It has been just a little over a year since I last went to the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, aka The Hurston. The museum rarely offers any literature about the exhibitions, their web page has not been updated since 2012, and they could use better gallery lighting, but they do not charge any admission fee, it is all by donation. The museum is a small and humble establishment that only has two exhibitions yearly. Located in Eatonville, a small town just north of Orlando, the museum brings current dialogs from our culture better than the Orlando Museum of Art. The town is embedded with American history, such as the first incorporated African American settlement community in the United States and the writer, Zora Neal Hurston. Towns with this type of reputation tend to capitalize on it history, but this does not deter this little museum from educating and taking risks in showing art that is current versus what is visually beautiful.
The current show at the Hurston is an exhibition titled “Taking Aim,” which features three bodies of work by Bayete Ross Smith (http://www.bayeterosssmith.com/ ). We take aim with thoughts or words, using racial profiling or racial slurs, and/or stereotyping to determine the identity of a person. The show left me thinking about how we label and judge things. Let’s be frank here, we all do this. We cannot be called a bad person because of our thoughts; it is our actions that determine if we are good or bad. When I get angry with some random driver who made me miss the light because they were too busy texting, which will cause me to be late, I want to shout at them for being an idiot, but then I think about my initial reaction and think it is stupid to get angry. Also, we are all judgmental; it’s a form of defense. For example we judge potential love interests based on past bad experiences to avoid making the same mistakes and having our hearts broken. We all label things; it is how we understand ourselves better and where we stand in society. For example, someone is a wedding photographer because they only take s pictures of weddings. I am a photographer, but I do not shoot wedding pictures; therefore I not a wedding photographer. These are all minor examples, but you get the idea.
Bayete Ross Smith’s work brings to the surface the action of judging and labeling. One body of work, which shares the same name as the exhibition, “Taking Aim,” is made up of practice sheets of shooting targets that are used in gun ranges, but instead of only having the silhouette of a male human form he printed various black and white portraits on them. The majority of the target/portraits are non-Caucasian males and females, dressed in a variety of ways, including a picture of the artist in a suit and tie. All these portraits were taken to a gun range and used for actual target practice, so all of them had bullet holes except for one, that of a small black child. As children we viewed the world with innocence, what happens to us as we entered adulthood? We judge and believe all Blacks are uneducated with no family values, or all Hispanics are illegal immigrants with no family values, or all Muslims are terrorists and have no family values. It also made me think that we as a culture are molding this child’s future by imposing our values indirectly on each other and deem what is acceptable and not acceptable. These portraits work in a simple but powerful manner.
Another thought that came out of “ Taking Aim“ was gun violence in the USA, which leads me to his second body of work titled “Gatling (America),” a series of portraits of various races and gender, but in color. In each portrait the individual is holding their favorite gun. When you normally think of guns you think of police, military, hunters, or criminals, not a person who could be your neighbor or a teacher, or the use of recreational gun use versus violent gun use. They are very well crafted portraits, but upon reading the artist statement I came to find out that an important part in this body of work was omitted. Each portrait is supposed to be accompanied by a questionnaire that was filled out by the person in the portrait, giving us an insight as to why they have guns in their lives, their experiences and relations to guns, and what they do for a living, informing the viewer with a better understanding of gun culture in the USA. For reasons unknown, these questionnaires were not included in the exhibition.
The last body of work “Passing,” is where Bayete took a standard ID portrait of a young man and applied that photo to different passports from around the world to make you question his ethnicity, nationality, and race. Is he Brazilian, British, Cuban, Colombian, Dutch, Ethiopian, French, Israeli, South African, Sudanese, or a U.S. Citizen? Is he White, Black, Mixed, Hispanic, Caucasian, or Middle Eastern? It is hard to tell, but all of these passports have the ability to be true or false as to the identity of the person. Again the question of why we need to label things arises. Do we have the ability to live in a culture similar to what is portrayed in Star Trek, the universal qualities of equality, liberty, justice, peace, and cooperation? Or the world described in the song “Maybe There’s a World” by Yusuf Islam, where he states, “ I have dreamt of an open world, borderless and wide, where the people move from place to place, and nobody’s taking sides.”
Even though Bayete Ross Smith work is not shown in a pristine gallery in Orlando, or the correct way it was intend to be seen (missing the documents that accompany the portraits in “Gatling”), or my belief that “Passing” could be stronger if it was presented as actual passports, or even at least present each passport in their own individual frame instead of doubling up the passports in one frame. The bottom line is that his artwork still has the power to question things, which I believe is the foundation of good art; to motivate, think, change, inspire, or open our minds and shake things up in the boxed environments that constantly surround and shape our views.
This exhibition will be on view at the Hurston until July 28, 2015.
