Ayelen – Curatorial
I travelled to New York on Saturday April 5th to take part on a workshop organized by Machine Project, who I have been researching for an upcoming exhibition. A Skidmore alumnus, Mark Allen ’93, leads this loose collective of artists and a storefront venue in Los Angeles. Given that their events and workshops are often time-based and require the presence of an audience, I went to experience first-hand one of their them. 
The workshop was titled “Mind reading for the left and the right brain,” and was divided in two sections: during the first, we would build a lie detector, and during the second, we would increase our innate intuitive abilities to “read” people. Chris Kallmyer, a sound artist and regular Machine Project collaborator, facilitated the workshop. He was very casual, didactic and created a very lively environment. People had conversations about a range of topics. We unpacked our lie detector kits, we learn to distinguish between electrical components, we solder, and we acquired this specific knowledge on electronics. During the second half, we were guided by an attentive duo of artists, Krystal Krunch. After several exercises designed to make us pay attention to our ability to see, hear, and feel, our innate intuitive abilities to read people appear to have been accentuated.

The event successfully brought together people with different interests and lifestyles. I asked the participants why they came to the event and it turned out that some people had come specially to decipher how to build a lie detector, others were interested in getting closer to their intuition, but most came to have a taste Machine Project in New York. I came back to Saratoga Springs with a lot of new information on electronics, intuition, soldering, chakras, having met new people, and having had a great time. Perhaps it’s this combination of experiences that makes people want to participate in Machine Project.

Ayelen – Curatorial

I travelled to New York on Saturday April 5th to take part on a workshop organized by Machine Project, who I have been researching for an upcoming exhibition. A Skidmore alumnus, Mark Allen ’93, leads this loose collective of artists and a storefront venue in Los Angeles. Given that their events and workshops are often time-based and require the presence of an audience, I went to experience first-hand one of their them. 

The workshop was titled “Mind reading for the left and the right brain,” and was divided in two sections: during the first, we would build a lie detector, and during the second, we would increase our innate intuitive abilities to “read” people. Chris Kallmyer, a sound artist and regular Machine Project collaborator, facilitated the workshop. He was very casual, didactic and created a very lively environment. People had conversations about a range of topics. We unpacked our lie detector kits, we learn to distinguish between electrical components, we solder, and we acquired this specific knowledge on electronics. During the second half, we were guided by an attentive duo of artists, Krystal Krunch. After several exercises designed to make us pay attention to our ability to see, hear, and feel, our innate intuitive abilities to read people appear to have been accentuated.

The event successfully brought together people with different interests and lifestyles. I asked the participants why they came to the event and it turned out that some people had come specially to decipher how to build a lie detector, others were interested in getting closer to their intuition, but most came to have a taste Machine Project in New York. I came back to Saratoga Springs with a lot of new information on electronics, intuition, soldering, chakras, having met new people, and having had a great time. Perhaps it’s this combination of experiences that makes people want to participate in Machine Project.

When my supervisor, Vickie Riley, told me about Professor Gregory Spinner’s idea for an exhibition on Jewish graphic novels at the Tang, we knew it would be a great opportunity for another video project. My contribution in creating a short, informative video included accumulating historical footage to serve as “B-roll” – secondary material to cut away to – for Professor Spinner’s narration. Throughout my research for Graphic Jews: Negotiating Identity in Sequential Art, I learned a great deal about the history of the graphic novel and how it has endured as an expression of Jewish-American identity. As a fan of photography, history and graphic novels, the research I was doing fostered interests that I already had.

What surprised me most was how my research coincided with my studies outside the Tang. Many of the first graphic novelists were first-and second-generation American Jews in the 1930s and ’40s who incorporated into their work the hardships they faced in an anti-Semitic America. My discovery of this overlapped with a history course I was taking that examined Jewish refugees from an American standpoint pre-and post-World War II. An important theme throughout the class and these graphic novels was the “ambivalent identity” of American Jews. Due to the unexpected oppression that many American Jews faced (in a country that was supposed to be an escape from persecution in Europe), they sought to assimilate into American society as individuals rather than as a collective Jewish “race.” This was not easy, because though many wanted to fit in, they stood out as strangers in their new home.

The coincidental overlap of my research and academic work allowed me to use the knowledge I acquired from one to inform the other. I even had the opportunity to observe the two together at a panel discussion on Graphic Jews, where three of the artists whose work is featured in the show discussed ways in which their work engages with the constructions of Jewish identity. By attending the panel with my history class, I got to see my two worlds come together.

