- Uncommon Practice: Faculty Show
05-16-08 thru 08-08-08
Nichols Gallery & Lenzner Family Art Gallery
Featuring: Steve Cahill, Eddie Gonzalez, Alexandra Juhasz, Gina Lamb, Jesse Lerner, Jessica Lawless, Ming-Yuen S. Ma, Jessica McCoy, Kathryn Miller and Kelly Sears
Steve Cahill’s 360° digital images are the contemporary descendents of the panoramas of Eadweard Muybridge and other nineteenth-century photographic pioneers. Cahill creates impossible illusions by stitching together multiple exposures of a landscape or an interior. The resulting scenes are eerily familiar, yet uncanny pictures of places we may think we recognize but appear warped and distorted by the camera’s lens and the compression of long exposures (ranging from ten to thirty minutes) into a single scene. Cahill’s images remind us that the artist and the camera do not merely record the objective world, but create new perceptions.
Steven J. Cahill received his MFA from Claremont Graduate University in 1979. Cahill has participated in numerous exhibitions including: Extreme Places, California Museum of Photography, Riverside, CA (2007); A Gathering of Photographers, Back to the Grind Gallery, Riverside, CA (2004); The Vertical View, Salathe Gallery, Pitzer College, Claremont, CA (1995); Pasadena Only, Pasadena City College Art Gallery, Pasadena, CA (1989); Maine Photographic Workshops Annual Show, Nikon House, Rockefeller Center, NY (1986); Light Sensitive VI, Gainesville, FL (1984). Steven Cahill is visiting assistant professor of art at Pitzer College.
Eddie Gonzalez’s series of posters may appear to announce a Hollywood premiere, but they are actually fictional advertisements for the end-date of the ancient Maya calendar. Prophesized as the transition from the present world into the next, December 21, 2012, has been imagined by many as a “doomsday.” Others look forward to the date for the return of Quetzalcoatl, the great, feathered serpent revered by the Pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica. Indeed, one might ponder whether 12-21-12 portends catastrophe, or the beginning of a new age. Gonzalez views the date as a last opportunity to reverse our current destructive course and heal the earth.
Eddie Gonzalez is a Pomona, California, based artist whose work includes graphic design, video, sculpture and silk screening. He received his BA in Media Studies and art from Pitzer College in 2004. He currently works as the assistant director of production for the Intercollegiate Media Studies Program at Pitzer College. [clear]
Alexandra Juhasz’s work as a director, producer, scholar and activist embodies her commitment to feminist theory and practice. As a videomaker living in New York in the ’80s and ’90s, Juhasz produced activist videos that documented a city ravaged by AIDS. Working with newly available, inexpensive camcorders, Juhasz and her collaborators reframed mainstream media representations of AIDS and disseminated much-needed information on the unfolding crisis. Her more recent short video, Naming Prairie, examines a Jewish naming ceremony for the daughter of a lesbian couple, offering an intimate view of how rituals and traditions are transformed to accommodate contemporary lives and families.
Alexandra Jeanne Juhasz received her PhD in Cinema Studies from New York University in 1992. Juhasz has participated in numerous exhibitions and screenings of her work including: the Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, Hong Kong, Creteil, Seoul, and Flaherty International Film Festivals; the New York, L.A., San Francisco, Toronto, Torino, and London Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals; the Whitney Biennial, Guggenheim, New Museum, Museo del Bario, LACE, London ICA, Wexner Center for the Arts. Juhasz’ feature film The Watermelon Woman (1995) earned “Teddy Bear” award at the Berlin Film Festival, the Audience Awards at Creteil Women’s Festival, Torino, Toronto and Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Festivals, Taipei Golden Horse Festival, and was featured at the New York and San Francisco Gay Festivals and Toronto Film Festival (1996). Juhasz’s short film Bad Bosses Go To Hell (1997) was screened at the Palm Springs International Short Fest, East Hamptons Short Film Festival, IFFM, airs on IFC, HBO Latin America, PBS, British Airways and atomfilm.com. Juhasz has received numerous artist grants and fellowships for her work including: the Wexner Center for the Arts: Editing Fellowship (2007); C-100, Inc., production support for Released (2000); Astraea Fund for Women: post-production grant for Women of Vision (1998); and California Council on the Humanities: Research Award for Women of Vision (1994). Alexandra Juhasz is professor of Media Studies at Pitzer College. [clear]
Gina Lamb is a media activist whose work has dealt with race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, and immigrant issues. A collective portrait of the young gay black men in the House and Ball community of Los Angeles, Still Here: Becoming Legendary is the product of many collaborators within a community that has been defined by its status as a “triple minority—young, poor and gay.” Lamb’s raw and honest, yet artfully edited video eschews the omniscient voice-over of traditional documentaries. The young men in the video are not merely characters in a film. They are co-authors who narrate their own lives and worlds.