A couple of years ago people outside the art world were surprised to find out that some one had paid 4.3 million for an Andreas Gursky photograph titled Rhine 2 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhein_II ). People who know of Gursky’s work know and understand the beauty of this image. People who only understand and view photography for its visual aesthetic beauty only criticized the photograph’s value, but fail to grasp what justified its value and importance as a photograph. With the popularity of iPhones and cameras being consumer friendly many people believe the camera creates the image the photographer’s only job is to click the shutter at the decisive moment. Also the main exposure for artists’ work is the web, if we need a visual on a piece of art work we GOOGLE it. What many of us forget is the web does not give a good representation of the actual artwork, it flattens into to a two dimensional image, and being viewed on a computer monitor the color reproduction is nothing close to the original. I also realize a photograph is two dimensional but a computer it does not represent the art correctly, so photos need to be viewed in person much like a Mark Rothko painting. While studying art history I often viewed Rothko’s work in books or slides, then on a trip to L.A. I viewed a show of his paintings and from that moment I fully understood their importance in the art world.
Getting back to photography several months ago Peter Liv’s photograph titled Phantom managed to break Gursky’s record by more than two million dollars (http://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelhennessey/2014/12/12/peter-lik-phantom-worlds-most-expensive-photograph-arizona-antelope-canyon/ ). This time the art world is in uproar not because the photograph is not visually beautiful but because an unknown in the art world had created the photograph. Peter Liv is a successful photographer in his own right, who creates beautiful images but the art establishment i.e. Museums, curators, critics, and collectors have not recognize his work in the frame of contemporary art. Liv’s work holds true to the movement of the modernist such as Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, and Henri-Cartier Bresson, the work speaks for itself.
Why is it hard for the art world to accept this photo as part of the dialogue in modern art? Is beauty not relevant anymore in art? Beauty does not suffice and a lot of people who are not knowledgeable do not understand that the concept of art has evolved beyond just visual beauty and mastery of the camera. This is why this photograph has become controversial, especially in the context of the art world, because the purchase by one collector at a price tag of 6.4 million dollars is questioning the validity of “what is art” at this moment. In much the same way that the painter Thomas Kinkade, self proclaimed the Painter of Light, caused uproar in the art world. Thomas Kinkade was the most successful selling commercial artist of our time, he created paintings that many people loved and made millions from the same image but offered as reproductions in various sizes and options to be printed on paper or canvas. Again it was only one entity that made the establishment question, “what is art?” much that same way of Marcel Duchamp did with his ready-made “Fountain.”
Another issue that is raised by the significant purchase of “Phantom” is the stigma of ignorance is often portrayed in collectors who know nothing about art and only see it as a commodity. Whoever this collector is has taken a big chance on purchasing a piece of paper that may not yield his return on such an investment on a unknown artist in the art world, but the irony is artwork by famous artists are being sold at exuberant prices that leave people wondering if these prices are justified. Even Gerhard Richter, one of the most famous living painters questions the amount his paintings are being auction at (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/mar/06/amount-of-money-that-art-sells-for-is-shocking-says-painter-gerhard-richter ). For those who don’t understand how the art world works, the majority of artwork that is auction off at the price it was sold does not necessarily go to the artist unless you are California artist, but this is another story, and they still only get a percentage. An auction is the reselling of an artist work usually owned by someone other than the artist. The artist makes his money from the initial sale of the artwork when it was first created. Getting back to my thought, What ever your stance is on this issue we still go back to that question, “What is art?” and AT WHAT PRICE?
Jonathan Jones of the Guardian recently wrote an article on how photography in art galleries are flat, soulless and stupid, pointing out that photography tries to mimic painting, but is no comparison to that art form, and further more states photography is better viewed in a book or on the screen of a computer. Here is the link incase you are interested in reading the article.
Ever since reading this article I have tried to rationalize or even understand Mr. Jones why he stated this. He has the experience and knowledge to back up his statement. He is an art critic for the Guardian since 1999 and a judge for the prestigious Turner Award, but his love for painting is blinding him from seeing the beauty and validity that photography has on gallery walls. I agree with Mr. Jones opinion on how much work a painter’s hand is evident in the artwork, and how photography since its creation has been accused of trying to emulate a painting. Mr. Jones gives the example of the current Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize winner whose photo heavily references the painter Caravaggio.
Since the invention of the camera it was stated “Painting is dead,” and photography has been seen as way of replacing or competing with the medium of painting. Each medium has it weakness and strengths, over the year’s artists have reinvented and used each medium to address modern world issues maintaining their strength in the art world. Yes photographers emulate paintings, but how many painters reference a photograph or emulate it in their paintings Mr. Jones?
