Sunday, October 11, 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015

Friday, October 25, 2013

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Dry plate tintypes from Paris

These are actually just liquid AG Plus emulsion on tin 4x5 sheets, so technically not the original process. This batch was fairly problematic despite the relative ease of the process compared to wet plate collodian. The negatives are created on Pictorico OHP with a custom curve generated by the ChartThrob plugin for Photoshop, and then contact printed against the coated plates.

The first 8 plates I coated had trouble with opposite edge run off when I was pouring excess emulsion off the plate. The areas that ran thin developed color bands with a titanium look. The thicker areas were fine, with an overall smooth surface and good exposure. To eliminate the thin areas, I let the run off cascade back over the coated plate to the other edge, then dumped the excess. This left a nice even coat across the whole face while drying, but after developing and fixing the plate surface became incredibly wavy, as you can see above. I though this was due to my re-coating with the run-off, but the next batch I coated only had one pass of the emulsion, but exhibited the same surface defects. I suspect that either the emulsion went through too many heat cycles at too high of a temperature before coating, somehow I contaminated the emulsion during the recovery of run off, or the black bottle it comes in is not light tight. 

Another thing to note is that my exposure times became exponentially long each time I coated a new batch of plates. Day one exposure was 5 seconds @ f/8, two days later it was 14 seconds @f/5.6, and two days after that it was approaching 30 seconds @ f/5.6. This leads me to believe it was indeed a problem with the emulsion after the second day that led to the increased exposures and the surface defects. While the plates did not see a refrigerator immediately after coating to set the emulsion, they did get light cool air from a hair dryer for a minute, laying flat. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

ArtPrize 2013 - How to produce cultural stagnation

                                                                                                                    photo © Matt Gubancsik/KCAD

I think there is still much to be said about this year's ArtPrize, especially now that I've had multiple opportunities to engage with the work and let the whole experience sink in. Joseph Becherer and Diane Zeeuw have both made poignant and relevant contributions to the conversation as of late, so I'll begin by addressing some points in their articles.

First and foremost Becherer makes a very legitimate point that art is essentially being “co-opted for a big street party.” When you ask the general public why ArtPrize is a great event, the inevitable answer is that so much foot traffic is great for the city. One really can't complain about the economic and financial benefits that ArtPrize affords Grand Rapids, but addressing those benefits in the context of cultural development brings about some major concerns. The first ties directly in to Becherer's sentiment about the block party. We love seeing the city thrive. We love seeing the streets and local establishments brimming with happy people, and we love seeing people invest their hard-earned income back into our city. At what cost to art though? The creative processes have essentially been transformed into a catalyst for commerce, rather than being applied as intellectual and cultural framework to support the development of culture and humanity.

The general public doesn't recognize art as such, however. We don't always respect or see value in art specifically because it isn't a commodity. It's not something we collectively recognize as aiding in our survival or prosperity on a daily basis. Art is viewed as an irrelevant luxury, a mere hobby for those who haven't found a real way to contribute to society. What many fail to realize is that art is a direct reflection of the culture from which it was born, and the study of those reflections can give us insight into why we are the way we are, and why we do the things we do. Becherer recognizes that ArtPrize relies on “an insistence on local dialect and terribly outdated modes of expression,” and when art ignores its primary function of enabling cultural development by creating relevant and meaningful conversations, that empty local dialect is all that remains to satisfy the need for growth among a creative population, and it's simply not sufficient. The general viewing public has now been convinced that what they've been exposed to via ArtPrize is actually meaningful to a greater cultural conversation. The great work is out there, for sure, but the vast majority of ArtPrize entries concern themselves not with broad cultural development, but rather with conformity to the spectacle. Limiting one's contribution to the public sphere to purely superficial and subjectively relevant content only serves to reinforce the limited scope of a particular niche of culture. This not only stands in direct conflict with the idea that art can elevate that culture, but actively breaks down the very foundation for which art uses as its platform. If we continue to sell out art in the name of overly zealous commodification, we lose the ability to use that art to our real benefit; the evolution of our culture and greater understanding.

Becherer makes an interesting point about beliefs as well, in that they are actually driving this movement towards redefining art's role as a catalyst for economic development, rather than cultural. Beliefs are dangerous in this sense. When you believe something, you are essentially saying that your belief is an infallible perspective on the matter, and that it cannot and will not change. In this case, we as a city believe that the art we are being exposed to is relevant and consequential. We believe this because we've seen similar philanthropic efforts absolutely transform the skyline and infrastructure of this city into something to be proud of. But again, at what cost? The funding for a large portion of downtown GR comes from a family that actively supports anti-LGBT groups, finances radical political parties, attempts to undermine the political system in hopes of reinstating an archaic belief system, supports the privatization and exploitation of public education, and happens to run the country's largest legal pyramid scheme. In this sense, our beliefs have created a reality that is based entirely on what we recognize it to be, not what the reality actually is. The same goes for ArtPrize. We believe we are taking part in a larger, meaningful conversation with art as the foundation, but in reality the reach of that conversation has been limited to how good it feels to walk around downtown during the event. We're succumbing to the fact that art is already dead, and we have killed it, having readied it for exploitation by contemporary society in search of spectacle and distraction.

