Coincidence of Molecules
It’s a brisk winter evening – startlingly cold for Seattle. On a sidewalk in Capitol Hill, a group of people is huddled in front of an apartment building. There’s a quiet shuffle punctuating the crowd’s tempo – bodies shifting weight from one foot to the next, gently trying to ward off the chill. Just overhead are two windows filled with a video diptych that has a pace not unlike our own. Continuously moving over time, changing from image to image, and punctuated with evocative, fragmentary poetry. Tessa Bolsover’s Soon our bodies will be other buildings, on display at Vignettes’ Marquee exhibition series, calls upon environmental, molecular processes that evolve subtly. I have just returned to the Northwest after an intense stint in Nevada, saying goodbye to my mother, and feeling fairly certain I will not see her again. Grief is heavy on my mind. In Tessa’s project statement, she writes “In times of grief I turn to the idea of the body as a collection of materials. Our bodies exist for only a brief moment: a coincidence of molecules, soon to disseminate into countless other forms.” As I watch the video cycle through its patterned phases, I am struck by its lack of emotivity. A stick dragged across the snow. Deep sea divers swimming gracefully. Abstract macro imagery that looks like ice and snow through a microscope, yet I can’t help but see a pattern of human ears. Cells filmed through a microscope. A shadow falls upon a tree in birch forest. The camera enjoys the act of looking — the imagery inhabits real time. Through the lens of a biological perspective, I view beautiful imagery with a cool, scientific tone. I leave the night wondering if this is particular to me, or if Tessa has chosen an objective position as a strategy for the content of the work.
Erin Elyse Burns: The languorous imagery in Soon our bodies will be other buildings creates a certain calm that strikes me as reserved, almost without attachment. Will you speak to the emotional tone of your piece? Am I off in reading it as perhaps implementing the objectivity of a scientist?
Tessa Bolsover: I find a deep calm in the acknowledgement of the body as an entity within a large network. For me, observing becomes a kind of ritual to reintegrate with the strange and beautiful system of molecules of which my body is a part. I don’t see it as detachment as much as an attempt to empathize with the objectivity of the world beyond my ego.
Recently I’ve been reading a lot about the idea of Decreation (as re-defined in Anne Carson’s book of the same title), which basically means stripping away the self in order to get closer to the unknown (i.e. god). Observing the transience of materials is a way of stepping away from my mind and into my body, so to speak.
EEB: What lead you to utilize a looping imagery structure similar to the technique of phasing, as established by minimalist composers like Terry Riley and Steve Reich? Do you have a musical background?
TB: While working on this project I found the video editing process similar to the process of composing music. The concept of phasing had been floating around in my head for weeks, so utilizing an interpretation of the technique in my video looping process seemed like a natural fit. One of the main themes I was working with is the idea that molecules are constantly re-forming in various combinations, meaning that on a large scale, each object or entity can be reduced to a fleeting encounter between molecules, each following its own trajectory. Traditionally in phase music, two musicians simultaneously perform the same score at slightly different tempos, so that over time the relationship between the two players is realigned repeatedly, swaying between unison, echoing, and doubling. I wanted to extend this metaphor into my work by looping the two videos side by side at slightly different tempos so that the relationship between the two screens would change with each loop. Images and text fall in and out of unison periodically, putting the same emphasis on both order and disorder.
EEB: You work primarily in still photography – what has exploring the medium of video been like for you?
TB: I’m pretty new to making videos — it definitely had its share of challenges and opened up new ways of experimenting within time-based parameters, something I don’t usually get to do directly through my still photography.
EEB: You use both found footage and imagery you’ve captured – how do you approach this collage-like structure?
TB: Collage definitely feels like the right word for it. The footage I captured was a collection of gestures exploring the temporary physicality of my body within various landscapes. The rest of the imagery I collected through public domain archives online. Most of the videos I pulled from included little or no information on what the images were and why they were made — I found the combination of these sourceless videos and my own recordings an interesting juxtaposition and a way to contextualize the issue of interiority vs. exteriority.
EEB: Will you speak to the poetry you’ve written for this work?
