spread from MOURNING
Lisa Kereszi is photographer, mother, and educator living and working in New Haven where she serves as Assistant Director of Graduate Studies in Photography at Yale School of Art. Her work has been exhibited at numerous institutions, including Whitney Museum of American Art, the New Museum, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and she is represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York City. She has had numerous projects in the pages of zingmagazine; “Drinking” (zing 9), “Night Light” (zing 16), “The Priory” (by Benjamin Donaldson, curated by Lisa Kereszi, zing 20), “Peepshow Creepshow” (zing 22), and “The More I Know About Women” (zing 24), and her work is also part of the Dikeou Collection. Here we discuss Lisa’s work in relation to printed publications—the recently published photo-book IN (Roman Nvmerals) and the forthcoming MOURNING (Minor Matters 2024) that will be launched at Printed Matter Chelsea on March 21 from 6-8pm and April 25-28 at The AIDPAD Photography Show.
Interview by Brandon Johnson
Your work has been the subject of numerous books and magazines over the years. What does the role of printed publications mean to you as a photographer, and in your experience are there any specific challenges or considerations to translate the work to these formats?
I think photography as a medium really lends itself to reproduction, whether it’s on the page, screen, wall, billboard, photo album, in someone’s pocket or wallet—after all it is definitely firmly rooted in Walter Benjamin’s “art in the age of mechanical reproduction.“ A print on the wall might need to be large and can easily be seen at a distance, and maybe even needs to be seen at a distance. But when a photograph is in a book, it is held in the hands, or at least placed on a table, but either way, it’s a very intimate experience. It is often a private interaction, too, not an encounter in the public space of a museum or gallery. Photography first gets introduced to us all in books, magazines and family photos (not photobooks, but non-fiction, informational books in childhood.) (Today, I guess that’s happening increasingly more often than not on screens of varying sizes.) Other than billboards and posters and ads, most people outside the art world probably aren’t looking at too many framed photos on museum walls, so having my pictures viewed up close and personal in book form, smaller scale, feels incredibly natural. I actually pre-visualized IN being smaller, like 5×7”, for some reason. And MOURNING is big, as far as books go, because the publisher wanted the book to echo the handmade grids I assembled out of 4×6’s, and she wanted to put out a consciously large book by a woman as a statement. Women never unapologetically say, “I know that thing doesn’t fit on your shelf: deal with it.”
spread from “The More I Know About Women” zing 24
More recently, the subject of your work has revolved around family. Two previous books, Joe’s Junk Yard (Damiani 2012) and The More I Learn About Women (J&L Books 2014) along with a project in zing 24 “The More I Know About Women” engage in the sphere of your father’s life. And now a new book MOURNING that addresses his death. Another recent publication IN is a collaborative photobook with photographs made by “two parents and one child” (yourself, Benjamin Donaldson, and Ottilie Leete). What has led to the shift of focus to family at this part in your career?
Well, I guess it’s actually always been there. I conceived of the junkyard book before 1998 and showed the work that Fall in my very first critique in grad school, saying as much about my plan for it to be a book. I put it on the back burner but made a push in earnest to finish most of the pictures between 2001-2003, during my family’s last few years in the junk business. The book sat on various publisher’s shelves, on and off, for years, finally being published in 2012. It was a long-term investment! The More I Learn About Women artist book came directly out of the research in the family archive that I did for the historical photos I used in Joe’s Junk Yard, after my father handed me a huge stack of albums that contained his own photos that were adjacent to the business—his pictures of cars, motorcycles and women. In 2013 I got pregnant and knew instinctively that I wasn’t going to be the creatively productive person I’d grown to be, so I created that book, which came out the same year my daughter was born, 2014. I was right because it would be a decade until another book came out. But in putting two books out, pretty much at the same time, I guess I made up for the “lost” time. The time wasn’t lost, just focused into something, or someone, else, and also spent becoming someone else—a parent. In fact, the unpublished work I made to help overcome post-partum depression, was also, in a way, about family, or at least reinventing myself as a photographer with a family of my own. It is called “Walking With Ottilie,” and is all work made on walks with my baby, then toddler. (The work sort of ended when she became mobile, and unable to keep in one place in a carrier or stroller!)
spread from “Drinking” zing 9
But the work of mine that went more widely out into the world looked like it was about things outside of myself and my experience growing up in the family that I was in. And it was—but it also wasn’t. The pictures of bars, nightclubs, strip clubs, cheap motels and disco balls is all about escapism. In fact, the work that is in the Dikeou Collection was made as a response to family baggage. That black-and-white series, “Drinking,” was from my college senior thesis, and focused on drinking and drug use. It was my way to try to get into the mind of an addict like my dad and any number of boyfriends. I was trying to understand it. Those pictures of people partying led directly into the work I started at Yale, which was later in the 2008 and 2009 books, Fantasies and Fun and Games. It was all still really about a kid trying to understand why people like her dad need to escape reality. It’s funny, but my mom solidly being there for us enabled my sister and I to thrive and to become artists, but my obsession creatively is not with her love and care and attention, but instead with the guy who was absent at the dinner table every night.
These two books now are less about all that oblique metaphor around escape, surface and fantasy, and more overtly about family—the one I grew out of, and which is getting smaller year by year, and the one I’m now in and am building with Ben and Ottilie. And the form, themes and way that these newer pictures were made all fit into my busy, working-parent lifestyle—pictures I outsourced to a trail cam, and pictures I made with an iPhone in and around my house with my nuclear family all within arm’s reach, them both co-authors.
Your father passed in 2018, and at the end of that year his black granite gravestone “keeled over backwards under mysterious circumstances” (to quote Marvin Heiferman’s introductory text to your forthcoming book MOURNING). How did this incident lead to the genesis of new photography (from what appears to be the trail cam mentioned above), and ultimately a publication?