You cannot just assign it a viewing mode, i.e. a book, or computer monitor. The digital generation view the majority of artworks on some type of screen, before that it was books, until you view the artwork in person you do not get the full spectrum and understanding of that particular piece of art. Viewing an Andreas Gursky, Jeff Wall, or Edward Burtynsky the size, beauty, and object confronts you. If you ever looked at an Irving Penn photograph you see the beauty, quality, and the artist’s hand Mr. Jones describes when viewing a painting. It is not just a piece of paper with an image printed on it, and even if it is, does that mean printmaking and etchings should also be labeled as flat, soulless, and stupid on a gallery wall? This piece of paper with in image is a sixteenth of an inch thick or less, but it carries so much meaning, reality, truth, lies, documentation, storytelling, memory, time, beauty, ugliness, horror and enjoyment.
Mr. Jones it is a waste of time pitting two art mediums against each other, you have a right to your opinion, but simplifying how to attain a photograph does not justify your opinion. If Damien Hirst directs his assistants to paint several of the colorful circle paintings and in the end just signs his name, while a photographer creates the image from beginning to end with no aid of assistants is the hard work noticeable on the final product? Do not selectively grab on topic about painting and photography and expect it to equal it themselves out, its like comparing apples to oranges and this is not fair to the readers whose forte is not art history and able understand your attempt of simplification of two beautiful art mediums who deserve to equally be viewed in a white cube just so you can attempt to cause some buzz in the art world.
Sorry for the delay since my last post. I have become an adjunct teacher and find that it is taking time away from my art making or anything related to it.
I went to the Cornell Fine Art Museum several weekends ago and was very impressed by their latest exhibition. Out of all the museums in Central Florida they have maintained their degree of excellence, putting on exhibitions to educate the public about contemporary art, and it’s free.
They have curated a part of the Alfonse Collection of Art dealing with the aspect of narrative, which leaves the viewer enough room to construct their own conclusion while addressing modern issues plaguing our current society, including warfare, racism, and climate change. This show is not a “feel good” exhibition. Don’t get me wrong, there is beautiful art on display, but it makes us aware of things we are ignoring that need to be dealt with eventually; it makes you leave with a conscience regarding issues that need to be addressed not only by citizens of the United States of America, but as citizen of this universe and our survival as a human race.
The title of the show is Fractured Narratives showing the works of Dawoud Bey, Omer Fast, Eric Gottesman, Jenny Holzer, Alfredo Jarr, Amar Kanwar, William Kentridge, An-My Le, Maya Lin, Goshka Macuga, Israel Moreno, Rivane Neusenschwander, Trevor Paglen, and Martha Rosler.
The thought that kept popping in my head is how as a country we have changed our mentality to overlook certain actions for the price of security either from terrorism or more recently from a deadly disease. The world has changed since 9/11 and this show reminds us how. I will be starting off with the strongest piece in the show, which is a video titled 5000 Feet is the Best, by the artist Omar Fast. I have never heard of this artist. The video is thirty minutes long, high quality by Hollywood standards in production and filmmaking. There is an interviewer asking the question “what is the difference between you and someone who sits in the plane?” The man he is asking this question turns out to be a veteran drone pilot. He gets agitated about answering this question; he suffers from headaches, and then changes the subject by telling a story. The story he is telling is then depicted in the video while the man narrates the scene, once the story is told we are back in the room again, the man excuses himself for a break, goes outside for a little bit, then comes back in and the scenario plays out almost identical like the first time but the story he tells the interviewer is different, this happens several times overall. The conversation and experiences about being a drone pilot, the stories being told, the metaphors, and in particular a story that replaces a typical scenario that can occur in a high-risk conflict area in the Middle East, where a Middle Eastern family is trying to go on a weekend family outing, but is replaced by an American family, in an American landscape, relating it to our lives, the suffering of innocent people caught up in all these conflicts.
Martha Rosler’s photomontages also deal with the same issues, where she juxtaposes advertisement imagery with imagery of war. The title of this series is House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, New Series. The combining of images makes you compare, war and daily life, consumerism and ignorance. This simple act using images that are readably available in publications to denote what is wrong with act of war and the reasons behind it leaving the viewer wondering what is normal in this world.
Jenny Holzer’s piece is very simple, a painting titled water-board. It’s a nice surprise since she mostly works with LED lights. The painting simulates an official government transcript, but on a larger scale, 55 X 44 inches, that was released to the public that has been censored by the government blocking out sensitive material, because it deals with water boarding. At first glance from far away it emulates a minimalistic painting with its blocks of black on white background, but upon seeing the words, you start to try and fill in the parts that have been hidden from us; reasoning why the government used this torture technic. Is it to protect us from the truth and to what lengths the government goes to give us security or to protect their interests. What justifies torture?