Gina Lamb received her MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1987. Lamb has participated in numerous exhibitions and screenings of her work including: Queer Youth Nation, OUTFEST, Los Angeles (2007, 2006, 2005, 2004); London Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, NewFest – New York, Mix-Mexico City (2005); Wipe Your Feet & The Chorizo Show, Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica (2003); Queer Youth Nation, LAG&LC and LA Freewaves New Media Festival (2002); REACH OUT: LA and Beyond, LA Freewaves Video Festival (2000); and Mixed Memories, The Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, CA (1999).
Lamb has received many honors and awards including: Audience Award Best Documentary Short, FUSION Los Angeles LGBT People of Color Film Festival (2006); Audience Award Best Documentary Short, OUTFEST (2005); California Arts Council, Media Arts A.I.R. Grant (2002-03); City of Inglewood, Resolution of Appreciation in the Arts (2001); City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Grant – Media Arts (1998-2001); LACE/California Arts Council, Media Arts A.I.R. Grant (1996-98); and Anonymous Was A Woman Award (1996). Gina Lamb is visiting assistant professor of Media Studies at Pitzer College. [clear]
Jesse Lerner’s Ruins is a clever collage of found and fabricated footage that skewers the museumification of Mesoamerican artifacts and their conscription in the nationalist politics of the twentieth century. Lerner’s pelicula documental falsificada or “fake documentary” is a border-crosser of sorts, troubling the distinctions between the documentary and art, high and low, engagé critique and avant-garde experimentation, fiction and reality. Focusing on the story of a Mexican counterfeiter of antiquities whose work has been exhibited in major U.S. and European museums, Ruins is a meditation on notions of truth and colonialist biases of archaeology, ethnography, film and history.
Jesse Lerner received his PhD in Cultural Studies from Claremont Graduate University in 2006 and his MA in visual anthropology from the University of Southern California in 1991. Lerner has participated in many screenings and exhibitions of his work including: Galeria de Arte Contemporaneo, Xalapa, Veracruz (2008); Filmoteca de la UNAM, Mexico City (2007); Cinemateca Uruguaya, Montevideo (2007); Viva Mexico! Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw (2007); The Free Screen, Cinematheque Ontario, Toronto (2007); The Backroom, New Langton Arts and San Francisco Camerawork, Celda Contemporanea/Claustro de Sor Juana, Mexico City, and Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, (2007, 2006); J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (2006); New York Underground Film Festival (2005, 2001); The Road to Aztlan: Art from a Mythic Homeland, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA, Albuquerque Museum, NM, Austin Museum of Art and Texas Fine Art Association, Austin, TX (2001-2002). Among Lerner’s many awards are: the Everett Helm Fellowship, Indiana University (2007); Director’s Citation, Black Maria Film Festival (for Magnavoz); Fulbright Fellow, Council for the International Exchange of Scholars (2006); Director’s Choice, Black Maria Film Festival (for T.S.H.); Honorable Mention, Ann Arbor Film Festival (for T.S.H.); Project Pericles Grant, Pitzer College; U.S.-Mexico Fund for Culture (for The Shock of Modernity); Getty/California Community Foundation Visual Arts Fellowship (2002); Mellon Foundation Grant, Pitzer College (2000). Jesse Lerner is associate professor of Media Studies at Pitzer College. [clear]
Jessica Lawless’s Past Present Future explores the ongoing relationship between violence and gender in a series of outdoor self-defense classes that provoke a re-thinking of our persistently rigid definitions of femininity. Filmed over a month, the work traces the development of the participants’ skills from awkward self-awareness to skillful coordination. After a successful choreographed demonstration in a parking lot, the group takes their act to the 101 Freeway in Los Angeles. Dressed in drag—to demonstrate the range and fluidity of interpretations of femininity—the group performs their self-defense strategies along the median and at the Freeway’s exits.
