Yes; Or As If: A Conversation with Kelly Kaczynski

In this new series of photographs, Kelly Kaczynski explores the material state of the green screen. Historically, the green screen provides an infinite site within an infinite scale in which to position a subject. Using analog or digital technology to substitute chroma with an alternative site, the image is allowed to move from the actual to the potential. Yes; Or As if, curated by Clare Britt, is on view at Ortega y Gasset Projects March 1- April 5. This interview with Kelly Kazcynski was conducted by Jessica Langley and features Alex Zandi, an intern at OyG Projects.

Kelly Kaczynski is an artist living and working in Chicago, IL. Her work focuses on the functions and histories of sculpture. She has exhibited with Soap Factory, MN; Gahlberg Gallery, IL; threewalls, IL; Hyde Park Art Center, IL; Rowland Contemporary, IL; University at Buffalo Art Gallery, NY; Triple Candie, NY; Islip Art Museum, NY; Josee Bienvenu Gallery, NY; DeCordova Museum, MA; Boston Center for the Arts, MA. Public installations include projects with the Main Line Art Center, Haverford, PA; the Interfaith Center, NY; Institute for Contemporary Art, Boston and the Boston National Historic Parks, MA; Boston Public Library, MA. Curatorial projects include the exhibition titled ‘Mouthing (a sentient limb)’ at the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL, and the upcoming 2014 exhibition, Virtually Physically Speaking at Columbia College, Chicago, IL. She is currently working on a publication for Olympus Manger, an epic play written as it was constructed.  She received an MFA from Bard College, NY and BA from The Evergreen State College, WA. Kaczynski is Assistant Professor in the Department of Art Theory & Practice at Northwestern University, IL.

Alex Zandi  is an artist and designer whose work examines cybernetic structures and the chimeras that underpin the architecture of these systems. Utilizing language from experimental video, design, and modernist literature, Zandi assembles a poetic that reframes the ever-evolving intersection between technology and media. He has exhibited work at Wordship II in New York, Steinberg Hall Gallery in Missouri, and the Parsons Gallery in Massachusetts. He was the recipient of the Howard Nemerov Poetry Prize and the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society Prize for Fine Art. Zandi studied Communication Design and English Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. He currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Jessica Langley: When I first saw the title for the show, I was really surprised because it seemed like it didn’t make sense, but it seemed so intentional as well. We spoke briefly at the opening, and you had mentioned this poem by E.E. Cummings, Now Air is Air and thing is thing: no bliss. So, I was wondering if you could elaborate on the meaning behind Yes; Or As If.

Kelly Kaczynksi: I tried to think of a title where the language of the title was parallel to the role of the green screen. It seemed as though syntax in linguistics or “meaning making” was the closest to what the green screen is. So, I chose to use words that have the role of the conjunction within a sentence – words that made connections or combined two types of meaning, to construct meaning in a sentence.

Now Air is Air and thing is thing: no bliss has been significant for me for a number of years, and I decided to turn to the poem and draw out some of the specific conjunctions that were used. E.E. Cummings is really good with  language;  not only making meaning through language, but how he’s using words with syntax, or mixing up syntax and the order of words to make new meaning. Yes; Or As If  is pulled out from the poem, which is specifically about a position of relationship or relations; for example, two or more people relating to landscape and landscape being simultaneously romantic and not romantic. That “air is air, and, thing is thing” means that it is simultaneously something that we create aspirations and inspiration for, but it is just the thing, as it is. And I’ve always been interested in that.

In the Greenpointers review by Martin E, he added “hills and trees and grass” where there is none. That is what those photographs supposed to do, because the green screen is a stand in for any kind of landscape that you want to build. So, the title is trying to do the same thing – giving a declarative “Yes,” which means “yes, this is exactly what it says it is.” It’s here. Then the semicolon leads to  “Or As If,” those three words being conjunctions. But, then together it can mean “or as if it’s this other thing.”

