THESIS PROJECTS

Johnnie Chatman '18

i forgot where we were...

Excerpt from a thesis by Johnnie Chatman

  Grand Canyon , 2017

Grand Canyon, 2017

I Forgot Where We Were... uses constructs and idioms of the West and western landscape photography as allegorical elements to facilitate a conversation on black identity as it reconfigures itself against media, historical, and trans-global narratives. Vantage points around the West act as intersectional beacons for explorations of culture, history and consumerism, as rich histories are compressed into marketable cultural capital.

  Great Sand (South), 2017

Great Sand (South), 2017

In pursuing this route my project explores the ambiguity and multiplicity of blackness oscillating between a space of romance and critique, objective research and personal narrative. The dialogue produced between what is said and what is not - creates meaning that is as complicated as it subtle, ironic or conflicting. Through this, it is never assured that the act of signifying will yield for the audience the desired payoff. Representation of the black body in the context of the American West - that has too often been, as Neil Campbell describes, defined by binary and reductionist grids of thought and image when, in fact, it’s more than geography, it is a complex, unstable signifier that has been given meaning by those who have lived within it, passed through it, conquered it, settled, farmed, militarized, urbanized, and dreamed it.

  Arches , 2017

Arches, 2017

From the choice of black and white self portraits, to the clothing and posture of the body, the body of work reminds us of the constructed-ness of the real, the fact that a thing is being represented. The work aims to position a conversation outside of the restricted understanding of black expression through the limitations and expectations of outward expression and resistance. With the creation of an ambiguous space, a seemingly romantic fascination is met with an examination of the past and present through metaphorical representations of history, time and the landscape.

  Rhyolite , 2017

Rhyolite, 2017

As writer Michael Johnson once questioned,

> The American West with its landscapes that invite identification but do not offer definition and with its absence of black communities, provides a particularly appropriate setting for a post-soul interrogation of black identity. The walls of the gorge are as concrete as black people and white people, but what if one’s sense of self falls in the space between these concrete defining categories? Even if a vast space of possible identities exists between these two positions, how does one establish a definable and stable sense of self in the face of such vastness?

*To see more of his work, please visit www.jchatman.com*

Naixin Xu '18

THE DRIVE: 6DAYS 4392KM 30000YUAN

Naixin Xu

 ©Naixin Xu

©Naixin Xu

THE DRIVE: 6DAYS 4392KM 30000YUAN is an observational documentary film, which is about a truck driver’s cross-country journey across China into Tibet. The film observes Tibetan and Mainland Chinese local, common culture and modernization. The aim of the project is to present, from an observer’s view, fluid and subtle pictures of the culture itself: its people, its landscape, its economy. All are struggling and reforming between the old and the new, the traditional and the modern.

©Naixin Xu

The film is slow, no dramas. The primary narrative is the trip itself which is sequenced chronologically. From loading goods in a small city in southeastern China, to being on the road, and unloading the goods in Lhasa, Tibet.

The work acts to make an adventure of movement and space. It’s about experiencing and living through the long journey. The visuals become about pictures and what they represent; in expanded and compressed time.

There are two elements in this observation. One, focuses on the cross-country journey of a truck and its driver. Showing the driver’s ordinary life in the vehicle: driving, filling up with gas, parking, eating, drinking, smoking, peeing, counting money, etc. While the journey stretches out gradually we incorporate Tibet, its land, its people and visitors, grand and in detail, ordinary and beautiful. They happen simultaneously, both routine. Different people with different purposes but ultimately, the same destination.

 ©Naixin Xu

©Naixin Xu

On the road, the driver becomes part of the moving truck whose only mission is to go from one place to another. There is no Kerouacian fantasy, nor experience of a spiritual journey, nor rebelling against the triviality of ordinary life. The journey is business. The six days on the road are necessary and, at the same time, meaningless. When the doors of the cargo truck are re-opened in Lassa, the goods in the truck blink their eyes and are in a different place. The 4392-km road is abstracted. In this trip the destination, Tibet, has been separated from myth and dragged back into modernization as the truck’s destination.

Anders Jones '17

Anders Jones

Psychological Warfare, 2017

©Anders Jones

My interdisciplinary practice includes sculpture, video, photography and mixed-media assemblage. These images reflect past work that investigates the psychological trauma, fragmented ideas on identity, and the limited access to the American Dream experienced by an often-overlooked, dignified and hard-working segment of the African American community. The work speaks through allegory, metaphor and narratives that utilize everyday objects and the aesthetic pleasure of materials to create a familiar point of entry that then turns into an eerie and unsettled feeling, seducing viewers into further investigation.

Ota Benga 2017

©Anders Jones

The two triptych series, Ota Benga (2017) and Psychological Warfare (2017), explore the integration of found photographs printed on photographic paper and textured fabrics that are cut and re-assembled. In American Dream (2017) I made a macramé basketball hoop with woven netting in the form of a noose, a comment on the paradox of basketball as one of the few aspirational options for young African American men.