The next three artworks that got my attention were photographs. I tend to favor the medium of photography when it comes to art. The ability for the photograph to be realistic, but at the same time anti-realistic has always fascinated me, maybe because in reality there are two sides to every story, eventually we decide what side to believe in.
Trevor Paglen’s presents a beautiful image of pastel hues with almost minimalist sunset or sunrise colors, depending on how you want to interpret it. But upon viewing the title, Untitled (Reaper Drone) and paying more attention to a small detail at the bottom right hand corner the reality of its reference shatters the beauty of it, making you wonder how something so beautiful can reference the ugliness of surveillance.
An-My Le’s work references war reenactments and Timothy O’Sullivan’s Civil War imagery. I have heard of military training that emulate the terrain to prepare a soldier for combat, which she captured in one of her images, taken during a desert training for recon, but what surprised me was her other photograph of a Vietnam War reenactment. I have heard of Civil War reenactments but not of the Vietnam War, a war that America wants to forget. From what I learned people who participate take this very seriously, down to every detail of the battle, to keep it genuine. Looking at both images it becomes hard to tell between the fantasy and the real.
The last set of photographs deal with the Civil Rights Movement, in particular the killing of the 6 children in Birmingham, Alabama. Just like An-My Le’s images reflect history, Daewoud Bey does the same. In the show there are two diptychs titled The Birmingham Project: Janice Kemp and Triniti Williams and The Birmingham Project: Fred Stewart and Tyler Collins. In the massacre 4 girls were bombed in a church and 2 boys were murdered that same day. In Bey’s images he selected children as stand-ins to represent the age the children were killed and he then selected adults who are the age the children would be now, had they lived. Using a church and a museum as a backdrop for their significance to the history of the Civil Right Movement, he took the portraits of these people in almost the same posture as if they were mimicking themselves as a young version against an old version of themselves. Viewing these images made me sympathize with the innocence lost, and think, had they lived, what their potential could have been to society. The reasoning of racism and hatred has no validity when compared to a loss of human’s life.
Art has changed over the centuries, from simple story telling cave drawings, to sculptures representing deities, to religious interpretations, to burst of vivid colors of an artist interpretation, to questioning what is art, to now. Art nowadays is not a thing of beauty that hangs on a wall. Art now makes us think, question, reflect, etc. By the time you leave this exhibition you question how does humanity keep on functioning, and still be able to make sense of it all.
I was very excited to have witnessed this past weekend, the inaugural show of the Florida Prize in Contemporary Art at the Orlando Museum of Art. It is the first time such an award and show has been executed in Central Florida and it has long been overdue. In the past the Orlando Museum of Art has been somewhat conservative but has been progressing slowly to bring a current exhibition of what is happening currently in the contemporary art world. Giving visitors a visual experience that there is more beyond abstraction, tropical sunsets, palm trees, nudes, and low-brow art. We have longed moved away from art movements of Impression, Pop Art, and Surrealism and it is nice to finally see a show that is refreshing, which is rare for viewers in Central Florida to experience unless you frequent museums in South Florida or Art Basel in South Beach. The artists that gave my senses the most impact both visually and mentally, and which I will be writing about in this post were: Sarah Max Beck, Vanessa Diaz, Ezra Johnson, Jillian Mayer, and Agustina Woodgate.
Sarah Max Beck is a sculptor. I heard her speak a couple of months ago about her process and how she got to this point as an artist making tapestries using plastic bags. It was a very personal story of how she was a caregiver and she did not know what she was doing with her life at that moment, so she started weaving plastic bags that were used to deliver newspapers, bargain newsletters, and such. Viewing these large quilts you see how colorful and beautiful plastic bags can be but at the same time upon closer inspection the smell, and the texture of the plastic makes it feel abrasive and uncomfortable unlike a normal quilt. Thoughts of large amounts of waste and longevity start to creep into my mind. Her work makes me think of El Anatsui, who also made fabric like tapestries using scrap metal which is found in large quantities in his country. Sarah’s quilts references our waste culture.
Vanessa Diaz is another artist that I had the opportunity to see prior to this exhibition, and I must say the venue where her artwork is displayed plays a big part on how I experienced her work. Her work are site specific installations, and the ones I responded to the most at the Orlando Museum of Art were; Here Enticement is Not Always Difficult, Upon Which Everything Rests, and Where Traps Can Be Set at One’s Good Pleasure. She takes objects and gives them a new form or function giving you a different perspective on an everyday object, for example Where Traps Can Be Set at One’s Good Pleasure is made up bedposts she found, which she then seamlessly joined two top ends to make them into one long piece, giving them a look of big bulky javelins piled on the floor forming a bonfire before it is lit. I found this piece funny and at the same time very real making a comment on what happens in relationships in the bedroom. Here Enticement is Not Always Difficult, and Upon Which Everything Rests made me think of missing parts of a history unknown to me, sadness, new type of furniture design, and viewing objects differently than what they have been intended for.