Well, someone knocked over his gravestone not soon after it was mounted, sometime between November 2018 and New Year’s Day, 2019. It is possible that it was something (like a deer) coupled with uncured or bad mounting adhesive (yes, you wouldn’t believe it, but these days it seems a squiggle of epoxy assists gravity to keep a stone on the base.) But given the fact that I was locked in a pretty terrible battle with my aunt over my grandmother’s home and things (she had also died less than a year before), I had my suspicions. Of course, I couldn’t prove it, so I went to photography to try to get to the bottom of it—should it happen again. My sister is the one who was in town for the holidays and discovered it, so from a few hundred miles away, I enlisted her and her husband to pick up a trail camera at a sporting goods store and mount it, then my mom and step-dad to maintain it, stuff like the firmware update and changing the batteries.
My dad died in early February 2018, and the one thing I did have control over was to swiftly get a memorial up before the end of the year. (The marker has etched into it one of my portraits of him in his cherished 1956 pink Caddy—“like Elvis’s” he would say, although the King’s was a slightly different year and model, but I am splitting hairs.) So, I imagined that seeing his face looking back at them from the grave was a final straw for her or someone. Or maybe it was “just kids” and a teenage prank.
cover of MOURNING
I think the form of the book—those grid arrangements—was also my way of creating order in a sea of chaos. It’s bad enough to lose someone, let alone two people, and all the stuff that comes with dealing with the estates and grief and all of that. On top of that, to be locked out of my grandmother’s house (where he had a bedroom and a garage and backyard where he had kept full of his things), and to try to save any scrap I could grasp, became all-consuming for a year or so of my life. I was tracking down their belongings at pawn shops, consignment shops—even the free store, where my dad’s sister preferred giving things away rather than letting my own sister and I have any mementos. I also made a bunch of other grids of pictures of these material things I was searching for and feared lost, as well as other ordered collections of appropriated images.
All these grids are included in a bigger body of work about all of this family baggage and dealing with loss, and then about moving on from the family you came from and starting a new one. The work is entitled “Sunrise, Sunset.” As soon as I can come up for air, I will finish the series and the book dummy I have sitting on my desk here.
spread from MOURNING
MOURNING is a limited edition with handcrafted elements— board back with stab and thread binding. How did you and the publisher arrive at these material decisions for this content?
LK: During the pandemic, on Zoom, I showed this proto-dummy in loose print form to Michelle Dunn Marsh at Minor Matters Books, hoping she would want to publish it. (Michelle and I met in the Publications office at Bard College in the ‘90s, and she designed the junkyard book.) She zeroed in on the grids, and said she thought that that portion of the bigger project could be expanded on and made into its own thing—an artist book. So, she really was the one who quite literally pulled this “insert” type portfolio out of its bigger context, gave me the push and confidence to let it stand on its own, and then gave it life on the printed page. We toyed with an accordion-fold, thought briefly about a calendar-like format, but ultimately settled on something more like an album—a family album, whose color, shape, and form also echoes a grave marker or monument. So much of the aesthetic choices you are asking about were really collaborative and about me relying on her expertise and her own care and attention to the subject matter from her own experiences with grief.
To let her speak for herself, though, since this was so collaborative, Michelle says:
MDM: Lisa first showed me large pages where she’d taped photographs in grids. As we discussed the meaning of the work, and the forms the project could take, we tried a few different sizes, an accordion format, etc. But at some point, it felt like we’d overdone it, and lost the simplicity, beauty, and intention of what she’d originally created. So, we returned to the grids, and a similar scale to her artist’s book. Mourning has presence but is not unwieldy—you can hold this book in your lap and look at it, and that felt important. It is, after all, a twisted form of a family album.
I have a book from the early 1800s from Japan that is stab and thread binding, and I’ve always loved its visual vulnerability while knowing it is an enduring method of binding. That felt right for this body of work. Initially we wanted heavy board on the front and back, like two tombstones, but the front cover needed flexibility to function, so we went with a heavy paper, double-folded, and die-stamped the author, the title, and then the publisher’s name on the back board to create the physical indentation of letters. The book block, like the front cover, is scored, to relieve some of the pressure on the binding when a book of that scale and weight is completely open.
LK: As for the number of copies, 500 has been pretty standard for the number of each of my previous books—it’s an achievable sales goal for “Photoland.” Minor Matters has a crowd-sourcing model that requires presales that total the amount needed to go to press and print the book, and she usually sells 500 at $50 each. This book tested a higher price-point for it as an art object, since the grids I fashioned at home with 4×6’s and rubber cement are the exact same size as the book pages, so the book binds together replicas of the real thing I made. Selling 250 seemed like an attainable goal for this particular book: while many connect with the subject matter and the experimental use of a trail cam, I think there are others would also maybe not want to look at a bunch of low-resolution images that appear sort of artless and barely-composed, and which are about the death and sadness, to boot. But I hope the moments of surprise and light and life are uplifting, and express that life does go on.
cover of IN
IN is an experimental artist book of photographs made with, as you said, your nuclear family beginning at the start of the pandemic lockdown in March 2020 through Spring of 2021—a situation that radically changed the lives of many into a new more intimate domestic reality with which many of us can relate. Was this body of work and publication just a natural result for two parent-artists and one child-artist living together during this time? And on an editorial level how did it feel to select and share these personal photographs with the public in the form of a book?
Benjamin [Donaldson] also answered:
BD: The project that the three of us undertook separately and together grew from us each needing to perform an act that reflected our reality and made a trace, when we had no idea what others’ realities looked like. It now seems to be a recording from a deep well.
Our family existed in this bubble together, well-aware that there were other bubbles percolating alongside us—everyone caught in their own experience. These pictures now live and belong together, having been made within the confines of the Pandemic days. There were times when each of us went into our own selves, even given our proximity, and our individual picture-making was part of that expression of self under the pressures that many of us felt. It seems to me that it was the natural expression of a family unit living through a very particular historical moment.
