“The way that I remember things”: An Interview with Photographer Matthew Terrell

"You're a Mess," Matthew Terrell (2016), 12 x 31, archival ink on duratrans polyester film

“You’re a Mess,” Matthew Terrell (2016), 12 x 31, archival ink on duratrans polyester film

The Atlanta- and San Francisco-based photographer and writer Matthew Terrell currently has his sensual second show, “The Exquisite Corpse of Film Photography,” featured in Whitespec. I sat down with Terrell on a windy Saturday in mid-November to speak about double exposure, memory, and Surrealism—a conversation frequently interrupted by our fascination with the autumn light and shadow moving across the gallery floor.

—Whitespace intern Nathan Blansett

Nathan Blansett: Your current installation, which is in Whitespec, is a series of photographic works. How did you arrive at the formal process specific to this work? Could you name that process and talk about what it involves?

Matthew Terrell: Well, I’ve never really had a nice digital camera, like the Canon and the Nikon, the big ones that everybody uses these days. I’ve always had a Pentax K1000, which I’ve had since high school. So I’ve been shooting film for a very long time and I’ve been keeping it up.

Probably about 2012, something went wrong with the winding mechanism of my camera, and it wasn’t winding the film back all the way, so it was causing some of the images to be double exposed on each other. And I really liked the way that looked—it was such a surprise, and I thought the images were just so dynamic and so interesting that I decided to recreate it myself. And at the time I also really wanted to take a lot of pictures but couldn’t really afford to use up a lot of film, and so if you double expose film, it’s a way to take twice as many pictures [laughs] and only pay for one roll of film, which is a really silly thing to think about, but it lets me take more pictures. So it really just developed as a fun practice, a way for me to develop my skills.

I really think about just what is the most beautiful thing that I can take a picture of. How can I frame it, crop it, light it, in order to bring it to its…whatever it is. Whether it’s a fire hydrant or a Corvette or a Schnauzer—how can I take the most perfect picture of it, knowing that it’s going to get double exposed over, so I don’t really know what it’s going to look like […] and that’s freeing. It allows for some play and some fun and I’ve kept it up ever since.

I think what’s really fun about it—what you see in this show—is that they end up basically being long strips of continuously double exposed images. So I get to scan those long strips and print them like that, which is really interesting. […] You don’t see a lot of that.

NB: How do you think that complements the thematic aspects of work?

MT: I think that it’s really interesting to see it the way it’s printed, because I’ve got it with the frame breaks, I’ve got it with the sprocket holes and it’s got numbers on it, so it almost looks like a movie reel. I call them little cinematic stories. It shows the process because you’re really seeing my progression, usually on foot, through an area as I’m exploring a subject—whether it’s like the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco or if I’m just spending an afternoon with my friend Brigitte Bidet. You get to see all those sorts of things that I see through my lens as I progress through it because it really doesn’t matter the order in which I see it, because you see it in the order on the strips of film. But then you see two different moments exposed over each other. I would almost compare it to, like, you’re going on vacation, and you have these memories of, “I did these series of things in one afternoon and I did these other series of things in one afternoon,” but everything kind of starts to blend together in your memory.

NB: Yeah, memory is not that linear.

MT: Yeah, it’s linear and not linear at the same time. It’s reflective of the way that I kind of remember things. Both series and things start to blur together. So that’s a reflection of what’s going on inside my mind as well. With these images here […] sometimes I’ll add color lenses or prism lenses to my camera, but I didn’t in this show. These are all pretty straightforward. The composites that you see, they are taken directly from the strips of film. I’m not going into Photoshop and laying them over. Pretty much it’s just scanning them and doing a little color correction, and then sending them to the printer.

NB: I’m curious as to who your direct influences are—not just for this work, but as an artist, who you’re turning to, who you think is informing your work and your process?

MT: Definitely Arthur Tress. He’s actually a friend of mine, and I was actually with him when I was shooting some of these photos. He is what I would call a “surrealist documentary street photographer.” He had actually encouraged me to print the work like this and have a show like this, with the long strips of film, with the sprocket holes and everything. So he’s definitely my first influence. When you look at Arthur Tress’ work, there’s definitely a surreal undertone to it. He’s got a very surreal photographic eye.

