To anticipate and elaborate

“Science fiction is marked by contrasts between the quotidian and the fantastic and images that depict such moments abound in the works of numerous contemporary artists in the ‘21st Century: Art in the First Decade exhibition. Mitra Tabrizian’s City, London 2008 could well be a scene from a science fiction film, its group of men in an office atrium mill about in aimless contemplation, an ambiguous narrative suspended in time. As Kobena Mercer points out in the exhibition catalogue, “…in the corporate minimalism of their architectural surroundings, the men’s dark suits draw attention to similarities of gender and age. Variations of race and ethnicity are apparent as white faces are in the minority, but sameness makes an odd return in the look-alike indeterminacy of the majority…” Like the film Gattaca, with its narrative of genetic manipulation and the domination of commercial imperatives, and its highly stylised art direction of office atria and suited men and women, individual identity in both film and photograph is besieged by the technological-real.”

“There are numerous other works that engage with the aesthetics of science fiction in ‘21st Century exhibition. The decolonizing.ps project The Book of Migration 2009 which depicts a contested site in Israel/Palestine, and Bill Henson’s Untitled 2008-09 which quotes Arnold Böcklin Island of the dead 1880, propose connective lines between art, science fiction and the cinema – films such as La jetée and The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) anticipate and elaborate on these depictions of the unease we feel in the contested spaces of the city, and by contrast, in the Romantic wilderness after the fall of civilisation. Perhaps the two most astonishing examples of the way contemporary art engages with SF can be found in two video works. SUPERFLEX’s Flooded McDonalds 2009 is exactly as the title describes; a McDonalds slowly fills with water, the detritus of wrappers and packaging and a plastic statue of the corporation’s mascot rising up to the ceiling. Aernout Mik’s Pulverous 2003 is a three-screen video of a supermarket being torn apart by a seemingly-bland collection of middle class types. This scene replicates an almost identical sequence in Blindness where the citizens of an unnamed city, stricken by a blindness-inducing disease, negotiate the darkened interior of a supermarket in a frenzy brought on by hunger and desperation. Although science fiction purports to depict moments that have not yet occurred, the relationship between art, cinema and the aesthetics of science fiction demonstrates that these are acute moments of contemporaneity sublimated and turned into an allegorical representations of our deepest anxieties. Moreover, the aesthetic of the science fictional are felt well beyond the borders of strict genre. Perhaps this says something about the way the popular imagination is manifested in cultural objects, but what it is certain is that the technological-real is inextricably linked to the way we perceive the world.”

Andrew Frost, “The Look of The Future”, 21st Century Blog: Art in The First Decade, Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art.

Image: Mitra Tabrizian, City, London 2008, Type C photograph.

Infinitely extending lines

“For mathematicians, the parallel is defined by lines extending to infinity without intersecting. Gursky invites us to imagine that his lines not only go on forever, but that they are everywhere, underlying not only the disciplined orderings of culture but the unconscious life of nature. His parallels suggest a forever beyond the photograph, a forever of lines extending beyond the frames of each image and, more frighteningly, entirely beyond reason, representation, and calculation. Despite the formal harmonies of these photographs, then, Gursky’s infinitely extending lines evoke the sublime. Thus with their beauty comes a kind of terror…

“Of course, postmodernity has encountered and embraced the sublime before, as theorized in what are now its most classic articulations. Jean-François Lyotard famously pits the postmodern sublime against the eclecticism of “anything goes.” A genuine postmodernism, refusing to value art according to its profits, launches an enthusiastic defiance of conventional forms and expectations, the desire to “put forward… the unpresentable in presentation itself”. If for Lyotard this sublime can happen in Montaigne as well as in Mille Plateaux, Fredric Jameson argues for a sublime particular to the emergence of the vast, decentered complexity of multinational capitalism. Jameson’s sublime, like Lyotard’s, reveals the limits of figuration, but it results specifically from the attempt to grasp the “impossible totality of the contemporary world system”

While Lyotard’s sublime is evoked by unprofitable novelty and Jameson’s sublime emerges from the endless surfaces of a world overtaken by commodification, Andreas Gursky’s parallels seem to offer something older, something more metaphysical. In their extension from frame to frame the lines imply a constant, a depth beneath the surface, an underlying pattern or structure. As if Gursky was a faithful reader of Kant, his work appears to present something like an enactment of the Critique of Judgment: his lines offer a formal harmony and also, in their infinite extension, they rupture that harmony; they frame the world and they also break that frame. Thus unlike Jameson’s bewildering postmodern architecture, which dislocates and disorients, Gursky’s photographs embrace an order that is disordered only by the fact that the same forms eerily spread from one photograph to the next. In his allegiance to a venerable formalism, Gursky also seems to invoke an older philosophical paradigm. Indeed, his loving references to Romantic painters reinforce the notion of a sublime that belongs to the late eighteenth century. We see echoes of Caspar David Friedrich in “Seilbahn, Dolomiten” (1987), and we find J. M. W. Turner’s mysterious and illegible landscapes neatly framed by parallel lines in “Turner Collection” (1995)…”

Review of: Andreas Gursky. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 4 March – 15 May 2001.
Peter Galassi. Andreas Gursky. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2001.