The photographs in the book form return these individual experiences to the roaring blur of our small entirety within the larger sweep of Pandemic time. After having such a spare amount that could be communicated with those outside of the three of us (except through a screen), this book stands as a physical memento that can be shared—something tangible that reflects love, terror, and a deeply personal historical record.
spread from IN
LK: I suppose we naturally all reacted to the situation and tried to cope by, among other things, taking pictures. I honestly just used my iPhone to take pictures of food and flowers, documenting the ups and downs of meal preparation and the annual cycle of rebirth growth and then death and decay that is part of the backyard and garden ecosystem. I had arranged all of these into a book that was as long as IN, actually, in which I guided the reader/viewer through the year chronologically with paired images of a meal and plants. I punctuated the sequence with beach-combing finds, since that was my solace and escape. Ben made pictures intermittently with a “real” camera and lighting of the staged or noticed magical and mysterious moments in the lives of a strange little trio in a big, weird house full of interesting stuff to look at and interact with, dressing up, acting out scenarios and making stuff.
Our daughter was 5 in March 2020, turned 6, then turned 7, and she “wrote” a handmade, construction paper book every day in virtual public school. Sometimes she taped photos in, but she usually drew the illustrations. During classes, and really, all day, she took to drawing and fashioning cut paper houses, with many rooms, and big families occupying them. You see a few of those drawings in the book. She also was encouraged to take pictures with a little pink (then a red) point-and-shoot, something she previously would do when we went to New York, rode the train, drove around to look at holiday light displays, or to document her toys or her face or anything she wanted to remember or save forever. The pictures she was moved to take on her own during this period were still of her toys and Christmas lights, but her out-the-window pictures took on new meaning, and screens became such a big part of her life that she took screenshots, of sorts, too. She also turned the camera on us as well as her food.
spread from IN
We arranged the pictures into three separate volumes, and that is what we approached Roman Nvmerals with: a 3-volume set to be slip-cased. One of the publishers, the photographer Michael Vahrenwald, instinctively knew that was not the answer. (Though Ottilie would vastly prefer that her contribution remain as her own, individual publication, entitled, “Ottilie’s Picture Book,” like the Shutterfly dummy I made.) He asked me for prints of everything, and on his own mixed them all together into something that retained the general chronology, but that was far more interesting. The book as he saw it was not really about individual authorship, but instead the linked rings of a trio who were trapped on this ship in an uncertain storm at sea. Both publishers had a stake in using these unusual, collaborative images in ways that had not exactly been done before. The form followed the content.
spread from IN
So, in both books here, I relied on and trusted in the collaboration with the publishers, who I count as friends as well as peers in the “business.” That mutual respect and willingness to let go a little bit and collaborate and see what happens is ultimately what allows both books to succeed as experiments, I think. I collaborated with my family in both books, with a motion sensing remote camera, with the writers and the publishers as our editors and guides, and ultimately with the Universe. That’s what photography is anyway, for me at least—a collaboration with what’s outside of us and being open to chance and change.
And so far, the feedback has been good. Sometimes when you put something so personal out in the world, you just kind of shove it out there and let go and then close your eyes tightly and wait. The writer of one of the book’s essays, Cindy House, early on let us know we were making something relatable and valuable when she so perfectly summed it up, “Here is a book of images that are both familiar and strange. Everything is recognizable and nothing is. I know the bubble, the isolation, but this is not exactly my bubble. This book makes me feel like we were all lost at sea in our own boats, none of us in sight of each other out there on the open water, just trusting that the other ships were sailing in the same ocean somewhere.”
Heather Link-Bergman, installation overview
Heather Link-Bergman is a Denver-based artist, visual communicator, and educator. She is Affiliate Faculty of Art at Metropolitan State University Denver, a Partner of is PRESS (a publishing and design consultancy founded with Peter Miles Bergman), and Director of Intelligence of the Institute for Sociometry, an international artist collective and communications cooperative headquartered in Denver, CO. Her studio work takes form as collage, photography, performance, book arts, and social practice. Her work has been shown at MCA Denver, Center for Visual Art, MSU Denver, Chicago Cultural Center, ICA Baltimore, Printed Matter’s Art Book Fair, Vancouver Art Book Fair, among other venues. Most recently, Link-Bergman completed her MFA at School of Visual Arts in New York City, culminating in a thesis show “Liminal Forms” at The Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn on view July 12 – 23, 2023.
Interview by Brandon Johnson
This body of work comes from your research on spirit photography. How did you become interested in the subject? Any findings that surprised you, or had a significant impact on the work?
Broadly, my art practice explores what’s missing—both literally and figuratively. So, spirit photography spoke to me because it’s all about seeing what is missing by photographing the inexplicable and unseeable, ranging from ghosts, spirits, thoughts, emotions, auras, etc. Through my research, I became interested in the modernist evolution of the photographic language of spiritual presence and the contradictions inherent in these images, how they simultaneously show what is and what is not yet.
While there were many surprises and synchronicities encountered in my research, the most meaningful finding for me was gaining a deeper appreciation of the social function and meaning of these types of images and how their primary purpose really isn’t to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts, but how they reflect our beliefs, anxieties, and/or doubts about the possibility of connection beyond life.
Heather Link-Bergman, Eternal Returns, 2023, Cyanotype on layered polypropylene paper, 38 x 25 inches
On a formal level over the last couple of years I’ve seen your work transition from pop-oriented graphic works to poetic minimal collages, now to a similarly minimal yet scaled up research-based cyanotype works on paper. What influences would you attribute to this progression?