Ezra Johnson’s paintings I found very refreshing using very lose brush strokes, collaging pieces from magazines and other sources, and using dark colors. Reclining Nude I found both sexy and vulgar at the same time. Reclining Nude and Coffee Table Group had a mix of influences such as; graffiti, Henri Matisse, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. It has been four years since I have witnessed a passionate use of brush strokes so determined in emitting genuine emotions. He also had paintings he used to create a stop motion video animation titled Stranded in a House, which heavily references William Kentridge. The video is under three minutes long but the desperation of the main character going in and out every room in the video trying to find a way out this house starts to set in.
Jillian Meyer’s work spoke to me the most, because she made me think about how technology is around us on an everyday basis, and sometimes goes undetected because, we are getting accustomed to it, or we do not question it. She uses video, installation, photography and humor to make us aware of the real world and virtual world. Simulacrums of catchy 80’s pop-tune videos (Mega Mega Upload), home shopping network, DIY’s Youtube videos, online portraits, and the sky, she makes the viewers question our interaction with the virtual world. In a small skit from her video titled PostModem, she uses satire of the home shopping network where you can purchase in just only three easy payments of $399.99 your own personal vortex where you can never feel the loss of someone close to you because you can place them in there eternally and at the same time get rid of unwanted items easily, such as a tamagotchi. Thinking about it don’t we all live in our own constructed vortex already? In her installation Cloud Swing, the viewer is welcomed to sit on a swing set, but the sky is just a projection with our shadows breaking the visual plane as we swing back and forth. Her artwork makes the viewer question the virtual versus reality, the analog versus the digital and the big roles they play in our lives.
Agustina Woodgate was this year’s recipient of Florida Prize in Contemporary Art. I can understand why since they are very beautiful pieces. Seven Seas, Milky Way, and Peacock are all made from the skin of stuffed toy animals, which references oriental rugs. Seven Seas and Milky Way start to morph into visual maps of some sort, which play well with her other two pieces; Simplified Maps and Beginning Maps, where she took world maps that hang in almost every world history class in schools, then she sanded them down erasing all the words, borders, or any information and leaving only the hues that represented the country. In these two bodies of work she creates her own maps that have no boundaries that have been defined by society or will ever be.
Overall this exhibition is a delight in the Orlando area, and must see for people to become informed about the world of contemporary art, and the Florida artists that help create them.
So this past month I saw two photography shows. One was held at Gallery 500 at West Livingston in Orlando, Florida and other was held on the Main campus of Daytona State College at the Southeast Museum of Photography. Both shows were made up of 2014 Bachelor of Science Photography graduates from the joint program between Daytona State College and The University of Central Florida. The differences between the shows were location, title, and gender. The one exhibiting in Orlando was titled Bed of Roses, and the photographers exhibiting were all females. The exhibition in Daytona was the entire 2014 class including some repeat images from the exhibition in Orlando, but some were framed differently.
The thing that caught my attention was how the show was laid out. My main complaint is that I am tired of seeing poorly displayed art. Not knowing the circumstances such as; did the show have a curator? Were the students responsible for hanging the work themselves? Who determine how much space to exhibit the artwork? This statement is aimed mostly towards the exhibition at the Southeast Museum of Photography at Daytona State College. Most of the images were crammed onto the gallery walls and not given enough space between each photographer, so some photographers were limited to 2 or 3 images while others had a little more up to 6 images. Again I do not know the behind the scene circumstances if some photographers had only two images to exhibit and hung what they had, but it is disappointing seeing an art show and wanting to see more images. Do not get me wrong I have seen the artist’s concept come across crystal clear in one image, but when the artist states “This is from a series,” and I only see two images, it is disheartening! Maybe the school should give more consideration, and attention to the students on their exit from the program when they are showing their best and final work, and this also reflects on the school’s program. They should have somebody who understands the visual language when displayed on the wall, which seems to lack from the several shows I have seen in the past, and assign each student a certain amount of wall space, and make room if possible in other galleries.