Gone But Not Forgotten (skelly hands) 2017

©Anders Jones

Gone But Not Forgotten (skelly hands) (2017) conjures the idea of play through its reference to the street game skelly; however, the disembodied hands are a metaphor for the shortened lives of black male youth due to police brutality and mass incarceration.

Alison Gootee '18

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler

Alison Gootee

  17th Street Canal, Border of Jefferson and Orleans Parishes , 2018.  ©Alison Gootee

17th Street Canal, Border of Jefferson and Orleans Parishes, 2018.

©Alison Gootee

Hurricanes regularly occur in New Orleans. Every three years or so when I was growing up, a storm would be big enough to cause my parents concern. The local news would track it and we watched to see if New Orleans was in its crosshairs. If it looked like it was going to make landfall nearby, we fled by car to another southern city, deeper inland, and waited in a hotel room for the storm to pass. These evacuations were scary, exciting, and deeply unsettling. I still carry the anxiety with me, which becomes acute between June and November, the length of hurricane season.

New Orleans is a place that inspires me and is my interior landscape. When I go back to visit my parents, my brothers and sister, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, I am not so compelled to make pictures of family, but of place. I make photographs in New Orleans so that it becomes a part of me. The act of photographing makes me feel connected to New Orleans because I can shape and possess an image of it. I often worry the city will disappear before I can return.

  Pumping Stations No. 7, City Park , 2018.  ©Alison Gootee

Pumping Stations No. 7, City Park, 2018.

©Alison Gootee

It has recently been reported that glaciers in Antarctica are releasing sheets of ice that could increase global sea level by more than two feet. Seas that rise will make tropical storms more likely to release damaging floods. All over the world, coastal cities are rethinking their relationship to and redrawing the barriers between land and water. In the United States, global warming is increasing the frequency of hurricanes that reach the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

My family has been directly affected by these changes. Hurricane Katrina put my parent’s New Orleans home under 10 feet of water. The water stayed for 14 days, destroying the home and the neighborhood where I grew up.

This project is an investigation into man-made structures that are designed to protect this fragile place. I am photographing drainage pumping stations, levees, outfall canals, and floodwalls in Orleans, St. Bernard, and Jefferson parishes, built to control water and save the city from submergence. But are these structures equipped to provide safety for New Orleans? Or are they just attempts to slow down what is inevitable, the complete submergence of my home?

  London Avenue Outfall Canal at Treasure Street , 2018  ©Alison Gootee

London Avenue Outfall Canal at Treasure Street, 2018

©Alison Gootee

The title, Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler, is a Cajun French expression that translates to “Let the good times roll.” To live in New Orleans is to live in denial: denial about climate change, denial about how many calories are in a fried oyster po-boy, denial about the headache after a night spent drinking on Bourbon Street. In a city that can be spontaneously swallowed up in streams of celebration, refusing to acknowledge the threat of submergence is a part of living here. I want my images to be a reminder to viewers that for all its foolishness and fun due to lack of good judgment, New Orleans is facing potentially tragic circumstances.

New Orleans is usually lush and colorful, filled with overgrown tropical vegetation for most of the year. However, over the months I was working on this project, the city was in the grips of an unusually severe winter. Freezing temperatures killed much of the vegetation. This left the landscape with a brownish grey palette, a pallor similar to the way the city looked after Hurricane Katrina, when everything was cloaked in a layer of brown mud left by the receding water. These images are void of people, adding to the post-apocalyptic feeling. Except for a house or a graffiti tag, there are few traces of human presence. I want viewers to imagine what the city will feel like once it is no longer inhabitable. This is the New Orleans I remember the month after Hurricane Katrina when civilians were not allowed back into the city.

New Orleans’ relationship to water is what caused French explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne to choose this place to found a city in 1718. These first settlers chose the natural levees on the banks of the Mississippi, which were formed by accumulated sediment at the mouth of the river. This marshy land would grow to become a great port city, easily accessible by the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. Like most aging cities the center began to sprawl but there was only so far to go before the ground turned to marsh. Water had to be removed from the landscape to accommodate the expanding city and to deal with the regular flooding that occurred since it’s founding.

The job of the drainage pumping stations in New Orleans is to keep water from remaining by pushing excess rainwater collected by storm drains through outfall canals into Lake Pontchartrain, the large body of water north of New Orleans. The pumps are maintained by the Sewerage and Water Board, a city agency founded in 1899. This agency not only maintains the pumps, but also handles the city’s potable water supply as well as its raw sewerage. The Sewerage and Water Board recently came under fire because during an August 5, 2017 flood, several pumps were inoperable and neighborhoods flooded. Hurricane Katrina occurred on August 29, 2005. It is not encouraging that just ten years later this system, which is supposed to protect New Orleans, failed again during an unexpected heavy rain, not even a tropical storm. The climate conditions that existed when these pumps were built in the early 20th century no longer exist. Global warming has increased the severity of weather events and likelihood of system strain.