And Keith Haring—he’s just a really awesome artist. I don’t know thematically or technically what kind of an influence he has on me, but whenever I see a Keith Haring piece of art, I’ll photograph it, and there’s actually two separate pieces in [“The Exquisite Corpse of Film Photography”] that have Keith Haring objects in them. One’s got the Keith Haring altarpiece from Grace Cathedral, and another is Dancing Figures, which was in front of the de Young in San Francisco.

Duane Michals, for sure. He came actually for Atlanta Celebrates Photography, and I regret not getting tickets. But he’s definitely a photographer that I look at because he actually has series of images that tell a story, like four images in a set that tell a story. And I think about that sometimes when I’m choosing images—how does the progression of what I show tell a story somehow?

NB: How would you see your work, not just this project but your work as a whole, engaging with a particular tradition in visual art, not just photography, perhaps a queer tradition or an aesthetic one?

MT: You know I think I’m definitely a Surrealist. Surrealism is not taught right now, but it comes and goes in waves every once and awhile. I think we’re actually kind of due for a new wave of Surrealism. I feel like with photography right now, it’s what I call “hyperrealistic documentary photography”—it’s very political, very theoretical, very theme-driven. But what I’m interested in with Surrealist photography, it’s really about the process, it’s really about the aesthetics of it; making, for me, something that’s just beautiful to look at, something that’s interesting to look at. When you look at a Surrealist work, it’s really interesting because you can look at it time and time again and see something new every single time. That’s something that I want in my own work. I will walk by the photos and notice little details that I have never noticed before. I find that a very interesting quality for artwork. I find it something that makes me want to enjoy it and produce work like that more.

Definitely, I look back more towards older photographers. Both Duane Michals and Arthur Tress are queer photographers from the ‘60s and ‘70s who did black and white and traditional photography. So I think there’s definitely some queer and classic influences in there.

I’m very interested in the artisanal archival analogue processes, simply because they’re just different—and this is a silly thing to say, but even though you know it’s really expensive for me to do it, when I pay to have [the work] developed, I get prints back. So I have prints of everything I’ve done. And I know a lot of photographers who have fancy digital cameras and they don’t have a single print. I’ve got scrapbooks, thirty scrapbooks on my shelves of photos, and boxes and boxes of prints. It’s really important for me to actually have the item, for the item to exist not just digitally, not just on my computer, but in some sort of real world context.

NB: Absolutely—it’s an object, not just a file.

MT: Yeah. I’ve always been someone who very much values giving people prints. Usually at the end of every year, I do this huge project where I will go through all my photos from that year and pull out the ones that I want to give to people. I have, like, all these giant piles, “Camille” and “Ted” and “Jason.” I go through hundreds of photos and sort them out and I’ll sign them all on the back, and I really try and label them all on the back as well. So I’ll say when it was taken, what it is, where it is. That’s usually my Christmas gift for the year. That’s another reason that I do film-based photography, because I get to do that.

I’m always really surprised by the different things people pick up on, the different things people are drawn to. Different people like the words “Hot Cookie,” different people like some sections that are more formalistic, they’ve got ferns and fountains on them, they have very strong lines. Some people really like that because it’s more graphical. Some people like the more soft elements, like the candles. I think that part of the fun of the process is that I sort of get to allow graphic elements and soft elements, things of design and things of color and shape, all these things that—you know, if I was just what I would call a “straight photographer,” just regular photography, you might not get to play with all those different elements in one. But in this case, in these photos, you can have all of them, all the different elements. So there’s something for everybody. That’s something I like—something for everybody and you can constantly look at it and find something new. That’s really fun.

Matthew Terrell’s “The Exquisite Corpse of Film Photography” is at Whitespec through Saturday, November 26.

Run Rampant by Laura Bell | whitespace gallery, October 21 – November 26

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How appropriate that autumn is the season in which Laura Bell’s new exhibition, Run Rampant, appears at Whitespace. The evening of its opening, white-dark rabbit feet in a ceramic bowl were given like amulets to the partygoers, and as dusk passed into night, the wind outside chilled and dried. The weather’s tone was both strange and elegant—perfectly matching the work being studied.

