Tag Archives: the archive

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.

 

Paper 1, Spr 14 – Specific Constellations: Lacunae and the Postmodern Archivist Tendency

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The Cascade – Mutations 3, #6 (2014) – Ren Adams.

Ren Adams
Research Paper 1 – Critial Theory Response
Lynne Cooke – Advisor
February, 2014

(footnotes are at the bottom of this post)
(download the PDF)

Specific Constellations: Lacunae and the Postmodern Archivist Tendency

The Post-war era saw significant change in the way artists work with, around and within the increasingly fluid structure of the contemporary archive. Scholars like Hal Foster identify a shift from 19th century institutional approaches[1] to emerging methods that fundamentally de-center history, revealing information gaps (or lacunae [2]) of investigative importance. Newer tactics allow artists to use the once-monumental, sterile structure of the archive itself to deconstruct and re-contextualize masses of information and their relationship to cultural memory. Lost or displaced information becomes central to these contemporary archivist tendencies, which abandon reliance on institutional entombment to embrace a fluid, active form of inquiry (Merewether 10). Reconsidering the static nature of the archive allows examination of specific constellations[3] of information—spontaneous networks uncovered in the process of information accretion. These data constellations are composed of context-bound clues, themselves forming networks within networks. Treatment of the archive as process (not interment [4]) is primary to artists like Renee Green and impacts my current, quasi-archival series, The Cascade. When the archive transitions from storehouse to investigative platform, it allows for the personal and obscure—engaging remix, recombination and mutation, mediating cultural transmission through relation and collation. By taking lacunae into consideration when producing stills for The Cascade, I analyze specific constellations that emerge, making use of clusters and voids as a fundamental field of exploration.

Hal Foster identifies this shift in archival approach as an impulse in contemporary art, embodied by a range of international artists, including Renee Green, who “share a notion of artistic practice as an idiosyncratic probing into particular features, objects and events in modern art, philosophy and history” (Merewether 143). This emergent, pervasive desire to deal with information, its infinite sources and myriad recombinations, and even the nature of historicity itself, allows artists like Green to mount a discourse in alternative history. This “will to relate” where bodies of work “probe a misplaced past” through collation (and even appropriation) of its signs (Merewether 145) become crucial to Green and other artists-as-archivists.[5] For Foster, “archival artists seek to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present. To this end they elaborate on the found image, object and text, and favor the installation format” (Merewether 143).

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One angle of Partially Buried in Three Parts (1999). Renee Green.

Green approaches the archive as a mutable negative space. The distance between events and their reinterpretation, and holes left by data fatigue and exclusion, become points of dialogue. Building work that emphasizes these gaps, or lacunae, enables Green to manipulate a tangled mesh of perception (personal and cultural) which questions the role of site and non-site in artwork; a kind of archival landscape. Works like Partially Buried in Three Parts (1999) investigate the capacity of media to retain (or regain) access to personal and social memory, while questioning how the quasi-archival landscape of site/non-site function in this regard. Essentially, Green is “finding what isn’t being sought” (Merewether 49). Partially Buried… is largely filmic; an archive of collated cultural phenomena, filtered through the artist. She says of the work, “each part is an overlapping exploration of ways in which we attempt to reinterpret the past…” (Merewether 50).

Part 1 ties Robert Smithson’s now extinct land-arts work, Partially Buried Woodshed,[6] to Green’s personal relationship with Kent State, her childhood in the 1970s and the performance of land-art as ruin, probing notions of “sites of memory” and “site specific work” as functional spaces (Merewether 50). Contemplating Woodshed triggers an avalanche of relational memories, indicating the site serves as an active platform, further imagined through Partially Buried in Three Parts. Green probes the essential nature of the missing (geographical and spatial) in the work of art, its transformation as non-data through memory and distance, and its relationship to other time-triggered events of the 1970s.[7]

Part 3 blurs boundaries between past and present, proximity and distance, the self and the other (Merewether 50) by using photographs Green took in Korean. Also based in new media, this part of the virtual archive manifests “the complexities of how we find ourselves entangled in relationships to countries, nations, nationalities and people, to locations in time, and to the ensuing identifications” (Merewether 52).  All three parts are concerned with how we reinterpret the past and how space-place[8] functions in the contemporary field where a “sense of place and time can depend largely on where one’s computer screen is” and the effect of digitization (or archivization) on memory (Merewether 50). These data accumulations form specific clusters, with relationships between photographic entries—which begs the question: does the archival format allow us to regain the missing, or to mediate history through individual filters? Green’s oblique answer is tied to the alternate and overlapping accounts she assembles.

