Layers of Seeing: Minouk Lim’s Fire Cliff 4

This post was originally published on Sixty Inches From Center.

In his famous speech from 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. professed his dissatisfaction with the status quo of equality in the great United States of America. Fifty years later, inspired by Dr. King, South Korean artist Minouk Lim inserted herself into the conversation of race and equal rights in the United States. In doing so, Lim guided the audience through a performance that freed fixed and multi-layered notions of the visual.

Lim’s Fire Cliff series (2010—present) transpired organically. When she began the series Lim was reminded of moments in history of self-immolation as protest—specifically labor protests in South Korea during the dictator-like reign of former President Park Chung Hee in the 1960s and 70s. According to Lim, the individual protestors became glimmers of hope and reminders to the people. Activists make statements, they stand apart from the masses; it’s as though they are at the top of a cliff, which serves as a stage for their performance. Hence, “fire” is a reverent nod to essential activists and protestors, and “cliff” refers to the stage from which they expound. The series responds to physical surroundings and social issues in various ways.

Image courtesy of Hyde Park Art Center

The iterations of the series are specifically crafted and researched, culminating in multi-media productions. Fire Cliff 1 (Madrid, 2010) was an installation and sound performance based on Lim’s research and interviews with former tobacco factory workers who were part of a labor movement that was sparked in the very factory in which they worked. Fire Cliff 2 (Seoul, 2011) was an onstage performance with a South Korean who, along with many others, was falsely accused of being a North Korean spy. This took place in the very building where the torture occurred, which is a theater today. Fire Cliff 3 at the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, 2012) was an esoteric collaboration with a local choreographer involving materials such as a large aluminum box, wearable sculptures, and infrared video. Fire Cliff 4 (Chicago, 2013) was part of Lim’s residency at Hyde Park Art Center and her simultaneous participation in the IN>TIME Performance Festival. For the performance Lim collaborated with African-American, Chicago-native, and musician Chris Foreman at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. Lim was the director behind the scenes, and Foreman faced the audience.

Preceding a plethora of curated material at the start of Fire Cliff 4, Lim guided Foreman to the stage where he sat down and gracefully took in his surroundings through touch and sound. Mr. Foreman is blind. With Foreman as the audience’s guide, Lim directed a performance that unfolded a packed experience that was not dependent on visual experience.

Image courtesy of Hyde Park Art Center

Fire Cliff 4 was a menagerie of poignant sounds, words, and sites interwoven to create a critique on that which we perceive as merely visual. The aural part of the performance included a Zoltán Kodály cello sonata, Johnny Cash’s “She Came From The Mountain”, The Doors’ “Light My Fire”, various incidental music (including that from baseball games, theme music from the cartoons The Jetsons and The Flintstones, and game shows), music by Jimmy McGriff, church-style organ improvisation, and clapping. The sounds were conveyed through a mix of recordings and Foreman playing the keyboard. The words delivered included a passage from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Colloquy of Monos and Una, a chat with Foreman about his life and incidental music, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, which was first played over the speaker system and then read by Foreman using brail. The lights were curated in a way that made the audience conscious of a blind person’s experience. For example, the lights were off during the recording of Dr. King’s speech, but the lights were on while Foreman discussed and demonstrated incidental music. The layers of material were topped with Lim’s fluorescent and neon, liquid infrared video. As the materials knitted in and out of each other, each act was punctuated with lightless, pregnant pauses, moments for contemplation, in the dark and in silence.

The material inspiring Fire Cliff 4 became increasingly powerful when performed by this blind, African-American musician. Lim’s choice to collaborate with Foreman was motivated by her interest in blindness and the idea of “seeing” without vision, or “tactile vision” as she calls it. As Lim prepared the performance, the depth of Fire Cliff 4 grew as she discovered Foreman’s musical talent. Foreman’s skin color was not a factor in his participation but did create yet another layer of depth combined with the powerful material Lim chose.

Image courtesy of Hyde Park Art Center

Guiding the audience through exercises of metaphorical blindness, Lim simultaneously awakens conversations of race and visual normativity. When describing an experience we habitually use visual words based on the assumed mutual experience of site. In Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self (2006) Linda Martín Alcoff states that, “Though the commonly accepted definition of race explains it by ancestry, the ideology of race asserts its impervious visibility, despite the fact that the two are not always in sync” (196). Racial identification may begin with visual information, but it is also a combination of culture, tradition, and history.