Jessica Lawless received her MFA from the University of California, Irvine in 2006. Lawless has participated in numerous exhibitions including: Two Weeks Awareness Examining Violence Against Women, The Claremont Colleges, Claremont, CA (2008); Digital Artifacts, Artists Television Access, San Francisco, CA (2008); Visualized Film Festival, Denver, CO (2007); End of Gays, Outfest Platinum Program REDCAT, Los Angeles, CA (2006); Pilot, Chicago, IL (2005); Lesbian Arts Festival, Dublin, Ireland (2005); Homo A Gogo Arts Festival, Olympia, Washington (2004). Lawless has also participated in numerous film festivals and screenings of her work including: Unhung Heroes (Dir. Lazlo Ilya Pearlman), (2002), distributed by Frameline, San Francisco, CA; Paint it Black (2002) distributed by AK Press, Oakland, CA. Her published writings and presentations include: “Moving Image Review” Solicited article on The Gendercator and queer arts censorship GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies (2008); “Past Present Future: The Multiple Starting Points of a Video Project,” Digital Artifact Magazine: An On-line Journal, (2007); Black Masks Black Skin: “Anarchists in LA,” KCOP’s “Exclusive Investigative Report” To the Quick: The Journal Magazine of Media and Cultural Studies at Binghamton University (2001); The Queer Love Boat: The Politics of Inclusion in Visual Culture, Panelist for 2008 CAA Annual Conference, Dallas, TX. Jessica Lawless is visiting professor of Media Studies at Pitzer College. [clear]
Ming-Yuen S. Ma
Ming-Yuen S. Ma’s reinterpretation of Yoko Ono’s seminal Cut Piece (1964) places it firmly in the present tense. In Ono’s original work audience members were invited to cut as little or as much of her clothes off while she sat motionless. In keeping with the Fluxus spirit and Ono’s instructions for the performance—Ono agreed that others could perform Cut Piece regardless of their sex—Ma invited a diverse group of writers as well as visual and performance artists to reinterpret the work. Informed by varied social, racial and cultural contexts, the performances were profoundly innovative in their scope, taking forms that extended and reinvented Ono’s original action both formally and conceptually.
Ming-Yuen S. Ma received his MFA from California Institute of the Arts in 1994. His experimental videos and installations including: Movements East and West (2003); Mother/Land (2000); Myth(s) of Creation (1997); Sniff (1997); Slanted Vision (1995); Toc Storee (1992); and Between The Lines: Who Speaks? (1994-96), have been exhibited nationally and internationally in a wide range of venues. As a curator and media activist, Ma has been affiliated with L.A. Freewaves, Visual Communications, The Rockefeller Foundation, Creative Work Fund, American Film Institute, The Los Angeles Festival, FAR (Foundation for Art Resources), MIX/NYC, and other media organizations at different points in his career. He has received grants and awards from Art Matters, Inc., the Brody Arts Fund, the Durfee Foundation, Long Beach Museum of Art, ESTAF/NEA, and other institutions. Ming-Yuen S. Ma is a Los Angeles-based media artist and assistant professor of Media Studies Program at Pitzer College. [clear]
Jessica McCoy’s immense oil paintings of fragmented interiors are reminiscent of David Hockney’s elaborate Polaroid collages. Using her own photographs as source material, McCoy cleverly constructs labyrinthine compositions that weave multiple interior views into intricate narratives that intrigue and entice. McCoy’s kaleidoscopic scenes present keyhole views into deeply private moments that frequently involve lone female figures. Reclining partially clad on beds, the women are fully confident in their own seclusion and act accordingly. Thrust into the role of shameless voyeur—a position we may or may not enjoy—we are free to indulge in the heady sensuous drama played out in the work.
Jessica McCoy received her MFA from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2001. McCoy has participated in numerous exhibitions including: Dreams, Fanny Garver Gallery, Madison, WI (2007); Ontario Juried Exhibition, Ontario Museum of Art, (2007); Jessica McCoy “Recent Works,” Fanny Garver Gallery, Madison, WI (2005); Women Painters, Fanny Garver Gallery, Madison, WI (2001); 33rd Annual Juried Show, Porter Butts Gallery, UW-Madison, (2001). She has received many grants and fellowships including: Vilas Fellowship University of Wisconsin Madison (2001); Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Grant (2003-04); and the Los Angeles County Metro Expo Line Contract 2008-current. Jessica McCoy is assistant professor of art at Pitzer College. [clear]
Informed by her studies in biology, botany and ecology, Kathryn Miller’s eclectic practice is deeply concerned with social, political and environmental issues and often takes the form of joint works with individuals. This collaborative impulse and blurring of practice drives Miller’s projects, making them accessible to a much wider public. Like that of British artist Andy Goldsworthy, Miller’s work, frequently site-specific, comprises natural and found objects—driftwood, pebbles, shells, earth—that she transforms into elaborate sculptures and installations. Miller treats her materials with obsessive care and attention imbuing the works with talismanic qualities despite their often ephemeral nature.