The thread that connects this current project and my previous bodies of work is that they’re all collage in some form or another, and they are all about playing with the visual semiotics of specific genres of images or aesthetics. Spirit photography, as I see it, is a particularly fantastical and artful form of photomontage and collage. Early photomontage, or combination printing, was a laborious process where photographers carefully composited multiple negatives or exposures to compose a single constructed image. By the turn of the twentieth century, the spirits in spirit photography were often constructed from cut-outs taken from printed lithographic images from magazines. This is really where you start to see the visual motif of disembodied human heads, hands, or veils appearing as a visual short-hand for spirit. These observations drive many of the formal decisions I made with this work.
Hippolyte Baraduc, Electrograph of the vital fluid, 1895, cyanotype photograph
Why did you choose cyanotype for your printing method for this work? Is this a new technique for you?
Early in my research, I came across and was really entranced by a cyanotype photograph made by Hippolyte Baraduc in 1895 entitled Electrograph of the vital fluid. Baraduc’s “thoughtography” endeavored to depict what he believed was the universal fluid that flowed from all beings, living and dead. The term ‘universal fluid’ originated from German doctor Franz Anton Mesmer, who first developed these theories of universal magnetism, which became known as mesmerism. Baraduc was intrigued by Mesmer’s theories and hoped to use photography to document the existence of this universal fluid. Like all spirit photographers, Baraduc sought to make the invisible visible through his photography. Similar to more literal examples of spirit photography which feature a living sitter and a ghostly ‘other’, these photographs seek to represent what is present yet not recognizable or representable in our material world. Interpreting Baraduc’s photographic aberrations is like performing divination. We are left to imagine that these could be nothing but darkroom accidents or that they could be anything and everything.
The formal qualities of this image felt quite fresh to me and unlike many of the historical and contemporary cyanotype photography I’ve seen. It got me thinking about ways to use the medium I had written off. I was also excited about the conceptual possibilities of the distinctive blue color, which Yves Klein described as “the invisible becoming visible. Blue has no dimensions; it is beyond the dimensions of which other colors partake.”
While cyanotype is new to me, my approach to the medium is informed by my experience as a printmaker using an antiquated copy camera and halftone screens. I made all of my prints using my UV exposure unit, which is really designed for exposing printing plates. Getting the cyanotype emulsion to adhere to my chosen paper—polypropylene sheets—was a huge challenge. The paper is great as it looks perfectly flat and “untouched” even after taking multiple dips in water. What’s not so great is that it’s really hard to get any liquid, including cyanotype emulsion, to stick to it because it’s so water-resistant. I watched many would-be prints completely dissolve after they hit the rinse! This is where my historic research really came in handy, as I ultimately found my solution in the nineteenth century using a process similar to the gelatin or dry plate photographic process. I was so relieved to find a solution that I bought out most of the Knox powdered gelatin within the 2-mile radius of my zip code, just in case!
The ambiguity of Baraduc’s photographs is an interesting parallel to the way in which interpretation can be an important facet of contemporary art. While for Baraduc this ambiguity may have helped to shield against criticisms of veracity, for contemporary art it can open new potentialities beyond the artists’ original intentions. What role does interpretation play in your work?
This is a great question. Interpretation is part of any artwork, and it’s certainly something I consider a lot in my own practice. For my installation at Invisible Dog, I wanted to evoke a sense of the superterrestrial through my formal choices; I wanted everything to float. While making this body of work, I had written the phrase “hands suspended, awaiting, in an eerie blue twilight” in my sketchbook and I kept returning to that phrase as my aesthetic north star.
The spectral images and veiled forms in my work gesture towards themes of longing, absence, and spiritual connection. However, you do not need to literally believe in ghosts to understand haunting. Whether your ghosts are literal phantoms or just your ex, haunting in all its forms is the entry point for the viewer to engage with the themes in the work and an openness for them to form a more personal interpretation, should they choose to.
Heather Link-Bergman, Past Lives, 2023, Cyanotype on layered polypropylene paper, 20 x 16 inches
When considering interaction with the spirit world one often thinks of the “veil”—that invisible border which must be crossed to gain access to the other side. The works hanging from the ceiling (especially the tall rectangular one) evoke this notion with their layers and silhouetted hands and arms. Is there something more to the “veil” in these works beyond their physical representation?
Yes, there is definitely more to it, and you articulated it well in your question! There is a great deal of symbolism associated with the veil—it can represent what is disguised, hidden, or divided. Veils can shield or protect, and as a garment, they can take on many different meanings depending on the wearer and their religion, culture, or politics.
In my work, the veil is used as a metaphor to describe where we most closely confront the separation between life and death, consciousness and unconsciousness, or between our material reality and whatever may lie beyond it, i.e., ‘the world of spirit.’ For me, this project brings to mind the concept of ‘Viveka,’ which means discernment in Sanskrit and is the practice of using one’s discernment to see things clearly, as they truly are. Often Viveka is described as seeing the difference between the real and unreal, spirit from matter, and self from non-self. Viveka, in a sense, asks us to dwell on the threshold that mediates what is true and what is not. Spirit photography also asks us very similar things—to appreciate the interplay between the seen and unseen, spiritual and material, real and unreal—and to consider how those distinctions are not always as easy or straightforward as we’d like them to be.
Heather Link-Bergman, Parting, 2023, Cyanotype on layered polypropylene paper, 38 x 25 inches
The show takes place at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn, an old factory space with wood floors and columns that evokes 1970s Tribeca and Soho, which is fitting for this body of work due to the association of spirits with older structures. It feels like this body of work could expand into a larger installation. Do you agree? What other kinds of spaces could you envision the work in?
The space was such a perfect counterpoint for the work; I am so glad to have had the opportunity to show this work at Invisible Dog. I don’t think it would have worked as well in the white cube of a conventional gallery. As for expanding into a larger installation, yes, absolutely, I agree! I see lots of potential to expand into not only a larger installation but a multi-sensory experience as well. My ideal scenario would be to take over a residence—perhaps even a whole house—and not only think about how to realize these photographic works on a larger scale but also consider expanding the presence and totality of the installation by creating new works like furnishings, housewares, and wallpaper as well as incorporating scent, sound, and temperature design into the overall presentation.