Layla—Education

Sarah and I had a great time with everyone who came out to the most recent Family Saturday. The activity was inspired by Beverly Semmes’ work in the One Work exhibition. We had our 25 participants talk about the piece before making headless, long-armed puppets. It was wonderful to see how many unique and exciting different puppets there were by the end of the afternoon!

A few of our creative Family Saturday participants: 

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Our inspiration:

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Ayelen – Curatorial

Mark Allen/Machine Project

This semester, I have been doing research for an upcoming Tang exhibition that will be on view from August to December 2015. This exhibition focuses on the work of Skidmore graduate Mark Allen ’93 who founded Machine Project in 2003, a non-profit organization set at a storefront space in Los Angeles. It functions as a venue, an informal educational institution, and a loose confederacy of artists that works on curious ideas, art-making, and social interactions. Through its workshops and events, Machine Project offers detailed, in-depth information on an array of eclectic and odd topics that often intersect with art, including quantum computing, Paleolithic bone tools, oven-building, the creation of lie-detectors, and Bulgarian folk singing.

At Machine, Mark Allen has facilitated hundreds of exciting projects in collaboration with other artists including: building a model reconstruction of Rome in a day, staging an opera by and for dogs; hosting workshops for mind-reading, basic electronics, and pickling; transforming the storefront into a forest, a camera obscura, and a capsized ship; and presenting lectures on the relationship between the hyperbolic plane and crocheting, and on the history of the universe and star formation.

Here is a video documenting one workshop that took place at Machine Project’s storefront a little over a year ago on Life Drawing with Insects. 

Layla—Education

Hello! 

Sarah and I have been making lots of prototypes for Family Saturdays lately but we thought we’d share one we’re having lots of fun with. We took inspiration from the Beverly Semmes’ work in the One Work exhibition currently open to the public and made headless, long armed puppets.

Our new friends:image

Our Inspiration:

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Independent Study - Lucy

A Final Reflection

Rather than feeling the constraints of a thesis, this independent study offered the freedom to simply observe for hours on end. Initially the time felt uncomfortable. Sitting for two hours with only one image before me was odd; I didn’t know what to ask, what to write, or how to write. I thought observations would flow from my mind to my pen with ease, but I was wrong. Blockages occurred frequently throughout the semester, not just at the beginning, and depended on the subject matter and my own mental state. Initially, I felt it important to enter the print room with a clean and open mind, however, besides the impossibility of this request, a vacuumed environment did not help foster a healthy relationship between the particular work and myself. When I attempted to enter each session blank, what resulted was banal. I am not saying to force emotions, but to ignore or repress them only lead me to stunted observations.

Removing my mental restrictions helped free my thinking, but still I felt resistances when it came to synthesizing and writing about my experiences. Translating and attaching my organic, untied thoughts to concrete ideas proved quite challenging, and did throughout the course of the independent study. The leap between observation and argument in this particular project really challenged my thinking as I constantly wrestled with myself and tripped over words in an attempt to paint an abstract experience with words.

With the final project came much deliberation; figuring out how to, again, produce a written body of work that appropriately fused my ideas with past experiences in a creative and bold manner seemed impossible. In the end, I decided on conducting five experiments focused on looking at photographs from my father’s surprisingly extensive collection, consisting mostly of early photographs. Each experiment correlated to a specific photograph, both of which I chose. The experiments take advantage of my relaxed proximity to them—meaning I could hold, flip, and examine each as I pleased without the necessary constraints implemented to protect photographs in the Tang. In one I flipped the photograph further abstracting the image, in another I looked at the image in five-minute intervals, and in another I drew the image. Under such circumstances, different relationships between the images and myself unfolded. 

Memory accidentally guided the final project. Each experiment tested the boundaries of my own memory and calculated how others, when faced with an unknown image, recall related—or unrelated—experiences. As my relationships grew with each photograph, and I supplemented those relationships with readings, notions concerning memory merged with the politics of photography.[1] Sitting with each photograph—and holding them, which I could not do previously—sparked awareness of the bizarre simultaneity between the immediacy of the image as an object and the temporal anteriority of the captured subject. It highlighted a perhaps obvious difference between the capture moment and the lived moment it inhabited. As I worked, it became obvious that what attracted me to each image seemed incredibly difficult to articulate and research: the abstract characteristics of photography and the social biography of each image. Understanding the social biography, something I became fascinated with over the past months, was also similarly difficult to grasp as most of the information was lost. However, observing my parents interact with a daguerreotype—one of the mini experiments—quieted some of my unanswered questions. Watching them situate themselves across from the image, hold it, move it, and set it back down, fidgeting, nervously attempting to create a relationship, strangely substituted the social biography I yearned. Watching them, a specialist (my dad) and a therapist (my mom), interact with the object illustrated the ways in which photography works as a social object. Each experiment furthered my relationship with photography—even as I continuously hit walls of questions and theoretical noise—and for that I am grateful.  