Imagine sitting in a dark room and listening to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “I have a dream” speech. His voice rolls through the darkened room as though he were standing before you. He is still poignant, clear, and inspiring. The room is dark enough to encourage the listener to close his or her eyes and let the words cascade into their ears, attempting to remove oneself from the distractions of the visual world. King proclaims, “One hundred years later [after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation], the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.” His eloquent descriptions of the United States at that moment are filled with brutally honest yet unfailingly hopeful metaphors. “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Darkness allows the mind to paint a picture. What would that picture be if the observer had never actually seen a mountain or valley? One may understand the words intellectually, but can he or she truly grasp the profundity of the Dr. King’s description? The picture verbally painted is a collection of rich, non-visual elements that are, in turn, harnessed by Lim.

Image courtesy of Hyde Park Art Center

The inclusion of the Martin Luther King, Jr.’s renowned speech in Fire Cliff 4 unavoidably shifts the lens to race in the United States. It highlights a racial binary, black and white, that is a terrible pillar of U.S. history—one that shows regression instead of progression, ignorance instead of compassion. Some may think that fifty years later Dr. King’s speech is almost too poignant and timely. Others may hear it and reflect on the progress that has been made. His speech wasn’t meant to be timeless, but in a way it is.

Following the “I have a dream” speech, in the final portion of Fire Cliff 4, visual logic is obscured again with Lim’s infrared video. This time it’s a more familiar viewing scheme, almost like a silent film. Foreman played along on the keyboard as Lim’s video splayed ahead. The abstracted neon images flowing before the audience were not directly discernable, but once could detect the form of a body. That body was not black, white, or any other categorical skin tone, instead the body glowed, flowed, and changed based on an external element—temperature. In a more traditional “viewing” scheme Lim shows a body that cannot be classified through mere visual perception.

Image courtesy of Hyde Park Art Center

Through her performance Lim invited the audience into a “blind” practice of seeing. Removing one familiar layer, she created an experience that heightened the effects of conventional visual modes of seeing. When Lim invited the audience into the darkness a visual veil was lifted—darkness creates a productive space that allows one’s experience to move beyond the visual—an experience that is not often had by someone who isn’t blind. While freeing perceptions on seeing, Lim refocused the lens framing how we see each other.

Review of Above and Beyond the Clouds

This post was originally published on Sixty Inches From Center

Xiaowei Chen manipulates minute ink lines into vast expanses and surreal scenery. Chen’s solo exhibition, “Above and Beyond the Clouds,” curated by Jiankun Xie at the Research House for Asian Art in Bridgeport, Chicago, literally revolves around her vast and exquisite drawing, Detached Clouds (1.2m. x 32 m.), which spreads almost the entire length of the gallery. The drawing serves as the focal point of the exhibition with her smaller artworks around the periphery of the space.

Xiaowei Chen, Thinking Balance, ink on paper, 15″ x 15″, 2008 (Image courtesy of Jiancun Xie)

In Detached Clouds, Chen used layers of super-fine ink lines and colored pencil on white fabric to detail the space before, between, and amongst the clouds. Beginning with an immense cascade of ice, the work melds into the sea, an expanse of mountains, and a landfill, and then eventually becomes the abyss of space that exists beyond the earth’s surface. This space is at least one-third of the drawing, a striking expanse of textures and patterns one encounters when she takes flight. As the eye moves up the fabric, the artwork gracefully extends from the floor toward the ceiling. As the abyss preceding the sky lightens, delicate bright sky-blue lines work into the fabric, eventually becoming a saturated layering of the color. This work is grand both from afar and up-close, guiding the viewer to the sky.

The distinct mark making in Detached Clouds also composes Chen’s nine-panel work, Comet in the Night  (12 in. x 12 in. each), and her large-scale works Halo I, Halo II and Halo III. Though precision remains key, Chen’s line drawings such as Anatomy of a Cloud, 9 Months and 10 Days, and Viewing maintain intricate use of line. Instead of creating depth with texture, Chen draws fantastic dream-like imagery and gnarly organic shapes twisting into each other that, because of the acute detail, provide an optical puzzle for both the mind and eye.

“Above and Beyond the Clouds” closes April 5, 2013. 

Sixty Inches From Center’s Top Picks From 2012

Read the complete post here. My contribution, highlighting the Rapid Pulse Performance Festival, is below.

Remnants of Sallie Smith’s performance at Rapid pulse 2012. Photo credit: Casey Searles

Out of the vast array of arts happenings in Chicago I find myself predominately attending three types of events: opening and closing receptions, performances, and artist talks and lectures. The first is an opportunity to meet and greet those embedded in the art scene; but rarely an opportunity to truly look at the art; the second is (dare I use the word typically?) an art event with some sort of viewing structure, a set time for observation and contemplation; and the third is a time for stretching, flexing, and feeding the mind.