In July 2023, Denver, Colorado will witness the grand debut of an ambitious city-wide festival called Month of Video (.MOV), orchestrated by local artists Adán De La Garza and Jenna Maurice. From DIY venues to massive outdoor projections, .MOV aims to present an array of artists and genres across the video spectrum. As artists whose practices are deeply embedded within this under-represented medium, De La Garza and Maurice have a history of curating accessible programming for video work that is cutting edge, critical, and beautifully strange. We chatted about their early influences, personal practices, and of course all things .MOV.
Interview by Hayley Richardson
Can you give a general overview of your art practice(s)? Where and how did your work take shape, and what are some recent developments/changes you’re currently addressing?
Adán: Some older kids in my neighborhood introduced me to different subcultures really young. Like, I had a Slayer tape and a Terminator 2 skateboard at 7. So my early introduction to art was more through channels of skateboarding, metal, comics, video games, MTV, and Nickelodeon.
My introduction to photography started in middle school when I was enrolled in a class that rotated between black and white darkroom photography, literal card games (think solitaire and gin rummy as a class), and stagecraft. I was placed in this class because I ran out of elective options or was late registering. Initially, I thought I would move into skateboard photography, but I never really got serious and never was super good enough at skateboarding. In my late teens and early twenties, I made videos with my friends doing stunts and blowing stuff up in the desert, and that definitely laid the foundation for my interest in video and incorporating elements of risk-taking, failure, and absurdity into my art practice.
I kept taking photo classes through high school and got a scholarship to Pima Community College, but I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to study, so I enrolled in screen printing and photo classes (perhaps a theme is emerging here, haha!). It wasn’t until my twenties that I actually began consciously pursuing art. I had one class with a particular grad student who introduced us to more conceptual, experimental, anti artworks, and I was really resistant to it at the start, but by the end of the semester, I was totally a different person. Up to that point, the majority of high art I was exposed to was about “mastery,” “genius,” and the worshiping of some sort of authority… that never really resonated with me. These works were democratic, chaotic, and more politically aligned with my views. After that, it was something that I gradually kept doing more and got in front of the camera eventually.
I work predominantly in Sound, Video, and Performance Art, and more recently, I’ve been making speculative fiction works about the desertification of the earth, a video about tree canopy density in Denver and how it correlates to income, racism, regional temperature averages, and the history of land ownership, and some new sound performances. I hope to go on a solo tour through the southwest in September to an exhibition with my longtime homies at Everybody in my hometown Tucson, AZ. I’ve always got a few zine projects in the works as well…
Jenna: I was homeschooled (which I loved) but didn’t take any art classes in high school, so I didn’t really have an entry point for anything in art that wasn’t just painting or drawing or sculpture (and I wasn’t really into those). My sisters and I were super into theater and saw a lot of live theater and also participated in live theater all through high school. As a child, I was always interested in our home video camera. My sisters and I would shoot lots of things on that camera and then be delighted to watch them back, but never considered any of that “art.” I remember the day that I looked into a 35 mm camera for the first time when I was 15, and I remember looking through the lens and seeing the frame and the shallow depth of field, and realizing how powerful it was to be able to curate the world through a rectangle. Somehow it was really different than looking through that home video camera. And it impacted me so much that I began taking photographs and then began looking into what being a filmmaker was like. So I went to undergrad for photography and filmmaking, and in grad school, video really entered my practice. I realized that I didn’t want to make stories for people but would instead like to communicate complex ideas that unfold over time. And that’s basically how video art functions for me. I remember while I was in undergrad- going to New York for the first time in my life and seeing a Bill Viola retrospective at a big Museum there and thinking, “Wow. This is really different from films. and I love that. It’s about communicating ideas that seem deeper than stories that sit on the surface of things, and it’s super weird and surprising”.
My practice has always been about relationships and relational dynamics, probably because I have a big family, and we were always really close growing up. It has evolved to also include nonverbal communication as a central point of inquiry. Performance and using my body to communicate something came into play during grad school when I took a performance art class that changed how I understood what performance could be and how the body could be THE tool for communication. So now my work involves video, performance, and photography, and it deals with ideas concerning relationships (with myself, others, the past, and the landscape), non-verbal communication, and the language of the complicated human experience.
One of my most extensive projects (Concerning the Landscape: A Study in Relationships) is a series of performances for video in particular parts of the landscape where I try to build a relationship with the landscape using non-verbal or pre-verbal techniques (such as reaction, mimicry, etc.). I have been working on The Archive of Things series for the past few years. It’s an ongoing project documenting the world through the practice of Lumen Printing. The work in this series explores the question, “What can the sun reveal about objects that humans cannot see with their eyes”? These images are lumen prints- a process where objects are placed directly on black & white paper for darkroom prints and taken out into the sun for hours at a time. The long exposure from the sun lets the sunlight penetrate any part of the object that is not entirely opaque, resulting in a representation of the thing that humans cannot see by just simply looking at the object. Over a period of hours, the sun travels through the object and records details within the object, revealing hidden truths about these everyday items we encounter. The sun also interacts with the emulsion on the darkroom paper, creating colors from where there was only the possibility for black & white printing.
I am also currently working on a video essay that explores the complex topic of “grey areas” and how these areas can be viewed as both places of challenge and chaos (because they are undefined) as well as places ripe with possibility (also because of this area of no clear definition). In this way, my practice is now exploring “relationships” with situations… and not just people and the land. 🙂 I am currently in residence at Redline Contemporary Art Center.