One thing I have been noticing is the current fad of photographers choosing to ignore intentionally, or unintentionally the formalist style in the history of photography. I do not know why this is, but this is my hypothesis. I believe that taking photos with smart phones is heavily influencing current photographers and this is becoming the norm, giving current photography a new standard in how we define beautiful. If there is a movement in photography today similar to Picasso first paintings into Cubism, or Warhol’s introduction of screen prints, I find myself being the guy in the camp of formalism and opposing the new style. I consider myself very conceptual and I will not care about the quality of the image as long as it fits the artist intentions and concepts, but I find myself having difficulty viewing images when the photographer is approaching one constant theme with the same wide angle. I understand that documentaries use of the Single Lens Reflex cameras and love the look, but they will jump from portraitures, to informal portraitures, or capturing the moment from far away, to up close and personal, or capturing that specific moment before it slips away, but if the photographer is taking the same image from the same distance, the composition is the same in all images, and the photographer is not adding or taking away from the frame then they should treat is with respect. The reason I bring this up is because in the exhibition the works of MaKay Hartley, Kristina Jarquin, and Nathan Wyatt had good basic concepts, but missed the delivery. I believe if all three had moved away from the wide-angled lens of a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera and used a large format camera and treated their subject with respect the images would have been more powerful. Even if they could not get their hands on a large format camera, at least they could had straighten lens perspective and vertical lines using Photoshop.
MaKay Hartley’s body of work titled Remembrance was one of the strongest concepts in landscape photography. Using her hometown of Lake Wales, she captured various places where pivotal situations in her life occurred while growing up. She does not offer insight to what happen exactly, but through the use of titles the viewer gets a glimpse into what might had happen at that specific location.
Four photographers working with concepts that have been used in the past by previous photographers, but with a twist is Kristina Jarquin, Alicia Lynn, Corryn Lytle, and Nathan Wyatt. Kristina’s work titled Modern Families remind me of August Sander’s attempt at documenting German society at the beginning of the twentieth century. Kristina is defining new portraiture on how a family looks in the United States in the twenty-first century. The images depict not only the family, but also the exterior of their own homes are used as backdrops adding more rich information about the environment.
I’m not a fan of Dawoud Bey’s portraits of today’s youth, but Alicia Lynn’s work titled Young Reflections bridges the distance between viewer and subject, which Bey’s lacks in my opinion. Alicia made a series of informal portraits of Daytona’s Boys and Girls Club that you make you feel like you personally met the children in the images for a brief second.
Nathan Wyatt’s No Vacancy is about vacant buildings found in the Central Florida region reminiscent of local photographer Rick Lang, but with the use color. Wyatt is recording Florida’s economic history through the architecture of various buildings that are vacant. Both Wyatt and Kristina Jarquin are dealing with two different themes, but are documenting and showing our present landscape in Florida’s society.
Eternal by Corryn Lytle works on the same level as Alicia Lynn’s images. You understand and feel the relation of the subjects, which is a documentation of the special bond and unconditional love shared between a little girl named Marlea and her Great Aunt Sarah. We are reminded of the lack of innocence as adults when viewing these images. The only negative thing I have to say about Lytle’s work is that I want to see more images and in a wider span of time if possible.
Becoming the Son by Robert Biferie was a very powerful work on a conceptual level, where he acknowledges his father’s influence in his life by combining the images of churches that his father took with his own images of natural landscapes. To me this speaks on many different levels. This attempt to combine two definitions in what they believe is spiritual, his father’s search for some kind of resolution in religion, and Robert’s natural landscapes could be seen as his own church in a spiritual sense. This reminds me of sorts the story of Jesus’s and his conversation with his Father the night prior to being captured by Roman soldiers, where he went through a barrage of emotions and coming to an understanding. The series is a very private conversation between Robert and his father and only he knows the outcome.
The one body of work that surprised me the most was that of Nicholas McNeill titled Persona. The four images on displayed are a self-portrait of a young man, but the face is always cropped right below the nose. He is dressed the same in blue dress shirt and jeans in all the images, but the setting, the object he holds in his hands, and his shoes change in each image. You can see a very controlling and intentional hand of the photographer in all the images. What surprised me is that I did not agree with his artist statement and the images shown. He goes into too much into detail of what inspired him or in this case a physical handicap that formed his identity that I feel he loses sight of what his work reflects. Yes as artists we sometimes lose sight of what our intentions with our results. The images caught my attention because of the darkness, oddity, and controling factor reenacting a past scenario by photographer and not so much about “fitting in.”
I want to congratulate the graduating class of 2014, and I hope to see works from these photographers/artists in the future.
The second body of work for my thesis exhibition celebrates a real life experience that seemed to pose the question, “Is God speaking to me?”
The experience in question happened about two years ago, when a blue notebook appeared on top of an electrical transformer in my neighborhood. After several days of noticing the book go unmoved, my curiosity finally won and I opened the book. I was amazed to find pages filled with color slides, with images touching on religious themes of astronomy, idolatry, creationism, morality, natural disasters, paganism, history, and religious iconography. The slides may have been used as part of a sermon, because each page was labeled by subject matter and with a brief description in Spanish. I began to wonder, “Is this experience directed only at me?” I thought this because I found this notebook two houses down from my address, and because I collect things related to photography. Furthermore, the writing throughout the notebook was in Spanish, and the majority of the enclosed images related to religion in some form. In the past people who claim to have communicated with God typically describe their experiences as voices in their heads, some type of apparition, or something that they alone understand. My own, strange experience could be characterized in those terms.
