In Medias Res

I’ll just look it up online.

            A phrase I hear on a daily basis, as a fellow student shrugs off the suggestion to go to the stacks in the library and check out a good book. The fact is, we don’t have time to go to the library, especially when it is much easier to look it up later when we sit down to partake in our evening Internet browse. We just have too many things to do. Everyone knows it: our society has become a fast-paced race that is difficult, almost impossible, to keep up with. So we try to save time by using one of the most common resources of the 21st century: the Internet. However, the way the human brain receives and processes the information read on a screen differs greatly from the way it processes information received in paper form (Jabr).

             As an artist, the shift from the physical to digital world makes this new rise in technology all the more fascinating: must we give up the long era of making objects and start making art that is intangible and completely virtual? How do we reconcile these two separate universes? How has the overflow of information from both sources changed the way the 21st century viewer engages with art? Through manipulation of information objects, I seek to question and explore the way the modern day viewer encounters information in both physical space and virtual space, especially through book form. In Medias Res (Latin for “in the midst of things”) explores the difference between digitally and physically formatted information, while also investigating art’s purpose in our post-internet world. Perhaps art’s job is not to make original objects, but to question how we communicate.

             A study by psychologist Kate Garland shows that students who read information on a computer screen rather than on a physical page scored just as well as the students who read the information in a book. However, there was a difference in the way each student recalled the information. It seemed that the students who read the information in book form had actually learned and knew the information. However, the students who read the information on the computer relied on memorizing the information instead of actually learning it (Garland). This is a clear example of how we process stimuli differently when using a virtual forum.

             This has a lot to do with the platform on which the information exists. When holding a book, the participant can make a clear mental map of the text. The physical form of the book allows for easy navigation and provides the viewer with a very clear idea of how far they have come through the text. On the other hand, a screen does not lend itself to such easy navigation. Scrolling through a page on a website does not provide the viewer with the same information that every reader has at their fingertips when reading a book (Jabr).Users inevitably run into mental roadblocks when trying to engage in the virtual world. Not only is it more difficult to remember or learn information, but the amount of information constantly flowing onto and out of the screen can be so overwhelming and difficult to manage, that we, as a society, have been “forced to create our own filter bubbles to do the distilling for us, parsing the amount of information in our lives to acceptable levels” (Uglow). These filters make learning, remembering, and even engaging in meaningful reading or activity on the computer, tablet, or mobile device more difficult for users.

            Although the virtual arena may not be appropriate for some interactions, such as reading long texts, it does have its obvious benefits that the physical world lacks. For example, using a tablet or laptop saves space. You can read the same pile of books on a tablet by taking up 10 GB of virtual space, as opposed to 10 feet of physical space. Aside from the obvious argument of saved space, the virtual world provides every human with the ability to endlessly share information. You can share one document with millions of people; whereas in the physical world, one physical document can only be shared with one person at a time. Lastly,due to the accessibility of information and the capacity to share this information across multiple forums, we do not live in an age where tedious memorization is essential. This creates an information and knowledge structure that does not depend on labor-intensive tactics and therefore energies can be repurposed and “higher” thinking can be achieved with more complex modeling.

            The reality of mass sharing is that virtual information is no longer such a precious commodity. In a post-internet world, a photograph or copy of an art object is far more dispersed and viewed than the actual art itself (Vierkant). It can be argued that information shared within the virtual arena holds less value than information shared or seen in its physical form. This may be true, only because the latter is less common. What happens, however, when an artist claims authorship of virtual information and assigns it meaning? Does it increase in value? According to Artie Vierkant, “in the post-internet climate, it is assumed that the work of art lies equally in the version of the object one would encounter at a gallery or museum, the images and other representations disseminated through the Internet and print publications, bootleg images of the object or its representations, and variations of any of these as edited and re-contextualized by any other author” (Vierkant 5). Essentially, the value of art stays consistent, regardless of where or how it is viewed. This is important to consider when thinking about the contemporary artist, living and making in the post-internet world.