Over time, all of the structures put into place to save New Orleans are causing the problems that are making it even more susceptible to water. For a city created and surrounded by water, it is virtually absent from the landscape. The levees and retaining walls, maintained by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, are preventing water from flowing back into the land and depositing sediment. It is flooding that has kept New Orleans above sea level.

Richard Campanella, a geographer with Tulane University, has written extensively on the subject. In a recent article for The Atlantic he states: What was beginning to happen was anthropogenic soil subsidence—the sinking of the land by human action. When runoff is removed and artificial levees prevent the river from overtopping, the groundwater lowers, the soils dry out, and the organic matter decays. All this creates air pockets in the soil body, into which those sand, silt, and clay particles settle, consolidate—and drop below sea level.

By the time my classmates and I have hung our thesis show, the 2018 hurricane season will have begun. I am aware that in a year, these places I have photographed may be changed or will have disappeared. This gives me a sense of urgency to continue this project, to possess a disappearing place I already miss.

       A Woman, Phenomenally   Tiffany Smith      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        
         
            © Tiffany Smith  
         
        

       
    
     
  


     When my family came to America in 1989, I arrived with confidence that my status as a citizen assured me a place in the society I was entering. I had no concept of the challenges to be faced in defining my identity as a modern American woman. As a child I watched Miss America and Miss USA pageants from our island home in The Bahamas with wonder, naively dreaming of growing up to become an archetype of beauty and grace. I would scan the contestants to find the one who represented a reflection of myself. Though I never quite found her, I remained unflinching in the belief that my adult self would be more than capable of elbowing out the competition to win the crown. Before coming to the States as a young girl, I had no real experience with being viewed as different or cast into the role of “Other.” I had no idea that the chances of my experiences and ideals of beauty being viewed as typical would be, at the least, a formidable challenge, and at best, an insurmountable goal. 
 Within the social and political climate into which I entered, I could never be Miss America. I was ready for America, but she was not ready for me. So began my attempt to define an identity that would embrace my multi­cultural upbringing, assert my multi-ethnic makeup, and oscillate between “visitor” and “native” in a battle of the pressure to assimilate and the desire to retain allegiance to specific cultural practices and definitions of beauty. 
 A Woman, Phenomenally explores the power of images and their influences on the formation of individual identity through the experiences of individuals descended from a mixed cultural or ethnic heritage. The work aims to challenge the often exotified and stereotyped depictions of people of color through the presentation of self-authored imagery that reclaim the subject’s agency over reflections of one’s own identity. The impetus to create portraits focused on women of color comes from a desire to redefine our role within the canon of photographic representation. It is a response to a history that too often casts our bodies as props and objects of exotification, our cultural practices as anthropological novelty, and our notions of self-identification as problematic until validated through a Eurocentric view. 
     

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        
         
            © Tiffany Smith  
         
        

       
    
     
  


     When do we begin to redefine what is considered mainstream within mass culture in an impactful manner that creates concrete shifts in collective thought? How can we harness the power inherent to the photographic medium to inform and repossess authorship of our own narrative? This project examines how cultural influences are retained in the face of geographical separation and how individual identities are formed.  My investigation of this subject began with a fascination with turn­of­the­century ethnographic images depicting women of color. The notion of being exotified resonated with me and I was compelled by what was communicated by the gaze that these images documented. Who was looking at these women and why? How did these women view themselves and what control did they possess over how they were subsequently represented? I found that more often than not, the subjects of these photographs had little power over the authorship of their own images, a condition that, to me, was not too far removed from the experiences of modern women of color and their relationship to the media.      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     Considering the visual language and function of the gaze present in these ethnographic photographs, I began to craft images that employ a contemporary visual language to respond to some of the questions these images generated. My investigations resulted in the self-portrait series For tropical girls who consider ethnogenesis when the native sun is remote, which investigates formation of identity and the power of representation through my own narrative. These experiments helped me to establish a visual language that places emphasis on color and pattern, and a mode of production that creates site-specific environments for the subject, which rely on elements of installation and set design to evoke a sense of place. The images are performative in nature as I embrace the roles of both subject and ethnographer, incorporating cultural signifiers that describe my experience with attempts to mitigate my multi­cultural identity. As I engage in performances of “the Other” I counter the objectionable gaze of the ethnographic photographs referenced with an “oppositional gaze.” In composition and visual aesthetic, the work is not shy about making its presence known; as the author of the images, I am not shy about making my opinion heard.      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     In my practice, I am repeatedly drawn to themes related to the formation of identity and communities, the role of memory (particularly in relation to notions of cultural identity), and the experience of being or performing “the other.” The criteria that guide the investigation of my subjects are typically anthropological in nature and engendered by a genuine curiosity.  Manipulating the inherent power of the photographic image, the work presents portraits that are collaborative in construction and performative in nature as the foundation of an immersive multimedia installation that creates an environment that references a domestic space through cultural signifiers extracted from the collective diasporic memory. The concept of displacement is a secondary theme that unifies the stories and experiences of the subjects depicted.  The contextualizing installation of the images includes objects that refer back to the portraits and extend the plane of the photographs into three-dimensional space. Props used within the photographs such as artificial plants and tile pieces are combined with constructed sculptural objects that mimic decorative concrete block patterns and readymade objects that reference a domestic space to create the communal environment that the portraits inhabit. The aesthetic of these objects is decidedly tropical, manifesting from my own memories of a shifting home and referencing cultural aesthetics from the Caribbean diaspora.      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