[1] Term coined from Nathaniel Cunningham’s book title (Face Value: An Essay on the Politics of Photography). The title resembled others that concerned similar aspects of photography, mainly the anxiety and oddness that defines the medium. 

Independent Study - Lucy

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Eugène Atget
Paris Interior
toned gelatin silver print
1910, printed by Berenice Abbot in 1956 
1984.194C
Gift of L. Bradley Camp

imageMartha Rosler
Bathroom Surveillance or Vanity Eye
photomontage
1966-1972
2012.2
Gift of funds to purchase from Jane Greenberg, ‘81

The Art of Spying in Long Looking

The juxtaposition of Eugène Atget’s Paris Interior with Martha Rosler’s Bathroom Surveillance or Vanity Eye recalls similar pairings done in a class I took two years ago called the Domestic Interior. Folded into both photographs lay notions of privacy, domesticity, and gender; though Rosler more explicitly alludes to and exaggerates such concepts in her constructed image, similar ideas still surface in the design of the photographed French interior. Together, the photographs reflect their respective social climates through visual documentation. However, rather than discussing both, I will indulge in just one.

The blue-hued bathroom in Martha Rosler’s photograph explores issues regarding the separation of private and public spheres. A typically private space, the bathroom, is made public not only by the circulated collage, but also by the unrealistically large blue eye reflected in the back mirror—an eye that uncomfortably resembles my own blue eye. Each decorative decision reflects something about the imagined bathroom dweller; two sinks suggest a partner, excessive lighting perhaps alludes to their vanity, a stool signifies their time to sit and stare, and the selection of objects sprinkling both sink areas, though unidentifiable, no doubt add to this list of assumed traits. As I surveyed the scene, noting the flatness of the cabinets, bizarre wall texture and general layout, I caught myself judging. Peering through at life that was not mine, mirroring the eye meant to be mine. The eye un-privatizes an extremely private place, nonetheless, in both this image and Eugène Atget’s the rooms were ready to be exposed, as if they expected it.

Why does the eye appear feminine? What does that say about gender, internal and external judgment? Is any of this real? Other works from Rosler’s collage series, blend images of war with mindless, self-consumed ads she found in newspapers and magazines to parody and critique the roles of women in society as the stereotyped housewife. This impolite blue eye could reference society’s preoccupation with vanity during the 1960s and 70s as the Cold War continued overseas, or the expectations and portrayal of women in the media. These questions and brief answers could only be understood after situating Rosler within history; her elusive yet prominent attention to feminism, incorporated influence and distaste for the media’s translation of war, both come together in many of her works and surfaces in Bathroom Surveillance or Vanity Eye. Despite the eventual need for research, the accounted for anxiety originally crept through the photograph during my observational session. Without research, as noted in my previous post, certain elements—that can prove to be distracting at times—surfaced and furthered my understanding of the image. Viewing a photograph out of context, without the comfort of its intended accompanying images, completely changes the initial intended purpose; like a chameleon, such photographs visually transform and assume new meanings as their contextualizing spaces and wall partners change.

Though technically this will serve as my last official post, as it coincides with my final session, over the next few weeks I will also post a reflection. 

Lucy - Independent Study

Camouflaging Realities: Pre and Post Reflection of Seniors Project (13), 1999

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post stemming solely from personal observation, though I asked for the name of the image and artist so as to properly cite them, I purposefully performed no outside research. Now, prompted by my advisor to return to the work, much more can and should be said concerning Nikki S. Lee’s photograph The Seniors Project (13), 1999. Thus, this will act as a response; a pre and post experiment shedding light on the difference, and crucial balance, between blind looking and educated looking.

