Countdown to Acadia

As the summer starts to draw to a close, it is suddenly dawning on me… this residency in Acadia National Park is now rapidly approaching! When I first found out I had been selected it seemed like it was so far away, but now I’m realizing it’s time to start making real plans.

Part of this realization of course is that I also need to get everything squared away with the classes I teach for the time I’m away. I’ve begun laying out my fall semester courses, and now it’s just a matter of filling in the gaps and planning out the details of each lesson. It is going to be an exceedingly busy fall for me, so planning is of the utmost importance.

And I can feel that I’m starting to get excited…. and a little nervous. Nervous in a good way I guess. I’m simply trying to figure out my plan of attack, but at the same time, I keep being reminded that there is so much I don’t know about the park that it’s hard to plan ahead much. There are a few big items and locations I simply must visit, but that more answers the question of where I’ll be going, which is almost secondary to what I’ll be doing. 

I’ll definitely have my digital gear with me, but I’d like to bring some kind of film gear too, and some video equipment, possibly some audio stuff, and recently I’ve been dreaming about doing some printmaking (huh??). And knowing me, I’ll just bring it all and see what happens. So yes, I’m getting excited for the sights, sounds and experience of the park.

And, on a related note to getting prepared, I’ve just published a pre-order that allows anyone to pre-order some of my work from the residency. There’s several options and prices to choose from, so check it out and see if there’s anything you’ve got to have.

New Year Restart: Short and Sweet

I’ve been insanely busy over the past few months, but in a good way. I unfortunately don’t have enough time to share everything that has been going on right now, but I wanted to at least do a kick-off post for 2015 with some good news I just got in the mail. It was a contract from Rutgers University, hiring me as a part time lecturer for the department of fine art. Specifically I will be developing an online photography course over the next month or so and then will teach it starting in the summer! There is of course a lot more that has been going on around here and a lot more I could talk about with this opportunity, but that will all have to wait until my next post.

An Accidental Quilter

working on the final layout

I’ve been steadily working on my residency project (the class visits are done, now I’m working on the final assembly). Pretty much this whole time I’ve been thinking of it as a photography project that involved fabric, drawing, even some sewing, and I normally referred to the final product as a wall hanging or tapestry. I am here to inform you today, that it is officially a quilt. I spent hours today making sure that each piece of fabric was a nine and a half inch square with straight edges (with hopes of taking it easy on my modest sewing skills). Then I spent a good amount of time figuring out and laying out the pattern I will use. So there you have it. I didn’t intend it to happen and I don’t even know when it did. But I have officially become a quilter… of sorts.

rotary cutters really can be an artist’s best friend

Residency Hunt

First, just a quick look at a little more work in the works.

Submission 1

My wife and I have started looking at residency opportunities for this coming summer. One clear benefit of having the type of jobs we do is that our summer schedule is almost completely negotiable, so if we want to go live somewhere else for a few weeks or even months, it’s possible (inside a certain budget of course). Now, there are “residencies” and there are residencies, and so I have to really decide what my aim of getting one is. As I see it, there are really only a few possibilities which can overlap to varying degrees.

First: simply having time and space just to work. No other commitments or real responsibilities. It is a retreat where one can re-energize and refresh, as well as just put your head down and make work sans-distractions.
Second: new surroundings equal new inspiration. Anytime you’re in a new setting, especially when you’re there long enough to really settle in, it is going to allow to you see in a new way. New experiences, new world views or life situations surround you, and speak into how to view the world and make work, hypothetically.
Third: connecting with other creatives. Community is huge and I think most artists go through long dry spells that stem largely from isolation. A lot of the time I need isolation to make work, but to evaluate it I need community, so the two have to coexist to some extent.
Fourth: a resume booster. There is certainly a value to participating in a project or residency which some future employer would recognize.

There may be other possible categories, but these are the ones sifting through my head at the moment. As a resume booster, in the past that was a huge motivator. It led both my wife and I to apply for Fulbrights. And while we were excited for the projects we proposed, the real goal was always to increase hireablility. However, the downside is that those residencies are highly competitive, so after all the work of applying, your chances of actually getting it are slim to none. And after my last year of sending out applications, I’m starting to seriously doubt how much of a resume actually gets read.