    
 Collectively, the work functions as an altar to the living, creating a space to reflect on the depiction and experiences of the subjects with compassion and reverence, expanding concepts from my previous installation work, particularly 5 Kings. Like the work of Mickalene Thomas and Ebony Patterson, the work relies on layering of color and pattern to create a transportive environment. Rashid Johnson and Hew Locke investigate similar themes from a male perspective, and also provide context to the work.  
 The images, video, and their presentation intend to create an idealized and constructed environment for the subjects to inhabit that reference the ambiguous social space that they navigate in reality. Collectively, these elements dissect personal narratives, drawing on memories of each subject’s respective “home” to create a representation that gives each subject a degree of agency in “performing the other.”      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        
         
            © Tiffany Smith

A Woman, Phenomenally by Tiffany Smith

Within the social and political climate into which I entered, I could never be Miss America. I was ready for America, but she was not ready for me. So began my attempt to define an identity that would embrace my multi­-cultural upbringing, assert my multi-ethnic makeup, and oscillate between “visitor” and “native” in a battle of the pressure to assimilate and the desire to retain allegiance to specific cultural practices and definitions of beauty.

 

       The Museum of Science Fetish   Zhangbolong Liu      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        
         
            © Zhangbolong Liu  
         
        

       
    
     
  


    
 The Fiction  I first met Jia Shizhen in 2003 when he was on a visit from the United States. A longtime friend of my grandfather’s, they came from the same village in China’s Hebei Province and both attended Tsinghua University in 1952. My grandfather and Jia studied theoretical physics during that post-war era, when China was trying to develop a nuclear weapon. While my grandfather went in another direction, Jia continued to pursue a scientific career. But with the Cultural Revolution of 1966, Jia was forced to stop his research in nuclear physics, and he began to work in theoretical physics: the field of scientific thought experiments. (Basically, a thought experiment considers some hypothesis, theory, or principle for the purpose of thinking through its consequences. The result is often so clear that there is no need to confirm the findings with a physical experiment. In other instances, physical experiments are not possible to conduct only thought experiments are used.)  Then, in the 1980s, Jia became as a visiting scholar in the Physics Department at the City University of New York. He returned to China for a brief visit in 2003, and my grandfather invited him to stay with my family. As a 14-year-old who was fascinated by astronomy, I was thrilled to talk to a physicist who could teach me more about thought experiments, especially when I learned that one of Jia’s had been explored by NASA.  In 2012, I also found my way to New York in pursuit of a master’s degree. Although my undergraduate major was material science and engineering, I was more interested in photography, and started by studies at the School of Visual Arts. While a bit reluctant to contact Jia and tell him that I had changed my focus from science to art, I eventually bit the bullet. Jia’s apartment looked more like a storage facility than a place to live, as it was filled with collections of all kinds of objects, and archive documents related to thought experiments. It was my entry, as an adult, to what science was and what scientists did. Their world was more playful and interesting than I ever thought. Throughout that afternoon I listened to him tell more stories about thought experiments, raising my interest in the history and philosophy of science.  
 I have become a regular guest. Jia has no relatives in America, and the history of his collections might be lost when he passes, so we have begun to build a filing system for archiving. I am also designing a website that includes every object, its description, and related stories. The website focuses primarily on thought experiments in the history of science, including Schrodinger’s Cat, Maxwell’s Demon, Quantum Suicide, the Twin Paradox, Infinite Monkey Theorem, the Lottery Paradox and Newton’s Cannonball.  The Fact      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        
         
            © Zhangbolong Liu  
         
        

       
    
     
  


     The goal of my thesis project is to build this virtual museum called the “Museum of Science Fetish.” Just like we’ve objectified and commodified about everything—inventions, social relations, politics, art, gender—science, too, has become an object of desire, a fetish. Museums keep fetish objects safe and promote their uniqueness. Although science is often regarded as an objective process, the ways we look at science is often the opposite—we fetishize it. My goal is to discuss the phenomena of science fetishism through the subject of thought experiments.       

