My Life is not Better than yours,” 2016. From “Whitespace-Bluespace.” Manual glitch (experimental cell phone photography). Size variable.

I sing myself.

The landscape sings itself, sings the self of my re-invented heroes, of my self re-engaging material from my past. My far past. My recent past. My soon-to-be-past in the delicious present.

I sing the association and connections of myself, within myself, within that unique, time-stamped moment that fascinated Charles Baudelaire—that for all of the sameness one moment to the next, there is something vital and undeniable about our presence in our unique moment in time, with our whirl of knowledge and histories, influences, memories and locations; “for almost all our originality comes from the seal which time imprints on our sensations.”

I am a product. A production.

I am a result of the weird, Hollywood-desert-Mojave; an abstract of my parents and friends, memories and lovers (narrative and episodic), my philosophies and writing, the fullness of food and softness of body, the buzzing of screens and static of audio, the shapeshifting Lego blocks of television and music, rocks and sky–commercials and sand, politics and play, spiky Joshua trees and burned-out cars, flaming deserts and earthquake rubble. I am the dialectic of objects lost, objects gained. The childhood-internalized language of Whitman, Heller, Plato, Dostoyevsky, Mom, Dad, truck drivers and trailers, stolen pizza and scribbled poetry, space shuttles and aerospace, mine shafts and abandoned boxes. I am a product of the television narrative, strung across so many series and characters, so many enshrined decades. Those stories written in the spare spaces in old magazines, stuffed dog under my arm (the dog dad and I picked out at an arts & crafts show, from a table of handmade plushies wrapped in coffin-like plastic, in the parking lot of Antelope Valley College in 1979).

I am a side-glance of the weird, plaster King Tut bust, bought for $5 at the Four Points Swapmeet, presented by mom & future step dad, delivered proudly in a white sheet. Brady Bunch orange and ’80s electric blue. Heavy and life-sized. Grounded and cheap. I still think of how I wrapped his head again in a sheet when we had to evacuate my childhood home. He was waiting for me to return, to retrieve him, alone in the leftovers of my room, on the knobbled orange-brown carpet, nestled with my bottle collection and space shuttle, my clothes and childhood books. He waited. I never returned.

Just as the passages above moved from the abstract to the concrete, each of my new series vacillates between the almost-gained and almost-lost, straddling subtle clues and purposeful diffusion. There is a fascinating tension between the nondescript, compressed recollection of moment-as-concept, and the radiant, often fixating pulse of raw detail–of moment-as-exposition, and I try to engage this in different ways with each of these new bodies of work. The tension between specificity and obscurity is certainly the key to much of this new work. The in-between space is where it all happens…

…The space of gray within gray, the cat whose corpse crawled with worms, my foot plunged into his cavernous body, bare in the desert, and who I later buried with a garden trowel, sending his quiet form back to the sand beneath the Joshua tree (the same tree still visible on Google Street View, on David Hockney’s–my–Highway 138, Pearblossom Highway). All those stolen guitar picks I snaked from my brother’s friends when their bands rehearsed in my parent’s bedroom, also buried under the Joshua. All those stubbed toes, seed pods and firearms…

So many luscious and terrible moments, ideas, pinpoints, pinpricks.

Whatever became of my box of plastic animals? My sister’s stories, written on notebook paper and illustrated with plastic toy animals, Scotch-taped to each page as a 3D visual: cows and fences, horses and cats, creating a thick, metered book with strange pages and caverns? I felt guilty pulling the black and white dog from his place near the end of one of her stories… I played with him out of context, with my own toy animals, and his adventures continued. I did not put him back in the book.

Now all the animals are lost. And things are still just things. And whatever becomes of them? Are they lost in the tension between specificity and obscurity, like memory, like each individual held delicately in a photograph? Before they left our possession, after they were lost?

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“These things, in their places,” from Whitespace-Bluespace, 2016. Real time photographic manipulation.

What’s become of my blue bottle and tape player? Those black trash bags filled with ephemera from our old house, piled in the cracked-stucco Model A garage, alongside the single remaining grapevine?

These mundane things, the coffee cup of our daily greet, the blue toothbrush and broken-prong comb. These delightful, simple things… I sing for them in these new visual pieces. I sing for the simple associations, as much as for the grander connections to personal loss, to cultural grief.