So, in effect, the real potential hireability benefit can come not from the resumed boost, but rather from the new connections that are made with a new art community. This removes the value of the residency name and replaces it with a value on the form. There are spaces available for seclusion, but you are cutting yourself out of the community. The connection and newer perspective on your work are tough to quantify since it may take time for their effect to be seen. But community is what I can most easily identify as absent from my practice right now, so maybe that needs to be a primary criteria. In relation to that, I’ve thought that it would be great to make a residency a little artist retreat with one or two of my good friends whose work I know and opinions I respect. It wouldn’t have to be collaborative in nature, but I don’t think it would be that big of a jump to make that happen either. The only downside to that is that if I bring my own community along, it will undoubtedly limit the amount of new connections that are made.

Using a new surrounding as a way to stimulate inspiration doesn’t really seem to be where I’m at right now in my work. Don’t get me wrong, I would have preferences about the setting I’m in just because some things are more refreshing to me than others, but I don’t see much inspiration coming from there at this point. However, different studio setups can make a world of difference, and the tools that they offer will vastly effect the work I make. For example, if I had a month to work in a darkroom, I could probably clock more hours in that time than I have in the rest of my life combined, hopefully resulting in some strong work that I couldn’t have made if I just stayed home.

And lastly, there is the value of time. Time away from real life and distractions, where I know my only duty is to produce some work and to break some new ground. I was talking with a friend of mine last week and both of us were saying just how frustrating it is that life so often gets in the way of making work. Jobs, bills, grocery shopping… it’s all time and they all seem to trump studio time too often. So it seems like the highest value of any residency is time to have one’s primary identity be ARTIST.

Well, I’ve got a few possibilities that I’m researching, hopefully for this coming summer. Wish me luck and give me any suggestions you’ve got.

Discouragement vs. Perspective

You know those times when you feel like you should be getting your stuff together and it just isn’t happening? That’s how I’ve been feeling recently. I won’t bore you with the details, but it felt as though bright things were just around the corner but then, alas, opportunity slipped through my grasp (yet again it seems). So, I get depressed, or at least depressed for me which just tends to be a bit lethargic. But, one thing I’ve learned is that the only way out of paralyzing, pity, lethargy is to find proper perspective. So, I managed to find a little, though it was unlooked for at the time.

I was out to first friday in philly alone (no one else could make it, disappointing) wandering, exploring, and generally trying to be inspired. There was some good work, good enough to make me really stop and sit with it for a while, but the best for me definitely came from the Locks Gallery.

Simon Lee: Wintergarden, 2011, 3 channel HD video, 36:00 minutes

Simon Lee’s work straddles the line between photo and video elegantly, while also using internal framing and paired but mismatched realities. It was a show I went into knowing noting about and yet it still grabbed me. The stories being unfolded captured my attention and imagination through their subtle layering that doesn’t happen often for me.

So getting inspired always helps one feel better about one’s own work, but then the flip side of the coin is you see how successful their work has been and then look at the inadequacies of your own pile of misfit toys as it were. Not and ultimately good place to end up. The night went on, saw some other interesting work, and still more “bleh” stuff that I had nothing to say about. But what really lifted my spirits was actually the people I ended up seeing. None of my classmates were able to make it out this month, so I walked the streets alone. But I ran into and had some short conversations with 4 of my former professors from both Rutgers and Moore. It may sound insignificant, but it really made me think that out of a whole city out and about on a friday night, I actually ran into some that know me. It made me feel like just maybe I actually do have a bit of a network forming, people that will vouch for me, people that have their own networks that I am actually a member of in some way.

I don’t know, maybe that sounds crazy, but that’s what it took to get me on the way out of the blues; some much needed perspective. Things may not always feel like they’re going well, but that slow steady process of building connections (and maintaining them) and being present in the world of art is happening in the background regardless, and that is a good thing indeed.

Bleeding for Art

I’m a little proud of myself today. I actually bled for my art, or rather through handling it. But despite it being a small cut on my left thumb (cuts from glass are no laughing matter regardless of size) somehow it felt that I had “suffered” for my art. And as we all know, suffering is one of the great sources of insight, so I’m bound to produce something stunning in the near future.