Jenna Maurice, Traverse, at Union Hall curated by Esther Hz
In addition to your individual practice(s), you also have a history of community engagement via curated screenings for the public. Has interfacing directly with a public audience and providing a platform for other artists influenced your own practice at any point?
We both view programming/curating as part of our artistic practice. As contemporary artists, we feel it is our responsibility to champion other ideas and approaches outside our practices. Especially when the mediums and ideas you work within are under-represented in your community. Showcasing time-based works regularly is also a way to maintain an artistic community in Colorado. If you feel like you have no opportunities to show or discuss the work you make in your city, you’ll probably move somewhere else that has that… and might even be cheaper.
I think we both have been able to make significant friendships through shared experience and interest in art. So programming/curating has always been an extension of those goals where we get to share the experience and ideas of others with the community we are in. I think our dream jobs would be to make things happen with our friends that are larger than us, and .MOV has been a way for us to accomplish that desire, be it outside of our day jobs.
In July 2023 you will launch one of your most ambitious projects in Denver Month of Video (.MOV). Tell us how this project developed and what we can expect to see.
Month of Video is a culmination of a few dreams of ours. We are both video artists and just want to see more video art in our city. We wanted to present a whole month where video is the focus and see video exhibited in as many art spaces in town as we would get on board. In Denver, one can consistently see painting/sculpture/photography in art spaces. Video seems to be a bit more of a rarity, so we wanted to be able to go see video art at a bunch of places for one month. We’ve never run a festival before, but there is always a first for everything. 🙂
We also wanted to highlight the different forms of video art, creating access points for things we wish we could have been exposed to earlier in life. The whole festival is based on this idea of making space for time-based works that engage with many ideas and approaches to making work.
So, we have some specific exhibitions for .MOV that focus on these different forms. We also have some really rad friends who are experts in particular realms of video, so we asked them to curate some of these shows. For instance, Understudy Gallery is having an exhibition that highlights performance for video, curated by Quinn Dukes- the Director of the art fair called Satellite. This is a very particular type of performance art that is usually enacted in a specific location, and the only way to document it is with video. So the final piece of art these artists can display is video, but the initial performance act is the communication. We are also highlighting the genre of art video games through an exhibition where visitors can play all of the games on view (this exhibition is curated by a collective that Adán started called Dizzy Spell). Along with this exhibition, we invited a video game scholar (and dear friend), Nicholas O’Brien, to curate a screening based on videos that use game engines in their creation.
Signal Culture (a residency focused on tool-making and video research) recently moved from upstate NY to Colorado, so we are having them program a screening of work from their alumni to showcase the different work happening there.
Another show we are super excited about is one we are curating for Redline Contemporary Art Center from the main contributors of a public secret society called New Red Order. The show- “New Red Order: Crimes Against Reality”- examines the contradictions inherent in a society built on both the longing for indigeneity and the violent erasure of Indigenous peoples, lands, and ways of life. NRO provocatively questions how these desires can be channeled into something productive, sustainable, and transformative. The show includes a selection of video work that invites viewers to critically engage with the complexities of settler colonialism, cultural appropriation, and enacting of indigenous futures.
Check out the website for all of the info denvermov.com
New Red Order, Crimes Against Reality, at Redline curated by Adán and Jenna
You both describe being exposed to the creative arts through pop culture, school, and family at a young age but also express that video is a particularly under-represented medium. What are some additional resources you would recommend or hope to see made accessible to individuals interested in video?
Adán:Realistically the places I would like to see time based arts more is K-12 education and just at more art museums. Most students are first exposed to time based arts in college and we can start having those conversations way earlier. This limitation is often echoed in museums and galleries and that has an effect on what is deemed valuable and acceptable culturally outside of those institutions as well.
Jenna: I totally agree. We both worked in academia for longer than a decade and consistently saw our students having no exposure to time-based arts before college.We would like to see contemporary art “normalized” in the way art history is taught before students enter college. It would be so rad if students were already familiar with artists who are alive and making work about important topics using time-based mediums, and not just familiar with dead white-guy painters. So, access points as well as normalizing video within exhibitions is a great way to help with this.
Is there anything else you’d like to share here? Upcoming projects or places where we can keep up with what you’re working on? (aka shameless plug portion!)
Collective Misnomer might keep doing stuff.
After MOV comes to a close, Maurice and De La Garza will continue their respective video art projects. One of Maurice’s current works-in-progress includes a video essay examining the prolific possibilities within ambiguous “gray areas,” or domains lacking clear definitions. De La Garza, working on “video pieces focused on climate change and the desertification of Earth,” will also embark on a solo tour from Denver to New Mexico and Arizona this September on his way to exhibiting his work at Everybody Gallery in his hometown of Tucson.
Born in Brooklyn and now living and working in the Bronx, Ray Lopez is an artist with a deep love for film who creates visual works in acrylic, watercolor, marker, ink, and collage. I first met Ray when he was a member of the Studio Program at Healing Arts Initiative (HAI) in Long Island City, Queens. Now working with Fountain House Gallery, Ray recently completed a residency with this organization on Governors Island in New York Harbor where he invited me to visit his studio and showed me some recent drawings, mostly portraits, he’d been working on along with an excellent exhibition downstairs that included some of his works. It was a very enjoyable and easy voyage from Brooklyn via the ferry departing from Red Hook near Pioneer Works. Governors Island is a special part of New York City, and true to this city’s spirit it is a hub of cultural activity where you can find extraordinary artists like Ray at work! Highly recommend visiting Governors Island this summer to see what it’s all about, and although Ray’s residency has since ended you can learn more about his work on Fountain House Gallery’s website.
Interview by Brandon Johnson
When did you begin making art and what path has your career as an artist taken since then?