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        
         
            © Zhangbolong Liu  
         
        

       
    
     
  


     The collections consist of two major components; the first includes scientific instruments and laboratory materials. Take Schrodinger’s Cat as an example. Schrodinger’s Cat presents a cat in a box that may be both alive and dead, this state being tied to an earlier random event. But people can’t know that before opening the box, so the cat goes into a superposition of alive versus dead. The other objects in the box include a Geiger counter (re-designed due to its accuracy problem), a poison container, etc. For each of these scientific instruments and materials, the website features an audio guide that describes its function. These recordings reveal a fiction of history that is different from what has been written in most science textbooks. To present these narratives neutrally, a robotic voice is employed.   The other component involves the derivatives of thought experiments, particularly as they appear in popular culture. On one hand, these functions as false evidence of the processing of thought experiments; on the other hand, the commodification of scientific concepts is also the evidence of fetishism.   Many science-fiction writers have integrated the evocative concept of Schrodinger’s Cat in their work. In the Hellsing manga series by Kouta Hirano, one of the depicted Nazis is an artificial catboy named Schrödinger. In Libba Bray’s Going Bovine (2010), three stoners argue whether the cat is alive or dead, or whether the person who opens the box creates the possibilities.  Many films and television shows also employ the narrative use of thought experiments, such as The Big Bang Theory (2008), FlashForward (2009), The Prestige (2006), Futurama (2011), and all of these make mention to the concept of Schrodinger’s cat in one way or another.   Today, culture is awash in references to Schrodinger’s Cat and the Uncertainty Principle. The use of scientific language metaphorically and in relation to human experience is widespread. Popular usage even tries to capitalize on these theories or concepts in branding commodities like cruise ships and jewelry. People’s attitude towards science has shifted from being afraid of the unknown to accepting and even fetishizing scientific theories and language.   When I first began this project, I looked through some artists’ work that deals with science and its representation as reference, and the most interesting to me are the works of Zhao Renhui, Joan Fontcuberta, Mark Dion, Marcel Broodthaers and David Wilson. Zhao’s Institute of Critical Zoologists presents a number of questions regarding authorship and the authenticity of documentation and nature. Zhao uses this obvious paradigm as a platform to present a subtler blend of intricate folly and genuine ecological interest. Clearly referencing the language of the museum archive, this collection of half-truths includes Photoshoped images of altered landscapes, fabricated research documentation and objects related to animal capture and study (both original, artificial and a blend of the two). Fontcuberta works in a similar way with Zhao; he uses photography to examine the truthfulness of an image, and one project in particular, Sputnik (1997) has been an inspiration to my project. There is also a section in my project, Twin Paradox, which deals with the topics of missing astronauts and government censorship.      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     Dion is best known for his use of scientific presentations in his installations. In When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1994), Dion interrogates the perilous connection between the popularization of scientific theories and commodification: mass consumption of products that bear dinosaur images enable the public to indulge a fetish for the creature. This is closely connected to my opinion about Schrodinger’s Cat, which is also an overly commodified creature.       

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     I have also learned a lot about how to create a museum from another artist, Marcel Broodthaers, whose project “The Museum of Modern Art” (1968) is a conceptual museum that had neither a permanent collection or a permanent location. Finally, David Wilson’s “Museum of Jurassic Technology” (1988-present) is similar to my thesis. This museum refers to itself as “an educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic.” The book Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, states, “The tension between what is real and imaginary is a source of its aesthetic tension as well as its subversive implications. Additionally, the work is ultimately playful. One could wax on about this, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.” This is also what I am seeking in my project.  All of the artists mentioned have challenged the ways that traditional museums present their collections and have questioned the extent to which we can trust the objects we see and the spaces we visit. A museum is not only a place to store and show artifacts and artworks, it is also a platform for discussion and interaction.       

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        
         
            © Zhangbolong Liu  
         
        

       
    
     
  


     My project website will be as detailed as possible, like Fontcuberta’s work. It begins with Jia’s journey and how he started his collections of thought experiments. The museum will include three galleries and a small event space that can adapt to multiple functions, like screenings or lectures. The collections are categorized by each of the thought experiments. Viewers can find both original experimental artifacts and other materials (such as books, video and movie clips, and music) in each collection page.  
 The second and third “floors” of the museum will be used for permanent exhibitions, and I will curate special exhibitions on the first floor from time to time. In addition, the museum will “lend” its collections to other museums or institutions for exhibition. The first presentation of Schrodinger’s Cat, titled “Inside Boxes,” was held in Litmus Space, New York. The installation of my thesis project will include a computer (or Ipad) on which to show the website and allow visitors to explore its wonders; some posters of its recent exhibitions; a brochure with brief introduction of the museum’s history, collections, events and programs; a short video presenting a virtual tour of the museum; and finally, two or three objects from the museum’s collections presented on pedestals or in vitrines. 
 For more information on The Science Museum of Fetish. visit:  mosife.org

The Museum of Science Fetish by Zhangbolong Liu

The goal of my thesis project is to build this virtual museum called the “Museum of Science Fetish.” Just like we’ve objectified and commodified about everything—inventions, social relations, politics, art, gender—science, too, has become an object of desire, a fetish. Museums keep fetish objects safe and promote their uniqueness. Although science is often regarded as an objective process, the ways we look at science is often the opposite—we fetishize it. My goal is to discuss the phenomena of science fetishism through the subject of thought experiments. 