Image: Andreas Gursky, 99 Cent Store, 1999.

There is no there there

Matt Logue is a Los Angeles based artist, photographer and animator. After working for the Tippett Studio and spending three years in New Zealand on all three Lord of The Rings features, he returned to the US to persue more personal work. Logue’s Empty LA project is a stunning visualisation of a world emptied of people.

Science Fictional: In your Empty LA series you’re presenting a vision of a city that could never be fully experienced. What was your inspiration for the series?

Matt Logue: The inspiration for the series came, perhaps predictably, while on the freeway, driving to work. The thoughts that kept coming back was, “How did we get here? Why did we do it like this?” From there, I imagined an empty city, the sounds you would hear in the skyscraper canyons, the animals returning to make their homes in the shelters we’d built. After that, I simply had to see it, I couldn’t not do it, so after working out a technique to do it through trial and error, spend most of my free time for the past four years working on the images.

SF: Empty cities, ruins and vacant spaces seem very much in vogue at the moment, what with all the post apocalyptic movies and books like ‘The World Without Us’ – yet they also recall a Romantic vision of the Sublime landscape. What do you suppose the viewer feels when they look at these contemporary images?

ML: By far the most common response I’ve gotten from people is “That is so creepy/spooky/unsettling,” followed by “I wish I could experience that.” While seeing each image gradually emerge, I would experience a surprisingly intense feeling of what I can only describe as relief, finally getting to see the empty freeways and downtown. My favorite images from other artists always leave me making up stories in my head or asking questions about the work – not necessarily about the technique, but about the relationships depicted, the evolution of civilization that led to a particular image. The art that keeps me coming back leaves some room for the viewer to participate in it, and I think people feel that with these images. They’re visually striking and I think they also strike an emotional chord with people, especially citizens of L.A.

SF: How do you see your Empty LA work sitting with your other landscape work? The juxtaposition between natural landscapes and the artifice of the empty city work is startling.

ML: Empty LA was a departure from my other landscape work. For me, taking photos for the sole purpose of making a beautiful image is becoming more and more difficult – I keep wanting to place my images in the context of humanity and where we’re going or what our possible futures are. Lately I feel like making straight landscape images is like eating dessert three meals of the day – it can be fun, but becomes less and less fulfilling. Which is not to say that I don’t admire landscape photographers, far from it, but I think I trend more towards the school of thought of people like Richard Misrach and Robert Polidori, who make some absolutely stunning images while framing them in the context of the built world rather than just the strictly natural world. The other way Empty LA was different was that I had a relatively narrow project to work on and could really narrow down my thinking – my landscape work has been mainly done during stolen time when I’m travelling with my family or riding my bike around LA.

SF: What did you do with Tippett and Lord of The Rings? Did that experience cross over into your photography work?

ML: I started at Tippett as a kind of low-level technician, making mattes for the compositors. I actually applied as an animator, so I came in early every day and worked like a dog to get into the animation department, which finally happened after about a year there. I animated on a few shows and then my wife and I moved to New Zealand, where I was an animator on all three Lord of the Rings films. While working as an animator, we frequently have to make the best of poorly-shot background plates, while making pleasing compositions. I think that daily practice in composition really helps me in my photography, and my photography in turn helps my animation – because I know a lot about traditional and digital photography, I’ve often been called on to do jobs outside of animation at the companies I work for.


SF: The Empty LA images suggest a post apocalyptic scenario, a sci-fi narrative of some sort, yet at the same time there’s something oddly calming about them. Is there an element of wish fulfillment or fantasy in the images?

ML: The post-apocalyptic scenario is something I thought about a lot while working on it, but I left it intentionally vague – I didn’t want it to be too much of a narrative. This goes back to that “leaving space for the viewer” idea – I purposefully didn’t go into why or how humans had disappeared, only that they didn’t exist in this world anymore. Now what? What would happen to the city? For me, and for many other people, it’s very calming to imagine the planet continuing without us – the sun rises and sets, rain falls, animals live and die, all without our intervention. I, probably like many people, would be very interested to see how the world would develop in our absence. Many people have told me they wish they could experience that, to walk the highways from the sea into downtown, but what most interests me is imagining how the planet itself would develop without us. I don’t want to read too much into people’s responses, but I believe there’s another angle to this as well, given the current situation we’re in with the climate and environment. I think there’s an underlying sense of hopelessness in many people about what we as a species have done and are doing to the planet, and underneath that, a feeling of guilt. We’re so entrenched in our way of life that it feels impossible to do what needs to be done in time to keep massive climate change from happening, and seeing the world emptied of people, if only for a few minutes in a series of photographs, gives us a respite from that.

SF: Absence is very powerful – your removal of people, cars, aircraft also takes away the point of identification most viewers would have when looking at images of a city. In some ways these images are almost like those classical images of natural landscapes by Ansel Adams. Was that a part of your thinking?