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“Some Chance Operations” (1999), video still. Renee Green.

Another of Green’s works exhibiting archivist sensibilities is Some Chance Operations (1998), which behaves as “archival form in ruin: film as convincing and porous container” (Merewether 52). Chance makes use of filmic images, referencing lost data in ‘archival’ format. She questions how we retain history, memory and associations with (and within) time and how the archive plays a role in remembering. The archive seems to function as a practice of ordering in the chaos of modernity—a bastion against forgetting and loss, recalling scholar Benjamin Buchloch’s question about “the impact of the photographic image on the construction of historical memory” (Merewether 91).[9] For Buchloch, the photo devastates memory—a point Green inverts by using galvanizing filmic installations.[10] For Green, building work that exposes (and integrates) lacunae is necessary for space-place investigation. Lacunae, therefore, are active platforms of manipulable negative space—making the transition from passive to active possible.

These voids—variously described by Foster and Green, are functional spaces in which Postmodern archival work takes place, especially where it involves preproduction and remix “concerned less with absolute origins than with obscure traces” (Merewether 144). Artists are freed to draw from the corpus of mass culture, itself a giant archive,[11] constructing Foster’s idea of “alternative knowledge” or “counter-memory” using sampling, sharing and even appropriation (Merewether 144).  More than just monikers of data fatigue or political exclusion, they are the fertile void where things take shape. Green asserts that her “probing of in-between spaces, which can appear to be holes, aporias, absences” leads to the production of pieces like Partially Buried… and Chance (Merewether 49)—and to the transitional space between these bodies of work, which she identifies as an “intersection of references” that occurs when she investigates “presence in what appears to be absence” (Merewether 52).[12]

Like Green’s work, my digital hybrid series, The Cascade, grapples with physical, social and imagined landscape as responsive archive, mediated through mass culture. In The Cascade, landscape is relative, performative. Tied to our sense of geography, time and shifting notions of history, it serves as a physical anchor, a philosophical boundary—the innate expression of linear time tied to the measurable boundary of social space. The Cascade engages landscape as a permeating condition—a collage of interpretive macro and micro understandings, always in a physical and socio-political state of flux. It investigates the hypertextuality of time, space, matter, and information, addressing the collapse of linearity and the generation of personal mythology.[13]

Rooted in a personal connection to the landscape of Southern California which permeates American television from the 1960s-80s, I excavate fluid instances of the conceptual space found in fleeting media backdrops.  This transitory landscape punctuates television narratives, tied to production, reception and even a shared, macro-level cultural understanding of time and location. The Cascade freezes a trace of this literal and ephemeral physicality in an instant—folding the moment back in on itself as distorted screen captures that undergo myriad transformations.

The stills that make up The Cascade form a virtual archive[14] that engages site, information and time relativity. It suspends geographic (and linear) traces as photographs once removed from their physical location by the original filming and again removed by the act of capturing a temporary instance.[15] The archived environments inhabit the very real, the imagined and the transient place of recollection, iconographic of a collapsing space between personal history, geologic reality and cultural production. Both a native and imagined sense of place adopt non-linear roles, existing within the relativity of deep digital space.[16]

The archivist subtext is essential to the work’s inherent topography and contingency. It emphasizes the non-precious nature of the accumulated still, using recombination and digital integration for emphasis.[17] Like Green’s Partially Buried… the series unites varied, manipulated elements and takes into consideration the role of film as memory.[18]

As with Green’s pieces, The Cascade becomes a platform of investigation, probing collective memory traced through layers of cultural transmission (Spieker 87). It makes use of serialization, multiplicity and image accumulation, allowing counter-memory to emerge as stills excavated from the “porous container” of film. These stills are linked via specific, emerging constellations—developing their own terrain as they adopt a Postmodern archivist sensibility. The space between the original filming, its presentation as cultural object, its excavation and manipulation, and its relation to the past allow for a floating ambiguity that emphasizes the distance between storytelling and internal space. The lacunae in The Cascade are the voids between landscape and archive, mass culture and personal mythology.