       Wolf's Canyon   Liz Zito      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     I am an observer of people and personalities and have always been interested in what faces have to say and the stories they tell. Shortly after college came a vocation in vaudeville, which led to documenting my acts and thus began my career in video and performance art. Through characters I mimic come the stories about lives that parallel
my experience. 
 Wolf’s Canyon is an episodic “television show” based on the pop TV culture of my youth, including Twin Peaks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, and the recent teen-girl phenomenon, Pretty Little Liars. By taking their tropes and archetypal characters, I created a female-driven comedy series based upon the absurdities of the daily life of an orphaned 16-year- old girl who moves across the country to live with her uncle in a haunted town. Though similar to stories that have been told before, my version is absurd, abstract, and comedic, as it addresses the pressures that society places on women to hate themselves, their bodies, and each other. It is quasi-formulaic art and
comedic commentary designed to reach a community that is looking to laugh, as it critically revolutionizes how we digest female stories on television. It is aimed specifically toward young women whose window to the world is the screen in front of them. 
     

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     Much of my prior work was performed solo and addressed aging. Those ideas took root as I transitioned into my thirties and became obsessed with the inevitability of growing old, and an inability to predict the future. As a way to break from the obsession, I developed the character Courtney, a ditsy stereotype teenager. She was a welcome relief, helping me take a break from analyzing Liz Zito. It was easy to make
Courtney the victim of trauma, loss, and loneliness. She is bullied at school, although she seems not to be completely bothered by this, as her general attitude is quite superficial. As a character, she opens the door to absurd happenings that surround her in the town Wolf’s Canyon.      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     Directly inspired by Twin Peaks, I wanted to create a community in the
Northwest that is home to a variety of unique and bizarre eccentrics. While the story of Wolf’s Canyon focuses on Courtney’s adventures, it is equally about its history and people. As the plot unfolds, so does the depth of our dimwitted Courtney. The outcome is a balance between good and evil in human nature and society. While previous acts of performing and filming myself were part of a meditative, creative process, and provided an intimate mood, for Wolf’s Canyon I wanted to have the opposite feeling. So I imagined a very large ensemble cast. Part of the development included asking colleagues what type of archetypal high school horror/drama character they would most relate to. Acquiring an improvised dialogue helped the relationships along as I chose untrained actors, to relate to and be inspired by characters. Their performance energy also added to the chaos of the aesthetics.      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     The film contains much appropriated footage. It is mostly shot with a green screen and the inserted backgrounds come from image and video searches. These appropriated environments, mixed with handheld filming, aids in creating a bizarre reality that only exists in the town of Wolf’s Canyon. A major artistic influence for this work is Mike Kelley, specifically in his stories based on found photographs: Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstructions. Usually these images are of archetypal characters performing in low-budget, theatrical productions. The videos he makes from these photographs are placed in individual sculptural installations, which are often from the set of his films. The general feeling of these films is oddly reminiscent of a cultural past. His celebration of pop culture comes from a type of loathing of the mainstream world. I am making a mockery of similar television shows, which stems from indulging in it, and is thus a romantic relationship of sorts. Though I may not agree with the content, I can’t get enough of it. Where Kelley uses material from his past, the team of Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch are infatuated with the present and creates hyper, neo-reality videos in which characters frantically communicate with each other using Internet slang as dialogue. The characters are carefully painted and decorated, ranging in tone from extreme florescence to washed-out white. They are placed in immersive installation rooms and visually blend into their environments, which aid in the storytelling. There is a connection between Wolf’s Canyon and the Trecartin’s work, which he states is influenced by the Disney Channel and MTV.  While making Wolf’s Canyon, I thought about George Kuchar, particularly
Eclipse of the Sun Virgin (1967). I connect to his view of the world and his techniques of storytelling in a time-based medium that unites the viewer to his vision. The film creates the sensations of Kuchar’s struggle with religion and sexuality, as well as feelings of romance, and the absurdity of family relationships and expectations. His storylines and enthusiasm for film paved the way for filmmakers to experiment with ideas of what storytelling can be.      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     In addition to Twin Peaks, other shows that have inspired Wolf’s Canyon
include Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Pretty Little Liars. Buffy is a show that I watched growing up, in which the protagonist is a high school girl who had to save the world over and over. Less supernatural, Pretty Little Liars deals with female teenagers who have too much life and death responsibility; and each is keeping a secret, much like Buffy. I find it undeniable that these shows have incredible success in pop culture and great agency in influencing maturing young minds. I continue to research why this genre has become of interest to so many women through an exploration of abjection in feminist, philosophical theory. In Wolf’s Canyon, Courtney is symbolic of a certain element of societal repulsion. She remains oblivious to her shortcomings and continues forward with minimal introspection. While other characters seem to evolve, she remains a product of circumstance. Ultimately,
Courtney represents an amalgamation of everything society has warned young women against and she embodies the paradox in what contemporary expects of young women.

