this is a translation of the recorded MP3 talk:I want to begin by quoting the Lora Mathis fake film stills i recently came across which read: we cannot only show up when we feel like experts, we cannot only be moved to act when we feel we know the perfect way, the idea of an expert restricts us and presents knowledge as a sure thing which can be held,….”
when i speak to the mis-use of elegant tools and the refusal of normative application, i am inevitably pulling from a history of artists and activists that have long understood the power of this act, before i came into existence. To quote Hannah Black: “white free speech and white creative freedom have been found on the constraint of others, and are not natural rights.”
but i do exist in a frame of mind that listens to the sounds that are made when it happens, as it happens, and they are sounds of joy-fury, urgency, barrier corruption, surprise - surprise, they are sounds of power. they become more elegant than the delicate picture, god forgive us if we harm it, of the romantic image of man in his studio, painting, such brushes stacked in cups and such handsome canvas rolls in the corner. listen, i love painters. this is about finding unfamiliar pleasure, about work that makes you crane your neck, about brushing against a language not yet fully formed, especially yours. this is an incomplete, ongoing celebration of work that must be made. many of us are existing in landscapes of limitation right now. for those limitations to become interesting creative problems is a privilege. it is also a channel, a potential swim toward a liberating act that corses above the can nots and the don’t haves. within the black and white laser prints of my neighbors hibiscus taped to my studio wall, there are banding lines worth plucking, black and white sonic texture i can massage. mary ruefle asks: how could a flower be more like a rock at the same time? how could we know if we just kept drawing both, side by side, penned to death?
too often i see students (artists) squash intuition, squash their surprising and refreshing ideas in fear of missing the mark, not being serious enough, in fear of failing. this feeling exists because our rubrics rely on capitalism. because institutions seem to only bring in artists with an ‘alternative’ approach so that they can exploit them. i want you to imagine there is an empty treasure box waiting for you to fill with your own idols, your own methods, a blank cement state for you to command your canon. imagine that it is as simple as a ritual, a pattern of repetition, what if it feels like taking off the shoes hurting your feet, and walking barefoot along the curtsying edge of the tide.
in 2013 I came across a book, schizophrene by bhanu kapil in a small bookshop in chicago. i was in graduate school for photography but staying up late at night in my one bed on broadway reading, writing and painting. this was the first work that came to mind when i began thinking about rituals, refusals, mis-uses and wobbly practices. In short, the author had been working on a manuscript for some time, and, growing frustrated, opened up the back door and threw the pages into the garden. The script went through seasons, including snow.
bhanu writes: “. In the arc of a book’s flight into the dark garden, nothing happens and nothing can happen. This is my anti-colonial stance, my anti-colonial desire, in retrospect.” it is a book that “traces the intersections of migration and mental illness as they unfold in post-Partition diasporic communities.”
They picked the pages back up in the spring, writing from the fragments that were left. as i read it, i poured over the meaning of fragmentation, mentally, physically, considering how the less needed words deteriorated in the garden …. how they refused to help build a narrative that is about cracks. i felt the book was living.
Anne Charlotte Robertson “started keeping a diary when she was 11 and never stopped.” there is a piece, it is a “40 hour long diary film recorded on super 8mm, chronicling the life of the artist for five years.” what happens when the work we begin with - the diary - becomes the work in action, becomes the capital A. I recently came across an article about Charlotte’s work: “As Sara Ahmed notes in Living a Feminist Life, “documentation is a feminist project”.¹¹ To document can be a way to describe the world otherwise: we realise, as Rich argues, that “feminism means finally that we renounce our obedience to the fathers and recognize that the world that they have described is not the whole world.”¹² In Five Year Diary, this missing world is brought back through women’s work,: of baking bread, of growing seedlings, of endless rounds of composting, of dinners with family shucking corn and blowing out birthday candles. But this is also a world of broken bodies, a world where the labour of gaining visibility is ongoing, the diary a way of allowing Robertson the iterative and repetitive process of writing and rewriting the self over the course of a life. “ i recognize the binary approach here, but for me, this is an example of the refusal of a mold. we must value the narratives of queer, trans, black, feminine, non binary lives. we should celebrate the material of those narratives as refusing a normative mastery of a medium.
i am reminded of a project by broomberg and chanarin titled TO PHOTOGRAPH THE DETAILS OF A DARK HORSE IN LOW LIGHT
“The title of this work derives from the coded phrase used by Kodak to describe the capabilities of a new film stock developed in the early 80's to address the inability of their earlier films to accurately render dark skin.