I started to make art when I was a young kid—drawing or doodling images from movies, TV shows and cartoons as well. I would usually hide my drawings from my parents, especially my mother, Maria, because of the themes from horror movies for which I did scenes as a storyboard format. During my teen years in High School, I never took any serious art classes, but I was doodling or sketching on my school notebook just for the fun of it or when I was daydreaming. During my late teens and twenties I took a pause by not doing any serious artwork, but went back to making art while I was attending workshops at HAI (Healing Art Initiative), which closed down in spring 2016. During that time I was making art and making a career as an illustrative artist. I’ve continued making art at my small office/art studio space in the Bronx at my current apartment. And displaying some artwork at Fountain House Gallery in New York City and also other galleries and venues throughout the city.
Ray Lopez, Cinema Paradiso: A Retrospective, 9 x 12 inches, watercolor on paper
I know you are a big fan of film. Can you explain how film influences your artwork?
Well, film is a quite big endeavor for me to interpret into art. Growing up I’ve watched a lot of movies on TV, video and sometimes at the movie theaters. I first started watching these art house, avant-garde and independent films in my teen years, which includes foreign movies that gave me some intellectual ideas of creating these artworks from movies like part of a scene, an advertisement like a movie poster of the actors, actresses as well as the world class filmmakers like Pedro Almodovar, Peter Greenaway, Mike Leigh, Federico Fellini, Lars Von Trier, and sometimes Hollywood directors like Steven Spielberg, Kevin Smith, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Altman and the late great John Hughes. I usually make scenes from a film or a retrospective of a movie. But in good, glorious, rich, bright and vibrant colors of my artwork that I have interpreted into art from films just like a Almodovar or Fellini feature.
Ray Lopez, Burn Thy Books, 11 x 15 inches, gouache on paper
I’ve also seen artworks of yours based on current and past news events. Where do you get your news from, and what inspires you to respond to these events with your art?
Well, we are totally occupied with what is going on with current events from the news sources and how the subject matter of what is going on from this city, the whole country, and especially the world we live in. For example, like the one-year anniversary of the overturn of Roe vs Wade from the Supreme Court, for which I have made a painting of the Statue of Liberty. Instead of holding a torch, she’s holding a wire hanger with some blood on it and she’s wearing a pink stole around her. It’s a truly remarkable piece of art that deals with the subject matter of this controversial issue that can get people talking. And I also made art that deals with the human rights campaign, activism, climate change, police brutality, the #metoo movement and anti-war, especially anti-Trump agendas that can be made into art that I would like to use to address the ethics of the humanity from society. By making art, it can make a difference of what can be addressed from the current or past standpoint of the media outlets and can be an informative response from society that can make or break the news sources that can be a challenge to deal with. And the person’s views of their response by giving a perspective of their own.
Ray Lopez, Don’t Trump Us Down!, 9 x 9 inches, acrylic on canvas
Last weekend I visited your studio at Fountain House on Governors Island where you are finishing an artist residency. What was this experience like for you being on the island and working in this setting?
It was such an achievement that I have accomplished by being part of this residency. I really had a great time being part of the whole art community from the Fountain House Gallery and Studio who gave me a spot with three other artists doing the same residency for the two month period from May to the end of June. My studio or room (as some visitors called it) is kind of low key with a few postcards hanging from the wall in front of my desk or table with dreary settings—cracked and chipped white paint, decaying walls and a comfortable atmosphere, but sometimes inside, it gets either muggy or cool depending on the weather outside. I believe the house was built during the Civil War era or around that time. It got me to go to the island, not just doing sketches from my studio, but to visit the island by watching and admiring the views of the city and the Hudson River, including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. And we got visitors stopping by at the residency to see what’s in store for them. Especially the displays of artworks from the artists (including me) that has been exhibited in the downstairs area. I also got to interact with visitors by giving them a guided tour of the headquarters of the residency. Also, on the section of Colonel’s Row in Governors Island there are other artist residencies programs along the same row of houses with these great art programs and organizations that are a hidden treasure for the art admirers all young and old alike. It was quite a great place and quite a nice experience.
Ray Lopez in his studio on Governors Island
While visiting I noticed a few postcards on your wall including one of Alice Neel. Do you go to see art exhibitions often? Who are your favorite artists?
Glad that you have mentioned it. My favorite artists, past and present, are Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Vincent Van Gogh, Francis Bacon, Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Fransisco Goya, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Rembrandt and well too many to list whose great works I have seen in museums and galleries, especially online. But also, my artists peers whom I have a social circle of friends and acquaintances. I have admired them for their artwork especially the ones that give me an inspiration of what their artwork is really all about. I am not naming names here in this article, but they know who they are. Even the non-famous artists that I really admired and gleefully enjoyed their works of art can give me an inspiration of what the next artwork that I will be making.
Ray Lopez, The Rise and Fall of The Cult, 18 x 24 inches, pen and colored markers on paper
What does making art mean to you? What what you do if you weren’t an artist?
Good question. Well, I really don’t know what art really means to me by making artwork. Let’s put it this way, making art is not like a hobby or doing it just for a living, it’s about having the passion and likability of making and transforming into something quite relevant and spontaneous for the artworks to come out to the best that I can achieve. If I have an idea of what artwork to make or what the subject matter is like, I just make it for the heck of it by making it into something that truly matters. It’s like directing a film. When I was younger my goal was to become a filmmaker by going to college and taking some film classes that I have not able to be complete but failed miserably and did not accomplish. But to make art is like directing a film on paper or canvas. And if I was not making art, I would be wasting my time or getting a full-time job which is hard to get and especially to maintain the position. Or do a different hobby like taking photos of scenery and stuff with my digital camera that I bought three years ago that I use to shoot some footage to make my small, short experimental films that can also be a source of artmaking.