All joking aside, I was reflecting today on the daily grind of art making: the slow, the tedious, the mistakes and the setbacks. Over the past couple months, following the completion of my MFA, I’ve realized how frightfully easy it would be to simply stop. To not produce, but simply maintain the title of “artist” as a parlor trick or an interesting side note on my resume. It is hard work, all the more when I can’t be a “full-time” artist (and I realize that the vast majority of artists are in this boat with me), and it feels like I have to slip in little times throughout my day where I can think, create, and dream freely.

And yet, it would not be easy for me to fully stop. Despite the daily difficulties, the situational inconveniences (to make not mention of the financial drain) there is something that draws me unto it. Is it capital A “ART”? No, I think not for there is too little to be gained. My only conclusion is that it is something inherently within myself that is in fact drawing itself out; something that cannot remain within and yet is one of my essential components. There is the desire, the need to face problems and dream up solutions, to find something new and unique, to dwell on something I’ve visited 1,000 times in a new way, to give fresh eyes to those around me, to dig deeper than the surface, and to search for “why’s” and “what if’s”. The words I’m using don’t quite hit the mark for what I’ve been feeling recently, I only know that I cannot stop, not in a compulsive or even obsessive way (not that it cannot be that) but rather in a way that recognizes that if I am not creating work, I am not being who this world needs me to be.

That all really went on a bit of a tangent, but I think I like it, and what is the creative process if not a string of tangents that have been given sense. What I really intended today was to pose a bit of a question, but I must set the scene first. I was making some work today (transferring images to glass, hence the cut) which is very directly related to much of my thesis work. I’m dealing with the same ideas, using some of the same images even to create a piece that has many similar characteristics of my previous work, but has some added sensibility that I feel the others were lacking. But I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I need to do something different, riskier, or unexpected. But on the other hand I know the value of creating a cohesive body of work and that there can be as much value in continually confronting the familiar as there is in facing the unknown.

I remember looking at some artists work ( I regret that I cannot remember her name) that all revolved around one image. She had found one image, “the” image in her perspective (Barthes might have said that the punctum in that photo so pricked her that she never recovered). Each piece she created was of that one image, approached and rehashed in an attempt to reveal to the viewer what she sensed. So then my question is, what is the balance between a slow and steady progression of work versus traversing the excitement of the unknown. Is one more mature than the other, or even simply easier?

In parting, I’ll leave you with one quote from Cartier-Bresson in the book The Mind’s Eye that recently resonated with me.

It is true, too, that a certain identity is manifest in all the portraits taken by one photographer. The photographer is searching for the identity of his sitter, and also trying to fulfill an expression of himself. The true portrait emphasizes neither the suave nor the grotesque, but reflects the personality.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Mind’s Eye, p.31

Bresson’s First Leica, “for me the camera is a sketch book”

Faculty Show

The opening for the Camden County College 2012 Visual Arts Faculty Show was last night at the Blackwood campus in the Marlin Gallery. It felt good to get my first post-graduate show out of the way. And I’m really glad I got it in before the new year, just to help me feel as though I’ve accomplished something (I’ve actually got a couple more submissions out there but I won’t hear back for a while). I actually really like the space, it was twice the size I had originally thought it to be and my work looked good in it it, so I’m happy. Next on my to do list is to finish off at least one new piece or series that I’ve got in the works before the new year…. that may be a tall order.

Here’s some shots of my work:

And here is some work from the other faculty:

Yikui (Coy) Gu , Undercarriage

Theresa Pfarr, Dreamface

Gregory Brellochs, Oculus

Found Identity

One part of my thesis brings up a digital world problem of other people having more control over your identity than you. Think about it, each image that is uploaded with you in it tells a story about your identity, but it doesn’t have to be you that posted them. Friends or complete strangers that have snapped a shot of you can post and comment without your knowledge, and whatever that image says about you becomes a part of your digital identity. Since people tend to trust a third party’s description instead of someone describing themselves, these extraneous bits of identity are often taken as more legitimate than anything you could post yourself. This also means that interaction in the social media sphere is practically mandated if you want any say about your own identity. Each of us is in an uphill battle, fighting for control of our virtual selves, but its a battle that can only be perpetually fought, never won and often lost.
After thinking about this I decided to attempt to track down every image on Facebook that has me in it that I did not post. So far I have gathered 175 of these “found images”, and now I am taking those and reconstructing self portraits from groups of them. I don’t think its possible to retake my virtual identity, but at the very least I want to know how I am presented.