TB: Writing is a huge part of my practice, although it rarely makes its way into my visual work. I wanted the text to feel like a collection of fragments, similar to the video segments. I was also thinking a lot about the way meaning is created through juxtaposition, and calling into question the extent to which we can read images like text and text like images.
soon our bodies will be other buildings excerpt, two channel video, 2017
Vignettes ‘Marquee’ installation excerpt / Seattle, Washington, February 2017
Cable Griffith + Josh Poehlein on ‘The Three Freedoms’
Note: Best viewed using headphones or external speakers.
Cable Griffith: Let’s try to end at the beginning and see what happens. So let’s begin in the future. You just completed your video project The Three Freedoms. What’s coming up for you this spring and summer?
Josh Poehlein: Haha oh man, the future is… uncertain? I run a small exhibition space out of my garage in Greenwood called SAD Gallery, and it’s finally getting warm/dry enough to start thinking about upcoming shows. I have a date set for the next exhibition, but it’s not totally official yet. I also really want to do something for/with Forrest Perrine’s “Outer Space” series where artists exhibit in non-traditional/non-art spaces. We are looking at spaces and possibilities at the moment, but again nothing is nailed down.
In terms of moving forward from this piece I feel like I’m pulling threads in a way; like trying to use the end of one piece as the beginning of another. I come from a really project/series based background, and I’m trying to both honor and move beyond that. I have some ideas that involve the moving image which are directly related to this piece, and I am also exploring still-life photography that I think shares similar concerns with The Three Freedoms regarding illusion/immersion/fiction. I exhibited some early attempts at this sort of thing at SOIL Gallery in November and want to move forward in that regard.
CG: So how did SAD Gallery come about? What are your goals for the space, and how do you decide on what artwork and artists to exhibit there?
JP: SAD Gallery was something I had in mind before even moving to Seattle, in fact I think I bought the domain for it while I was still living in Chicago for grad school. People kept telling my girlfriend (now fiancée!) and I that we were going to get Seasonal Affective Disorder, so that’s sort of where the name came from. It was wishful thinking for a while until we ended up renting a place with a garage and I was able to build out the space. The space acts as a literal garage, my studio, and it transforms into the gallery a couple times a year.
My goals for the space have always revolved around connection, which means connecting with new PCNW-based artists and re-connecting with artists and friends from the past. So far there have been three shows, and each one has been a 2-person exhibition which pairs work from someone I know pretty well with work from someone that I have met out here. The plan is to continue in this mode for the foreseeable future, trying to find more interesting combinations of work while forging new relationships and connections in the area.
CG: How do you see the gallery space as an extension of your own practice?
JP: To be honest with you I actually didn’t see it that way at first. My initial thought was that it would be a good way to meet people in a city I am new to; a way to get involved in the arts community without being enrolled in school or working in a museum or gallery. Recently though I have been thinking about how my work has been influenced by the space. The process has made me look deeply at work I thought I knew well, and to approach art I am unfamiliar with in a different light. I feel like all the shows have taught me a lot about installation and reception of work, and that bleeds over into decisions I am making about my own practice.
CG: In your own artwork, what attracts you to working in terms of a project or series?
JP: I’ve been struggling with this a bit recently, trying to define what I do and what I am attracted to and why. I think there are threads that run throughout my work, but distilling them into something concise has been a struggle. I know I have always had an attraction to fiction, science-fiction specifically, but also just the ability of a work to transport you somewhere impossible, maybe “magical” if that’s not too cheesy of a term. Previously I have done projects that, in a sense, sought to create these fictional worlds; looking into the past, documents from an imaginary disaster, a first-contact story, etc. With The Three Freedoms there is that thread, there is a possibility of falling into the piece, but it’s also analytical in a way, trying to work out what the impossible looks like, how do we depict it?
CG: Is there something in particular about working in a series that feels limiting? Why do you feel compelled to work beyond that?
JP: First of all, I think there is value in working in a series, in developing a long-term body of work, and I am interested in continuing to do that sort of work in the future. That being said, a lot of times when you are working on something like that, your little sketch ideas get put to the side. Like I have this idea, probably ingrained from 7 years of photo-school, that you have to have 20+ finished pieces, all framed the same way and displayed in a group, and that is what a body of work is. But then where does this video piece go in that? And do I now have to make more video pieces to go with this one? I mean obviously the answer is “no”, haha, I’m not doing this for a client, and I make zero money on all of this, but I do struggle with these questions!