             The ever-changing landscape of virtual space alters everything an artist does, especially considering this virtual space grants instant public access to almost anything. As an artist, the thought that almost everything is archived in a completely open forum can be intimidating and perhaps even threatening, particularly when making original or surprising art objects. John Kelsey, an art critic, argues that “it may be that art’s job is no longer to produce more surprising images, but to make itself a means of locating today’s corpse within the redundancy (or ecstasy) of communication” (63). Kelsey’s idea that an artist’s job is not to make original objects, but to question the means in which we communicate with each other, fuels the work I have begun to create.

             Because the virtual world is a vast, open-ended forum for communication, one must also think about appropriation. Perhaps originality comes from remaking that which already exists. Almost anything archived in the digital world is available to be shared, but also to be used by a new author and re-contextualized. Artie Vierkant suggests that art in the post-internet world is “inherently informed by ubiquitous authorship, the development of attention as currency, the collapse of the physical space in networked culture, and the infinite reproducibility and mutability of digital material” (Vierkant 3). Appropriation, or using information, material, or objects that already exist, can aid an artist when they are questioning the way things are. Creating something new and assigning meaning to it can only take an artist so far when they want the viewer to connect to it within a specific cultural context. In my work, I hope to re-contextualize information objects, like a computer, printer, calculator, or book (appropriated objects), using each object’s predetermined cultural meaning to question how we receive, understand, and disperse information.

             Artist Anouk Kruithof introduces her viewers to these ideas through various photographic installations. With the same ideas in mind, she creates work that is not only inviting, but also highly contemporary in topic. One of her most inspiring works, Untitled: I’ve Taken too Many Photos/I’ve Never Taken a Photo, is an installation of past iPhone photos from her personal phone. She asked someone who had never taken a photograph before to choose around 75 of the best photographs out of hundreds. What resulted from this project was an incredibly interesting script, available to read on her website, of the person sorting through the photographs. In the script, the volunteer who had never taken a photograph before explains why he chooses some and not others. His reasoning is interesting and often funny, especially considering that he was critiquing her work without any knowledge of art or photography.

            She printed and installed the photographs on the ceiling, making the viewers look through a handheld mirror to actually see the images (Kruithof). In this piece, Kruithof takes something that holds little artistic value, a photograph taken with an iPhone, and changes the context of these photographs completely by allowing a volunteer to take authorship of the project, even though he is not an artist himself. She also asks the viewer to look at them through a mirror, making the viewer decide how they are specifically going to frame the photographs. Although she removes the photographs from their usual gallery context, she references the act of looking down at one’s cell phone by making the audience use a mirror to see the photographs.

            Kruithof’s installation references the age of digital communication and raises questions about the way we use images to communicate. Her simplistic idea and clean execution satisfy the aesthetic that I hope to achieve in my work. Although it is true that her installation was well crafted, I am hesitant to use the word “craft,” as it tends to have a negative connotation when referencing contemporary art. I have continuously struggled with the marriage of craft and concept; however, I believe that conceptual contemporary art is vastly different than traditional, craft-based art. In the post-internet art world, it seems it is more difficult for craft to be relevant, as an artist’s job is no longer about making new objects or surprising images. Art critic John Kelsey argues that “if work today can be defined as the movement of information from here to there, the contemporary artist no longer pretends to invent a new language, but instead confronts us with the potential we all share to disrupt both the directionality and the tempo of ready made codes” (Kelsey 71). In my work, I want to question the way that we communicate through digital and physical mediums by disrupting their original form and asking the viewer to consider the object’s inherent meaning from a completely new perspective.

            This has not always been my goal, as my work has continuously changed and grown.  Although all of my work has tried to surprise the viewer by presenting them with a different version of something they are familiar with, it has not always clearly raised the questions I am currently trying to ask. I began the year making artist’s books out of plexi-glass, an uncommon material. The purpose of using such an uncommon, clean, and transparent material was to allow the viewer to have a vastly different experience when flipping through the pages than they would with any other book made out of opaque paper pages. Although I do believe this series of books was successful, I felt as if there was more territory to explore. Consequently, I moved on to using an actual textbook to explore the book form. Using textbook pages to create works that changed the context of the book itself allowed me to consider the way a viewer interacts with information on a very physical level. These pieces highlighted the materiality of physical information, suggesting that interacting with physical information was in some way better than consuming information on a screen. Although this argument can and has been made, I do not wish to try to answer this question with my work. Instead, I wish to raise questions about the way that humans communicate with each other through various forms of interaction, both physical and virtual.