Cascade Still, Ren Adams. 2013.

Cascade Still, Ren Adams. 2013.

Works Cited

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York, NY: New York University Press, 2006. Print.

Merewether, Charles. The Archive. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006. Print.

Pariser, Eli. The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think. New York: Penguin Press, 2011. Print.

Spieker, Sven. The Big Archive: Art from Beaurocracy. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008. Print.

Richardson, Jack. “Moving Considerations of Space in Visual Culture.” Visual Arts Research 32.2 (2004): 62-68. Print.


[1] The 19th (and early 20th) century archive was centered on process, physicality and an attempt to solidify subjectively ‘important’ material in monumental form. Emphasis was placed on the preservation of data that passed out of active use, or on the crystallization of ‘accurate’ history (Merewether 10, 12) (Spieker ix, xi).

[2] Scholar-artist Renee Green uses the term “lacunae” to identify a particular “negation in abundance” that characterizes archival structures (and masses of material in general). When faced with an avalanche of data, impossible to process due to its consumptive volume, material gets cross-canceled, limited and conjoined with absence. The lacunae, then, are “holes which occur in the midst of densities of information, as well as amidst their lack… [lacunae] allude to that which is beyond understanding , and understanding can be thought here in terms of how it might be possible to perceive as well as the boundaries of such perception” (Merewether 49). Lacunae inadvertently reveal the location of limitation, the boundary of information fatigue, while revealing in-between spaces in a broader sense. Voids may exist between the data that’s included and excluded, between what is said and how it is received and understood—even between social, cultural and political distances.

[3] “Specific constellations” are clusters of context-bound clues, deriving meaning from the topography in which they are found, with relation to space, place and time (Spieker 19). Spieker likens these information (or elemental) networks to the way Dr. Rudolf Virchow treated pathological tissue: “in exactly the way that an archaeologist treats a fragment he finds in the ground or the way that a nineteenth century philologist treated words as discrete, isolated pieces of evidence that can be understood only in the context of the place (and the time) where they were detected, a place where they lie side by side with other discrete objects in specific constellations” (Spieker 19).

[4] Formerly an act of “entombing” dead, non-circulating materials, archiving became a monument of memory and history: dry, inactive, fetishizing linear time (and reality) as a giant filing cabinet (Spieker ix, 1).

[5] Other artists-as-archivists named by Foster include Douglas Gordon, Tacita Dean, Thomas Hirschhorn, Liam Gillick and Mark Dion (Merewether 143). Likewise, scholar Sven Spieker identifies Andy Warhol and Ilya Kabokov (among others) as Postmodern archivists making use of the archival promise of time as sensory, experiential place (Spieker ix, 3).

[6] Robert Smithson built the site-specific work, Partially Buried Woodshed, at Kent State University in 1970. In May of that same year, four students were shot attending a protest rally and the building was tagged with the phrase “May 4, 1970,” causing the Woodshed to take on significant new meaning and function (Merewether 50). The Woodshed is physically extinct, though it exists (and is known) through photographic documents—another call-out to Green’s angled use of the archive. What does it mean to examine works whose existence is now predicated on the document, the record?

[7] Part 2 of Partially Buried in Three Parts examines the United States as imagined and experienced from afar (during the 1970s), raising questions of nationality, geographical place and location-tied sensory experience (Merewether 50).

[8] I use “space-place” to allude to scholar Marcus Doel’s assertion that located encounters reside in a fluid relationship between space and place. Doel suggests that space is actually a “post-structural form within which the event of seeing takes place,” whereas “place is an event: it is verbal rather than nounal, a becoming rather than a being” (Doel qtd. in Richardson 63). Place, then, is not strictly geographical or physical, but is itself an event of perception and understanding, made possible through conceptualizations that occur in space. I would argue that the relationship between space, place and the images tied to our notion of physical space and location become complicated and hypertextual in the information era.

[9] Buchloch sees the archive as a model of historical memory, representative of a kind of continuity of experience: an anomic, or social, archive. Image accumulation relates to collage and montage as method of investigating collective social memory through visual output. Context, dynamism, contingency, serialization are important aspects. These lead to a construction of meaning, rather than simple assembly of form. History is fundamentally de-centered and the archive becomes a sandbox for the construction of memory structures without particular emphasis on nostalgia (Merewether 99).