CG: I’ve experienced the video piece both as a stand-alone video online (with headphones), and as a public installation, via Vignettes. When creating it, did you have an ideal location or format for experiencing it?
JP: That’s an interesting question, sort of wondering if there is an “ideal” version of the piece, or if it can inhabit multiple spaces/iterations. I had the idea for the video for a while, and when Serrah approached me about working with Vignettes, I used that as a reason to bring it to fruition. We got in touch with Common Area Maintenance and they were down to host the opening/viewing. So there isn’t necessarily a perfect place for it, although it’s kind of funny you ask because I almost don’t even want to call it “finished”.
I know for a fact that there a lot of examples of the type of footage that I was looking for that are still out there, but there were time and monetary restraints that meant stopping at the point the piece is at now. Ideally I would pull from the film-prints of the films I am appropriating from and the master files of the tv shows, and have access to like all of Scarecrow’s database, and a team of people scouring through obscure made for tv-movies and foreign sci-fi films, and just have something that is ridiculously long, almost unwatchable all the way through, haha.
CG: It’s exciting to know of a growing number of independent, artist-created spaces around Seattle. For artists, this would seem to offer more chances to work with and to respond to interesting and new kinds of locations. Also, it’s nice to think that artists and artwork can connect maybe more directly to communities in different ways. Do you have any dream locations to work in or respond to?
JP: Yeah, I have been interested in DIY spaces for a while. Some of the best shows I saw while living in Chicago were in spaces that were not initially intended for art display. I’m pretty sure I have been to all of the less-official spaces in Seattle, and it’s exciting to see new ones pop-up as well. I would like to have shows a bit more consistently at SAD but weather plays a role, and I also use the space as my studio.
I really like the Glassbox space, and I have seen a couple shows at Two-Shelves that I thought were really cool (Max Kraushaar in particular), but I’m not sure if they are still having events there. I have some specific architectural elements I want to work with; a freestanding wall in a space, a lit and unlit room in the same space/building. Essentially anywhere with some subdivided spaces or a space that can be built out that way is something I’m interested in working with.
CG: I like to think of how an artwork has the potential to both transport you someplace else and keep you very much in the present at the same time. In terms of science-fiction, would you parallel art’s transportive power with a portal?
JP: Whoo, haha, this is a complicated one. I have been increasingly interested in exactly what you’re talking about here! I come from a photographic background, so the metaphor of art as window or portal is really strong in my mind.
Recently, I have been asking myself whether something can be an image and an object at the same time. To return to the photograph, do you have to mentally pull yourself out of the ‘image’ to consider the piece as an ‘object’ (the print surface, the mounting technique, the size, etc.), or can you hold both in your mind simultaneously? And furthermore, is there a difference when something is abstract vs. recognizable or figurative?
CG: That flux between the image and object is really interesting to me as well. I love thinking about how an object can ride the line between shouting its physical attributes while simultaneously vanishing all together, as a window.
JP: With The Three Freedoms, the predominant motion of the piece is pulling you inward. In the original film/shows the effects are meant to depict, quite-literally, portals, but since these things are inaccessible/unknowable to us, they are depicted using abstraction and usually a kind of one-point perspective. I was interested in what happens when those effects are pulled out of their narratives. When they are totally abstract, are they still immersive and transportive?
CG: I like how the piece transports me to a place of constant transportation. Sort of like being stuck in a wormhole. I get the sense that we’re being taken somewhere, but never know where the tunnel leads. But the journey is remarkable. I mean, what if you went through a crazy worm-hole through time and space, only to end up in your kitchen 10 minutes ago? Kind of anticlimactic.
Some might characterize science-fiction as escapism. Do you view it that way?
JP: Ummm, my short answer to this is ‘yes,’ but the genre is a large one, and to a certain degree all fiction is escapist. I am a legitimate fan of a wide range of science-fiction, from blockbuster hollywood films to lesser-known “hard” science-fiction stories and novels. I use the genre both to escape, and to engage on an intellectual level. The best stuff is all about the problems we encounter today anyway; identity, politics, how to build a sustainable future, how to understand those that are different from us, how to consider humanity from a different perspective, etc.