Run Rampant, an artistic realignment for Bell, is an impressive, multimedia tableau vivant. Its diction is foremost Victorian, though invaded. One enters the gallery and, on the right wall, sees two intensely intricate pen and ink drawings of a stag and a boar. On the left, seven framed portraits of mammalian decay—the paper cut with an x-acto knife, then pinned behind glass. These initial works are hung against walls of dark mauve like insects pinned to felt.

The back wall is centered by the taxidermied bust of a deer. A sleek dark mask slipped over its face—with slits for eyes—is erotic in its evocation of BDSM, and is strikingly dotted with off-white pearls. A mobile of rustic ornaments hang from the bust’s antlers.

In the second room of the gallery, Bell has installed lavender wallpaper. In a design reminiscent of steampunk, the single faces of opossums, pigeons, rats, wolves, and rabbits emerge through illusionistic frames crenellated with beetles, buds of flowers and tufts of grass, and pulsing cicadas and butterflies.

The exhibition has a marked interest in taxonomy and classification. Beneath the deer bust, a marble shelf protrudes from the wall, and on its surface one sees an egg with a round lacuna in its shell, which reveals a decorative figuration of an owl inside—this whole scene protected beneath a glass bell jar flanked with two animal skulls. These details that ornament the exhibition have the astute role of converting the gallery space into its own realm, a separate one, just as the animal world is, layered with its own secrets and rituals. Bell’s work, too, has secrets. A second viewing is almost imperative to capture pieces in their fullness of detail.

These are just some of the exhibition’s highlights, or at least the installations that are most prominent. While the project’s assemblage may behold the distance between our natures and others, never does Bell’s work feel emotionally detached from us. Its energy is palpable and amorous, like a dark European fairy tale. But there is something about the intenseness of the project’s cataloguing and observations (note the exquisiteness of the stag’s hair, quill-like) that also communicates fear. But I believe I am registering the ramifications of Bell’s study. To view her prickly work is to confront the possibility of a realm completely ungoverned by us, by our truths, even our hands.

Docking on the Orphic Shore: Interview with Artist Seana Reilly

Seana Reilly

(from left to right) ProfferedStone, ChthonicCourse, FrozenCadence, 2016, Seana Reilly

Seana Reilly’s latest show at whitespace is a cross between a library and a church, temple, or cathedral. With gothic and other architectural influences, Eastern and Western religious motifs and a quieting quality, Docking on the Orphic Shore is reverential. For this blogpost, we decided to interview Seana to get a better understanding of the materials, her process and the creation of the show in whitespace.

Hilleary: Your show feels absolutely sacred and spiritual. Docking on the Orphic Shore is a representation of that place we all seem to be trying to get to, whether it is heaven in Judeo-Christian religions, or Nirvana in Buddhism, the Orphic Shore seems to be that place as well.

Seana: It’s about trying to lose your edges and connect with something larger than yourself. It expands outward beyond the physical limits of your body. Sometimes religions will help people do that. Sometimes science with its endlessly evolving frontiers can help people get there. Poetry can as well. There are so many different paths – it’s whichever suits you as an individual. One expression for me of this dissolution of the self is in the piece titled OrphicSonnet. It’s a transcribed Rilke poem – as I moved down the surface losing myself in the writing, three lines behind me the words were starting to migrate and change, losing themselves. Once the piece was done I found it kind of interesting that the image was very recognizable as text-based, but at the same time completely unreadable, illegible. I don’t think you can put this larger experience into words, so it’s rather fitting.

H: You and I have spoken about the materials before, but how would you describe working with them and your process?

S: My process is more participatory practice than ritual. It’s a communion of sorts. I’m always trying to balance control and chaos. When working with the graphite there are a few things I can control and make decisions about, such as the viscosity, the substrate, or the scale. That’s where my architectural background asserts itself… the defined space, the pristine edge, the square format. But once those decisions are made and the material is released into that framework, I surrender control. The graphite can be prodded a bit – in the service of broad aesthetic decisions – but it has certain inherent qualities that produce particular kinds of affects or patterns. This is what fascinates me… how the material mimics planetary-scale processes in nature. Some of the works read as landscapes, but any representational aspects of the work are accidental and unbidden. I neither erase nor encourage these. More than anything I’m intrigued by them.

