Thursday, February 28, 2013

Flatness, Ch1, and Detroit exhibition

As I'm plugging away at Chapter Three (the first sequence of which can be seen here), an excerpt from Chapter Two is on view as part of an exhibition opening Friday, March 1st at the Detroit Artists Market (Ch2 in its entirety can be found here). In thinking about Detroit, I'm realizing that while I've posted parts of Chapter One (on tracks, boxes, testing, and standards), I haven't shared the opening pages to the dissertation at all. I thought I'd post a bit of it now and in the process, connect the dots to a past work of mine from Detroit that served as a visual and thematic inspiration for the notion of flatness that underlies this work. 

In April 2004, I installed a public art billboard along Woodward Avenue in Ferndale, Michigan just outside of Detroit. For the project, I sought to address and depict transformation by embedding two images – two concepts – in one piece. The primary image used space as standard, flat billboards do. On a series of equally-spaced slats, I encoded a second image, whose edges faced oncoming traffic such that they were nearly invisible. However, in coming alongside it, drivers would witness a fleeting transformation as the slats lined up to reveal the second image. The motorist’s own movement brought about the metamorphosis, a conceptual transformation whose imagery is well-described borrowing words from Herbert Marcuse (1991, 1964) and Maxine Greene (1998) respectively:
Of the seemingly endless rows of colorless sleepwalkers: “Thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior in which ideas, aspirations, and objectives that, by their content, transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either repelled or reduced to terms of this universe.” (p. 12).
 The red leaping figure offered an alternative: “To break with the ‘cotton wool’ of habit, of mere routine, of automatism, is … to seek alternative ways of being, to look for openings. To find such openings is to discover new possibilities – often new ways of achieving freedom in the world” (p. 2) 
I grounded the work both physically and conceptually in Detroit’s history. The city’s hub-and-spoke street plan sees Woodward (the country’s first paved road) intersect cross streets at 60° angles making my optical transformation possible. The imagery alludes to assembly lines and the Motor City defined and ultimately deserted by the automobile. The sleepwalkers could be Henry Ford’s average workers, who, he said, “want to be led. They want to have everything done for them and have no responsibility” (Flink, 1975, p. 80). By asking, in my accompanying artist statement, “Can art awaken something dormant within us?” I sought to offer a rebuttal and a reminder of our complexity, intending for commuters, if but briefly, to open their eyes, as I wrote then, to “a glimmer of possibility often obscured.”

The original post about "Spring," which was on view for about four months the summer of 2004 can be found here. The images shared here are from the actual installation as well as the preparatory cardboard mockup that sits on my desk today.

As I was figuring out what I meant by "unflattening" and thinking on "the importance of seeing double" enfolding two perspectives at once and comics as an amphibious medium holding two modes of thinking in the same space, this past work sprung to mind as a means of two forms in one, as showing transformation, and the imagery made its way into the dissertation. Visually both the billboard and the current work drew heavily on Piranesi's "le carceri" (the prison) etchings, a bit of Anton Furst's designs for Tim Burton's Batman film, and plenty of other things. The opening is intended to be triptych, though for formatting requirements won't appear as such in the dissertation itself.

Ok, that was a lot of words - hope you enjoyed a bit of the backstory, onward into Chapter Three! - Nick

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ch3 opening: Amphibious Refraction...

At last, I'm able to share the opening sequence to Chapter Three! In this sequenceI make a specific turn to the heart of my argument for comics and the importance of considering modes other than the verbal. The chapter title takes its name from my article in the Journal of Visual Arts Research, and in the pages following, i'll be repurposing a few elements from that piece. 

A few explanatory notes here - but i recommend checking out the pages first...

In many ways, this chapter mirrors chapter two (and you can read that in its entirety here). That chapter addressed the idea of multiple disciplines/multiple ways of seeing as a means of making meaning. Here, we'll take up the importance of multiple modes to making meaning - specifically visual-verbal. So we've gone from seeing through multiple eyes to breathing in multiple mediums - the importance of seeing double to the importance of being amphibious! "Anchor" and "relay" on the amphibious page refer to Roland Barthes' theory of the interaction of image and text - and definitely have relevance to comics. (Hayakawa's passage comes from the introduction to Gyorgy Kepes "Language of Vision.") I also pick up some threads i hinted at in the interview with the folks at U of Alaska regarding Plato's feelings towards images and perception and expand on that at length. The Descartes elements really blew up on me (I ended up reading his treatise on optics as well as his better known things and numerous analyses of the work) and his connection to refraction neatly allowed me to link back to Plato's bent reed (here a bent pencil) and the idea of refraction between visual and verbal was thrilling and will be carried through the chapter. 

I'd long planned to have a page entirely of text, exactly in the style of traditional dissertations - the chance to replay Plato's "shadows" (which i used in the Flatland interlude) and then connect Plato's fire/sun to Descartes's candle wax and ultimately burn the page worked out well. Btw, I did set fire to sample pages to get the drawing right - don't recommend trying this at home unless you love having your apartment smell like a campfire for a day or two. Finally, in the midst of figuring out a few details on the last page, I stumbled upon Adam Gopnik's New Yorker article on Galileo, which was quite timely. Galileo's fingerprints are all over this page (the moon image is from his drawings through his telescope) and I really wanted to incorporate Gopnik's eloquent phrasing that discovery happens through a “fluid mixture of sense impression and strong argument” neither perception nor reason alone, but ultimately it didn't serve the page, but i definitely recommend checking out the article. 

Okay, more pages soon. I welcome your thoughts and response. - Nick