            Because of this shift in concept, my work has also recently taken a turn. I wish to bridge the gap between the physical and virtual world while also referencing the book form, an important information object, which requires using physical material, like paper. By putting a printer on a shelf fairly close to the ceiling, I hope to create a loose book as the pages print, slowly falling to the ground when they are finished. The loose pages of the book will interact with the viewer by invading their physical space. They will either have to move as the pages fall or walk around the pile that will continuously grow on the ground. Although the execution of this piece is fairly simple, I hope that the concept will provide a thought-provoking escape for the viewer.

            This piece, entitled In Medias Res, is very different from anything else I have created this year. However, the idea behind it has brought me to a pivotal point in my artistic career and has allowed me to reconcile a few ideas that I have continuously struggled with throughout my time at DAAP. First, I realized that although it is important to argue a certain point and have a strong message, it is not necessary for art to present one thing as better than any other thing. I think it is important for art to raise questions within the viewer, even if they are open-ended, and allow the viewer to examine those questions for him or herself. I no longer believe art’s purpose is to persuade; rather, its purpose is to agitate the viewer’s predisposed beliefs.

            Leaving my beliefs open-ended has allowed me to shift my attitude about craft and concept this year. Last year, I discovered the world of traditional craft art. I attended Penland School of Craft and spent my summer making objects like books and jewelry. My world revolved around the craft aspect of art and I spent little to no time thinking about the concepts that went into my craft. It was what it was—producing books and jewelry—and at the time I was okay with that. It was not until I had a studio visit with world-renowned photographer Laura Letinsky that my thoughts shifted. During the visit, she asked me the question “To what end?” Why was I spending hours upon hours making these craft objects if they did not have anything to say, if they did not hold any significant meaning? It was then that I realized I had to stop focusing on craft and start focusing on the reason I was making art. It has taken me almost the entire year to reconcile these two ways of thinking. Luckily, Laura Letinsky raised questions for me that no one had during my brief stint with traditional craft-based art. This experience forced me to consider if, why, and how craft-based art fits within the contemporary art context. We live in a post-internet world, and “nothing is a fixed state: i.e. everything is anything else, whether because any object is capable of becoming another type of object or because an object already exists in flux between multiple instantiations” (Vierkant 4).

            This journey has been treacherous, difficult, and exhilarating. However, I believe that I have come to a point in my work where reconciliation is taking place. I have finally reached a compromise between the conceptual world and the craft-based world and between physical reality and virtual reality. Most importantly, I have realized that there is no need for either one to be right or wrong. They can exist simultaneously, in my own head and in my work. Using both sides can raise important questions and create a debate within those who view my work. I have to consider Tom Uglow, a technologist who works at Google’s Creative Lab in Sydney, Australia, when he says that “today’s society has complexities that artists will reflect back to us through the way we’ll remember experiencing them: multi-linear, time-agnostic, fragmented and discordant” (Uglow). In Medias Res presents the viewer with a device that is in the midst of a process. The undiscoverable origin of the information and the inaccessible, messy result of the process may remind the viewer of the complexities of the world we live in: a place in between physical and virtual space.

Critique with Janie Stevens

One of my favorite teachers of all time retired last year, an unfortunate scenario for me, as Janie was the professor I always looked up to.  I was expecting her to be there through my last year of school, the most important year of school, the year in which I complete my thesis.

Well, she isn’t there, but I am lucky enough to still get to see her twice a week. This is because last year, she asked me to be one of her artist assistants. Now, I can talk to her about my ideas, my work, and school in general. More importantly, I get to experience what her workflow is like, here what her ideas are, and learn so much more than I ever really thought that I would. Working with her has been one of the best experiences I’ve had so far in college.

