Three brief statements on transmission

1 - Transmitting an invisible landscape

It's fascinating and miraculous that I can see the Arctic town of Longyearbyen, in Svalbard, Norway, in real time, via webcam. 24/7 if I choose to. Through my screen, a digital transmission beams into my eye, connecting me visually to a place where I have never been.  It is an unseen landscape, and yet I am familiar with the shape of the land by now. As the mountain panorama slowly rolls across my screen, I can recite their names: Sukkertoppen, Gruvefjellet, Sarkofagen.  I will be standing there in September, the first of three upcoming residencies in 2017 and 2018.  

Science and technology accelerate forward, delivering new capabilities to see, not only outward, to faraway places via digital transmissions, but inward, to examine the stuff of nature and existence itself. We continually extend our minds to go deeper in our understanding of the universe and our place in it. It's in our nature to do so. After all, scientific inquiry begins with curiosity and wonder, two of humanity's more endearing traits. While Einstein's revolutionary theories began taking shape in the first quarter of the 1900's, it has taken almost 100 years for them to trickle down and influence our collective imaginary of the world. Today a new generation is being raised in an intellectual, cultural context that completely overwrites our previous understanding of space, time, and the nature of reality. We have not yet unraveled the mysteries of spacetime, but we know that reality is not what it seems. We grasp just enough to comprehend the vastitude of our ignorance, which is good to know, if humbling, and we persist.

Art has an important role to play in this process: to convey difficult and abstract concepts, not in a direct or didactic way, but through emotion and nuance; to create new ways of engaging with the rich complexities of existence.  Art brings the conceptual and the abstract to ground level where they can be seen and considered by us. As a visual artist, as a human, part of what defines who I am is my desire to pay attention (observe and reflect) learn, synthesize and transmit about this moment, this world, as I see and understand it.

I am thinking about transmission because climate change is one of those abstract and difficult concepts. The future ramifications of climate change are difficult to grasp, and complicated by our culture's unwillingness to face mortality, both individual and collective. But how we perceive and respond to the realities of the here-and-now will directly shape the future. I believe that actively examining the nature of one's connection to Nature is a fundamental and prerequisite condition for a meaningful, constructive and reality-based response to climate change. 

Transmissions from the Longyearbyen webcam enable me to begin connecting to a distant place in the Arctic Circle. Those mountains, the polar twilight, the whites and the grays, the midnight sun, feed my imagination and instigate a desire to know more about what I am seeing. I hope my images do the same for you. That is the intention behind my current works of visual art -  to inspire curiosity, connection and exchange between self and nature.

2 - Transmission via objects - the message in a bottle

Sea Girt, 1898, by William C. Morris Collection. Library Company of Phila.

Sea Girt, 1898, by William C. Morris Collection. Library Company of Phila.

When I first saw this photograph at the Library Company of Philadelphia, it spoke to me. I felt a strong connection to the the place, the sea side, eternal in its stark geometry, and to the ephemeral beings that seemed to mirror my own future and my own past. The image inspired thoughts about the concept of transmission, which I am still exploring in my visual art two years later. 

In Iceland, I spent some time looking at 18th and 19th century Icelandic manuscripts at the National Library. I was similarly struck by the poignancy of holding these objects in my hand. I spent hours with them, absorbing what I could through my eyes and hands. I felt that by paying attention, and allowing time for its message to find register in me, I received a kind of transmission from the past. Manuscripts especially, but books in general, ferry the human voice across spacetime, like a message in a bottle. I responded with these three thoughts, musings on communication, semiotics and language, and the human condition: 

"I am talking to you." 

"My message is encoded."

"Silence is the medium of transmission." 

I keep circling back to these thoughts about the role of the image in our world, and my role as a creator of images, transmitting at the dawn of the 21st century.

3 - Transmitting images in a saturated visual environment

Consider the proliferation of images that we are exposed to in our visual environment. Digital images on screens or printed, both miniscule and gigantic, are ubiquitous. Commercial images pop up all around us, covering not only traditional surfaces like signs and billboards, but also in wraps and projections that transform and animate solid surfaces. On an individual level, cellphone pics collect in infinitely expanding data hoards. We live inside a vibrating field of digital images that speed across the eye-screen, and register as an input in our brains, will-we or nill-we. For a visual artist, it’s a daunting playing field. 

In their influential essay, Edward Morris and Susannah Sayler coin the term “pensive” image, and that is the kind of image I am interested in making. An active agent in our cultural environment, a pensive image creates change through opening a space inside the viewer’s mind for belief, which is a prerequisite for action. The Pensive Photograph as Agent: What Can Non-Illustrative Images Do to Galvanize Public Support for Climate Change Action? Edward Morris and Susannah Sayler. (online PDF link: http://canary-lab.vpa.syr.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/The-Pensive-Photograph-as-Agent.pdf )

As a visual artist, it is my work to transmit. In recent years I have begun to communicate my love for the Northland, and naturally, my sadness and concern as climate change and other pressures take their toll on the wild and silent places. How will my images be received in a world so densely layered with visual messages of all kinds, most created to coerce and sell? Much depends on the viewer. If the viewer looks, and gives attention; and if my image invites an opening of mind, then I have an opportunity to transmit a message.

My message is about self and nature, the way they intertwine, and the way nature acts as an essential mirror of self. This train of thought leads gently, but insistently, to thinking and feeling about climate change, deep time and our individual and collective mortality. From there, from that deep personal and yet universal place, change emerges.

 

June, 2017