Korean-born artist Nikki S. Lee fuses photography and performance to explore identity in most of her recent projects. Unassuming compositions feature Lee as she repeatedly disguised herself to fit different desired identities—an elderly woman serving as just one, in this series she also transformed into a lesbian, exotic dancer, Hispanic, and tourist. As Lee proudly acknowledges in an interview, “I make a kind of art that seems very simple at first, but once you peel off the layers you find many stories inside it.” I unknowingly stopped after the first or second peel. For two hours, I sat before the framed photograph, questioning its value, purpose, and qualification as art, and felt compelled to ascribe meaning to it. Uncovering this seemingly ordinary snapshot riding solely on blind observations allowed for a solid, but surface level understanding. The isolated photograph did not share the space with its fellow images, and in taking it out of context Lee’s presence was lost on me. So although Lee tricked me, as she stood there completely caked in makeup, the influence of the photograph’s setting significantly impacted its readability.

Once Lee is recognized as a hidden subject, the entire image transforms. Aside from the digital date, unknown but equally aged gentleman, and camera flash across her glasses, the believability coursing through the image also flows from Lee as she magically assumes various identities with ease. She tricks audiences into believing, into only peeling back those first two layers, by employing a typically truthful tool: the camera.

As a time-stamped snapshot, suggesting its anecdotal and societal truths, its fashioned validity seemed entirely believable. It resembled a photograph one could find in the drawers of my dining room table where hundreds of similarly time-stamped photographs sit each documenting a real moment from my life. But then, what is ‘real’? After reading more and placing Seniors Project (13), 1999 amongst others of its kind, a deeper realization surfaced enhancing and enriching previous observations. Now that the layers are pulled back, more questions arise concerning photography as a practical tool and as an artistic one. Where would you draw the boundary between art and document using this as your example? Would you have fallen for this disguise?

Layla-Education

Chris Bruch’s shopping cart is our inspiration for our final Family Saturday of the semester, which is right around the corner! Sarah and I have been working on our prototypes by mixing spray-painted silver macaroni to channel Bruch’s metallic objects with our trusty pipe cleaners, beads, wire, buttons, and many more materials. We hope to see you there!

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Bruch’s Shopping Cart:

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Lucy - Independent Study

Going Back to the Basics: A Comparison

As my project nears its end, I decided to reflect and return to a previous session not yet discussed in this forum. Two photographs shared the two-hour block, intended as a visual comparison. Immediately after assuming my looking position I was frustrated. Though similarly monochromatic, one black and white the other red, the images did not initially speak a common visual language, and did not utterly oppose each other either. By returning to the visual basics and devoting time to each, subtle similarities and differences arose concerning the composition, purpose, and subject matter present in the two photographs.

 Photograph 1:

Emmet Gowin snapped a photograph of a burnt book in 1974; forty years later that same photograph sits lifeless on the print room table before me. Geography Book, an aerial photograph of a burnt book,walks a fine line between art and evidence, a dilemma previously faced and discussed during this project. The photograph simultaneously documents a moment and illustrates Gowin’s seemingly diverging interests as a visual documentarian. The photographically preserved book is badly burnt, the text and accompanied maps transformed by fire, thus forcing an alternative purpose to its previously functional, didactic object. No longer serving as a resource for further understanding of geography, the debris-covered book now functions as evidence of a moment. The sterility of the composition and nature of the subject matter revive questions concerning photography: why is this valued? How did it find its way to the Tang Museum? What about this image defines it as art? This photograph, and the red-hued image to its left, raises challenging questions concerning the nature of photography as an artistic medium.

Photograph 2:

The compared photograph by John Christie follows a geometric order furthered by the shared aerial view. “Exhange” depicts two forms of evidence: a postcard headed to England and an accompanied image of a woman mirroring the position of a lifeless, oblong object that lies besides her. The peculiarly titled image seems to document relatively ordinary objects; however, the compositional arrangement and placement within the Tang Museum’s photographic collection transforms the work into a rather strange piece of art—or evidence. While observing this image I attempted to first maintain a typical visual breakdown, noting the structural elements and the visual relationships. This visual description dulled in comparison to the hidden oddities within the image. Reading the card and analyzing the image only furthered by confusion. Was this image ever meant for public use or an audience? Or was this merely a private exchange between two people? Now that it has fallen behind the white walls of the museum, how has its function changed?

Fluctuating functionality drives these two images by Gowin and Christie. Their purpose prior to the attention of the camera differs as the respective objects are now preserved and immortalized and art.

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Emmet Gowin
Geography Book, 1974
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Tang Teaching Museum, Gift of a private collection
2001.9.11

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John Christie
Exchange, 1976
Color photo
1982.124