The June 2012 Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival offered a smorgasbord of the arts experiences explained above. On the evening of June 8, 2012 I had the opportunity to see Sallie Smith’s (Chicago) project, Cycle. Smith, clad in re-appropriated athletic wear, that covered very little of her body, rode a bicycle atop two cinder blocks for a grueling amount of time. Straddling a line of torture and comedy she grunted her way through her “ride” and finished with a climactic, messy, eruptive bang. The performance was sexually charged, strenuous, and explosively shocking. Later that evening Loo Zihan (Singapore) shared his performance, Cane, which is a re-enactment of Josef Ng’s controversial 1993 performance, Brother Cane from 1993. Ng’s Brother Cane sparked a debate in Singapore about obscenity in art. In his stirring version Loo educated the audience about Ng’s original performance by re-enacting and poignantly appropriating the original piece.

The following day I attended the artist talk,  “Body/Absences/Liveness,” with Arthur Elsenaar, Julie Laffin, and Jane Jerardi, moderated by executive director of Defibrillator, Joseph Ravens. Each artist presented his or her artwork, and afterwards a multi-faceted discussion about the categorization of performance art ensued.

Next year’s Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival is scheduled for June 1—12, 2013. Follow the updates on the event here.

Radius: A Sonic Lens

This was originally published on Sixty Inches From Center.

Art platforms that strive to break away from the traditional “white cube” frequently consist of a new kind of physical space transformed into a gallery-like setting. Using a radio broadcasting system, Radius transcends material space and creates an entirely new kind of art platform. Artists occupy the space for two weeks or one month like an on-air residency. Through their time on Radius, artists work with Director Jeff Kolar and Editor Meredith Kooi to schedule broadcasts that experiment with notions of sound.

This January marks Radius’s two-year anniversary. Since its conception, Radius has aired 34 episodes created by 71 individual artists and have released 144 broadcasts on their station 88.9-FM, which is roughly 25 hours of audio. They’ve had three special series, two FM re-broadcast networks (soon that will be three with an online station added to the mix), two exhibition installations, a booklet, a newsprint, and a live concert. In their two years Radius has been prolific to say the least.

Image from Episode 15 by Sarah Boothroyd

When I spoke to Jeff Kolar about Radius and the impact of using radio as an art platform he aptly emphasized the project’s unique public-awareness component. Radio is not only the entertainment unit of the past, but it is also a warning system used when there is a moment of public distress—an escaped prisoner or a tornado hurdling forward about to strike. You know the sound, the loud, twangy pitch that signals a warning. It’s chilling. With that in mind, consider Radius’s very first episode; Michael Woody presented a 09:16 minute long piece called Number Stations 1 and 2. (Number stations are described here but are more or less the radio space between the AM and FM dials.) On the Radius website Woody’s work is described as “a reflection of secrecy, control, and power.” Woody works in variety of art forms that include painting, photography, video, and sound. In Number Stations 1 and 2 there is a static background sprinkled with low double-beeps, and a man’s skewed voice is aired explaining what to do in the case of a bear attack. Alarming phrases are directed at the listener, such as, “Your face is exposed, you’re going to lose half of your face, it’s called degloving” and  “Spread your legs so that you don’t get rolled over by the bear.” It is a matter-of-fact discussion of mauling prevention. Imagine hearing that on the radio. The short description is replayed multiple times in a loop that only alters slightly.

Image from Episode 16 by Gregory Chatonsky

Some of the sound pieces on Radius have a more melodious tone. Episode 16, My Hard Drive is Experiencing Some Strange Noises by Paris native Gregory Chatonsky, is one of the more musical pieces on Radius.  According to the website, Chatonsky’s work “speaks to the relationship between technologies and affectivity, flows that define our time to create new forms of fiction.” At first it sounds like a far-off orchestra tuning its instruments for a performance. In the background there is a fast flap-like rhythm—the pulse of helicopter wings comes to mind. The layer of sound that guides this work calls to mind a bundle of electric sounds in a jar being gently shaken. This work sets a very specific tone. In this instance, the sounds repeat over and over again in a loop, but at first the recurrence is not noticeable.  It is not tiringly repetitive. Instead, the mellow pace and the subtle layers are allowed to unfold, to be gently pealed away and understood.

With its submission requirements, Radius offers a unique opportunity for its various types of artists and, simultaneously, a variety of entry points into the work for the audience. Along with the sound work, each artist that contributes work to Radius must offer a visual component and a written component. The visual component is an opportunity for non-visual artists to present their work in a new format. During our conversation, Kolar said that it is very interesting to watch the non-visual artists break the traditional rules of design that a trained visual artist might follow.