The sculptures Zarza Ardiente (Burning Bush), and El Vitral de Pedro (Peter’s Stained Glass Window) are inspired by this experience (Figs. 11, 12). I began to relate my experience to Moses and the Burning Bush because both of us interacted with an inanimate object that was the vehicle for communication with a higher power. I do believe my unusual experience was addressed to me, and it became my responsibility to create artwork to share with people.
My intentions with Zarza Ardiente was to recreate a life-size, common electrical transformer that is found in the suburbs, but at the same time is an object that does not seem part of this world, to evoke a spiritual feeling, since I wanted it to coincide with my experience, and to be more spiritual than religious. With the slides my intention was to create a vehicle that had a double function. I wanted to simulate a stained glass window, because as a child I would sit in church looking at the beautiful colors emanating from the glass and their distorting effect upon the landscape on the other side while I wondered what was transpiring in the world. The other function was a light box, because I wanted to emulate daylight and a light box is a tool that photographers use to view slides.
Each slide depicts an issue that troubles the world and is still connected to everyday life, but that offers no resolutions or explanations. I titled the piece El Vitral de Pedro, because Saint Peter is the founding father of the Catholic Church. I wondered if St. Peter could look at this window, how would he interpret these slides? Is the subject matter of the slides a consequence of him having created God’s church? Would St. Peter be happy, angry, or sad? My intentions for the window were to display the slides in a grid, so that those who view it can face, as I did, the dilemma of deciphering its message.
My spirituality developed from my experiences in Catholicism as well as nature, society, relationships, and family. Also, by visiting museums, exhibitions and galleries, I have found ways to further reflect upon the world’s current situation. Simply going to Mass and hearing the sermon of the week no longer mediate my view of the world.
I have learned that my artwork is working like the religious imagery that I had a hard time connecting with in the beginning, in such way that the photographs and the sculptures demonstrate my understanding of the scriptures, my faith, my culture, my time period, and my wanting to share a spiritual experience.
This self-exploration shows my struggles with my faith, whether I make light of it or at the same time hold it in high regards. I believe in a higher power, but to say that it is definitely God, Allah, or Buddha, I cannot decide. I struggle with the need to give it a face or a body, something that I can identify, something tangible and thus similar to the doubt that Thomas had.
Continuation from last post.
I use photography in this project to establish a tangible connection to my corporeal existence. My problem with paintings and drawings is that they are not realistic, by which I mean they do not represent something I have personally witnessed, touched, or captured, which a camera has the ability to document. Yes, a photograph “can lie” with the use of darkroom and Photoshop techniques, but photography still has the power to make the viewer question reality in a way that no other visual mediums can, except for video. Another aspect about photography that made it viable for my intentions is that I was interpreting my beliefs, after all “interpretive photographs make no claims to truth or that they do not have truth value. Fiction can offer truths about the world” (Barrett 78).
For the past several years I have two criteria for taking photographs that invoke my spiritual side and seem to reflect a biblical scripture, namely that: (1.) I must shoot instinctively, and (2.) I must only use found scenery. The reason for this is because I am approaching my subject matter as a documentarian, capturing God’s hand at work. My photographsof the soap, which is part of the triptych En El Nombre de…(In Thy Name of…), and Blessed (Bendecido), were the only exceptions to these criteria (Figs. 4, 6).
I understand that the images are open to interpretation, but I needed to keep the images consistent in reflecting my understanding of the scriptures. I titled the work to inform the viewer of my intentions. One example is in the triptych, El Frutos de Nuestro… (The Fruits of Our…), in which I leave the title vague enough for the viewer to complete the title with such words as: labor, love, loins, the Holy Spirit, etc. (Fig. 5). The three images in the triptych address the elements of the Adam and Eve story that most strongly resonate with me. It is most significant that Eve was created from Adam’s rib, that the pair lived in Paradise, and that we are their descendants. I envisioned the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in a contemporary setting, and I used imagery arising from my interpretation of the scripture. The first photo documents the bruised ribcage of my friend, whose name is Adam. The second photo employs an idealized setting to represent Paradise, which is inhabited by a couple scanning the landscape. The third image contains a pole with nametags. All three images direct the viewer to provide the titles based on their own interpretations.