H: What about the gray walls in that room? How did you decide to create that as part of the exhibition?

S: The two rooms are different. Works in both spaces are graphite, but graphite in two different forms and applied in two different ways. I kept all the tactile hands-on paste graphite in the first room because I wanted a grounded place to enter into first. It’s also a very bright white room and sets up a contrast with the other darker space with the liquid graphite pieces. It’s markedly different when you step up and across that threshold into the room with the books. In thinking about this room I kept coming back to both a sense of drama and stillness. I spent some time at the Carlos Museum. They do it well – I think it’s all in the value shifts in color & lighting. I chose the mid-value grey walls to tone down the space energetically, and in a practical sense it helps to set off the white portions of the works which get lost on white walls.

H: There is a rhythm to the whole space something that ties it together as a whole, could you speak on to that?

S: Obviously, there’s consistency of palette and material. That helps. I also like working in series, so there’s a rhythm built into that. There’s a consistency of presentation as well. The series of vertical paintings between the books, for example, sets up a repeating rhythm that leans toward religious architecture and also toward museum presentations of ancient tablets and scrolls. Then you intersperse the books, also done in series… Books of this size are usually reserved for deep records of knowledge or spiritual guidance, so they lend a certain weightiness to the room, both visually and atmospherically. The intent and presentation is consistent. At least that’s what I was shooting for. One other thing that may help is the continuity of visual language throughout the show. Every piece in the show is an expression of the way the earth was formed – not in some abstract way, but a physical manifestation of the laws of gravity and fluid motion. The books are not full of alphanumeric symbols or pictorial allegories pointing to things outside of themselves. They are full of nature itself, as are the paintings.

Hieronymus Bosch in the 21st Century

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The Garden of Earthly Delights in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, c. 1495–1505, attributed to Bosch.

Hieronymus Bosch was an Early Netherlandish painter whose work is well known for its religious imagery, fantastical illustrations and attention to detail. Little is known about his life and his paintings are difficult to interpret, resulting in a deep fascination of art historians surrounding his work. On the 500th anniversary of his death, whitespace has taken the enigma surrounding Bosch’s life and opened it up for interpretation.

As the show comes to a close, we would like to reflect on the experimentation, spontaneity, and prank-like qualities of this latest exhibition in order to pay true homage to one of the most gifted, yet mysterious, painters of the fifteenth century. The participating artists did not fail. With little curatorial guidance and free reign of medium and imagery, twenty-four artists presented a body of work as deeply multi-faceted, humorous, and, in the words of the show’s curator, Jerry Cullum, “weirdly impossible to interpret as Hieronymus Bosch.” An appropriate presentation to honor the fascination surrounding the artist to say the least.

As we reflect on this exhibition we can internalize the intersections between humor and seriousness, sexuality and religion, macabre and aesthetically pleasing. Bosch represents a series of paradoxes that somehow bled together in an all together stunning presentation of images, colors and details. With the talent of our participating artists on display this past month, Bosch in the 21st century has come to be a carnival of confounding ideas. Ideas that will stay with us as we continue to be puzzled as well as humored by Bosch and look forward to art as an experience of both.

Fall and Folds

Vesna Pavlovic’s exhibition “Fall and Folds,” will delight contemporary art connoisseurs and art history students alike. Pavlovic’s work examines trends in art extending to the renaissance, through a contemporary lens. Her compelling appropriation of art history slides shows the works of many well-known and impressive artists reframed within the context of pedagogy.

tintoretto
PG TINTORETTO It Removal of the Body of Saint Mark, 1562-66, 30 x 30 inches, endura metallic color print with metal stand, edition of 3

Perhaps the most striking objects of the exhibition are the curtains, which take on various tasks, reflecting the perpetually turning slide monitor, providing backdrop to works of art, and altering the light coming into the gallery; mirroring that of a dimmed art history classroom. Pavlovic’s slides also bring forth the vernacular of art historians with large black emblazoned letters detailing college campuses from whence the slides came, as well as details of their originals.