Image from Episode 25 by Nicolaj Kirisits and Klaus Filip et al.
Image from Episode 25 by Nicolaj Kirisits and Klaus Filip et al.

Though based in Chicago, Radius inadvertently became an international art platform. The small community of sound artists network and share artwork on blogs such as Disquiet, free103point9, Modisti, Networked Performance, Networked Music Review, Le Perce-oreilles, and Cultural Flow. Only a handful of the artists that have contributed to Radius are from Chicago. Episode 25, Cultural Morphing, was created by a group of twelve artists for a project in which the artists traveled by train from Vienna, Austria to Shanghai, China. At various points along the journey each artist stopped in a town and recorded sounds. The broadcast for Radius is the score from when the artists reconvened at a dinner in China and shared their sounds. The artwork is an image of the table at the meal. To mark transition through this work a voice, a type of Mrs. Garmin”,  interjects in each scene with what sounds like the name of a city. Sometimes the voice is clearly discernable, though not necessarily in English, and other times the voice is layered under other sounds. Between the Mrs. Garmin markers there are sounds of everyday life in the various stops between Vienna and Shanghai. Bells, horns, chopping, rhythms, traffic, muffled voices, chaos, and calm; none of the sounds seem like they are from a private space, yet they are an intimate invasion into public life, detecting and amplifying the sounds that we do not usually hear because our focus is elsewhere as we walk down a street. What kind of lens does this work provides for viewing culture? While listening it is difficult to distinguish between the plethora of lenses—artist’s lens, culture lens, city lens—they become so indistinguishable that they are muddled together. Not in an uninteresting way, but in a way that blurs the cultures into one heap of sounds and experiences.

Image from Episode 04 by Art of Failure

Throughout a good portion of this listening experience I stared at my computer screen—the place where I released this experience onto my ears with a click of a button. The moving component, the visualization of the sound wave, became an optical guide, map-like, for my listening experience. Consider the contours of the artists’ path compared to the contours of the sound each artist provides for the score. Radius uses the visualization of the sound wave as another entry point into the piece. In one way, it can be seen as a mapping device—making something non-visual visual.

Radius is usually based out of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, with a roughly eight-block broadcasting radius, but the transmitter can be solar powered and therefore used anywhere. Last fall Radius participated in Home: Public or Private at 6018 North on the other side of Chicago. Out of the small smattering of works I experienced to write this piece, Episode 31, Joseph Kramer’s piece Porous Notion: Index Fragments and Interpretations, was the most challenging. The concept is fascinating and melds with the mission of the exhibition in which it was presented. That being said, stripped down to just the sound, not considering the concept, title, or imagery, the 30-minute piece demands a specific kind of focus and understanding. Through the duration of the piece incredibly minor variation become exciting and leave some listeners befuddled by their reaction. Navigating the nuances of Kramer’s sounds one becomes desperate for something to follow, to guide the listening experience. The work is incredibly subtle and nuanced. When I heard the piece at 6018 North I thought something was wrong with the transmitter, but it was, in fact, playing properly.

Image from Episode 13 by Mutant Beatniks

When you visit Radius’s website you will notice that the entire site has been designed in black and white. This was not only an aesthetic choice but also a conscious parallel to the radio format. Kolar explained to me that the FM spectrum, in which Radius is broadcasted, is a mono signal opposed to stereo. A stereo file would be played from two channels, the left and right, to mimic the stereo field, but Radius’s FM broadcast cannot reproduce stereo audio signals so the sound is in mono format. The visual equivalent to that is taking away color–hence the black and white.

Though Radius offers a variety of entry points into each piece, Kolar emphasizes the importance of hearing the work in the way it is originally intended—in the eight-block radius on the radio. This month there are five broadcasts of Episode 35, Hugo Paquete’s Radial Transference. Click here to view details about that and Radius’s upcoming broadcasts and events.

All images are courtesy of Radius.

My Top 2012 Lists

Design Boom’s Top Ten Towers, Top Ten Art (Check out nude public art in Munich pictured above and another Pantone Project), and the Top Ten Educational Facilities

Hyperallergic’s (reluctant) Top 5 Art Trends From 2012

Hyperallergic’s Top Ten Most Read Books in the Last 50 Years — How many have you read? I’ve dabbled in 8/10 but have only read 3/10 cover to cover.

Art Forum’s Angie Baecker gives her Best of 2012 with the theme of “metanarrative” in art programming in Asia.

Art21 Blog’s most viewed posts. Number 1 being “Kara Walker: The Art of War.”

Sixty Inches From Center‘s top read posts from 2012 and look for their “Best of 2012” series starting next week!