Jean-Luc Godard famously refused to use Kodak film during an assignment in 1977, on the grounds that the film stock was inherently 'racist'. In response to a commission to 'document' Gabon, Broomberg & Chanarin recently made several trips to the country to photograph a series of rare Bwiti initiation rituals, using only Kodak film stock that had expired in the late 1950's.
Using outdated chemical processes, the artists succeeded in salvaging just a single frame from the many colour rolls they exposed during their visits. It is presented along side an array of black and white photographic tests, whose parameters were dictated to them by a deceased family friend, an anatomist and amateur photographer, Dr. Rosenberg.
The work centres upon a series of these partly exposed, haphazardly cropped proto-images, originally printed as test strips. The grey tones, grain and texture of black and white photographic chemistry are foregrounded in these outsized 'darkroom' experiments. “
A close friend, academic, and writer once told me that in order to complete her dissertation on Victorian Literature, she had to convince herself that while writing her dissertation, she wasn’t actually writing it. She would spend her days dedicated to writing in a state of almost performing other tasks. For instance: get out of bed, put on a towel, place laptop at the edge of bed and sit on the edge of a chair with the shower running, as if just about to shower, but first, get a few thoughts out on a page. This would go on for hours, moving from the edge of the bed to the edge of the tub, to turning the water on and off, wrapping a towel around her hair, while continuing to write “just a few things” before the next activity. Eventually, she arrived at a fully formed paper.
David Bayles and Ted Orland write about the phenomenon of pretending in their book Art and Fear. They consider the idea of “going through the motions of being an artist,” and the nature of “the fear that you’re only pretending to do art.” For my friend, pretending she wasn’t was the only way to make it.
And here we are, in this pandemic, in our homes. taking a shower feels like a fucking field trip. i think when we consider productivity and what it looks like right now- we often begin in a state of pretending. i get up and put on my white linen blazer, the blazer is my signifier: i am now your professor. i exist in a state of scheduled tricks to mark the time passing, to mark my beginnings and ends. I think, ideally, this state of pretending might, could, or should, lead to a state of reconsidering notions of productivity and making outside of a capitalist structure. we are in a state of reimagining.
I was recently directed to a project titled ‘window swap. you submit a window view from your apartment, a ten minute video. viewers can go to the site and click through numerous ten minute videos of other people’s views. like a screen savor, but there is something so intimate about being invited into someones home, to see the horizon they gaze upon, feeling as lost as i might. i play them while i learn to mend my garments, while standing in the kitchen over a pot of curried chickpeas. i am elsewhere, through these little screen savors.
“Robert Canali stages virtual photo sessions with home-bound friends, colleagues, and total strangers to understand communication and intimacy in the age of social distance. Moved by the virtualization of social interactions, he started using one of photography’s earliest processes – the late 19th-century technique of lumen prints – to make portraits over Zoom. Rather than photographing with a drone, like many commercial photographers have been doing for remote brand work, Canali sets up a Zoom call with friends and strangers, and places light-sensitive photo paper on his iPad. His subjects hold still for 15 minutes while listening to a playlist of their favorite songs as the paper slowly absorbs their image. When the “photoshoot” is complete, Canali develops the paper in his studio darkroom. The images are often slightly blurry and signal the growing space between peers and the waiting game to return to reality. The further you stand from them, the sharper they appear. “
I am reminded of the project dear stranger by Shizuka Yokomizo. “Yokomizo selected potential portrait subjects based on their residences—ground-floor apartments in Berlin, New York, London, and Tokyo—and then mailed anonymous letters asking the inhabitants whether they might stand in front of their apartment windows at a set time in the evening so that she could photograph them. The recipients of her letters were instructed to turn on all their lights, wear their typical clothes, and remain still; or, if they were unwilling to take part, to lower their blinds or draw their curtains. “ watching my neighbor open their windows across the street and wave silently, i can’t help but think about the new relevance of Yokomizo’s strangers…
now, I want to talk about list making:
Alec Soth famously writes a list, tapes it to his steering wheel, begins driving, and doesn’t return until the list has been crossed off …until a photograph of each thing has been made. one list reads: snow, other photographers, icehouses, sheep, supermarket cashiers, swimming pools, pilots, the mississippi river. i love the list format. i love the list because before something begins to take shape or make sense, it is the easiest way to point at a thing. In Larry Sultan’s exhibition Here and Home, a wall in the space is dedicated to a list of words, phrases or ideas known as “Larry’s List.” On the wall read things like “A good library,” “The hardness of rocks,” “Home.” You could feel the sentiment echoing through these words, into the pictures. In Uylesses, James Joyce scribes a list of Irish heroes. Gertrude Stein’s “Descriptions of Literature” writes “A book and deposited well. A book describing fishing exactly. A book describing six and six and six. A book describing Edith and Mary and flavouring fire.” Memorable is Vladimir Nabokov’s lists of would-have-beens in Lolita. I have a favorite exercise i call bathroom graffiti. i keep a list of random topics. they could be fragments of newspaper headlines, a line from your diary. i set a short timer. it doesn’t matter where you are. just don’t stop writing. Even if it means writing until your hand hurts or that you have to pee. this is the urgent proclamation, admitting your love for Bobbi on the wall. scribble, move quickly, and don’t lie. a few past topics: Things I Want to Burry. Why Do Windows Need Drapes? If My Mother Knew. ETC. eventually it will get personal, if you let it.
