Curator of Connected Justin Charles Hoover speaks to PHOTOFAIRS.
In addition to your work as a curator, you are also a time-based artist. Please tell us a little about your artistic practices and work.
My artwork often with issues of cultural disjuncture, language limitations, and harnessing the ephemeral. It often takes the form of performances, social practice or installations. Since the work always begins from a conceptual place, I don’t hold to one medium but follow the dictates of the project. This year I have produced works in glass and steel, leather, over 500 acrylic paintings, a few videos and even a new series of monoprints made with smoke on mirror. These are a variation on the classic “fumage” techniques of the surrealists pioneered by Wolfgang Paalen and others, but I use Chinese incense for Buddhist rituals instead of a candle, to blend the cannon of European modern art and my Chinese cultural ancestry. I’m currently working on a new such body of work, and a series of installation pieces using copper and human sweat for accelerated oxidation.
My work as a curator came out of my work as an artist when one of my mentors challenged me to “make a truly generous artwork”. This lead for me to develop experiential structures in contemporary art often with themes of social justice at their core. What began for me as the development of performative happenings in the style of Gutai, Fluxus, Kaprow and others morphed into curatorial practice that interrogated contemporary political and social issues.
The boundaries between still photography and other art forms, including video art, performance and installation, are increasingly blurring. What is it about this merging of the mediums that excites you as an artist and a curator?
What excited me about this blurring of boundaries is the freedom it provides. This freedom is not only for the individual artist to feel free to move in any direction, but for artists who work in non-traditional spaces such as political arenas, or in food, or in athletics for example, to bring the context of their work into the context of the art world. Perhaps it is more precise to say rather, that artists are expanding the contexts of the art world to include increasingly non-traditional contexts. Jon Rubin, Tania Bruguera, Nato Thompson, Phil Ross, Heather Cassils are a few of my favourites that I’ve worked with (or admired from a distance). They pursue larger concepts and allow the forms of art they create to emerge along the way. Obviously, the photograph and the video document still play a huge role in the production of art, but as media continues to blur and the contexts of the art world expand we are only going to see art that becomes more and more relevant and engaging.
Looking forward, how do you feel technology will shape photography and people’s interest in the medium?
For general consumers, new technology in art means that more people can be artists. It also means that more art is available, albeit at a lower price point and usually coming from a less conceptually rigorous and researched place. In this way technology broadens the possibilities of who gets to have a voice in the production of culture, but also waters down the pool of what is innovative art. Diverse viewpoints become more equitably accessible which is vital, but you have to wade through so much more generic or derivative images to get the truly unique outliers. What is most readily lost though is subtlety. I look at artists like Eggleston today, who I greatly admire and who was one of many who inspired me years ago to make art, and I wonder if he was coming into being today would the available tech, the ease of digital, and the variety of tools to manipulate images distract him from his craft? On the other hand, you look at someone like Zhang Peili and Yang FuDong and think “I’m really glad that film and video cameras were available to them so they could find their voice in such powerful and prescient ways.” People who are using cutting edge tech or non-traditional tech to find the medium that allows their voices to ring out is priceless. And now that interactive tech is becoming easy and cheap, I’m excited to see how participation in the arts is becoming more and more integrated into experiential design in museums, art centres and in commercial galleries.
You are curating ‘Connected’ at PHOTOFAIRS | San Francisco’s second edition in February 2018. What can we expect from your curation? What is the theme?
The theme we are working with is “The Channel of Democracy: Womanhood, Power & Freedom in Video Art”. This serves to describe video art as a medium which uniquely enables and effects socially meaningful work. And specifically, we are working with artists who take on challenging political issues in ways that not only are aesthetically powerful but politically meaningful.
Featured video artworks explore a wide array of forms of video art, from stop-motion animation, to performances made for the camera, to three-dimensional computer-generated music videos, to more conventional cinematic art films. In regard to made-for-camera body-based performances Kate Gilmore (courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery) will present Built to Burst a video in which the artist climbs throughout a 16:9 format custom set, breaking ceramic vessels of paint, effecting the scene and altering the shapes and order of the scene. Another highlight includes a new stop motion animation titled Slam Bang Blue, by Palestinian-Lebanese-American artist Zeina Barakeh about the mechanisms of war and the polarization of contemporary politics. A third highlight, Oyinda-Serpentine, by international digital artist duo PussyKrew, wraps a daring video about post-human corporeal aesthetics, fluid identities and their synthetic organic notions in luscious R&B inspired emotive, husky, down beat pop music.
Finally, London-based artist Sophie Clements presents her newest work How We Fall (2017) in a special test screening with PHOTOFAIRS | SF. This brand-new piece observes a moment of change as a metaphor for how cities, governments and humans all eventually fall. This piece is both a study of material and light, and a suggestion of melancholy reflection on our changing fortunes. Using state of the art photographic technology to capture a moment in time in 360 degrees, How We Fall (2017) shows falling cement, transformed into evocative structures or landscapes, reminiscent of many of the contemporary images that surround us today. Conceptually, this piece also bridges the representation practices of photography and video using multitudinous simultaneous camera angles to deconstruct and re-assemble time and material to question the notion of physical reality in relation to time and memory. In this way, this artist represents an important place between a photographer and a video artist, one who creates moving pictures from the numerous stills afforded by emerging super high-speed photography tools.
What do you feel is unique about Connected? As curator, what do you hope to achieve with this space and how would you like visitors to be affected?
In shifting the context from the commercial art fair to a darkened black box space, we are creating an opportunity to explore a new type of art in a different space. We plan to create a space that shifts the experience of time as well, so that the rush of the fair, the push of consumption is sublimated by the need to conceptually engage and allow oneself to be immersed in the work. The time scale of video is inherently different from that of photography, yet they share a mind-set. We believe the patrons who explore collecting photography, naturally can look to collect cutting edge video art. To this end we have made all the works on display available to collectors and can advise on the best ways to collect, display and maintain such new and important artworks.
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