An artist, who works with the theme of religion, using primarily the medium of photography, is Duane Michals. He was raised Catholic, as was I, and has made photographs that dealt with his struggles and understanding of religion. “Michals used three to fifteen shots to compose picture stories which, however, were not usually complete narrations, but mysterious events meant to raise questions and to entice the viewer into further contemplation” (Bieger-Thielemann 433). In the piece titled Paradise Regained, Duane Michals made a series of six images that show one male and one female in their apartment, and as the series progresses the two slowly lose their clothing as the apartment becomes more like a garden. The sequence of the photographs suggests that we should consider letting go of our worldly possessions, to regain the paradise we have lost. Unlike his suggestions, my version is a re-visioning of the story of Adam and Eve of the parts that made me question its validity.
My use of personal imagery was vital to ending the religious confusion that I had experienced, because it required me to engage my notions of my culture, my race, my beliefs, and the time period that I live in. Although many of the images are serious, such as El Frutos de Nuestro…, others allow me to poke fun at myself. En El Nombre de…(In Thy Name of…) is an example of the latter (Fig. 6). As a child I had difficulty grasping the concept of the Holy Trinity for two reasons: (1.) the Holy Trinity consists of three beings, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, though it is regarded as a single entity, and (2.) the distinction between the two Fathers of Jesus Christ. How can Jesus have two fathers? I had always incorrectly assumed that Joseph is the father of Jesus. Joseph was the father of Jesus only on earth, and is not the Almighty Father. I incorporate my own symbolism to artistically share my confusion. I photographed a clipboard that had the name, Jose, written in graffiti style – as if my discovery of the name itself were a miracle. José is the Spanish language equivalent for Joseph, which is significant because Spanish is my first language. The Holy Spirit is often symbolized as a white dove, which – also by coincidence – is the trademark of my mother’s favorite brand of soap. The triptych uses cryptic symbolism to embody the things that define me: family, language, and beliefs.
Christmas contributed to my confusion about what to believe. Under my Christmas tree the presents were labeled from “Niño (Baby) Jesus,” and not Santa Claus. At home I was being exposed to one ideology, and at school, another. In the triptych, Noche de Paz (Silent Night),I address this apparent contradiction (Fig. 7). The first image is that of a family of snow people, the second is a fence, but in the distance are Christmas lights forming a star with the moon in view. The final image is a Nativity scene. I illustrate the cultural dichotomy juxtaposing Christian and secular North American icons, the family of Jesus beside the snow family. My comparison is obvious, but I do not indicate which, if either, iconography better represents Christmas.
The images titled Cuarenta (Forty) and Tercer Dia (Third Day) satisfied the two criteria mentioned in this paper, and they were the only two taken with a pinhole camera (Figs. 8, 9). The 4” X 5” Leonard pinhole camera that I used lacks a viewfinder, which forced me to guess at the pictures’ composition. Another procedural element that I left to fate in these two images was their long exposure times.
The idea for Cuarenta was to make a symbolic 40-day exposure of my bedroom to reference Lent, which commemorates the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness. Catholics fast and sacrifice a token during this period. I decided to photograph my bedroom, because the camera needed a secure and steady location to record me, the subject, during the exposure.
Cuarenta and Tercer Dia were influenced by the works of photographer Michael Wesely, who uses long time exposures of days to years. I employed Michael Wesely’s formula, in which he places heavy density filters over the pinhole so as not to expose the film too quickly during long exposures. I attempted to develop an image on film, but failed. The reason for the failure was that I used too many red filters to cover the pinhole. In my final attempt I exposed the film during the 40 days of Lent without filters. The result is a wide-angled image of my bedroom, with certain objects appearing as ghostly material, and in others a bright white light. Wesely stated, “The framework is an architectural view, but it’s only the frame. Time itself is the subject, manifesting itself in many details. The details are the essential things that tell the story, and for that reason it is important to look closely” (Meister 13). Time is the main concept in both of my images. During the forty days the shutter was open it recorded me sleeping, getting dressed, having sex, having conversations, making decisions, making sacrifices, etc. It became a photo diary of my life. Wesely is more interested in documenting the activities around him, instead of documenting himself. In his early work he experimented with long exposures at train stations across Europe, by positioning his camera on the platforms of trains heading to Munich. He would then expose the film for the duration of a trip, starting with the train’s departure until it reached Munich, his birthplace. His first successful one yearlong exposure made was titled 29.7.1996-29.7.1997, Office of Helmut Friedel (Fig. 10). Wesely concluded that if he could make a yearlong exposure, why not undertake a two or three-year exposure, which he then embarked on.
My work and Michael Wesely’s employ long exposures and share a concept of time, although our subject differs. Instead of documenting the activity of the world myself, as Michael Wesely does, I choose to document my own bedroom, a private space that only a few people see.
Cuarenta and Tercer Dia also differ from the other photographs in that I did not know what would be captured on film; I was working with faith in hopes that a wonderful image would be the result, distinguishing it from the other images, which imply how I view the scriptures. If I were to try and retake these images their results would be different.