In her article Some Thoughts on Our Local Social Experiment: ArtPrize, Diane Zeeuw approaches the concept of ArtPrize, in part, by addressing difficulties in applying the notion of “public” to our infamous art contest. Since the early 18th century the public sphere has served as the foundation of our individual identities. Before then, the majority of Europe was engrossed in manorial authority. Peasants and serfs worked the land for their masters and had no individual voices outside their obligation to the land. Eventually, as people began to gather in salons and coffeehouses across France, Germany, and Britain, the idea that opinions could be had and shared began to propagate across the countryside. More importantly, a notion surfaced that these opinions were essential to the development of society beyond serfdom, beyond service to the King. Soon we had a public sphere, a place where one's voice could be shared, discussed and debated under the watchful eye of critical-rational thought.

Jürgen Habermas was perhaps the original proponent of the application of critical-rational thought and debate to the public sphere. In The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Habermas states "In its clash with the arcane and bureaucratic practices of the absolutist state, the emergent bourgeoisie gradually replaced a public sphere in which the ruler’s power was merely represented before the people with a sphere in which state authority was publicly monitored through informed and critical discourse by the people," Contributions to this sphere gave humanity a voice that was independent of their ruling government. The public sphere as fashioned by critical-rational debate gave us our identity as individuals apart from the state, and yet now we give those identities back for nothing more than brief glimpse of conformity to an ultimately irrelevant niche of regionally-specific culture. In a time where the inefficiencies of our government have actually lead to another shutdown, perhaps what we should be concerned the most with is the retention of our identities apart from and outside the reach of an elected government that refuses to serve the people?

Habermas proposed, in true modernist fashion, that the only legitimate way to contribute to the public sphere was in the form of critical-rational debate. Any subjective expression had to fit into that structure, and any and all spectacle was to be disregarded as improperly formatted. Illegitimate expression. This is the way the public sphere operated for a long time, until the idea of postmodernism came along. One might propose, as Habermas did, that the only viable way to contribute to the dominant public sphere is by way of critical-rational thought and debate, while a strictly postmodern theorist would argue that an individual must rely solely on their ability to communicate in a subjective and culturally-specific manner, less their voice be left unheard. The modernist feels that the trivial nature of anything outside of critical-rational thought serves only to distract one from analyzing, comprehending, and discussing more important issues. The postmodernist sees those "trivialities" as vital components to one's ability to communicate effectively in an ever-evolving society. ArtPrize is almost entirely accepting of the postmodern viewpoint, without trying to strike a comfortable balance between the two.

The problem then lies with our ability to sort through and find the good art, which Zeeuw defines as “engag[ing] meaningfully with conversations of importance to the art world.” Postmodernsim has effectively drowned out the meaningful voices and replaced them with trivialities and spectacle, which do have their place in subjective expression but have to be limited and maintained in a balance with the objective nature of public discourse. It is this imbalance of spectacle that our community has willfully accepted as critical-rational thought. If the emergence of individual identity is based on contributions to the public sphere in the form of critical thinking, what happens when those contributions disappear and are replaced entirely by spectacle? What happens when the balance isn't maintained?

It seems to me that there are two possible explanations and outcomes. The first is that postmodern communication theory is right and any and all voices should be given an equal platform in the public sphere, regardless of consequence. This gives everyone the chance at subjective expression, and offers a true reflection of the cultural zeitgeist, but also prevents any meaningful discourse in a broader sense. The problem with this perspective lies not within the allowance of the spectacle into the public sphere, but rather the widespread acceptance. If all we want to concern ourselves with is spectacle, then so be it, but when the totality of our individual identity is all based in the same spectacle, we lose that very identity and destroy the concept of art as the foundation to a professional knowledge field. The only redeeming feature of this perspective is that any and all subjective expression has to be accepted into the sphere, which affords everyone the chance to contribute.