Stephen Gill describes a project: “In the summer of 2010 I was asked if I would be interested in making a photographic response to an area containing a pond situated within an industrial wasteland …..My only previous experience with ponds had been during my teenage years, when an obsession with pond life led me to spend long hours in my bedroom wearing a lab coat and peering into a microscope. That obsessive immersion into a strange and disorientating world had a profound effect on me personally, and certainly left its mark on many of the photographic studies I have subsequently produced….For the eight months leading up to my first visit to the territory, my mind increasingly started tuning into microscopic worlds within worlds, and I became ever more aware of the many parallels between patterns and processes in the pond and those in our own lives as individual humans within societies…. For health and safety reasons it was not possible to invite people to come to the cooling ponds, so I decided instead to take the pond to the people. I filled a red plastic mop bucket with water from the pond, and dipped my underwater camera into this pond water prior to making portraits of the residents. Later on I also dipped the prints into the pond itself, so microscopic life was also transferred onto the surface of the paper.” here,
The relationship between camera and microscope, between the microscopic becoming the cosmic becoming also the pedestrian is revealed through the sloshing bucket, the physical matter becoming the stuff the image is made of.
I listen to a talk by Paul Sepuya several years back, before the world caught on to their brilliance. Paul was speaking about photographs as a beloved studio material … watching friends handle phaser prints, the finger prints… making photographs of piles of prints…it is the legs of the current work, it is the stuff of obsession and desire. Paul mentioned, and i can’t remember if this was real, or just an idea at the time, the idea of keeping a safe deposit box somewhere full of studio prints. so as to never run out of material. there is an need to constantly satiate, to photograph, to play with the photographs, to make a strange mess out of who is actually in charge. how is the shutter firing, with a photograph tapped over the tripod leg positioned in front of a wall covered in images and post its. where is the edge, we are asked, what exactly is the photograph, the photographer, the decisive moment?
Greg Stimac makes celestial cosmic images of stars and sky by placing a piece of Plexiglas glass on the front of his car on road trips. the bugs are the stars. Walead Beshty intentionally puts works in his cary on… the result: beautiful large photographic works whose exposures are damaged by airport security x-rays…. by doing the very thing photographers are warned against, the work arrived. In Samara Scott’s project, Bruises…a book is created from hundreds of images, perhaps the b sides or the things often lurking in the periphery. with in a bruise, a cosmos of color. within the book, textures - colors - faces… did they hurt too much to keep, too? is the book the bruise or the body?
I want to speak about Moyra Davey’s mail posted prints. Elisabeth Lebovici writes that “her rhythm is one of the interval and fragment, the kind of fragment that the philosopher and poet Friedrich Schlegel compared to a “hedgehog”—closed in itself, but also interminably open to circulation, that is, to intertextuality and to citation. To close and open doors, books, letters, files, computers, fridges, diaries, subway turnstiles, mouths, ears, shelves, the self. Opening nights and eyes wide shut. With Moyra Davey’s work, these actions are never set apart. Sometimes, use is diverted into performance: a book can become a hiding place for a couple of banknotes; a fridge can become a text; a bed becomes a dust-breeding device, etcetera. But their commerce is linked to their interdependence—similar to the operations of what the writer and scholar Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has called “the closet”: again, an interminable process in which being “out” always produces an “in” to depend on and be freed from.” Moyra her self says “I’m always struck by the dilemmas that artists and writers who rely on autobiography or autofiction have—what are you “allowed” to use and what crosses a line and becomes inappropriate or awkward or cheating” in works like Claire, Mary, Mary, 2012, an unfolded c print is displayed on the wall with tape, postage, and ink…after having gone through the mail. Moyra says “ I started to do it not as art; it was just something expedient. My friend John Goodwin asked me to fold up some photographs and mail them to him so he could make a small poster. When I was living in Paris two years later I was asked to be in a show at Murray Guy in New York, and thought, Oh, it would be so simple to take some photos in Paris, fold them up, and mail them to the gallery. That’s how it started, and then I realized all the formal potential in this—the folds, stamps, the addressee, and the colored tape creating an abstract pattern on the surface of the photograph. And then of course there’s the whole epistolary idea, which is, for obvious reasons, very seductive to me. Turning a photograph into a letter, into a kind of aerogram, a giant postcard, as the novelist and filmmaker Chris Kraus called it—all of those ideas are in the photographs unfolded and displayed.” this idea ‘i started to do it not as art, it was just something expedient’ is a sentiment i carry with me each day right now. it is a sentiment i think we need, right now.