*All images in this post directly correspond to the linked articles below each image.

Year in Review


Top highlights of 2012: receiving my MA in Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) which involved both a symposium and an art exhibition, starting my teaching job at SAIC, presenting at the (In)Appropriated Bodies conference at Cornell University, starting to write for Sixty Inches From Center, and being invited to present at the International Conference of Asia Scholars in Macau (June 2013).

Below are the top read blog posts from 2012:

1. Master of Arts Visual and Critical Studies Symposium 

2. NYC, April 10, Part I [Sandra Dukic and Boris Glamocanin]

3. Red Gate Reunion Series 2012: Crystal Ruth Bell

4. Landscapes from Pyongyang at Galerie Son in Berlin

5. Just Humans: An interview with Angelica Dass, creator of Humanae  

6. Red Gate Reunion Series 2012: Britt Salt

7. Felix Gonzales-Torres at Samsung Museum in Seoul via ArtDaily

8. Batman, Jaws, and Other Such Characters

9. Red Gate Reunion Series: Jon Hewitt 

10. Sunday Morning Coffee (Quicky)

Thanks for reading! I hope that your 2013 is getting off to a grand start!

Just Humans: An interview with Angelica Dass, creator of Humanae

This interview was originally published on Sixty Inches From Center

As children, we are often told not to judge a book by its cover, but this is a lesson we tend to forget over time. In Angélica Dass’s project, Humanae, also known as “The Pantone Project,” she erases the stigmas surrounding skin color by creating a growing collection of pigments—of people’s skin. In her travelling studio, Dass invites random sitters to plop down on a stool and have their photo taken. She then takes the average of the person’s skin tone pigment and matches it to a Pantone color, which becomes the background of the portrait. By documenting skin, Dass somehow removes its limiting markers. Our contemporary parlance imposes a certain system of categories and signifiers upon discussions and interpretations of race and ethnicity. With Humanae, Dass provides a stunning and straightforward apparatus that highlights the cultural barriers we place on ourselves and in doing so she starts to deconstruct them.

 Kate Korroch (KK):  What was the initial inspiration for Humanae?

Angélica Dass (AD): The inspiration for this project comes from my family roots: I am the granddaughter of a black and native Brazilian and the daughter of a black father adopted by a white family. I am a mixture of diverse pigments. Like in a painter’s pallet. Why not try to find the results of these mixtures? Is the color important? It’s a pursuit for highlighting our true color rather than the untrue red and yellow, black and white. For me it’s a kind of game for subverting our codes.

KK: By codes, do you mean social constructs?

AD: Using the word codes, I mean that we have learned many things that are both social, linguistic, and cultural–everyday nuances that I would like to rethink.

KK: When did you begin taking the photographs that comprise Humanae?

AD: I started this project as artistic photography for the final work of my master’s in April 2012. The first images were taken in Brazil with members of my family. Then I did the project at two arts festivals, the Rojo Nova in Barcelona and De las Artes in Madrid. I also did two Internet calls with some Spanish friends and friends of friends.

KK: How did the Internet call work? Did people meet you at your studio?

AD:  I made a public invitation on Facebook and on Tumblr with the photo studio address. People came to become part of Humanae.

KK: You haven’t been able to travel with Humane around the globe, yet your work has been written about in many languages and has gone viral on the Internet. Were you expecting this massive amount of attention, especially from the Internet?

AD: I’m impressed by this success. I think that these portraits are very expressive because they evoke empathy in the audience. They echo what I talk about. What emerges from the photographs of the portrayed people’s faces completes the sense of the image. It’s not our essence, it´s only our skin colors, and they can change and vary in incredible ways: I´m not “black” and you are not “white.” One day all these issues will be studied as part of the past rules and handicaps, and I have discovered that it´s not only my point of view. My voice has found a lot of echoes and that’s maybe part of the repercussion. Considering the unexpected good reception, what I want now is to increase the catalog, and interact with more and more people from all over the world, with different perceptions, tones, trends, and origins

KK: I am glad you brought up the barriers contemporary language places on our ability to look beyond race. Do you have any ideas about how that evolution of language could come to pass?

AD: I am the daughter of a professor of literature. Words, language, and folk sayings fascinate me. I don’t know how this evolution can happen, I don’t know if this is possible, but in my world, in my house, black and white are not words that are synonyms of difference if I talk about skin color.

KK: Humanae not only comments on the cultural codes inherent to language; it also transgresses upon them. Have you ever encountered anyone whom has had a negative reaction to the concept of Humanae? If so, can you tell me about the situation?