JL: The work seems so analytical, very composed, still, even, and Classical in this way. But there is so much tension,  physical action, and dismemberment. I really respond to this. Selfishly, I am curious because I tend to experience life and art through physical experience and emotion. So, how does emotion fit into this work, if at all?

KK: My work is constantly in push/pull – trying to bring together or be closer to people or the body. It is always addressing the body, its position, or absence in that space. But, the work is always removed – putting distance from me or the viewer. The body becomes a body and not an agent of their own personality or feelings. So, in my work, I tend to be less concerned with my viewers feelings about the work, or their role in the work, and more concerned about looking at, observing, or positioning my audience.

JL: Do you think that it is the photographic process that creates that removal?

KK: Taking on the role of a director, where I am positioning the bodies and moving the camera, and, as you said, creating ‘dismemberment’ through using the mirrors that spread them across the space, was a way for me to move in and out, touch them, and be near to them, but in a completely removed, objective position. It was all about what I needed the composition or construction to be. Yet, I was able to do that because I knew them – because they’re friends of mine. If they were strangers, it would be empty. I would have nothing to examine in quite the same way. So, it is not really about emotion, as much as comprehension.

Alex Zandi: My experience looking at your photographs was extremely emotional, because I have to contemplate these multiple subjects: bodiless bodies, and that of the green screen or mediating technologies. I didn’t know you were friends with the models at first, but it really felt intimate to me. So, how do you acknowledge the interpretation of the viewer?

Kelly Kaczynski, Study with Chroma (Steve and Elijah), 2013

Kelly Kaczynski, Study with Chroma (Steve and Elijah), 2013


KK: I’m glad that it felt intimate, and I suspect that it is because I do know the models, which is hard to remove myself from. It is interesting to me that you felt intimacy. I like the fact that you didn’t know that they were friends of mine. Although there’s something about the titles, the parenthetical names, that gives you a sense that these are actual people, as opposed to the nude model, which doesn’t need a name. So, in that way, your relationship to the images, in terms of the intimacy created, feels good to me.

I don’t know if they’re emotional, but certainly there’s a closeness. As friends, they allowed me to look at them. They just get to be who they are. They are standing the way they are standing, even though I’ve positioned them. Sometimes that’s more awkward and other times more relaxed. It also depends upon how the limbs are organized – I like the word ‘dismemberment’ – like, the photograph with Julia and Shannon, is a really different kind of repose than the one with Chelsea and Ben. And, in the Chelsea and Ben photograph, it was interesting to me because they are a couple, so they are more comfortable with each other’s naked body. Whereas, Julie and Shannon are not,  and Elijah and Steve are not. So, I think it is also in the nature of my knowing who they are, and what they do naturally.

JL: I wonder if instead of using the word emotion, maybe the word tension is better here – it elicits a more physical response. And, I was thinking about your work in terms of the tension between a Classical and Romantic image. Something that is even and balanced, and highly structured, in contrast to the chaos and violence that happens in the image as a result of the artist’s hand – the paint splatters on the floor, the digital noise/evidence. These seem like a very Romantic gestures, so maybe that is what elicits this physical response that we conflate with emotion.

KK: So, basically what you’re saying is that it’s actually the romance of understanding the artists’ position or process? You’re right that in the photograph, the noise from Photoshop works well with the paint splatters on the floor. That’s just the studio environment. Because part of what I’m doing is conflating the site of production and the site of display – “what we’re looking at” and “where it happened,” and in this particular case, it is important to me that both are the same thing – both a subject within the image. It’s all an equal subject. The green screen is equal to the figure, which is as weighted as the site of production, which is the artist’s studio.

So, in some ways, maybe you’re identifying that romance of artist production. But, it is just me showing you that these things are all present, versus a kind of metaphor of what that can be in terms of why or how an artist produces or thinks. Which is romantic. I hate that, but I also understand that. I don’t like the romance of the artist, or how we think about that, or that history, and yet it is mysterious.

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