Janie, being as amazing as she is, has agreed to spend extra time with me to look and critique my work. A couple weeks ago, I got to set up my work for her and hear what she had to say about it. I forgot what it was like to get feedback from her, and I soon remembered why she was such an important teacher. She pointed out things that I had yet to think about, discovering things in the work that no one else had, including me. She saw my work from a point of view that no one else who looked at it had, and that was incredibly enlightening and important for me.

One thing she point out was how important text seemed to be throughout the work. I guess I had never thought this…It was just a product of the conceptual aspect of my workflow. Although each piece was created with that in mind, it is not as if each piece in this series needs text to be successful or to connect to the whole. However, Janie pointed out that I should think about text on a deeper level, and start making more conscious decisions about its use and what it can mean to the viewer.

Luckily, soon after this critique with Janie, we went to the Ann Hamilton lecture together. Her work is heavily text-based. It as so informative to listen to her talk about this choice, where she got her text from, and why it was important in her work. She asked a question that I think has changed how I think about using text. She asked what it would mean to the viewer if they knew that text was present, but could not read it. How would that change the way the work is viewed? I think that asking these questions and thinking about the unconventional and unexpected ways in which I can use text will be incredibly important in my future work.

As of now,  I am just grateful for the feedback I’ve been lucky enough to attain both in and outside of school. Knowing now how difficult it is to find someone to look at and talk about your work with, I will be sure to appreciate all of the feedback I continue to receive while I’m still in school. Hopefully that thought will help me get through the rest of the school year a little more easily.

Art School: (Propositions for the 21st Century)

I am lucky enough to have a few close friends in the Art Education program. It turns out that they are learning. More than I am at this point, at least (which is a bit sad, but okay at the same time). My friend recently introduced me to the book Art School: (Propositions for the 21st Century), which is filled with awesome articles and stories my various people and groups. It evaluates what art school is now and what it actually should be and what we can do to change it.

Anyway, she showed me this article about this amazing Hindustani tradition called Riyaaz, which speaks about a musician’s practice and how we, as artists, can take the same ideas from the practice and put them into our practice. The paper blew my mind. Seriously, I wish I would have said these things before they did, but I’m so happy to find something so beautiful in writing. Please read:

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I seriously cannot get enough of this. It is exactly what I want my practice to be…except for far more eloquently spoken and thought out.

A few ideas and sentences really spoke to me:

1. The idea of “radical incompleteness”: “Learning to be comfortable with the idea that the circumference of the work is always larger than the boundedness of its nominated authorship. The work of art is never done, and so there is always room for another author” (78).

2. “Minor media…is a dense layering (by one person or by many over lengths of time) of the work of art with a multitude of surfaces that produce a context, rhythm, and texture of accumulative annotations.  It is this accumulation that occasionally yields the sharp significance that is the unique property of a work done in a minor key”  (79).

3. “Incremental record”: “The practitioner is not the owner or professor of a work of art. Instead, the artist takes custody of what might have begun within his or her life, consciousness, and body, but the work is already on its way out into the world.”

4. School may be an initiatory process of significance to some artists, though not to the development of others. Clearly, this process of continuous exchange is the transposed articulation in another key or the situation that we found ourselves embedded in critically at the beginning of this “octave” ( 80).

Continue reading

Sending This Out into the World

Below is my senior thesis proposal. Let me know what you all think. (I almost said ya’ll, what??)

It is not often thought that psychology has a presence in art. However, a couple of years ago, I started to consider myself both an artist and a psychologist. Even though I am not technically certified to give anyone treatment, I still like to think that I am an important “sounding board” for the majority of my peers. In fact, I enjoy listening and offering any advice that I can give. That’s the thing: I am incredibly interested in the inner-workings of the human mind. Curiosity drives me to continue this practice. What makes people tick? How do we wake up every morning and decide what we are going to do that day? Or think about? There are the obvious societal, cultural, and necessary elements that go into these questions. Although I am interested in those incredibly explicit factors, I am most interested in the less noticeable ones. What happens in a person’s brain to help them cope with the constant ebb and flow of living?

My artistic practice serves as a method of research to help answer these questions. Through the use of tangible elements, specifically artist’s books, I want to explore the human mind, while asking the most present question in my art practice: how and why can making and viewing art help the human mind and how can we, as a society, use it to our advantage?

