June 2013 Residency Summary
I got the most feedback this residency from Ben Sloat, because not only was he my semester advisor, but he also led the first critique in my group. Ben talked the most about my copper house sculpture. But then Ben has always liked my sculptures best. Although he liked the copper house, he wanted to see ash and traces of the burnt wood under my house. He asked what happened to the ashes. I said I put them under the peonies, because peonies like wood ash. He said he wanted to see ash falling through the floor of the house and peonies growing up.
Someone in my critique group suggested using the ash from the fire to make an image; perhaps for use in carbon printing or collaging.
Ben asked if my work was about process, visual syntax, or the effect? I think it is becoming about process and effect, because they are really two ends of a see-saw that balance each other out. But I think I need to consider this more deeply, because I cling to visual syntax, the way I cling to language for concrete understanding and communication.
Ben said there is a lot of space between where the photographs and sculptures exist. This is something I will have to discuss with this semester’s mentor. At least this semester nobody said the sculptures and photographs were speaking different languages, like was said often at the January residency.
Ben felt I should think about the dual conversation in my work. The light in my fire images he pointed out is both destructive and constructive. I should think of light as the way of being, and going inside to greet the light. I should think about what is seen, and what is unseen. He said I am interested in the distorted visual.
Michelle Saffran also commented on the light in my work. She said the way I’ve used light conveys a mediated sense of memory. She said I have personified discarded remnants as beings both forgotten and disabled. She considered them proxies for psychological landscapes. She thought I held the tension well in my photographs. And she also felt there was a sense of the organic as well as the human within my work.
Ben liked my metaphorical conversation of the roof. I said the human psychological roof is a construction of memories, thoughts, and beliefs that human’s use as a shield to feel protected from the world. That was why the house’s roof was a book containing imagery of the house’s past experience. Ben felt my house was a production of ritual. I think that is absolutely correct. And that ritualistic aspect is oddly very important to me, although I need to find the answer to exactly why. He told me I should think about upending nostalgia. He also said I should spend some time with my copper house contemplating it.
Ben said I am letting the photography guide my voice instead of making it speak for me, and I am allowing the material to dictate me instead of me dictating the work. He felt the urgency was not there. He said, “the photographic confusion is not Amy’s confusion.” He said I should think about how Anselm Kiefer and Doris Salcedo’s work coveys grief without any words necessary. He felt there was too much terrain in my photographs, and this made them too explicit and over explained. Ben thought I should think about cropping sections out of the images, and printing these cropped sections larger.
On that vein, Molly Painter suggested I cut out portions of my photographs and reconstruct them into a larger house drawing. She said I should piece them together like memories. I like this idea very much. And I have been thinking of constructing three-dimensional ‘memory houses’ from shreds of my photographs. If nothing else I think will be an important exercise for me.
Ben said the structure of the poem is assisting my work. John Kramer said something similar last semester.
In my next critique Matt Saunders and Michael Newman said I am trying to pack things into loaded images. This harkens back to a comment Ben made. And it also made me think of what Laurel Sparks said to me at the January residency, commenting that my sculptures were too packed with information. I guess I still need to heed what she said: “Being literal is dangerous territory. Being opaque is dangerous territory.”
Michael thought my images had more of a feeling of perpetuity than demise, like the forest was reclaiming the structure. He said there was a balance between constructing and destructing.
Matt made the interesting comment that there was a resonance between the house as a chamber and the box of the pinhole camera.
They both said that in the photographs of the copper house burning I had successfully tricked the viewer into thinking the photograph was of something much larger. And having the actual small structure next to the photographs gave the viewer a pleasant surprise.
Deb Todd Wheeler, my new advisor, was the next to weigh in. She made the point that representing time in a still medium is a very difficult thing. I guess that is true. But I must note that my Dad used to repair antique clocks and tower clocks, so it’s difficult for me not to try to incorporate time in my work. Every Saturday the clocks must be wound in our house, or time seems to stop. Through my memories of mechanical time pieces, I am not just physically, but emotionally and historically, tied up with symbols of time.