Kathryn Miller received her MFA from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1992. Miller has participated in numerous exhibits including: Desert Photography: The Other Side of Paradise, Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, CA (2005); Arroyo Pescadero Interpretive Arena, Puente Hills, CA (2004); Mostra Asfalto, Palazzo della Tiennale, Milan, Italy (2003); Ecoart=radical approaches to restoring the earth, Ecoartspace, Beacon, NY (2003); Creative Interventions, Ecological Design Center, School of Architecture and Allied Arts, University of Oregon, Eugene (2003); Art and Community Landscapes/Area 52, water clean-up project for the Arroyo Seco, Sycamore Grove Park, Los Angeles (2003); Ecovention, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH (2002); The Function of Art / The Art of Function, Kellogg Gallery, California State Polytechnic, Pomona, CA (2002); Water Works, BC Space Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA (2001); Snapshots, Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, Baltimore, MD (2000). Kathryn Miller lectures widely on art and the environment and has published many artist’s books. Some of these titles include: Seduction and Discord in the Frozen Dinner (2005); Nature Vs Pavement (2003); Seed Bombs: A Short History (2002); and Lawns in the Desert by Kathryn Miller and Michael Honer (2001). Kathryn Miller is professor of art with an interdisciplinary emphasis in environmental studies at Pitzer College.
Comprised of hundreds of found images culled from National Geographic-type publications from the ’50s and ’60s, Kelly Sears’ archly suspenseful film The Drift creates a collage of compelling animation. Reminiscent of Cold War-inspired sci-fi movies from the ’50s such as The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and It Came from Outer Space (1953), The Drift dramatically narrates the fate of a doomed space voyage that returns with only a few on board. Unable to resist a mysterious and beguiling sound, the astronauts were lured from their ship, destined to remain “drifting” through outer space for eternity. Combining Soviet era paranoia with the romance of a Greek tragedy, The Drift presents a rich and compelling narrative.
Kelly Sears received her MFA from the University of California, San Diego in 2005. Sears has participated in many group exhibitions including: Against the Grain, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Los Angeles, CA (2008); Compound Objects from the Spy Who Loves You, Circus Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2007); Underground Cinemachine, Machine Project, Los Angeles, CA (2007); The Latest Fiction, Cirrus Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2006); Fine Line, Cirrus Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2005); Fresh, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA (2005); Domesticity, Herbert Marcuse Gallery, UCSD La Jolla, CA (2003); and Video Scoring, Machine Project, Los Angeles, CA (2003). Among Sears’ many awards are the Director’s Choice – Black Maria Film Festival, Jersey City, NJ (2008); Best Animated Film – Northampton Independent Film Festival (2007); Spirit Award for Best International Short (2007); Honorable Mention – Ann Arbor Film Festival (2006); Russel Grant, UCSD (2003); Waggerman Grant (2003). Kelly Sears is director of production for the Intercollegiate Media Studies Program at Pitzer College.
Tags: Alexandra Juhasz, Eddie Gonzalez, Faculty Show, Gina Lamb, Jesse Lerner, Jessica Lawless, Jessica McCoy, Kathryn Miller, Kelly Sears, Lenzner Gallery, Ming-Yuen S. Ma, Nichols Gallery, Past Exhibitions, Steve Cahill, Summer 2008, Uncommon Practice
- Spell: Sandeep Mukherjee
02-02-08 thru 03-22-08
Known for his mural-scale, lushly colored paintings, engineer-turned-artist Sandeep Mukherjee concocted an exhibition of paintings and drawings made specifically for the Nichols Gallery.
Restricting his palette to black and white, Mukherjee’s three massive horizontal works, that function in concert as well as singly, allude to the natural landscape but never conspicuously. The paintings pivot back and forth between the tangible and the ethereal, pushing and pulling between figuration and abstraction. The result is a tension between the pastoral and fantastic that attracts viewers with its peculiar magnetism.