Found Image Self-Portrait

The Business of Distraction

“Google, as the supplier of the Web’s principal navigational tools, also shapes our relationship with the content that it serves up so efficiently and in such profusion. The intellectual technologies it has pioneered promote the speedy, superficial skimming of information and discourage andy deep, prolonged engagement with a single argument, idea, or narrative. ‘Our goal,’ says Irene Au, ‘is to get users in and our really quickly. All our design decisions are based on that strategy.’ Google’s profits are tied directly to the velocity of people’s information intake. The faster we surf across the surface of the Web – the more links we click and pages we view – the more opportunities Google gains to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Its advertising system moreover, is explicitly designed to figure out which messages are most likely to grab our attention and then to place those message in our field of view. Every click we make on the Web marks a break in our concentration, a bottom-up disruption of our attention – and it’s in Google’s economic interest to make sure we click as often as possible. The last thing the company wants is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. Google is, quite literally, in the business of distraction.” The Shallows, 156

This quote from The Shallows sums up one critical part of what my written thesis and my work is really about. The Internet cannot be viewed as a neutral force because it is being used and shaped by entities that have only their own goals in mind. Were this to be all I focused on, I could see some kind of pitchfork and torches moment where I urge everyone to rip out their wi-fi routers and ethernet cables. But instead, I see this as much more of a public service announcement. The Internet is already engrained in our society, and barring anything unforeseeable, there is no going back, and the truth is that its high points are a continual benefit to the world. So, surf with caution. Browse with a grain of salt. Click deliberately. And take a moment to pause and take in your surroundings, even if they are digital. Your brain will thank you.

Speaking of Distractions
Sometimes I think best after I have been sufficiently distracted from the task at hand. That can take the form of a game (Carcassonne, Kingdom Builder, Survive!…) or a tv show/movie, but tonight it was baking. I enjoy cooking immensely, and most nights I cook for my wife and I. However, I’m not much of a baker, so this afternoon I expanded my horizons a bit and made a Vanilla Pecan Danish Puff Pastry. I must say, I’m pretty proud of myself.

Memory and Technology

A book I’m reading for thesis says that the “Internet is a technology of forgetfulness”. That sounds counterintuitive at first. Everything that can be archived, is, ensuring that nothing will be forgotten (as long as compatibility holds out, but that’s another issue). But with that as such a reassurance, I have no motivation to remember anything, ever. If Facebook didn’t remind us of our friend’s birthdays, would you still remember them? There are almost no questions that can’t be answered with a few taps on the keyboard, but what does that do to us as people? It separates us from any ownership of knowledge, of the stuff it takes to live life. We constantly rely on this external force to remember for us, and eventually it will come to the point where we forget how to be people and how to merely exist.

Anyway, I’ve been working pretty intensely back and forth on my written and visual thesis. I have found that they are informing one another in a really beneficial way, to the point that I think I’ll need to continue doing some reading and writing in future work.

These are two different versions of an image that I"m currently working on. They are created by combining an image from every single one of my Facebook friends’ profiles. I wanted to make it after thinking about identity, information overload, and the ambiguity vs. specificity that is at play online. It was a surprise (and a happy one) that a reasonably specific form was created. I was expecting a blur, but instead I got a new figure, that if they actually existed I think they would be recognizable.
Right now on my written thesis I’m working on filling out my section on Google as the “dialectical good evil”(Christian Fuchs, Google Capitalism). There are an awful lot of things at play, but when looking at the situation from one step back, we have to ask whether Google is actually holding to its slogan “Don’t be Evil”, or if its exploitation of the “audience commodity” reveals its true colors as just another money grubbing global corporation. You’ll have to actually read my thesis to find out more.