Tag Archives: studio 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

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Playlisting – The Art of Process

“The Language of Summoning.” 2016. Panel from triptych.

I studied music extensively for years, and in my first-first life (the phase before I majored in English, before I returned for my BFA and MFA in visual art), I thought for sure I’d be a studio musician. A female trumpet-player-keyboardist who didn’t succumb to babies and family and rote domesticity over a prominent role in male-dominated studio music circles. I planned to attend USC, had funding in place–then changed my mind and followed visual art and literature at Berkeley (though I still eschewed domesticity). Because I’m also Indiana Jones, rolling under that slamming stone door, whip in hand.

But the vitality, the flow, the importance of music has never left my studio.

My mono, single-speaker tape recorder was either this model, or very close to it. It was a late 70s device, purchased from K-Mart and first used by my parents, later gifted to me.

 

Ahhh, the classic red K-Mart KMC tapes.

My interdisciplinary work often includes experimental audio and sound. I’ve been sampling, remixing and building audio since I was a kid with cheap K-mart cassettes and a single-speaker tape recorder, capturing audio from the television and playing it back on my parents’ hifi while another TV show played in the background, re-recording the real-time dub on another receiver. The possibilities, layers, and outputs were endless, resurfacing even now in recent projects. The urge to manipulate and receive, polish and process–all tied to a strong audio core. All tied to sound and music.

It doesn’t surprise me that music is crucial to each body of work I develop.

More than just a studio soundtrack, far from “noise” filling voidspace as I work, music, audio and sound play fundamental roles in every step of my studio practice. I carefully construct playlists before I begin work on a given series, allowing the list to mutate and evolve with the project.

It’s not about setting the mood or getting into “the zone” via music. It’s about deep, conceptual and intellectual analysis of each track, each moment, each lyric or note–fitting and associating strings of thought, each delicate audio mark folding into the next, participating in a cross-media dialogue that resonates with the visual art, contributes to it, alters its surface. The playlist construction phase is a contemplative space, speaking to the theory, research and writing that are also done beforehand (and simultaneously) as the new project develops.

Taking the time to produce a playlist allows me to really get inside my project, inside the philosophy that makes it vital (for me). It allows me to refine what I see as the body, the shape, the tone, the voice of a given series.

Each playlist echoes, contributes to, informs, and is itself informed by its corresponding visual series. In the space of sound, I find resolution, direction, clarity, and compliment, even with work that’s intentionally open-ended, irresolute, or defiant against narrative closure. I learn more about my project through this process, through the act of hunting, acquiring and remixing strands of musical thought.

Individual frame from the triptych, “The Language of Summoning,” 2016.

Even the order of the tracks is important. They are carefully selected and placed, flowing one into another. These playlists are not made to impress.  They are meant to investigate, expand, amplify and attend to their corresponding bodies of work. Perhaps they’re even inseparable from the work on some level.

Sometimes the lists are awkward, strange, predictable, surprising… but they’re always earnest. I don’t care if a track is unpopular, wildly timeless or critically irrelevant–each is relevant to my process, to a given moment, a given fold. 

Yes, there are some overlaps. Certain tracks find their way onto the next list, especially when projects are close-heeled. This cross-pollination is often evident in the work itself; relationships between idea, color, form, process, you name it. It’s no accident. I allow it to be.

Playlists themselves are a manifestation of our filter bubble, that celestial-jukebox-global-DJ-remix attitude; hacking, splicing, associating and folding source material into new output… the flexible nature of playlisting is how I work in other media!

A sampling of playlists for recent bodies of work:

Poppy Transitory / Poppy Receding:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/223gordp4up2qxbkiru2pfmfa/playlist/7DIzme2MhEDZKIrLjth9Y8

Channeling – Televisual Memory and Media Seance (early stages, still taking form)

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/223gordp4up2qxbkiru2pfmfa/playlist/56N3aH7VQTVLm9ZvcOHzWB

In this Twilight Sleep (Axis Mundi project) (still taking form)

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/223gordp4up2qxbkiru2pfmfa/playlist/0uPwgeGRYW5xXpri6bTaUW

Sonny Could Not (Whitespace-Bluespace – Televisual Memory and the Implied Catastrophe) – I still find this list is mutating

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/223gordp4up2qxbkiru2pfmfa/playlist/4dXUqJVatJ3fb2InINup0s

The Cascade – Moments in the Televisual Desert:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/223gordp4up2qxbkiru2pfmfa/playlist/0GXRnkxospCVnCq7nouDsa

Poppy (Return)

 

2017 Poppy Transitory series, works in progress – Ren Adams

This body of work isn’t done with me.

I thought I was done with it, but like poppies, it keeps resurfacing. Blooming again, dying back. A little different. Tenacious.

In early 2017, I began working on another set of about 50 smaller works for the series, completing one wave in March. They refused to be framed, so I mounted them on wood. It gave them a certain decisive “objecthood,” but I am wary of getting too product-like.

There’s also a lineup of 11″ x 14s:

Some of the finished, mounted works installed:

Series Artist Statement – Poppy Transitory

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

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

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

Aware of its own artificiality, the work earnestly embraces our candy-colored attempts to mediate the space of grief with flowers, cards, and condolences—the physical trappings of a cultural process of mourning, often our only recourse in grappling with the unexplained. Poppy Transitoryis 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.