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“In this Moment, he heard,” 2016. From Whitespace-Bluespace. Real time photographic manipulation and additional digital glitch.

I sing the song of ordinary things. Of ordinary selves folded into ordinary moments.

I sing the tones of my self-as-formality, that outlined person on off-white bond, presented and polished, distributed and structured. I was part of the first dot com boom. I’ve been an editor in chief, private investigator, copy writer, video editor, web designer, artist assistant, sheet music salesperson–you name it, from bowling alleys to amusement parks, window painting to entertainment writing. I’ve sold hot dogs and held international conference calls. I performed for the space shuttle Endeavor roll-out at Hangar 10, marched in two Rose Parades, been on TV, built websites and wrote copy, published and rejected, I’ve lectured and researched, even been a “cover girl” for a Japanese technology magazine…

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Currently untitled, from Whitespace-Bluespace, 2016. Real time photographic manipulation and additional digital glitch.

Are employment stats part of the song of ourselves? The linear facts of metered existence?

My resume doesn’t tell the time I was nearly stabbed and coolly disarmed the knife-bearing attacker. It doesn’t reference the summer I saved a friend from wild dogs in the desert, or the after-lunch pause where I yanked a co-worker off the street by her blouse as a bus bore down on her in muggy San Francisco. These are the socially heroic thing, but there are just as many (or more) moments of fear, confusion and longing, and even more points of quiet heroism: the process of waking up each day. Of continuing. My resume doesn’t log the times I’ve been without food and electricity, couch-surfing and family-less, washing my clothes with a neighbor’s hose in high school, when I ate leftovers from friends’ lunches; the tail-end of bananas shared by my friend Dave, the tail-end of everything, all the time. It does not reference the time I missed the chance to meet Allen Ginsberg before he died, thanks to an anthropology final. Or the time I once found a life-sized, headless Buddha in the Mojave Desert. I’ll share the story some time, with or without the formality of our public, published selves.

What is biography but a creative, forced-linear narrative? Accentuating the colorful?

What is a resume, but a forced-linear evaluation of the concrete and ‘important’?

What is biographical artwork? How much biography is necessary (if any) to engage a piece?

Dissipated memory is itself pressed into coherence, and extraneous or negative details often airbrushed and removed, sensations bound to a host of romanticized facts or apprehensions, misaligned and finessed. Fierce details are often distilled into crystalline, prescient moments (but often unstable, unreliable). Other details are skimmed and polished, forming inanimate phrases like “parents and friends.”

What is a resume? Are we the sum of our “jobs”? Our roles and proscriptions? Are we the sum of our experiences, or our perception of those same encounters?

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“The Extended Agony of Finding out (after),” 2016. From Whitespace-Bluespace. Manual glitch experimental photography with digital glitch and manipulation.

Enter the song of my characters, another song of my extended self.

A friend’s large-scale figurative paintings frequently make use of his own “self” as the body-subject, though I am not certain he would consider them “self portraits” in a literal or traditional sense. There is certainly a self-portrait aspect (or else he would have enrolled other male models), and these “self” portraits speak as metaphoric modernity, becoming selfless in their representation of cultural and philosophical typologies, and are themselves headless, homogenized, repetitious, dulled in the face of the antithetic machine. Just as my discussion of the resume and the uncomfortable tension between personal detail and the airbrushed, presented self are in disharmony, the men in his paintings are rendered with sensitive realism, such exquisite specificity that blemishes are elevated to the divine, concrete.

But his figures are denied the specificity of identity, yet they possess a peculiar level of detail that would render the nude, fragile and exposed men utterly recognizable to me, if I happened upon them. There’s a tension here between the face-as-identity and the body as identifier. Quite unlike most selfies, actually, where the map of the body, in its fierce detail, is in contrast to the headless erasure of implied, conceptual decapitation. His “selves” are disconcertingly anchored in predictable normalcy, yet denied any identity through the recognizable face, any ability to communicate or understand.

My selfies are so heavily based on the “face” that they become repetitive and dulled, inseparable and blended. A monotonous stream of the same essential form and set of colors, providing a different kind of tension in the weighted specificity of features. As my friend’s work has moved to embrace first a more complete image of a headed figure (after its early headlessness)–again allowing the face to enter–a kind of non-self-portrait rooted in the self,  it now engages an emptied sense of space. The figure has been, or will be, present, but is not located within the represented moment.