Installation shot of two works by Ray Lopez from “Works by Governors Island Resident Artists” at Fountain House @ Governors Island, House 410A, Colonels Row
Michael Ross, installation view of Chortle, from the exhibition Time Repair, 2023, Galería Mascota, Mexico City, Mexico
Michael Ross (1954) is a sculptor based in New York City and his solo exhibition Time Repair is currently on view at Galería Mascota in Mexico City. At the time of writing this, it has been a few weeks since I had the pleasure of seeing his show. Its effects lingered on my visual perceptions days after. In an intimate yet spacious setting, Ross presents us with meticulous sculptures that seamlessly dialogue with the world outside the large, street-facing window of the gallery. Upon entering, I was greeted by the golden glint of War Film, which caused me to pause before moving towards the other six pieces that color the main room. Positioned in the entrance hall, the sculpture’s dual cylindrical adornments suggest we may approach the show in a cyclical manner. With every loop around the room, different scenarios played out between each of the wall-mounted sculptures, all under the watchful eye of the circular eponym piece in its central position on the back wall. Later on, after leaving the gallery, I recalled having peered up at Chortle through the window from the sidewalk below. Evoking a silhouetted landscape scene, its layers of flat, metallic pieces create a composition that subtly reflects the life around it.
In the following days, while staying with friends at the wooded western edge of the capital, I experienced other moments where the visual imagery of Time Repair would magically appear. On one morning drive down from the mountainous town of San Bartolo Ameyalco, riding in the back of the car, I noticed the blue banner of a preschool and its name Harlequin adorned with yellow ochre diamonds. This immediately brought to mind Ross’s Harlequin Trap. Seconds after, my gaze landed on majestic white fencing with rhombus shapes resembling the pointed pattern that wraps around the sculpture’s inner tubular form, and a path I’d been down before acquired a new delight with one visual cue playing off the next as we entered the waking city. On another evening, the rounded bushy forms of the unruly pine tree outside the guestroom window caught my attention after hearing its rustling in the wind just before a much-needed rainfall. It is with such moments that Ross challenges our impulse to stop the rust of time, inviting us instead to adjust our pace and enjoy the little details that unfold within life’s natural cycles.
Interview by Yolanda Fauvet
Michael Ross, Harlequin Trap, 2022, Metal, plastic, 2 1/8 x 5/8 x 3/4 in, courtesy the artist and Galería Mascota
Michael Ross, Pine Listener, 2022, Plastic, silicone, pom pom, 1 7/8 x 1 5/8 x 1/2 in, courtesy the artist and Galería Mascota
Time Repair is your second solo exhibition at Galería Mascota, the first being in 2019 followed by a group show in 2020. Can you tell us about your beginnings at Mascota and what brought you to Mexico in the first place?
Javier discovered my work at the 2018 NADA Art Fair, Miami, where I presented 4 small-scale sculptures. Javier and Karla were very enthusiastic about this project, and immediately proposed an exhibition at their gallery in Mexico City. Knowing of that city’s vibrant contemporary art scene, I was excited to pursue this opportunity.
The titles of your pieces range from very descriptive to poetic and even playful at times. I believe this can create a certain approachability to your work for the everyday person who may happen upon it and am curious what role naming each sculpture has in your overall creative process.
Each work begins with an idea, and this idea is often written down first, almost like a “script” for each artwork. The script can lead to a title, though a small single scrap of bent metal can inspire both an artwork and a title. I think the approachable aspect you mention can also relate to my use of common materials and components which are transformed in precise and unexpected ways. My subject matter is without limits, so I’m able to connect to a wider audience.
Michael Ross, Book Cake, from the exhibition Sogneurs de Gravite, Marcel at the Bit! (The Imitation of Marcel Duchamp), 2006, FRAC Languedoc-Roussillon, Montpellier, France
Please, talk to me about Book Cake! As soon as I saw this scrumptious piece in the 25th edition of zingmagazine, a big bubbly smile came across my face and my senses were immediately transported to the visual language of many of the NYC artists I’ve seen at the Dikeou Collection in Denver. For someone who didn’t grow up in New York, I’m wondering what major visual themes you think tie NYC artists together?
Book Cake was a sculpture I originally presented in the 2006 exhibition Sogneurs de Gravite, Marcel at the Bit! (The Imitation of Marcel Duchamp) curated by Emmanuel Latreille, which took place in Montpellier, France. Book Cake was a Duchampian gesture combining two loves – books and cake. I reimagined a chunk of a NYC telephone book and utilized a slice of pink plastic foam as frosting. Major themes tying NYC artists together? Well, today the artworld is big business, and I’d say ambition is the major thread binding it all together. It was a different kind of scene when I moved here in 1979. The expectations were different.
Thinking back to all the group exhibitions you’ve participated in, it seems the practice of incorporating miscellaneous and found objects in your sculptures has lent to being classified under an array of genres and art movements, including fluxus and bricolage. What has been your favorite grouping or the most memorable context your pieces have been shown in?
A particularly memorable context took place in 1999 at the SMAK museum in Ghent, Belgium, where my sculpture consisting of a small wall-mounted thimble containing dust, faced-off in the same room with stacks of giant lead books by Anselm Kiefer. There were no other artworks in that room, so it was a real David and Goliath moment.
Michael Ross, The Smallest Type Of Architecture For The Body Containing The Dust From My Bedroom, My Studio, My Living Room, My Kitchen And My Bathroom, 1991, dust, metal, 2.3 x 2 x 2 cm, Collection SMAK, Gent, Belgium
Did you grow up with art in your life?
I grew up in Buffalo, New York. Living with my grandmother, there was no real art in her home, but I did make countless visits to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery on the other side of the park. This is where I first saw Van Gogh, Soutine, Gauguin, Ensor, Ryder, Duchamp, Nevelson, Kline, Marisol, Johns, and Rauschenberg. These early sojourns were my self-education in art before heading to art school. The museum also had a very special room devoted solely to the works of Clyfford Still, whose fierce independence I greatly admire.
Time Repair opened at Galería Mascota on March 25 and will be on view through June 5, 2023.