​(2016-17)

Finished works are part of this exhibition:

Inspiration 101 – Works by New Mexico Art Educators

Most artists will name their art teachers as one of their greatest influences along with famous artists in history. The knowledge, encouragement and criticism of their teachers will stay with an artist for the rest of their career. Gallery with a Cause wants to celebrate these hardworking men and women who dedicate their lives to inspire and instruct the next generation of artists. This museum quality exhibition – curated by Regina Held- features paintings, watercolor, pastel, printmaking and mixed media by New Mexico art educators from elementary to college level.  The Cancer Center Foundation raises funds to alleviate non-medical needs for cancer patients. 40 % of each art sale goes to the Foundation and is tax-deductable.

​Exhibition dates: March 12 – June 2, 2017.
Reception: Sunday, March 12, 4 -7 pm
Awards ceremony: 6:30 pm during the reception for the following awards: People’s Choice, Curator’s Choice, Patient’s Choice and Staff Choice.
Cost of event: Free and open to the public


Gallery hours:
 Monday – Friday, 9 am – 5 pm by appointment only, please contact Alexandria Tavarez, alexandriat@nmohc.com, or call 505-857-8460. Admission is free during regular gallery hours.

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

Final Mentor Meeting

Foothill Incident

Foothill Incident

I had my final mentor meeting with Kevin on 12/17 and we wrapped up the semester nicely. Since we were pretty much on the same page for the course of the semester, we had already covered lots of theoretical and formal territory.

View-Master

Technical:

  • The final presentation: table (less formal) vs. pedestal (precious, untouchable).
    • How natural is the interaction? How natural does it need to be, and does it matter if it is interacted with at all? How to set up an environment?
  • Complications of informing the museum-goer of a piece’s interactivity; how to inform, interface design. We discussed Layar and an installation I had seen earlier in the semester where some viewers took the time to download the app and view the work, others saw the work as it was, without the interactive component.
  • Ways of testing the 3D imaging using 2-slide stereoscopy, creative home rigs and glasses, making my own VR screen
  • Use tracking shots, or pseudo-tracking shots, consider old school animation problems
  • Consider the background vs. foreground as suggestion of movement
  • Consider the offset, pixel-based offset
  • What about Google Street View as a tracking system?

Concept:

  • The idea of adding elements after the fact and re-dimensionalizing the “program” is compelling and relevant. Should be exciting.
  • Seems a solid addition to the installation group.

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Rental (Requesting Backup)

Kevin viewed the current version (potentially final) of Rental… and felt it was nicely resolved, in line with the other video works. He appreciates the collage-to-the-point-of-abstraction approach and felt it handled issues that arose in the rough cut well. it’s now ready for peer review.

Theory and Writing

We talked at length about the nature of research, theory and writing, and how these considerations impact our artistic production. It seems natural for our attitude toward writing and research to evolve over time–at times occupying a space of great hybrid practice, at other times existing as paradoxes of work-research, research-work (which comes first? Do they co-exist (at times each half becoming dominant)?).

Kevin suggested I always consider writing a formal practice, making it useful for myself, including whatever way(s) it manifests in and through the work. A process of formal discovery, of zeroing in on things, can be similar in both the way artistic works are built and in the way writing is composed. Writing should remain flexible and helpful, as we are first and foremost studio artists. At some point we can give ourselves permission to be experts, even as we are curious, evolving, learning experts.

We also talked about the artist statement as a philosophical challenge–and how it forces us to confront our ideas about the work, and what the work is really doing. We got breached the nature of tweeting–and how boiling our body of work down to 140 characters is both mind-numbingly difficult and brilliantly revealing. With this in mind, I will try to create a micro artist statement. If I can lay out my work in a tweet-length instant, it would be beneficial to my understanding of the project and to my ability to communicate it to others.

In short, Kevin has been tremendously helpful this semester and I’ll keep him apprised of the project as it flows toward completion.

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Works in Progress

A few more pieces I’ve been working on. These are in-progress shots which show some of the background layer building I’ve been doing, as they’re developed.

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Working on larger drawings which allude to a series of smaller mutli-technique etchings I did late last year. Seeing what happens if I blow them up and articulate the detail in different ways. These are drawn rather than etched and printed.

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The above etching, Pompeii: Emergence, is the impetus behind the larger charcoal and ink drawings. I’ll try to fit as much rigorous detail into the large scale works as I managed to get in this single plate development (which used soap ground, Sharpie, hard ground, soft ground and lift ground).

 

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The very, very beginning of an underlayer which I plan to print on top of. Ink (wet and pen).

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Several pieces getting ink layers added. I’ve been doing a lot of painting and drawing this semester and using the printing more to tie the varied elements together.

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Another, slightly less blurry, cap of one of the drawing underlayers.

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A larger piece which at first, as shown here, included a brush painting underlayer and then later received collaged and printed elements on top.

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A continuation of a large brush painting I started a month ago. This will get printing on top.

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A stack of experiments. Most of these are forays into different palette combinations, mark processes and compositional adventures. Many will continue to be developed, others will be printed over or cut into collage elements if they do not resolve.

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A stack of work in progress.

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Rock shapes awaiting collage.

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Serigrapy underlayers, with some collage, ready to get more!

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Bits from the finished experiment piece, Bytes. 

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Even more rocks, created using a combination of monotype, serigraphy, digital and painted elements. Ready for the big collage.