Essay – Fellow Traveler
There is the seen. There is the unseen.
The foundational edict of both Evangelicalism and the Neo-Romanticism is that the direct and personal bond between the individual and the great other is paramount—one concerns the interpretation of the Word, the other and the world. The rise of Evangelicalism was concurrent with Neo-romanticism and their turn-of-the-century currents are still felt today. In Neo-romanticism this tenet is illustrated through the passionate interpretation of the seen and unseen. Nature is depicted as a mysterious creature resistant to share its secrets. Evangelicalism speaks in tongues in order to articulate the whelming ecstasy for the Risen Christ. Each has its troubadours, preacher, convert, fanatic, poet, playwright, and painter.
The invention of language is essential to both movements. An appropriately poetic idiom is required to capture the instinctive expressions for which there are no adequate words or symbols, and no capability to express the ineffable. The religious experience is often conducted in a communal setting and has far more tools of persuasion—song, solidarity, stage craft—at work than during the solitary contemplation of a work of art. This inadequacy of language, however, has not stopped attempts to use analogous forms to approximate the sensation of the art experience. We have Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, mastermind of the Germanic peoples and amateur painter, writing, I call architecture frozen music, and Simonides of Ceos, lyric poet and father of mnemonics (remember this, we’ll come back to it later) attempting a similar comparison, Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting with the gift of speech. Still yet we have a greater authority, Balthus, weighing in on the subject, Painting is a language that cannot be replaced by another language. I don’t know what to say about what I paint, really.
The problem is that painting is illiterate, not that it cannot read, of course, but in the more clearly illustrative German (and Dutch and French) word for illiterate, analphabet; not unlettered but without letters, that is letterforms, with which it might construct a notational and translatable bulletin. Instead we must rely upon its empathetic gesture, expressionist color, ritualized process and emphatic materials. We rely on the worthiness of the artist, the only resident and therefore native guide, to usher us revealingly through this world they have created, this landscape of invented physics, instincts and senses.
It is in this manner that Sandeep Mukherjee attempts to create an alternative cosmology. His territory is one of surface tension and transparency, where will-o’-the-wisps are not denatured down to ignes fatui. In this land, this Mukherjia, past and present tense are the same and a line is also a volume. His mark making is often the lightest of gestures, mere creases, both concave and convex, in translucent parchment stained and pigmented with aqueous media. Sometimes brushed, often blown, onto to the surface of the paintings, his shapes feather into animals and plants that are indistinguishable from one another. Unlike the current trend of nursery realism where quirky figures are illustrated performing peculiar actions among a few fanciful rocks and trees set against an undifferentiated ground, Mukherjee’s fantastic creations don’t call attention to themselves. They all seem to be caught in the act of hiding, like a will-o’-the-wisp. He doesn’t draw faeries or hybrid plant concoctions but creates the sensation of something real glimpsed just out of the corner of one’s eye, too quick for one’s turning head. In this territory planes recede—or do not—and shapes reveal as often as overlap the others. In this terrain a flexible focal distance overtakes the traditional foreground, middle ground and background to create a concurrently immediate and gradual relation to the picture plane.
This landscape is not without its consistencies. Motifs recur and serve both as a standard by which other similar visual relationships might be deciphered and mnemonic milestones by which we might make our way through the maze full of shifting solidities. For in this landscape the earth is often viscous and the ponds are made of colorful adamant tiles, and either may be rendered in an illusory ripple spectrum, sometimes solid and might be tread upon, other times liquid in which we may be immersed. Mukherjee’s visual language is one engulfed in euphoria, fully involved and trance-like and possessed of its conviction. All of these strategies are suggestive of an environment with which we are familiar but have never been. It is not a dream world but a land of déjà vu, familiar but unsurveyed. It describes itself in a visual language that is not completely foreign yet still unintelligible; it is the glossalia necessary to describe its history and cultural fables—things happen and have happened here, creating a curious and unique romance; its visual strategies speak in a gibberish tongue but we recognize it as a language and although we cannot decipher it we find it lyrical and melodic, a feat of conjuring for which there is no incantation.