some of my favorite works by elle perez are the framed works that appear to be a section of the artists studio wall, a large black and white image, dotted with thumbtacks with highlighted sections of essays, smaller work prints of other photographs, red tape, black tape…the act of brainstorming, the creative practice, static in a frame, dimensional, ephemeral, a poem moves in the breeze i cause by walking by it.
Carolee schneeman made a suspended harness to hang in and draw from, the movement of her body dictating the marks in three dimensional a space….jeanine antoni used her hair as a paintbrush. timothy knowles tied pencils to plants, letting them do the drawing…celeste bourrier mougenot (a pronunciation i’ve inevitably ruined) has performative sound pieces that involve recording birds landing on a guitar. their tiny movements the score. to look outside of ourselves to articulate something inside ourselves that we weren’t even aware of before, or to have less less less control over the outcome…is one approach. or, you could place the camera inside of yourself, literally, inside of your mouth, like ann hamilton, taking portraits every time your lips parted.
I consider those who can’t currently pick up the camera and move in the world. how can it be photography with out a camera? Jason Lazarus has a project called ‘too hard to keep’: he describes it, saying: “T.H.T.K. (2010 – Present) is an archive of photographs and photo ephemera deemed by public participants as ‘too hard to keep’ and too painful to destroy. Submissions may include photographs, slides, photo albums, memory cards, unprocessed film, or any image-charged object. The reason you can’t live with the photo or photo-object I do not need to know…the images are shown without explanation or attribution. I created a repository for these images so that they may exist without being destroyed. New submissions to the archive are intermittently posted at toohardtokeep.blogspot.com. Please dictate whether the photographs you submit to the archive may be exhibited in the future with other submissions to the archive, or are private photographs that are only to be displayed face down.”
a friend of mine makes visual poems, taking a walk, finding words in pizza boxes, on windows, bumper stickers or in graffiti. the walk dictates the poem, a mood dictates the walk…a series of 5-10 images creates a stanza. it is in the little things right now, too. (describe the flower project, neighbor)…
Sophy Naess made an edition of twenty unique hand cast soap in a screen printed plastic case. she writes:
Soap of bold, free speech.
blue strands of voice
unwinding from a pulpy heart
and a brain of fertile moss.
sniff the rosemary for courage
consider truth-telling as a specific activity, or as a role.
from the heart
the sweet smell of roses
and the pang of their thorns:
the bouquet spills forth as I
the soap is layered with scents, as it is used, sud rubbed touched and watered, they are revealed.
grapefruit, yoko ono : the work exists immaterially , passively until action from a reader or performer of the idea. i like this model because in a way, aside from buying the book, which is still rooted in a capitalist idea of ownership, you can’t really buy the work. however, not all of us exist in the privilege to make such work, necessarily. but i am interested in prioritizing ideas, in the idea that even during rest…our work as artists is active, within us. that the act of making doesn’t necessarily look like productivity. that through rest, and trust in our minds, by falling in love with our minds, we cement our power. you have value, even if i can not hold your work in my hands or pin it to a wall. i have reached a place, now, with my ideas, that are not fully formed. i will leave us here, with this quite by deluze: "The problem is no longer getting people to express themselves, but providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say... What a relief to have nothing to say, the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing...the thing that might be worth saying."
jason lazarus website
-the are.na channel is the bibliography
Listen to the talking lecture ‘I found my pencil in the gutter.’
after listening to the talking-lecture:
Mis-use a camera. It can be your DSLR, cell phone, computer camera..etc. Use it in an alternative way, in a way you have never used it before. Consider the mis-use of the camera the content, but also consider using the mis-use as an approach to some ideas you are interested in. For instance, lately I have been pushing my cell phone camera physically up against flowers on my walk, using the selfie camera…& it results in a very blurry image. Sometimes I take a small video. The idea behind this simple gesture or ‘misuse’ of the selfie-camera is my desire for human touch during a time when social distancing and isolation make this nearly impossible. Make 3-5 images + upload in a google drive folder with your name as the title under the shared folder 'week 2' found under assignments. (directions for VCU course Project Studio P+F).