While on this exploration, I have been confronted with several problematic questions. First, can psychology and art merge to make an impactful whole? I stand true to the belief that it can and have been desperately working to find what the end result will look like. However, I sometimes feel that I am gripping at something that is not within my reach. I have found a few inspirations that lead me to believe otherwise. For example, Ryan Mulligan’s new installation at the Contemporary Arts Center that he built for his autistic son. He brings a completely new set of questions to the UnMuseum, a place on the top-floor of the CAC where children can play. In an article written by Lawrence Biemiller in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mulligan says he wanted to created a place where his son was not at a disadvantage because “there’s no way to lose” and “you can’t be embarrassed”. However, at the end of the article, Lawrence makes a contrary statement, praising Mulligan for making “a wonderful place, where, for a change, the rest of us are the awkward outsiders” (Biemiller). I cannot help but disagree with this conclusion. Mulligan’s goal was to create a playground that was entirely universal, where all kinds of children can play, not a place that creates “outsiders”. This is where I begin to see the relevance and purpose of art and psychology in the same conversation. I seek to understand the inner workings of the human mind to make art more universal, by creating work that every person can participate in. To me, there lies the connection between art and psychology.

Secondly, I question the relationship between art, the artist’s book, and psychology. Is the artist’s book the best form to explore these ideas? Also, how can I push the limits of the book form to better explore this concept? Do the books need to be hand made? What is the importance of craft in these creations? And lastly, how does the tangibility of the artist’s book apply to my concept? I believe there is a psychological shift in the viewer when viewing art versus interacting with or touching art. Not only is it unexpected, but it also allows the viewer to become part of the artwork itself. They, somehow, have a bit of authorship in the relationship and can change it into something that speaks to them more clearly. This relationship between art and viewer is incredibly important in my investigation, even though I may not have found all of the answers yet.

Thirdly, I am questioning the material I am choosing to use currently. I was inspired to use clear plexi-glass while looking at Julie Chen’s masterfully made artist’s books in the DAAP Library collection. I slowly figured out that under the beautifully glued book cloth, there was plexi-glass, not book board. It is obvious to me why she did this: book board tends to bend over time, and plexi-glass will be perfectly straight for what seems like eternity.  Intrigued by this seemingly flawless material, I began making book forms using completely man-made and machine cut plexi-glass. The use of clear plexi-glass is an important step in my exploration of the limits of an artist’s book. It taught me to focus on content and simplicity more than I had in the past, a lesson I desperately needed to learn. By using plexi-glass and other non-traditional book-making materials, I hope to bring a new, contemporary conversation to a very “crafty” trade.

In the next five months, my goal is to create a series of artist’s books that not only challenge the viewer psychologically, but also investigate and defy the traditional origin of the artist’s book. I want to investigate the idea of open-ended authorship, which can influence the audience’s perception of the work.  I also want to further explore the relationship between psychology and art. Forming my artistic beliefs, while challenging and questioning others’ is my primary goal for the completion of my college career.

Working Update

Well, today I am in my bed, feeling pretty under the weather, hoping it will pass by tomorrow. It is amazing how much a head ache and a sore throat can affect your entire day. But I thought: What I perfect day to write in my blog. Might as well, right?

I think now would be an excellent time to give myself a little feedback about what I have been working on thus far. I am loving the plexi-glass I am using, and I have such a strong idea behind why I am using it. That is: I realized that trying to make conventional artist’s books wasn’t gonna work. I learned, after my first book was finished, that I have a huge problem trying to see the big picture content-wise. That book was beautiful, but every page was filled with information, and it just didn’t make sense: it didn’t seem intentionally layered and planned out. That’s because it really wasn’t. I was having a hard time wrapping my brain around these layers. Keep in mind, I have not been making books for very long and I am still learning, developing, ect. This is something I am trying to force myself to develop by using a clear, see-through material. There is no way for me to avoid anything. The entire piece is visible, even the page behind the next page. It has to all make sense visually, no matter what. This is part of the reason why I chose to continue working with plexi-glass as a material. This idea of layers, of how we can never truly comprehend every layer of anything or any person: i wanted to question that, to challenge that idea by using a clear material.