I think written science-fiction probably gets a bad rap because a lot of times the characters are pretty one-dimensional. In my mind, the world is the character, or the premise is the character, and the story is there more to show us around or give us a tour of the possibilities of this place. That’s not to say you can’t have complex characters and a complex world, but sometimes you have to read about a lone-wolf getting the girl and beating the bad guys to get a glimpse of something more interesting underneath.
I like the idea of taking an incredible journey just to end up back where you were. There is the cliché of “it’s not about the destination man”, but that actually holds true with this piece because there is none!
CG: I guess you could say that any artwork, song, or film, is something to get lost in for a while. I think we’re all after that to some degree. I mean, it’s exciting when something stops you in your tracks and completely captivates your attention from where it was a moment before. But if artwork has that power to ground you in a transportive state, then maybe it doesn’t seem so escapist?
JP: Hmm, yeah that’s an interesting point. I think it might have to do with intentionality or maybe criticality? I remember I saw Avatar in the theater when it first came out. It was the first 3-d movie I had ever seen, and I made a decision before I even went in to just fully let go. I knew from the previews that it was likely to be a “bad” movie, but I decided to treat it more like a roller-coaster than a “film.” It was totally escapist, I was consciously trying to keep critical thought at bay and just fall in. At the time, it totally worked. I really enjoyed the pure experience of escaping into this world, but I don’t even remember the film that well. I couldn’t discuss plot points, or dialogue, or any issues regarding its merits as a piece of art.
The thing I do remember though is that whole experience, how I really felt like I left this world for a bit. When I came out into the parking lot everything seemed a little dull, like I was disappointed that I was no longer flying around on another planet, fighting for true love and freedom. I was poking around online afterward and it turns out a lot of people felt that way. There were even “Post-Avatar Depression” groups popping up. I may have even talked to you about this at the opening? Haha, maybe not, I guess this was an important experience for me because it always comes up.
CG: You mentioned having 7 years of photo school under your belt. Do you remember what initially attracted you to the camera?
JP: Specifically I’m not sure what the initial attraction was. I was and always had been drawn to art classes and creativity, but I was also not super talented in terms of drawing, so maybe that was the attraction. The fact that I didn’t actually have to render something by hand to get it on paper was nice. I know I got my first “real” camera because my mom bought a Nikon SLR and she kept dropping it, and finally got frustrated and I inherited it. I think that camera is still around somewhere.
CG: How has your relationship to it changed since then?
JP: I think one of the main things is I rarely just go out and “shoot” like I used to. I actually miss that and want to start doing it again, but maybe just for the fun of it and to keep my eyes sharp. Over time it has become more and more about realizing a specific vision, be it in the studio, or out in the world. The photographic process for me has less chance than it used to. There is still discovery and little changes, but it’s rare that I make an image that I wasn’t already planning on making in some way.
The other thing that has changed is that I am now interested in making photographs, and work in general that is about the medium itself as much as it is about what it depicts. I want images that are about images, but also about something more than that. Still thinking about this one at the moment…
Through A Window, Down A Portal
Essay by Kim Selling | Photographs by Lynda Sherman and Sierra Stinson
Beginning this year was a piece of simple distinction, plain text projected over a heavily trafficked corner of a rapidly changing neighborhood. Small collective phrases like singular light bulbs, one alit each night for the birth of 2017. To create something from nothing at the turn of a linear time cycle means that all context from previous cycles have been mined to give this current one a deeper meaning before it has had a chance to play itself out. Lynda Sherman’s The Usual Window uses the peculiarly traumatic experiences of her childhood to create a scene of power dynamics, represented by her chosen avatar, text, in a way that is immediately translatable and digestible for modern viewers. You see the phrase, it is now yours, and will hopefully be used in your own illustrations of self.