greekGREEK: ARCH: ATHENS GEN: ACR: PARTHENON: EPEDIMENT GODDESSES, 30 x 30 inches, endura metallic color print, edition of 3

This duality of presenting famous turn-of-the-century works of art through a didactic lens creates an oscillation between now and then, contemporary and antiquated, revolutionary and appropriated. Pavlovic’s work provides a new context for fundamental artistic studies, placing them as artifacts rendered contemporary. Bordered by diaphanous curtains, even the texture of the material projected upon becomes an augmentation of the antiquated. What is stands out most is that Pavlovic’s slides, enlarged and hung, are incorporated into the slide projector reel, flashing across a draped slightly transparent curtain of plastic. When one enters the gallery, they see the slides, enlarged and with their full and original texts, against the dimmed light created by the curtains and hear the click of the projector reel as it turns. Pavlovic’s art is double-edged in that regard, perpetuating notions of art history teachings in darkened lecture halls, as well as calling forth the use of detail, shadow and light in classical and early modern painting.

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Slide Cabinet, 30 x 38 inches, archival pigment print, edition of three

Pavlovic also photographs in detail images of the various colored dots used to signify certain information on a given slide, as well as the slides themselves. A choice that shortens the distance between images of slides as art and image of slides and images of slides. These details focus on that of the art history world and how items such as projector slides are preserved. On view until July 30th, stop by this week to see how whitespace has been transformed into a place of pedagogy: in which classical images are elevated to high contemporary art.

Happiness Project

Happiness Project by Didi Dunphy is a critical examination of high design via commodification, craft and fantasy. Her emphasis lies within the making of each piece, the things unseen.

QVC, a startling collection of photographs of gorgeous rings displayed against pink backgrounds with doily-like borders, is a fantastical exploration of the commodity.  Despite the piece’s obvious allusion to QVC, the shopping TV channel, the images cite more than simply online shopping desires. The depictions of individual rings draw attention not only to their own intricacies and precious stones, but to the human hand, the wearer, the individual behind the jewelry. Though none of the images acknowledge in any way, other than that they are objects for hands themselves, the wearer or the individual, their congruence along an entire wall of whitespace paints a portrait of ownership. QVC is a portrait, perhaps not of any one specific individual, but of the nature of the commodity itself. Rings are objects of personal augmentation, and though they are mere objects, there is a story behind the acquisition of each one. In displaying images of jewelry meant to be worn, what is unseen is precisely what is emphasized, in this case, humanity and its relationship to the commodity.  In QVC, the viewer is presented only with the rings themselves, left to wonder about the rest, the story, the history. The viewer must discern information from the presentation of each individual ring in order to come to a conclusion, or simply enjoy the pieces as commodities themselves.

Not only do these rings cite the luxury of owning such objects, but other pieces, like Industrial Emoticon tip their caps, so to speak, to the banal. Dunphy, of course, in her project elevates these commonplace, albeit elegant, items to the lavish and fantastical. Industrial Emoticon alludes to the iconic 1960’s Arco lamp, a lavish commodity for any home during its peak of popularity. The overblown happy face, clouds and heart cut from plexiglass alter the iconic images of the Arco towards the fanciful and imaginative, taking high design to a place of play and visual communication. The bright colors and overblown qualities cite artists like Jeff Koons. Through Dunphy’s attention to popular culture depictions of emoticons and her alteration of the Arco, the banal is transformed into the unique, shiny and effervescent. Here, Dunphy has elevated previous conceptions of luxury objects to pop culture expressions of emotion. Alluding to the emoji, an emoticon used for expression, Dunphy juxtaposes the classic and iconic with the contemporary and technological.

Dunphy_CampfireDidi Dunphy, Campfire, 24 x 36 inches, lambda print on fuji flex mounted on plexi

Other designs similarly reference iconic objects and images. Hanging Garden mirrors a 70s shell lamp or night club curtains. All the Things I Can’t Live Without: Nails depicts images of Piet Mondrian’s Compositions with Red, Blue and Yellow, accomplishing similar messages of commodifying high art. Other acrylic nails depict images of hello kitty, clouds, colorful squares and flowers. These images, like QVC cite the hand, the individual behind each set of nails. Compared to Dunphy’s five intricately embroidered pieces, all place an emphasis on color, its brightness and shine, as well as handiwork, the work of craft. Both acrylic nail painting and embroidery are typically female gendered crafts and both represent objects acquired out of luxury or excess. Both reference the individual behind the work, the person who accomplished the project.