My earliest Cascade works were more focused on that kind of recently emptied, but obviously occupied, urban environment, or lived space. I suggested that figures had recently passed through, left imprints, littered the environment with their stats and biographies. Slowly, vehicles snuck into the landscape, then figures emerged, oddly embraced by my formerly all-abstract eye. The tail end of my MFA work, then, allowed figures to be fully present, but the landscape was potentially more vital than the characters, a division I now find upended. Just as my friend’s work naturally moved into new territory, I bring my characters forward now, into several new phases–and the figures are more crucial than the lived space they inhabit.

My friend’s work was thus an important and direct influence on Whitespace-Bluespace and Channeling.

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“The Extended Agony of Finding out (during),” 2016. From Whitespace-Bluespace. Manual glitch experimental photography with digital glitch and manipulation.

The face and the body are the matrix upon which we exchange and interchange, the space others identify, a literal and conceptual anchor of placement, within place, within culture.  As two of the three new series are filled with figures, these bodies are a curated response to myself, to my insecurities and questions, to my isolation, dignity and indignity–and as I am not particularly an emotional or very personal artist (though these last few articles might suggest otherwise), these new series are allowing me to indulge a bit in the very idea of self.

This move toward the character, the self as other, and the time-distorted whirl of indeterminate events allows me to abandon some of the ties to regional specificity I’ve been focused on (though the ties remain, if less prominent). The character as being, as figure, as selfie, as referent and referrer, has become fascinating to me. The desert, Hollywood, California, all undercarriage, superstructure now.

The de-centered and de-structured heroes are moving into new territory, allowed to be whole and present in a sense. I grant them access to the previously abstract picture plane, just as I once allowed vehicles to enter the empty expanse. My friend Pam, a fellow printmaker, says “I don’t like the ones with the people,” preferring instead the more abstract environments. The abstraction, for me, is only one variable. I have not abandoned the abstract stills, but now they offer vital tension for the panes with people. I see myself in the people. I’ve seen myself even in the flimsy posters and watery re-reruns, the action figures and advertising.

Two of the three series are centered on men, my ultimate self-as-other (like The Cascade…) More on this gender tension in a future post.

I will also fully flesh out each of these new bodies of work in separate posts of their own, but here’s a taste:

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Whitespace-Bluespace

This is my biggie. My solo exhibition and beyond.

I spent 8 months doing real-time, photographic capture-manipulations of the Miami Vice television show, which is currently airing each weekday evening, 9-10 pm MST on Cozi TV. As with all my media work, I had watched Miami Vice in its original run, in a particular time-and-place context. More on that below.

Each night, for an hour, I did experimental photographic “monotypes” right from the television screen, making good use of the show’s one-hour time slot and its watery, softened, broadcast form. I set rigid parameters for my manipulation times and methods. I could have easily watched it all in a week or two, binge-style, and done my work in this manner, but there was something about slowing down, about restricting the raw manipulations to an hour each day, preventing me from being out, from doing other things, tying me to the TV screen each night–sometimes against my will. Slowing down put me in a different headspace. Different events, moods, daily affects–these all impacted the way I engaged the televisual language on a given evening.

Limiting myself to an hour of generating imagery created both tension and frustration–some nights I was energized, wanting more and more! Other nights, my life-circumstances bogged me and the project was dogged, nagging, relentless. That’s how I knew I was on to something. When I felt like doing more, I curated and glitched selected moments, rather than finding a way to gather more raw imagery.

As always, I used my cell phone. On my knees, in front of the TV. I’ve gotten so that I can manipulate and shift color, form, focus and distortion in fluid ways, and I worked my little iPhone 4S so hard, I killed it.

The project was all-consuming. Gathering became an intense daily ritual that lengthened the scope of the project, requiring focused introspection and systematic gathering. After gathering, I also put some of the stills through additional glitch manipulation, to purposefully lose, obscure and erode key information that might have provided clarity and resolution. I watched the series through twice, researching and taking notes, then on the third time through, one hour each day, I extracted particular kinds of imagery–one season at a time.

The result is a 23,000 + image archive, composed of the original, real-time manual glitch / experimental photographic pieces and digital glitch images. This in itself has a stark relevancy I’m still unpacking. It makes prolific use of the “before” and “after” I describe in Before, After – Part 1, and the characters are trapped in a terrible cycle, suspended within an indeterminate space of the impending and the retreating. Some of the experiemental photographs, rather like monotypes in their single-shot pull from the screen, are left raw. These don’t undergo more manipulation after the fact, and are prescient, alive. Others, as I mentioned above, receive glitch treatment for conceptual reasons I’ll explain in a future post.