I still have a few more structural ideas that I am going to try to finish by the end of the semester. And I have been thinking that maybe, if necessary, the content will come later. Currently I made this drawer out of plexi, and I just can’t figure out what to put inside of it. At first, I had an idea, and I was going to fulfill it, but one thing led to another and I have not done that yet. And I keep looking at the drawer and thinking that my original idea is not right. I am still thinking…..

Which comes to the next big questionable topic I have rolling around in my brain: my conceptual idea for this entire body of work. I think it still relates a lot to what I wanted to do in the beginning. I am continuing to use these interviews for inspiration. But I think narrowing things down a little bit more might be helpful to me, but I’m not exactly sure how. I think that the idea of how we choose to deal with our issues, whatever they may be, is an incredibly interesting one, especially because it was information that I got from each interview, even if they didn’t outright tell me. For example, the drawer piece was supposed to be about a parallel universe. This inspiration came from someone who told me she spends a lot of time thinking about parallel universes, what could have been, or what is, on a different plane of existence. I don’t know, I think its this idea of fantasy that can take us into another world so we can forget, just for a little bit, what our world is really like. I think we all have these ways to escape, to find comfort, to find a little bit of peace and joy in every day life. Its sad to admit and to even think about, but we have made this life so hard on ourselves.

 

 

The Fixed Shadow

This photograph exhibition of camera-less images in Dayton, OH at Wright State was so incredibly interesting. There, I saw various photographic techniques that I had never seen before. There were a few that really spoke to me, that I am incredibly interested in trying again.

First, the tin types by Heather Wetzel, were incredibly interesting to me. I loved the way they were made: with recycled bottle caps and can lids. I loved the tangibility of these circles, especially the way they were fixed to the wall: with just a nail with a magnet on it. So simple. So wonderful.

I also absolutely loved the anthotypes. The intrigued me incredibly. They are made with plant pigment that is painted on a piece of paper, then left outside in the sun to do a contact print. I guess plant pigment will fade in light and this fading creates a contact image of whatever you put on the paper. The process is seemingly simple, but I know it takes weeks of exposure to make this work.. However, I am really excited to try this out. I even have a few ideas of what kind of natural pigments to use. I specifically know that if you boil avocado seeds, you get a beautifully unexpected color. Definitely going to be trying that soon.

This show was incredibly inspiring. It was great to see a professionally done show so close to the hanging of Emulsify, as well. I think it gave us all an idea of what to expect.

Laura Letinsky: Lecture

So yes, I had a studio visit with Laura Letinsky, and it was not great for me. Part of that was because I was SO NERVOUS. I went to see her lecture the evening before and it was a bit mind-blowing. I came home and just talked and talked about everything she said and everything that I thought about that related to her and how nervous I was to try to talk to someone who was so intelligent and knew so much about what she was doing and how she was doing it.

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Untitled 3#, from the series Ill Form & Void Full

She talked about a lot of things, but here are some key points I made notes about.

  • she said it was important to have a belief system to be argued with (and after my crit with her, I realized what mine was)
  • she talked about the “pleasure of looking” and how it has a negative connotation
  • she talked about the “gaze” and how photographs articulate the position in which you read the narrative
  • what she photographs is not the truth, it is not real. there is a “formal ambivalence”.
  • she is searching for something that is “more real”, which she believes she has found with her new series “Ill Form & Void Full”. these photographs involve her creating still-lives and then photographing them (shown above)

She had all of these amazing points that I hadn’t thought about yet. But it is hard for me to understand everything she said completely. I feel like everything she talked about, read, referenced, had so many layers that it was hard to comprehend everything clearly and then visualize the whole. I suppose we, as viewers, are not meant to “visualize” a whole, that is what art is for. The artist’s artwork brings it all together, into some disjointed yet beautiful and poetic work that might not make you think or feel anything similar to what the artist has been talking about. But that’s okay, I think. As long as the viewer stands there long enough to think or feel anything about it.