AD: I never read the comments on the articles written about Humanae. On the Internet there are many people who spend time not necessarily to criticize, but to aggress. I have received mail with criticism, focusing on the lack of ethnic diversity in the project. A U.S. Senator said that they “love Humanae,” but that they were disappointed that the rich dark colors of Central Africa and India are not shown and that they hope they get at least as much attention as the European shades.  In these situations I always respond, “Thank You!” and I tell them that in the end of the project I would like to show [the audience] Chinese, Japanese, Swedes, Danish, Colombians, Indians, Russians, African Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, Africans, Indigenous Australians, and Brazilians like me–black, white, yellow, pink or green as a Martian. Just humans.

KK: At this point, you have only been able to catalogue people at art fairs in Madrid and Chicago. You have made it clear that you’d like to conduct the project around the globe. Where would you like to go next?

AD: I would like to continue collecting images in the USA and Brazil. I think they’re two countries with a history of immigration and miscegenation. We are very mixed and I think it is interesting to investigate these tones. But some people asked me to go to their countries in Asia or Oceanía and how can I deny that dream? I would like, of course, going to Beijing, Tokyo, Cape Town, Luanda, Helsinki, Oslo, and New Delhi or find the subtle differences that are theoretically equal.

KK: It would be interesting to see the varied tones in historically homogenous and xenophobic countries. Will you try to seek out specific kinds of areas? So far the project has focused on art fairs in buzzing capital cities; do you plan to visit rural areas too?

AD: Of course I would love to. The difficulty is to find people and/or companies that want to finance this research. Right now I’m tied to my current city, Madrid, and to the spaces where my gallery can carry me–that determines that I will continue portraying the environment of the art world. On a global scale it would be impossible for me to do this without help. At present, only galleries and art festivals have invited me, but I would like to bring my work to other settings. I think it is important for the quality and diversity of work. But imagine: after 10,000 or 20,000 portraits, I can analyze all the cities where I go. I can check the pallets of each region, the color of a country. Imagine that in Gaza.

KK: How many volunteer models have you documented thus far?

AD: About 400.

KK: Through Humanae you encourage people to look at skin as part of a color spectrum rather than categorical identifiers of race. Have you found any cases where people who might socially be classified as different races are actually the same, or close to the same color? Or do you ever look at a person and assume their skin is one tone but it’s actually completely different?

AD: Of course this happens. Those classified as black match those classified as Latin, which is very close to an Indian who has the same color as a Pakistani who is a little more toasted than a white person who is sunburned. Even more, someone who is classified as occidental “white” (maybe with Italian, Greek, or Spanish ancestors) have results that are darker than a black categorized woman. Or, for example, Magreb people are the same tone or even lighter than people from Northern Europe. It’s one of the things I like about the project: we are equal but unique and we have to evolve even from our perception to our language.

KK:  Have there been any exact matches? Is that even possible?

AD: There are exact matches. The colors and shades of human skin are “unlimited,” even in the same person (the proof is the sunburned guys), but the rating system Pantone (R) is limited. The color classification system in picture editors is based on mathematical algorithms that at times reach their results by approximation. So in the end there are more subtle nuances than human science can define! That’s why sometimes I think about leaving the Pantone scale and moving on to something more precise like CMYK, working with color percentages.

KK: It’s interesting to think about cosmetic trends such as whitening creams, bronzer, and sunless tanning. What do you think of the desire some people have to alter their skin tone to achieve what they maybe perceive as a more desirable palette?

AD: Everyone is free to do what they want, but your question makes me think about the stimuli we receive for these changes. We are influenced by aesthetics, fashion, campaigns, and celebrities. Maybe we have to “plant” other values to “harvest” other references.

KK:  That’s a very good idea, and Humanae is doing just that! The title of the project, Humanae, is a Latin word meaning “human.” I did a bit of research on the word and I continually encountered it paired with “vitae” and “dignitatis,” usually in the context of Catholicism. Vitae roughly translates to life and dignitatis translates to dignity. These are wonderful words to be associated with your project. Do you intend to suggest these associations?

AD: I like all those words, adding others, like freedom, common, balance, share, mind. I think that those to which you refer can come together as the essence of what we need as human, a dignified life. Maybe it’s a good starting point to link words as color tones between humans.

KK:  Can you talk a little about how you chose your title?

AD: I want to show people the most important point that unites us: we are human. All the other nuances make us special as individuals, but collectively we should think of what unites us as a collective. Latin is a language that can be understood as the root of human word in many languages, or at least in my mother language, which is why I chose it.

KK: On the Humanae Tumblr you clearly label the project as a work in progress. Do you think you will ever be able to consider the project finished?