Whitespace-Bluespace – Project Statement

Life is a rush of contingencies. The wonderful, terrible sublime of “before” and “after,” a strange and delicate dance of relativity. As we commit experience to memory, details become blurred, lost, remixed—fact folded with sensation, sequencing lost to the abyss of recollection. Over time, we may even embellish, or crystallize moments, often losing more than we retain.

Memory formation relates to the way we engage television—we grab bits and pieces of information about characters and situations, often by viewing episodes out of order. We understand events by assembling a sensitive web of memories, culled, even appropriated, from different seasons. Like episodic TV viewing, we construct a mosaic by assembling clues extracted from the media flow—from our life experiences—allowing us to “know” people, places, and events by collating often disparate pieces of data, much of it reframed (often misunderstood).

Using cell phone photography in a real-time system of manipulation, I spent 8 months capturing digital “monotypes” from the TV screen, generating an archive of 23,000+ experimental images. These image-cells were mined from a personally poignant television series—Miami Vice, which I watched in its original context, during a time of personal loss and disruption. Using an obsessive, ritual system of watching and extracting, combined with manual and digital glitch, I suggest the imperfection of memory and our incomplete understanding of situations. These suspended moments are seemingly extracted from the “before” and “after” of an unclear, yet disturbing, system of events that vacillate between the almost-gained and almost-lost.

The characters, like memory, are composed of fragmented, episodic information, sampled and informed by our own recollection of other images in the installation. The viewer might begin to understand, but true clarity is denied. There is a tense passage of moment into moment, an endless catastrophe of “instants” presented as passive works on paper, active video and intimate View-Master spaces.  My eroded heroes are denied resolution, forever stuck in transition, their lives suspended as frozen, oddly linked moments—undermined, human, uncertain, temporary.

Why Miami Vice?

My engagement with the televisual language of the program is tied to a distinct sequence of “before” and “after” life-moments of personal impact. As I mentioned in the first half of the essay, I watched Miami Vice on our little TV (when we had electricity), recorded at a friend’s house on a watery VHS tape because we couldn’t afford a VHF antenna, watched and re-watched because it was a precious capture. The process of borrowing and remixing media via tape, and savoring each chance I got to watch it, was tied into my parents’ impending divorce, and the downward spiral of homelessness, distancing and confusion that resulted.

The characters seemed so strong at the time, I longed to be both of the male heroes in alternation.

I reacquainted myself with the series quite by accident, just after my thesis work, which also dealt with the impact of televisual media on concepts of self and place. Stumbling across it on Cozi TV also coincided with tumult in other parts of my life, and at first it was a welcome, aesthetically compelling refuge.

After only an episode, I found it stirred a lot of surprising sensations within me–from gushing philosophy to raw emotion, adding fuel to my media-mind. I found a fascinating, compelling thread running through each episode–the male heroes often faced loss, destruction of the self, a terrible sense of distancing–the deaths of loved ones, failure to complete missions, subjugation by terrible enemies, denial of closure–in episodic tenacity. They were rarely successful in an iconic fashion, instead suffering loss and resistance at every turn. Resolutions were complicated, problematic, and even when things tipped in their favor, it rarely resolved the way they expected (or hoped). There were no ridiculously triumphant heroes here.

I had rediscovered heroes already plagued by a strange tension between the appearance of success and the corrosion of endless defeat. A progression that unsettles and warps the main characters, with Sonny in particular emergent as a jaded, unwilling participant. As I mentioned above, I watched the series several times through, savoring each moment as I had in my youth, while realizing I was simultaneously tipping over into a new body of work, with new territory. It’s funny how that happens.

It’s so easy for many artists (and people in general) to deride “old” TV, as if by the very nature of its context, it epitomizes failure and deserves ridicule because it is from the time “before.” You, dear readers, know me by now. I never deride. Each media-moment is vital, worth refreshing and revisiting, or revitalizing in the present moment. I never judge the programs that compel me for being simply themselves. How could I?

 

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Poppy Transitory

You can read more about Poppy Transitory in this blog post, as I went into greater depth about the now completed series.