Wolf's Canyon by Liz Zito

I am an observer of people and personalities and have always been interested in what faces have to say and the stories they tell. Shortly after college came a vocation in vaudeville, which led to documenting my acts and thus began my career in video and performance art. Through characters I mimic come the stories about lives that parallel
my experience.

Cenotaph for My Shadow

images and text by 2014 alum Jean Bettingen, from the 2015 issue of "All the Best, Alice"

Sometimes I get dizzy and feel overwhelmed. There are probably a lot of people in our globalized society burdened with an over-pronounced self-reflexivity, who feel similarly when it comes to defining themselves. I wonder how I would be able to pin down my essence in a world of flux, a world in which everything and everyone is defined as a project of perpetual reinvention.

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Cenotaph for My Shadow is a body of sculptural and photographic work that addresses and visualizes the prevailing sense of disconnection I feel towards my self and the world, my inability to grasp and comprehend the I, and at the same time, my fear of its loss. This project aims, through various strategies and in mixed media, at the depiction and manifestation of my Cartesian self despite the representational dilemmas of lens based media. I explore the need that drove Roland Barthes, amongst others, toward an ontological questioning of the photographic medium: “What Barthes wants is a rescue of his profound self through the solid evidence of photography.” So do I.

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The sculptural installation “Autopoiesis” suggests the nature and the spirit of my investigations: a 4x5" wet-plate collodion is placed between 8x10" two-way mirrors. The peculiarity of this old photographic medium is that it can be used as a negative to print a positive or as a unique positive. When light illuminates the plate, it glows and brings a positive portrait image to life. As viewers walk around the installation, they experience an infinite space in which the portrait image seems to disperse into nothingness.

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My questions of self-visualization in “Autopoiesis” began when I was 11 years old and my mother died. The only tangible thing remaining of my parent was a cardboard box half-filled with family pictures. Discomfort arose in me whenever I looked at them, not solely because of the pain and grief, but also the intrinsic suspicion that the person depicted in the photographs was no longer my mother; and yet there she was, smiling at me. This sense of disconnection made me question what was captured and embedded in those pieces of paper. It certainly was not my mother in person. I had witnessed her burial; at least that was a certainty. Were those photographs just an anchor to whatever was left of her in me?

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I still remember some of the moments shown in the photographs, moments that I spent in the presence of my mother. But the more time that goes by—the more distance accumulated between the depicted and remembered moments—the more I wonder about the chain of causality between memories and images. Do I genuinely remember these moments or were they incepted into my consciousness by these photographs? This uncertainty triggered the destabilization of my self-perception because I couldn’t comprehend the authorship of my self if I considered my past as its foundation. Did I build my history and identity narration not only on my own perception but also on the moments that another person judged important enough to capture? How is it possible to photographically capture the essence of a person? It seems that in every effort to freeze a person in an image, an unwanted distance to life is created.

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This project approaches its goal through various techniques, incorporating old alternative processes, video projection, 3D capture and 3D printing. This allows viewers to experience my represented self in various forms, and they can explore which media offer a deeper perception of my self. Following Barthes’s concept of air, which is somewhat similar to the description of the aura by Walter Benjamin, inherent in the photograph (Belting, 2013: 195 / Barthes, 1981), a lot of the works in this project abstract deliberately from showing facial details. The air, the essence of a person, does not lay in the detailed representation of the human face, but is or is not captured in the image and may or may not be perceivable by the viewer . It is more likely that the viewer will be able to grasp my air if the distraction of my face has already been subtracted from the viewing experience. Another approach is described by Hans Belting (2011) as he defines a picture as an image with a medium, meaning that the image of my self exists already in an intangible or liminal space and needs a manifestation through a medium to be turned into a perceivable picture. A good example of my investigation into these medial manifestations is the juxtaposition of the pieces “5 Hours” and “Negative Dimension”: they are both the same image, me, but diverging medial forms. “5 Hours” is a black box that contains an exposed but undeveloped film sheet containing a self-portrait and “Negative Dimension” is a 3D print generated through another self-portrait—or rather an image of my self?