AD: One day, probably, I’ll stop, but this project will always be unfinished, with missing colors, people, and shades. I expect to reach a huge catalog with as many tones and people possible.

KK: Yes, please do! So far I’ve seen your Humanae photographs on your Tumblr, displayed in a standard gallery format at Expo Chicago, and in a mock-up Pantone color book. Are you planning to experiment with other exhibition formats?

AD: Yes, but to do that I have to improve and increase the collection of images that are part of the project.

KK: If you had unlimited time and resources, what would you do next with Humanae?

AD: I would love to travel across the five continents for a year, trying to increase the catalog. But that depends on not just money and time, but also opportunities. I would love to take pictures at United Nations meetings portraying opinion makers and leaders, but there is no money to buy this opportunity.

KK: Including UN leaders could be very interesting. Do you think they could learn something from the project? What would you want to say to them?

AD:  Learn? Maybe that’s not the word, but maybe think, or reflect, or (why not?) play. This project is so visual. A look at the Tumblr shows how similar and unique we are. This simple statement should be clear to our leaders.

Angélica Dass (pictured above) currently lives and works in Madrid. She is represented by Max Estrella. To view the project and watch it expand visit Dass’s Humanae Tumblr. You can also visit her website here.  

All images used in this interview were provided by the artist. 

Seeing the Unseen: An Interview with Jeremy Bolen

This interview was originally published on Sixty Inches From Center.

How do we visualize what we cannot see; things that are scientifically proven to exist but are unable perceive with the naked human eye? Photographer, Jeremy Bolen uses his photographic process, a combination of science and art, to explore the unseen realm. In this interview we discussed his interest in the unseen, a bit of physics, some visual theory, and much more.

Kate Korroch (KK): What inspired your interest in artistically documenting the unseen?

Jeremy Bolen (JB): I guess it kind of began with an interest in exploring the apparatus. To create a site specific apparatus that could have a more intrinsic relationship, or collaboration, with the space or non- space. From the very beginning photography has been about capturing the unseen, about creating a different way of seeing, a new mode of observation and documentation. I have been rethinking the potential of the document and trying to create a more comprehensive, poignant document- a document with greater presence, a document incorporating the ontological. I spent some of my childhood living near Fermi-Lab, and when I was in high school my band practiced across the street from Fermi. The idea of particle collisions and trying to record what is not visible to the human eye is something I have been considering for quite a while, the nature of nature and the similarities between High Energy Particle Physics and Artistic Practice.

Jeremy Bolen in Collaboration with Dr. Stefan Vogt, “Sheet of Film Covered with a Small Piece of Lead and Left Next to the Advanced Photon Source for Two Weeks,Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, IL” 2012. Image courtesy of the artist.

KK: When you say “the apparatus” do you mean the camera?

JB: Sort of. Simply put it is the device used to translate light and energy into a different kind of information. At times it is a “camera” of sorts, but at other times it is a river, lake, the ground, the US postal system, humans.

KK:  Your work is now currently showing at the Hyde Park Art Center in the group exhibition Ground Floor. I was particularly drawn to your piece “In Five Directions, Above the Tevatron Particle Accelerator, Fermi Lab, Batavia, IL” (2011). I must confess, though I was drawn to it, I still had to do a bit of “Google-ing” to learn what “Tevatron Particle Accelerator” means. When I approached the piece my immediate thoughts were directed towards ideas of vast space, the paranormal, and hay bales. I was drawn to the work aesthetically and then inadvertently created a story about the unknown. What do you expect of your audience when presenting these creative and sometimes abstract works with scientific subject matter?

JB: I really don’t have concrete expectations for the viewer, but the detailed account of your experience is wonderful. That the piece was engaging enough for you to do some research, that gave you a glimpse into my research, which in turn brings you to a sprawling, endless field of ontological and epistemological inquiry. Beyond that, the unfamiliarity of the photograph made you engage with the image as a projector rather than a mirror representation. But what is truly amazing about your interaction is that the image was made by capturing five visible perspectives at once (along with a number of possible invisible phenomena) and you seem to have been able to talk about many elements that were actually documented. I should also add that I don’t see any of my work as abstract. What is truly abstract is the invisible.

Jeremy Bolen, “In Five Directions, Above the Tevatron Particle Accelerator, Fermi Lab, Batavia, IL.” 2011. Image courtesy of the artist.

KK: Also in Ground Floor you present a series of diptychs such as “Above/Below ground and In the Fox River at NPL-8 (remnants of radium dial company)” (2012) which is composed of a traditional archival print and river sediment. What is the relationship between the two prints?