Zeeuw begins and ends her article by referencing the work of Richard Rorty, and his notion that perhaps we shouldn't support “a wholesale rejection of tradition.” When that notion is rejected entirely, the balance is lost between two culturally relevant concepts, and a divide is created. ArtPrize has highlighted a great cultural divide, a division between those who can loosely be defined as modernists, postmodernists, and those who find comfort in the balance between. In terms of meaningful art, we have rejected that tradition outright by supporting the way ArtPrize is redefining art's role in contemporary society as nothing more than an economic facilitator and the ad-nauseum repetition of irrelevant and static cultural values. She asks “Does the project provide us with a provisionally useful framework by which to navigate a coherent world? Does such work provide us with additional tools for “coping” with our circumstances? Does it facilitate open conversation?” I think the unfortunate answer on all accounts is no. The conversation being facilitated isn't about the consumption of art, as a reflection of culture, for knowledge-based pursuits. The conversation is now about the validity of the conversation itself, the only benefit being that we can now more easily recognize when there is nothing worth the discourse the art is designed to produce.

I don't have a specific solution, beyond the continued education of the populace. At this point it is evident that society as a whole is only partially interested in anything but spectacle, at best, and the only thing we can really do to change that is continue trying to impress the need for cultural development on a distracted and self-absorbed society. We need empathy, we need knowledge, and we need understanding to grow and flourish as a society. Good art can, and has throughout history, provide all of those things. Blindly embracing the commercialization of art as a knowledge field works only to subvert those human qualities that are so essential to positive development and growth.

You can find both referenced articles here:
Joseph Becherer - Why ArtPrize 2013 was the best and worst of times for Grand Rapids
Diane Zeeuw - Some Thoughts on Our Local Social Expiriment: ArtPrize

Sunday, April 21, 2013

GR Flood

Turns out it was too cold for the Fuji FP-100c.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Halcyon Hall

Find out more about Bennett College and Halcyon Hall on Wikipedia.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Formalist Obfuscations - An Artist's Statement

“Because heavenly fire no longer reigns down on corrupted cities, it is the camera lens that, like a laser, comes to pierce lived reality in order to put it to death.” - Jean Baudrillard
One could say that the exponentially increasing rate of technological advance is perhaps the largest driving force behind the continued evolution of contemporary society. Not only do we rely on modern technology to facilitate communication, but the speed at which that technology develops directly affects the way humans must adapt to successfully manage and process the flood of information presented to us on an almost never ending basis. In the same way that Baudrillard's lens put reality to death, technology has now become the primary defining aspect of our collective, cultural perception of reality. Culture has lost its capacity to operate on biological intelligence alone, and the integration of technology has progressed to the point where it is physically and cognitively redefining the way we see the world. The emergence of this New Aesthetic is the manifestation of that transition. We've seen this digital look before, in cubism and surrealism, pointillism and mosaics, etc., but it has taken the advent of technology for it to be a culturally recognized aesthetic, integrated into our individual identities. Digital is spilling back out into reality. You can see it everywhere. Behind the scenes in an image file are lines and lines of code. This code constructs the image, alter it even slightly and you risk corrupting the image or destroying it completely. The images here have been through this very process, the output of which produces an image that hangs in the balance between our old conception of the mind and its interpretation of reality, and our new technologically driven aesthetic. These specific works, destined for Pictorico OHP, will serve as interference between the viewer and a series of black and white portraits. The viewer must detach themselves from the spectacle of these aesthetic interruptions and look through them to reveal the identity of each subject. The images have been "glitched" sufficiently so that the original content is obscured to the point of ambiguity.
My primary goal in creating works of art is to explore my own place in the universe and create representations of the cognitive and technological processes that help us construct and interpret our aesthetic experience, and subsequently contribute to our notion of reality. Our individual perceptions of those realities, including those of how we view ourselves within this structure of existence, are also of concern. A major underlying theme in my work is an attempt to convey the notion that our aesthetic perceptions and experiences play a large role in determining how we define ourselves as individuals, but that those perceptions are often subject to interference and manipulation from both external and internal forces. This is often accomplished by the aesthetic representation of the cognitive processes which allow for the creation of mental images from sensory input.
Traditionally, major thought movements have centered around the idea that ultimate knowledge is an attainable goal and that one should work towards that goal through intellectual discourse and investigation, using empirical evidence and reason to formulate conclusions that point to this ultimate knowledge, truth, etc. Modern schools of thought subscribed to the idea of an objective reality, one which is thought to hold intrinsic meaning within itself that is accessible to humankind. Postmodern deconstructionists discard this notion of objective reality and ultimate truth, and in its place propose a system (one that must be broken down, or deconstructed) that only allows for limited function within a strict set of self-imposed guidelines and relationships. They would argue that subjective perception interprets these relationships as ultimate truth and the foundation of the nature of our identity is based on this constructed reality, which finds meaning not intrinsic to objects in the world, but only in relation to other objects in the same world, and how we perceive them. Often times a balance between two schools of thought is ignored for the extreme points of view, and it is my intention to present my work in a way that facilitates a better understanding of the nature of balance and moderation between philosophical and aesthetic ideals of truth and objectivity under technological influence.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

Wednesday, December 14, 2011