These phrases can be read in any way the viewer chooses, but, in any case, are as follows:
MISBEHAVE MASTURBATE RIOT // AND FALL IN LOVE UNAFRAID
KEEP HEAD OUT OF OVEN THUMB OUTSIDE FIST // HEART OUT OF POCKET STITCHED BACK UPON SLEEVE
RAGE FORBIDDEN GLEE // AGITATE FEROCIOUS PLEASURE
CRACK SPARKLE PEEL // UNRAVEL ALTER FOMENT
glimmer gleam growl // wage and devour
And the 8th day “bonus track,” DEFLOWER THE PATRIARCHY
As a child in Bremerton, Sherman grew up in a classic prairie rambler with her family. Her bedroom window, the usual window of this show, was pink, framed by pink checked curtains and a white vinyl shade, and distinct not only in its Pleasantville-like appearance, but in its openness to the outside world. One of her neighbors, a non-descript bus driver, would take it upon himself to look through this window often, peeping at Lynda in this room and others throughout her house. She never told her parents, instead internalizing these trespasses as a child, and informing her later experiences regarding safety and consent with these early incidents of voyeurism.
Starting as a literal experience and slowly morphing into an extended metaphor, the “usual window” continues to serve as a direct illustration of Sherman’s treatment of her own body and mind as dual and separate entities. When pressed on her attitude towards herself, Sherman responded: “A lot of artists think about ‘the voyeur’ and that’s something that makes me very uncomfortable, to be seen physically. And I’m not sure if it’s because of that, but I exist mostly in my head and not my body because I don’t want to be just seen as that, and that’s the thing I can control more, is my mind. And that’s mine, that can’t be taken from me by anyone trying to insert themselves into my life or into my mind.”
Infiltration by outside actors is impossible when you’ve proved yourself capable of both severing and filling the spaces between your body and your mind. Sherman mentioned her ability to dissociate often without even realizing, operating both within and outside of herself as she goes along. She remarked on the confluence between the two states within the act of printing: “Even though you’re tuned in [to the printing process], you’re still hyper aware, and I guess that’s the only way I’m aware of my body — is when I don’t wanna have it chopped in the machine. That’s how I know where my hands are.”
This ability to give and receive your own sentience makes for compelling dictations on action. The statements put forth by The Usual Window play with directness, with providing a to-do list of constant vigilance in how you care for yourself. And Sherman separating her selves allows for her to direct her body and her mind in different but dovetailing causes. In discussing action, Sherman said: “Most of the things I print are like daily meditations, and it does start with me. It is a mental health plan.” Using these disembodied statements work chiefly as a to-do list for both the artist and the audience, clearly outlined for each desired action, to be interpreted differently by each viewer depending on their own mental and physical duplicity. “I think it’s a mental health plan, because otherwise the words just spin in my head. It’s like an energy that you can then release.”
That energy can’t exist in a vacuum; it exists within the realm of Sherman’s larger understanding of her own capacity to effect change. This faceless, body-less narrator can usher art consumers into a new understanding of themselves by virtue of its mutable and truncated message format. She claimed: “A lot of people don’t wanna have to participate in their own understanding but those that do, it could be another portal to use something differently or use something more in depth. Even though there’s so few words I think that each one of those words is its own portal that you can go into. I know that there’s some people in my own life who have such a resistance to that, they don’t even wanna go in those portals.”
Sherman’s deep-seated connection to these portals, each word she used in the show serving as their own vehicle, is more than just message-related. In response to a question about action in creative communities, she mentioned that “I see much more participation and less consumption now, sometimes literally. And I think that’s an important move, to take your own narrative back. And to see people taking their own narrative back through sadness and anger and action, also seeing people realize that it’s not an energy that dissipates into nothing.”
Choosing to take back your own narrative in these trying times (read: really all time, not just this one) involves plunging yourself into the portals of Sherman’s words, which in itself is an almost divine action of shooting for your highest potential as human. So utilizing Sherman’s statements for pointed improvement and increased agency brings us to this central question: can you truly divorce your self? Can mind and body exist separately outside each other? And is this possible without trauma being the vehicle for separation?
Trauma forces us into a compacted uniqueness. We must compartmentalize to remain above what pains us: what to keep and what to throw away, what defines us and what creates a version of us we’d rather not know. In an interpretation of a Usual Window phrase: wage war on your character, and devour what is lacking. Is such divisibility of spirit possible without the definitions of trauma? Without the trappings of guilt or overcorrection, could you ever simply be just a girl at the window?