Several other pieces depict images of campfires, from sketches with smoke crafted from brightly colored and holographic teacher’s pet stickers, to a large hot-pink plexiglass print of woven colorful lanyards to Dunphy’s pink Donald Judd-like sculpture depicted below. These images reference the joys of childhood, the simplicity of that childhood happiness and the escape of camp. Placed next to Faerie Ring, photographs of faerie circle mushrooms, works like Picket, a fluorescent aluminum 8-foot propped fence and Twins, two chain link and picket fence tiaras, similarly to All the Things I Can’t Live Without: Nails, take part in depicting the other side of luxury, the hard work behind the exquisite. In some way, all of Dunphy’s work cites the excess of high design and extravagant living, and yet also references hard work, the skill of craft and the conceptual elements behind these facades of brightly colored, shiny beauty. Dunphy’s conceptual work is illuminated in this space between craft and luxury. Her attention to the intersections between design, pop culture, feminity, fantasy, and the unseen, are truly what make Happiness Project, an examination of much more than the objects themselves, but the conceptual as well. 

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Didi Dunphy, Fire Logs, size variable, wood, airbrushed paint

Written by: Hilleary Gramling

Abstraction Today

The exhibition, Abstraction Today, at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (MOCA GA) opened Friday night at 6:30 p.m. The most prestigious and prominent art galleries in Atlanta compiled the artists’ works and the opening was filled with guests, a bar and merriment. Whitespace had the honor of participating in this collaboration with Alan Avery Art Company, Marcia Wood Gallery, Mason Fine Art, Sandler Hudson Gallery and {Poem 88}. With pieces from Pete Schulte, Ann Stewart, Bojana Ginn, Eric Mack and Seana Reilly, whitespace’s artists augmented the exhibition incredibly from wall paintings to 3D printed objects to sculpture. In conjunction with other artistic selections, the show was a congruent and diverse examination of what abstract art is in today’s contemporary world.

Though each artist presented their own negotiations of what it means to be abstract, the entire collection of art offered an exceptionally harmonious exhibition. whitespace artists in particular not only showed work that charged the white walls of MOCA GA, but also formed a coherent representation of the free-expression, intimacy, dialogue, and immersive environment whitespace strives to represent. The looming grace of Schulte’s wall painting alone overwhelmed the northern wall of one room, but reflected against the colorful and overwhelming wall work of Hense, added great contrast to envelop the night’s crowd.

IMG_8082Dark Day (Revelator Pt. 2), Pete Schulte, 2016

In a smaller room to the side, an installed projector and sculpture made of straws, paint and cotton by Ginn mirrored the pixelated, almost urban abstract landscape of Mack’s multi-medium work. Beautifully and breathtaking, Stewart’s 3D printed objects cast long and opaque shadows against the white walls of the space as one of the first works in view of the entrance of the exhibition. Across from Stewart, Susannah Starr’s large floral and vibrant neon cut-outs refracted the light via their own technique, presenting a delightful juxtaposition of shadow play for Stewart’s objects. And Reilly’s floor to ceiling canvases overwhelmed what was left of the room with their ombre and bleak exploration of gradient and texture.

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Diamagnetic Liaison, Ann Stewart, 2016

What was best about Abstraction Today was the physical manifestation of the diversity and talent that can be found in Atlanta. Each artist’s work illuminated an aspect of its neighboring pieces and vice versa. The space was filled with detailed conversation, immense artistic exploration and wonder. The exhibition’s navigation of what it means to be abstract is a testament to the greatness of today’s contemporary art, not only in the world, but right here in Atlanta. From modern advances in technology, projection and 3D printing, to wall-painting, traditional sculpture and manipulation of found objects, the exhibition is a beautiful tapestry woven by the many threads of experimentation, risk, exploration and abstraction today.

Written by: Hilleary Gramling