Deb challenged me to just how far could I let the burn go. She said if I’m going to burn something down I should go all the way. She said I should be really experimental with the burning, and try a larger camera. I should also think about more objects in decay. She said the more objects I investigate the more interesting my story will be.
Deb also made the point that when relying on a series its as if you’re afraid that one piece won’t say what you want all by itself, when actually one piece should be able to speak for itself.
She also said that “House” is a little trite, and I should think about using something else for my visual stand-in. She thought I should try to make things that look less like houses and more like something falling apart and scary. And I should think about not relying on photography.
Much more was said on the structure and the symbolism of “house” during the course of the residency. Several people commented that maybe the house was too literal for all I’m trying to say. It was said that I should create a form that conveys instability, and that is a little off kilter, like the security of a horizontal line put on rough waters, as opposed to a once structured home. It was repeated that the images need more danger, like conveying the sense of things falling on on the viewer.
Sarah Barr, who was in my very first AIB critique group, said that I am “stuck on architecture.” That was an interesting comment, because looking back at my work, it’s all focused on the interiors and exteriors of buildings.
Molly Painter, again, suggested I think of the house as an act, and have the actual structures more physically involved in my interaction. She said I should try making prints against the walls, and try putting cameras inside the structures or use a go-pro camera. She said I should go treasure hunting. And I should think about walking around the space while photographing it with my long exposures. She said I’m almost there. And she reiterated what Deb Todd Wheeler said, that I must push it all the way. After my last semester summary Ben told me I’m an action word person. Molly is also an action word person, so I think that’ a big reason why I’ve retained many of her comments.
Several people said my self-portrait was very piercing, and that I should do more self-portraits. Mary Zompetti commented that some of my images had a little bit of “stock” quality, and seemed to rely on special effects. She thought the successful images left more to the imagination, where the viewer wanted to get closer, but was a little afraid, creating a psychological dance.
Nicole Daviau commented that my photographs were trying to disturb, while the sculptures were trying to fix. She said it was as if I want to make things whole again.
When commenting on my barn and cabin sculptures, Nicole said I should be as authentic with the materials as possible. And if the structure was falling apart, I should not use new wood for the armature (as I did), but use wood that was also falling apart. Nicole suggested I take my sculptures to the places that inspired them and photograph the two together.
She said my copper house was all very cleverly crafted. Nicole wondered if anyone had faulted me for my cleverness. I said, no, and that she was the only one who called it clever.
Fia Backstrom said I should think about how both the image and the building were falling apart the barn photograph that had ice on the negative.
She said analog works very well with the process of memory. She could tell that process was very important for me. But I need to figure out how can I edit my work down to say what it is I mean. She felt the dangerous pieces were the most successful. She said if I try to fix the work before the viewer sees it I don’t allow the viewer to experience what I’m feeling. And I need to allow the camera process to speak of how it both shows and destroys.
My first semester advisor, John Kramer, said I need a way of saying more than just “old house falls.” Pinhole says “dreamscape, memory.” He felt that I am pushing myself into a genre with an old place and an old process.
John suggested I try to photograph a real house burning. He thought I should talk to a local fire department about photographing a controlled burn. I have a friend who is a fire chief in a local volunteer fire department. He said they are doing two controlled burns of houses in September, and he will let me photograph them.
John also said I should try constructing a book, laying out my imagery to see what it says to me.
Since this is the start of my third semester people at the residency began to talk about the thesis. Jason Pramas said for preparation we should start thinking about what we are bringing to the pie that is new. He strongly suggested that we start writing thesis ideas down. Sunanda Sanyal made some great comments in our critical theory class. He said art making may be therapeutic, but this program was not art therapy. The discussion of the work must be outside of one’s self. One needs to neutralize the construct one is working on in order to step back and see it. If you see the whole thing as a construct you can break it down. We should think about how to frame a body of work around our argument. My favorite thing that Sunanda said was “Be irreverent to art, because if it’s sacred you can’t reach it.”