When the Duke is banished by his evil and usurping brother in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, he and his followers go back to nature, living as free men in the forest of Arden. There they come to prefer the rustic satisfactions of the natural existence to the vulgar excesses of life at court. Thrust into this essentially foreign lifestyle they make necessity a virtue and embrace their hardships as an alternative and even superior environment; nature triumphs over the mannered construction of royal residence. In articulating this sentiment to another exile who wanders into their happy camp, the Duke describes the new vocabulary of the woods, one that, he convincingly conveys, all around is peppered with a rapture that cannot be found elsewhere, “And this our life exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in every thing. I would not change it.”
So it is in Mukherjia.
Essay by Max King Cap
Tags: Max King Cap, Nichols Gallery, Past Exhibitions, Sandeep Mukherjee, Spell, Spring 2008
November 17, 2007 – January 12, 2008
Nichols Gallery and Lenzner Family Art Gallery
ANTARCTICA brings together three extraordinary series of works from artists Joyce Campbell, Anne Noble, and Connie Samaras on the subject of Antarctica, the most extreme continent on the planet. Recipients of distinguished artist residencies — Campbell and Noble awarded the New Zealand Artists to Antarctica program and Samaras the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Artists and Writers Program — enabled them to photograph and experience first hand the severe and almost inhuman conditions of Antarctica. Each artist’s work approaches the subject with differing yet overlapping critical frameworks creating a rich transcultural dialogue that seeks to de-exoticize a landscape that has been romanticized, idealized, and made epic.
With their physically immersive scale and unique objecthood, Campbell’s photographs are formulated to be historically and physically compelling objects rather than images of places or things. Campbell approached Antarctica as something vast, savage, and primordial. She used anachronistic photographic technologies including Daguerreotype, that was outmoded by the mid-nineteenth century invention of silver halide emulsion and which had never been practiced on that continent before.
Samaras’ photographs, Vast Active Living Intelligence System, shot at the South Pole as well as her videos shot in other Antarctic locations, depict the liminal space between life-support architecture and extreme environment. Interested in ideas of speculative landscape, science fiction, psychological dislocation, and the political geographies underpinning fantasies of space exploration, her work frames the paradoxical relationships inherent in attempts to colonize a space resistant to human habitation.
Since 2002, Anne Noble has been considering the cultural origins of the Antarctic imaginary and how this contributes to a sense of place. Her project Whiteout explores representation of the landscape at the point where perception and cognition founders. In other projects, whether from the decks of Antarctic tourist ships or traveling around to the world to photograph dioramas of Antarctica, she critiques the framing of the Antarctic landscape as picturesque, heroic and sublime.
Essay – “The Wondrous Cold”
I don’t know when Taff died…a week ago, a month. It was somewhere up on the glacier. I know that the day before we’d got into a frightful pickle. Scott said it was our own fault. We’d started out in a wretched wind, pulling on skis in a horrible light that threw fantastic shadows across the snow. Birdie said he was reminded of a pantomime set for Ali Baba and the forty thieves, all glittering backcloths and eerie pockets of stagy darkness. As far as I could tell the world was a coffin and the lid of the sky was about to nail me done. It showed up the difference between us, but then I don’t imagine Birdie’s feet were in the first stages of gangrene.
–Beryl Bainbridge, The Birthday Boys (1991)
Much of what we know of Antarctica—the continent most extreme and inhospitable to humans—is informed by its dramatic associations, the wide-eyed wonderment, and the toe-curling terror. Divided, almost biblically, into one long day and one long night, it has no human residents, only visitors, and an extremity of weather that reaches -130 °F. It is no wonder that Antarctica has spawned a host of accounts, both fictional and authentic, and driven generations of seekers to a place that feels like the end of the world. Artists Edgar Allen Poe and Howard Hawks set narratives there and explorers Roald Amundsen and Ernest Henry Shackleton recounted their adventures. Compelled by their own investigations, artists Joyce Campbell, Anne Noble and Connie Samaras—each awarded artist residencies—journeyed there in an attempt to query established representations of the coldest place on Earth.