JB: I am very interested in exploring relationships between objects created and, in general, the fact that a connection has to be considered. I think of it as a sort of image collision, where two moments of time and space/non-space are represented using two different recording processes, and modes of presentation. We become more aware of perception and travel outside the frame. Vision is slowed by the prints not actually colliding, so the collision has to take place in the viewer.

KK:  Can you talk a bit more about the “altered viewing experience” you create by adding elements such as dirt and sediment to your work?

JB: I am very interested in the tension between the visible and invisible. I am also very interested in Niels Bohr and his theory of complementarity (simply put the apparatus you use to record phenomena is just as responsible for the results of the phenomena you record). So, in some of these newer projects I am incorporating the material somewhat responsible for creating the image as part of the object. It also becomes a first order experience for the viewer as you are dealing with the actual, not just a representation of the actual. I am also interested in how the images will now evolve due to their now permanent interaction with the other materials.

KK: Your work makes me more aware of the relationship between the human eye as a lens and an actual camera lens or even a microscope–it highlights what we cannot visually perceive, even with something as simple as light and dark. Do you see your artwork as something that expands your audience’s visual vocabulary?

JB: Well put. Perhaps. How does vision shape knowledge? What do you think? Walter Benjamin wrote about the optical unconscious, and I think some of this work is acting in line with that theory.

Jeremy Bolen, “Above/Below Ground and in the Fox River at Npl-1
(Remnants of Radium Dial Company), Ottawa, IL,” 2012. Image courtesy of the artist.

KK: Absolutely. I love that you brought Benjamin into this! Speaking off the cuff, I’d say our senses, vision being the primary one we’re discussing, shape everything but that what our senses are telling us is not necessarily true or false—it is unknown. Can you elaborate a bit on the “optical unconscious” especially in regard to your work?

JB:  We can only perceive a very small amount of the electromagnetic spectrum. To make invisible phenomena visible through recording with photographic film increases social consciousness of phenomena we may be affected by, but have no way of seeing with our eyes.

KK: Last summer you began a long-term project in collaboration with CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), can you tell me a bit more about that project and what drew you to working with them specifically?

JB: Well, I don’t want to talk about it too much, simply because none of the work has been shown to anyone yet and I don’t want anyone to enter the work with more pre-conceived notions then they already may have. The Tevatron particle accelerator at Fermi Lab was closed in September of 2011. The only serious particle accelerator left in the world is at CERN. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is also the largest machine ever created: an underground circular tunnel spanning 17 miles underneath parts of France and Switzerland. The LHC has had major breakdowns. It has come close to possibly discovering missing pieces of the standard model. There are lawsuits from surrounding communities about possible black holes being created by the LHC. The Big Bang has been recreated and recorded there. I lived there for a while this past summer and created a new body of work. I am fairly certain that the work will be shown at Andrew Rafacz in February 2013.

Jeremy Bolen in Collaboration with Dr. Stefan Vogt, “Advanced Photon Source
Beam Projected Through a Sheet of Film, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, IL.,” 2012. Image courtesy of the artist.

KK: I’m looking forward to seeing that work! What a fascinating place to spend a summer. Is your relationship with CERN at all political or does it bring political elements to your artwork?

JB: I am not sure I would want to declare that kind of thing, as I want to give the viewer space to create their own experience with the work. I am pretty sure that most of my work has some political underpinnings……

Bolen is represented by Andrew Rafacz Gallery and currently has work at Rafacz Gallery in the group exhibition Sea Change (September 21-Ocboter 27, 2012) and at Hyde Park Art Center in the group exhibition Ground Floor (August 19 – November 11, 2012). Bolen also maintains a website,

Sunday Morning Coffee [Pick your cup carefully]

Image source.

This Sunday pick your coffee carefully! Huffginton post quotes Seven Elleven saying, ” Obama is leading with 60 percent of ‘votes’ (blue cups). Romney currently has 40 percent.” Do Obama voters just need more coffee? Time will tell.

John Seabrook of the New Yorker wrote, “Factory Girls,” an article that gives a nice overview of K-Pop.

And more on K-Pop with “Gangnam Style” specifically in “The Joys of Incomprehensible Pop Music” by Joshua Rothman. In regard to the global love to this video he says “ignorance is bliss” and refers to “the joy of incomprehension.” I need to write a piece on this.

In case you missed it, I wrote a peice for Sixty Inches From Center on Zane Davis’s photography series, Towards Wolf Point. As always, my favorite part is writing about the images.

Last week, Zane and I went to Daniel Shae’s exhibition opening and book release at the Museum for Contemporary Photography. I recommend stopping by.

I really need to head down to the Renaissance Society to see Danh Vo’s Uterus.