Artist Statement

Poppy Transitory investigates the sincere absurdity of processing loss with decorative memorials, themselves transitory tokens of grief. Based in a fiercely personal, yet oddly abstract pain, the series considers the story-infused space of mourning—colorful, obsessive layers behave like memory extracts.

Conflating the mysterious Mojave Desert deaths of my sister Cindy Adams (1972) and musician Gram Parsons (1973), I ask what it means to “know” someone through location-tied story; to “understand” events via embellished clues, just as I “knew” both individuals through family narrative. What does it mean to assuage loss through well-meaning transference? Do gifts for the dead resolve our perplexity?

To engage this, I use transparent layers to suggest recalled memory, story cycles, and the deluge of tokens posthumously offered to Cindy and Gram. I deconstruct and reframe the language of the Mojave Desert, the visual vocabulary of memorial shrines, and personal iconography from Cindy and Gram’s clothing, whirling them into a sensitive system of overlaid shapes. The desert they loved represents and consumes them.

Aware of its own artificiality, the work earnestly embraces our candy-colored attempts to mediate the space of grief with flowers, cards, and condolences—the physical trappings of a cultural process of mourning, often our only recourse in grappling with the unexplained. Poppy Transitory is itself a fragile, momentary monument to the passage of imprints, the trace of Cindy and Gram, and to our moment, an undeniable passage of its own.

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Channeling

The most undeveloped of the new series, I see Channeling as a project destined for excavation in fall and winter, bleeding into 2017, just as the seasons echo an appropriate, often monstrous shift in perception and place.

I watched a lot of movies and TV growing up. Obviously. Hell, all of my work in maturity grapples with this, my “self” intricately connected to media. I recorded sounds, voices, music, from the TV screen and remixed them with portable tape players. I took pictures of the screen long before I knew it could ever be “art,” ever be socially relevant in any way. I understood the world, the interactions of people through media, parallel to my own physical dealings in the “real” world, through media.

Thus, I experienced a lot of films broadcast on TV, scrunched and reformatted for the mosaic mass audience. Of particular interest to me were the Universal films with tragic, despairing heroes like the Wolfman–monsters more human than the humans who attempted to subjugate them. Lon Chaney Jr. was a recurrent figure, and my familiarity with his form,  his voice, is tied to an experiential window that speaks to me both of childhood, and of survival-as-desperation; his characters are nearly always haunted, ineffectual. His lifespan nearly echoes my grandfather’s,  born the same year,  died three years after grandfather, before I was born, but after Cindy had died. Another fascinating shuffle of before, after tied to the other two series.

Each time I watched a reprised film, it reactivated the media in the present moment. Each time I watch one now, it’s like raising the media-material from the dead–revitalizing it in the present. Film supercedes mortality in a sense, both the original recording and in the re-engagement of older films… as if the characters, the actors, the movie sets and lived spaces, the flora and landscapes, are all reborn in perpetuity because of media.

I see this work dealing with living memory, re-emergence and the transitional states of bodies (and images) that are positioned between manifestation and death, between the archive and the actively engaged. Watching the performance of before, after, watching the performance of dead performers in lived, current space, is, in essence, a method of summoning. Channeling. Not unlike the Wolfman, who rises from death when hit by moonlight, the act of engaging material in the present moment reinvigorates it, reinforces its presence, its existence. It returns to vitality what has been lost.

Then there’s the added lore of film still impacting living memory. My memories of watching the films years ago–my new memories and connections, made when revisiting each film, when discussing and viewing, capturing and renewing–channeling the before into the after. This will be developed in the series. Artists Renee Green and Douglas Gordon deal deftly with this in different ways, and I am also turning again to their work for dialgoue.

Television as medium becomes, in itself, a medium (think spirit medium) spanning lived memory, experience and the inheritance of media culture as cultural and personal memory. Is watching a film akin to attending a media seance?

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With Channeling, I also see there is something in this utter, diligent sense of despair… recognition and denial, submission and resistance found in Lon Chaney Jr.’s character panoply.

Is it the curse of modernity? The desire to find a place within the chaos?

The deliciousness of silence, each image and its mutations are a recorded, but experiential point—there was the point lived by the actors and creators, the viewers and me as the manipulator, the literal time in which I am photographing and working with the raw digital bytes. The literal time it took to film and cut the original footage. This is the experiential point of both subject and manipulator, mortality and immortality.

 

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