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Each piece in this body of work can be considered an attempt to capture the process of self-reflection, an attempt to secure the feeling of constancy. Though the endeavor is also an interesting dilemma in itself: as Jorge Molder put it, photographing yourself creates a being in the between, a space between the self and someone else. Further, following Barthes’s reasoning, the very act of photographing myself transforms me into the eidos of death. This project does not solely try to capture and display my real essence but also investigates the stability of such and its representation as a visible manifestation of my presence just like my shadow on the ground. Is there a way to escape this mentioned in the between? All imagery in this project is in the en-face perspective: straight on, eyelevel, and limited to the bust. The focus on images of the upper body seems appropriate as I assume that my self is located in my mind. Much of my work is dominated by black—I like to consider black as the anti-photograph or a negative imprint as it is evidence of the absence of the constituting element of a photograph: light.

General Assembly

images and text by 2014 alum Yael Eban, from the 2015 issue of "All the Best, Alice."

In January 2013 I set up a Google alert for “Abba Eban,” who was my paternal grandfather. That winter, my parents and I began the laborious process of dismantling my grandparents’ home in Israel after the death of my grandmother Suzy in 2011. She was the archetypical diplomat’s wife and an avid art collector. On January 28th I received the first Google alert by email, informing me that there was new web content containing my grandfather’s name. It was as though my grandfather, though long gone, had an active presence on the Internet. Often referred to as the “Voice of Israel,” Abba Eban (1915-2002) was a diplomat and international public figure for many decades. In 1949 he made a seminal speech to the General Assembly that led to Israel’s admission to the United Nations.

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General Assembly is the examination of a space that exists between the public and private archives that represent my family history. The online presence of my late grandparents is the anchor for my research. I look for specific images and objects that relate to their lives, and follow this trajectory as it moves from the private sphere into the public, or vice-versa. In doing so, I am investigating the consolidation of various modes of representations, and the impact these different forms have on the historical narratives they describe. All types of images in this project are legitimate and of equal value: a snapshot, a press photograph, a fine art photograph, a newspaper clipping, a screenshot of an eBay receipt. Working with these varied layers of representation, I create visual collages of related imagery that trace photographic threads through space and time.

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I am fascinated by the dissemination of images of my grandparents and the objects they owned. I find representations of my family in a variety of contexts—on the Internet, in flea markets, or in my family’s collection. The urge to collect the images I stumble upon and to add them to the ongoing archive is always present. The consequence of this act is a questioning of my own duality as the mostly-American, somewhat-Israeli granddaughter who is expected to carry on an important legacy. As a result of feeling pulled between two places I am denied both identities, and my nostalgia is continuously displaced. This project is a journey of reconciliation between my private heritage and my public persona as artist.

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In the piece Jenkins, I begin with one of my original photographs of what is, for my family, an iconic painting by Paul Jenkins from my grandparents’ home. It is shown hanging above furniture and art that are wrapped or boxed with labels, waiting to be dispersed. Next I layer two family snapshots on top of this photograph, in which the same Jenkins piece appears, and use a graphic match to rebuild the forms of poured paint that define the painting. By only using photographs from my personal collection I assert that the value of the image in this assembly is determined by its nostalgic implications rather than its place in the art world; it is the last remaining link to the private family space that exists now only in photographs. Jenkins invites the viewer to question the provenance of the image and how objects are dispersed. It also functions as a portal between the recent past and the projected future; though it contains no web-based content, this piece points forward to other works in the project and to the theme of finding art objects on the Internet via auction.

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The experience of following the life of an object from domestic space to virtual space can be seen in Three Sisters. I combine a screenshot of a Sotheby’s auction showcasing a specific piece of art, and a photograph I took with the same piece of art when it was displayed in my grandparents’ home. In my photograph, the artwork later sold at auction is secondary to the main subject—the oil portrait of my grandmother and her two sisters. On the table below sits a small frame containing the same image of the young ladies, and a photograph taken decades later of the three sisters as elderly women. I create another repeated motif by merging the two images through use of the frame: I follow the virtual line used to frame the website and connect it to the frame of the drawing on the left wall. On the right side the white curtains bleed into the white space of the web browser, further emphasizing the paradoxical space between digital and analog realms. I have employed this white space as a visual tool in many of the pieces; as an image disappears into the white, it is unclear where the artwork ends and the virtual space begins. The online presence and the physical presence intersect, and the result is my construction of a liminal space.

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In this body of work I ask the viewer to reflect upon the new experience and parameters of the archive and the lives of photographs as objects in a digital age. I deliberately create and explore relationships between the public and the private for viewers, leading them both inside and outside of this construct. In a sense I am presenting visual puzzles; the viewer has to work to follow a thread of information and to put the pieces of presented evidence together. The viewer’s experience echoes my own search and process of discovery. Ultimately, this project acknowledges that I am a part of a family whose representation belongs neither to me, nor to the public. General Assembly is my attempt to comprehend where I sit in this cultural and photographic landscape, both as descendant and as artist.

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