ML: I purposefully decided on a more formal approach to this series, to try and stay as anonymous as possible in my viewpoint. I even went so far as to not caption or identify the images – aside from the copyright information and the title page, there’s no text in the book. It’s a way of treating the city that’s been built up over the years as a natural landscape, because in the absence of humans, that’s exactly what it would be. Freeways might become migration routes, office buildings might be enormous bird habitats, and so on. The formal aspect of it also provides a framework for people to hang their own narratives and questions on, as opposed to me dictating people’s individual experiences of the images.

SF: Without wanting to lift the veil too much on your process, could you tell us a little about the way the images were made? They seem, online at least, to almost seemless – was that the effect you wanted to achieve?

ML: Well, sadly it was never much of a veil – most of the images could only have been done digitally! It’s a curious situation – when people first see it, one of the first questions they ask is, “How did you do it?” To be completely honest, discussing my own techniques quickly becomes tiresome, as people ask what lenses or cameras I used, or what version of Photoshop, etc. Of course, I’d love to know that stuff about other photographers’ work, so I suppose I’m a bit of a hypocrite. The seamless effect was something I was going for, I wanted it to look and feel as natural as possible. In a nutshell, they’re mosaics of anywhere from thirty to well over one hundred images, all taken as close as possible to each other in time, and hand-blended in such a way as to remove the cars and people. I had to work backward from the framing and final print size I wanted and reverse-engineer how and when I was going to take the pictures. Google Street View helped immensely in scouting locations, usually overpasses and pedestrian walkways that didn’t have high protective barriers.

Matt Logue’s Empty LA can be purchased from Blurb.com

Nothing here now but the recordings

Why closed-down stores?

The idea went back to 2005 when I drove weekly past a large closed supermarket on the North Side of Chicago. At night the space really transformed from one of neglect and misuse to something incredibly visual that described a Rothko-esque painting space divided in three parts (parking lot, building, and sky). I spent a few nights making some photographs to try and replicate what I saw. I had been working on a larger project dealing with American consumerism, and it was no surprise to me that these spaces would fail and dwindle as fast they arise. I was in the midst of a deeper project, photographing in thrift stores and recycling shops as part of my “Copia” series, so I shelved the idea.

At the end of 2007 with many rumblings of recession, I thought of those pictures and began the project in earnest in May of 2008. In many senses it was a vindication of what I had been talking about in my earlier work. How can an economy sustain a lifestyle based on exponential growth and the leisure and wealth to support it? It’s not rocket science to expect these kind of illusions to fail. What’s strange is how ingrained the brands and spaces are to us that so many were not only surprised to see major retailers and malls sink but were saddened. Many of these ideas were set in motion decades ago.

Many abandoned big-box stores are renovated into schools or churches. What do you think should be done with these empty buildings?

Some buildings can be repurposed but so many cannot. Retail design and use is not only based on the space itself but also location. When a few stores go down often many others in an area go with them—a retail ghost town if you will. Though one can repurpose one space it might sit in a vast area of blight. The problem lies not in what we should do with what we have already but it seems more important to get a lot stricter about what new retail spaces we allow into our communities. The promises are always jobs and tax revenue, but that won’t help in the long run if the store folds or relocates to the next township who offers an incentive.

It may seem cynical but I personally would like to see many of the spaces simply be turned back into fields, woods, and natural landscape, rather than trying to discover some profound solution. This is actually happening not so much by design in Detroit where entire neighborhoods are disappearing. Rather than design a new use for the space, many are arguing to leave it and let it be.

Ghosts of Shopping Past, Interview with Brain Ulrich, from The Morning News

Rapatronica

rapatronic

During the early days of atomic bomb experiments in the 1940s, nuclear weapons scientists had some difficulty studying the growth of nuclear fireballs in test detonations. These fireballs expanded so rapidly that even the best cameras of that time were unable to capture anything more than a blurry, over-exposed frame for the first several seconds of the explosion.

Before long a professor of electrical engineering from MIT named Harold Eugene “Doc” Edgerton invented the rapatronic camera, a device capable of capturing images from the fleeting instant directly following a nuclear explosion. These single-use cameras were able to snap a photo one ten-millionth of a second after detonation from about seven miles away, with an exposure time of as little as ten nanoseconds. At that instant, a typical fireball had already reached about 100 feet in diameter, with temperatures three times hotter than the surface of the sun.

Edgerton was a pioneer in high-speed photography, receiving a bronze medal from the Royal Photographic Society in 1934 for his work in strobe photography. He used the technique to photograph many events that typical cameras were much too slow to capture, such as the instant of a balloon bursting, and bullets impacting various materials. He developed the rapatronic camera about ten years later, for the specific purpose of photographing nuclear explosions for the government.

n a typical setup at a nuclear test site, a series of ten or so rapatronic cameras were necessary, because each was able to take only one photograph… no mechanical film advance system was anywhere neat fast enough to allow for a second photo. Another mechanical limitation which had to be overcome was the shutter mechanism. Mechanical shutters were incapable of moving quickly enough to capture the instant one ten-millionth of a second after detonation, so Edgerton’s ingenious cameras used a unique non-mechanical shutter which utilized the polarization of light.

From Damn Interesting.com