Of course, the answer is a singular moment only to fit a framework; what matters is the process of separation, realizing one’s agency in solitude, and deciding upon a course to follow, now free (or lonely) of one’s self. Once the body is no longer there, the mind can communicate without boundaries or limitations. The weightlessness of a mind freed from its physical constraints, now able to act or project in any desired way, say, to masturbate-riot as loudly and frequently as possible. Since a freed mind can’t corporeally do that on its own, it can, at the very least, compel everyone else to in its place. So it is, in its way, a figure of universal nature, joining together all of its audience, each of whom have decided to look through the window.
Not to drag this into a Hot Topic echo chamber of neopagan trutherism from which we can never recoil, but this current time of year (typically March 20-April 1) was previously celebrated as the beginning of the new year — a separation of seasons at the vernal equinox allows the world to be born anew for the next cycle of time. This phase of year that we’re in lends itself to separation of the selves — a lifting of the metaphysical veil between soul and body — and re-commitment to physical and emotional goals.
Lynda’s piece was presented at the beginning of the Roman Calendar new year, the beginning of January, so this connection is not totally out of nowhere. A traditionally pagan tradition of this time of year was to write your intentions upon an egg, visually setting your hopes for this new year onto a symbol of impending creation and thusly, subsequent delivery. You bury the egg, and then plant seeds of your choice into the plot of dirt where the egg is buried. The seeds then suck the nutrients out of the egg as they grow into the plant they are meant to be, thereby expanding your hopeful intentions and becoming a tangible representation of how you, yourself, hope to grow.
Each day of The Usual Window, Lynda wrote her intentions on these windows, soon to become actions of hers and of ours. We must promise to and go forward with misbehaving, masturbating, and rioting, inciting delight, requiring desire, and actively deflowering the patriarchy. This is our to-do list now, the explicit actions that will spell out our future.
soon our bodies will be buildings
February 25, 2017
Viewable from outside 1605 E. Madison Street
In times of grief I turn to the idea of the body as a collection of materials. Our bodies exist for only a brief moment: a coincidence of molecules, soon to disseminate into countless other forms.
(I dropped a stone into a lake and for a moment, where the two surfaces met, a sound existed—)
Composed of found footage, text, and personal videos, soon our bodies will be other buildings is a meditation on the transient nature of matter and the constant cycles of molecular and contextual re-formation.
Drawing from the musical technique of phasing — similar to choral rounds — two video sequences loop at different tempos, so that the relationship between frames are realigned with each repetition. Over time, the piece is split open and reconfigured so that we can see it in its various possible forms.
Image Info: soon our bodies will be other buildings (found footage still), video, 2017
What Feels Most True: A Dream Hypnosis for Radical Awakeness
Laura Sullivan Cassidy
with found + collected family slides and digital images + audio
by Erin Sullivan
December 29, 2016
This exhibit is located outside on the corner of Bellevue and Pine Street on Capitol Hill. We will stand gazing into the windows of what once was the beautiful furniture store known as Area 51.
“When I was 10 a man calling himself a magician showed up in my hometown and took to the stage, pulling rabbits out of hats and “hypnotizing” citizens who then quacked like ducks and tasted vinegar when they were given plain water. Upon the backwards count of three, they remembered exactly none of it in accordance with his bellowed instructions.
From the 1800s to the ’80s, performative hypnosis was a mostly harmless hustle; in this current reality it’s a sort of assisted self-help. Just dial up a sleep induction on YouTube or download a podcast to stop smoking. Or drinking. Or eating. Or needing.
What Feels Most True is somewhere between performance and persuasion. Under a black no-moon sky, outside an urban ghost town at the dead-end of the year, images like strobe lights and words like wands are meant to rearrange natives, immigrants, and passersby alike. The quasi-narrative, two-channel, glass-enclosed slideshow will reimagine the villagers; remember them, forget them, and return them … back to where they were when they started so long ago: Pure and whole, tough and tender. Home. Alive.
And I’ll be there with them—making those return/transformations, too. Because I need to shift out of this bad dream just as we all do, and because like the magician and the hustler, there’s something I have to prove, not only to an audience but to myself.
All sickness is homesickness.
All hypnosis is self-hypnosis.”