The Artic has an annual mean temperature of 0°F. The Antarctic’s correspondent temperature is -58°F. Had Mary Shelley been born a hundred years later she would have banished “The Creature,” Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, to the south instead of the comparatively mild north. In a similar sleight of history Joyce Campbell’s series of works entitled Last Light (2006) uses both the daguerreotype—a photographic process that had become obsolete by the time of the Antarctic expeditions—and mural-scale, silver gelatin prints, that present Antarctica’s natural architecture in full Gothic force. The romance of the daguerreotype also renders Campbell’s work reminiscent of the romanticism of the Hudson River School landscape painting, particularly Edwin Church’s The Icebergs (1861), that celebrated the exquisite grandeur of largely unconquered territory. The massive glaciers, vertical and jagged, distorted from premature erosion wear their fissures like gruesome masks. Campbell’s deliberate use of an anachronistic technique makes hers the first such photographs to exist of the Polar Regions. Initially these brutal yet spectacular images can’t help but allude to the “Heroic Age of Polar Exploration” (1895-1917) and Captain Scott’s ill-fated (some say vainglorious) race to the South Pole. In another chronological turn, however, the images focus instead on a landscape that is clearly wounded from the exponential effects of climate change––suggesting that unless we radically amend our irresponsible ways that we, like daguerreotypes, will be rendered obsolete.
n contrast to Campbell’s Gothic inspired imagery Anne Noble presents an abstracted but similarly bleak view of Antarctica. White Out (2002–2007)—a series of twelve works closely configured in a tight grid, depicts the exquisitely treacherous moment of a blizzard when visibility is limited to a shroud of raging white particles and the distinction between sky and ground is erased. In this way Noble’s White Out series recall the more abstract of Hiroshi Suigimoto’s somber and minimal seascapes that by merging the sea and sky produced subtle grey monochromatic images. Inspired in part by the Erebus disaster of 1979—an Air New Zealand sight-seeing tour that crashed into Mount Erebus during a white-out killing all 257 aboard—Noble presents a study of the tones, textures, and layers of whiteness, their abstract nature defying immediate interpretation and recalling 60s post-minimalist Robert Ryman’s ground-breaking and influential series of white-on-white canvases. Taken out of context these entrancing yet perplexing photographs offer an alternative to the conventional framing of Antarctica as heroic, romantic, and sublime providing instead a less than comfortable image. Similarly, Goal Post (2002), from the series From Place to Place, depicts what looks to be a massive capital “H” in the center of a bleak snowy landscape stretching for miles. Devoid of human trace, the goal post is transformed into a gateway to nowhere, a redundant gesture prophesying a future of desolation and doom.
Contrary to Campbell and Noble’s lonesome and immersive landscapes, Connie Samaras pictures the life-support architecture that makes human habitation possible. As a temporary resident of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, one of the only permanent year-round research facilities, Samaras took a visual inventory of partially submerged, abandoned, and operational structures—pods, domes, and tunnels. Grouped under the collective title VALIS (vast active intelligence system), after Philip K. Dick’s 1981 science fiction novel of the same name, Samaras’ images forecast a bumpy and preternatural future—thirty years being the average lifespan of a building before it becomes irretrievably submerged by blowing and drifting snow. Dome Interior (2005 -2007), depicts the abandoned sleeping quarters of one such structure. Resembling meat lockers or morgue drawers, the rows of vacuum-sealed metal doors reflect the snow-covered wooden platform supporting the bright red rectangular units, all under the roof of a shiny geodesic dome. Forlorn and derelict, the scene evokes Roanoke’s lost American colony or the prologue to many science fiction films. Antarctica’s hostile environment is similar in many ways to how we naively imagine the landscape of other planets—extreme and uninhabitable. Samaras’ work suggests that conceit and alludes to the inevitable futility of colonizing such a place. The huts of explorers like Scott and Shackleton survive there yet, as rigid monuments to ambition and tragedy.
In their varied stylistic approaches Campbell, Noble and Samaras could be said to represent past, present and future views of Antarctica. Campbell’s deliberate use of anachronistic techniques and allusion to early twentieth century themes critique the romantic and heroic mythos of the noble Polar explorer and are contrasted with Noble’s bleaker view of the present. Noble’s deadly white-outs and displays of the barren Antarctic landscape reveal how our experience of place is relentlessly mediated and constructed. Alternatively, Samaras suggests an alien and dysfunctional future where the drive for survival dictates a bizarre civilization of transience occupying but never inhabiting. Campbell, Noble and Samaras use romance, mystery and fascination to present works whose exquisite formal beauty veils the foreboding and catastrophic subtext that infiltrates their work.
Director/Curator, Pitzer Campus Galleries
Tags: Anne Noble, Antartica, Connie Samaras, Joyce Campbell, Lenzner Gallery, Nichols Gallery, Past Exhibitions, photography, Winter 2007