[10] Green questions the way the archive and memory can serve as an active process for continual reconsideration, rather than a process of entombment (Merewether 54), essentially a method of making the lacunae performative. Void becomes vital.

[11] Hal Foster identifies mass culture as an archival source of shared information. Artists like Douglas Gordon, who sample material from  the cultural pool, using the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese in a way that ensures recognition and legibility, while reframing the material as a process of counter-memory (Merewether 144). This also calls to mind scholar-activist Eli Pariser’s suggestion that within Postmodern convergence culture, specifically media flow, each participant is exposed to “a unique universe of information” as we navigate and extrapolate information and experience from the filtered mass cultural experience (Pariser 9).

[12] Essentially, scholars like Foster, Green, Spieker and Buchloch recognize the archival impulse as method and methodology, incorporating intentional and inadvertent voids, a shift to an active process of accumulation and processing vs. the historical entombment of memory as history, changes in physical output (from archaic cabinets to installation and new media) and the ability to allow new context from the recombination of material. The archive has become a mediation of cultural transmission, relation and collation itself.

[13] As we encounter the data cascade, scholar Henry Jenkins suggests “each of us constructs our own personal mythology from bits and fragments of information extracted from the media flow… transformed into resources through which we make sense of our everyday lives” (Jenkins 3).

[14] I did not set out to make an archive. Instead, the specific constellations of The Cascade formed as a natural result of data accretion, becoming apparent over time. Thus, its quasi-archival nature emerged concurrently with its physical and performative structure (Spieker xi), like a feedback loop. My fascination with capturing, saving and cataloging frozen moments became an obsession, as did tracking their single-paned movements through layered manipulations, not unlike Foucault’s idea of the dynamic archive “whose rules constitute themselves together with (at the same time as) that which they help formulate” (Spieker 12).

[15] I quite literally sit in front of the television, screening material while snapping rough shots with a cell phone camera. The camera has a short depth of field, resulting in data loss, moray patterns and conflicting light sources. The stills then undergo digital manipulation. Some elements are drawn or produced using printmaking techniques, then folded back into the digital version. Stills are also output on paper, manipulated, re-scanned and returned to digital format.

[16] Characters and commerciality are de-emphasized in favor of transitional space (conflicting narrative time) and regional collision, though inevitably present. The project currently makes use of stills from The A Team, Knight Rider, Emergency! and MacGyver, filmed across Santa Clarita, Valencia, Topanga Canyon, Carson, the Antelope Valley and greater Los Angeles County, California. Clusters of related images emerge, yet resist narrative reading, forming their own alternative (shifting) history instead.

[17] Serialization, multiplicity and mutability are important within The Cascade, as with Green’s works. As scholar Sven Spieker says of archival bases: “every picture can become the base for another layer of image,” (Spieker 139) an idea of fundamental importance to the series. Each still becomes stretched, mutated, chopped and otherwise used as a base for the next transition, the next integration.

[18] Green says of this unique role, “many people’s earliest recollections now include films and TV or films on TV or played by VCRs. Memories include social and private recollections—how old I was, who I was with, where I was. Films themselves not serve an indexing function to assist in gaining access to memory” (Merewether 53).

The Cascade and The Archive

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A Buchloch Anomic Archive Emergency

The Cascade project has become more than a daily project. I suspected as much from the beginning. I felt excited about working on it, it continually activated new ideas and discussions and happily mutated between phases.

What started out as a phase of distorted screen caps, traditional media interpretations of the caps, and integrated, manipulated print-style layered digital pieces is becoming its own series, its own broader archive.

I want even more than the original 33 images in Phase I.  I’m continually snapping new caps to flesh out a much larger manipulation base. I’ll be continually interpreting aspects of each snap as drawings, then re-integrating captures, drawings and digital manipulation into “Phase III” works.

From the pool of Phase III pieces, I am selecting certain works to output onto good quality, full-size BFK sheets (at least 22 x 30, potentially larger). These output pieces will get manipulated with direct paint, serigraphy, woodcut and other marks, as well as collage and possible digital overlays. These will gain “objecthood” in the real world, while the actual Cascade project itself remains delightfully virtual, immersible from any direction: a hypertext choose your own adventure!

Reading Charles Merewether’s The Archive (Whitechapel Documents of Contemporary Art) has triggered some Postmodern humor, as well as plenty of new possibilities for the project as a whole.