Yes; Or As If: A Conversation with Kelly Kaczynski
JL: For the Study for Convergence Performance, you had written about that conflation of the artist’s studio and the site of production, but you had referenced landscape “as a site for epic but apathetic metaphor.” I was really curious about that phrase, and I was wondering if you could talk more about that.
KK: One of the things I always try to remind my students is that landscape is a cultural production. That landscape, as a thing itself, as geological formation, is real. We are the ones that construct it into being something, whether that’s Hudson River School’s Sublime landscape, or Yellowstone National Park, where we have viewing decks to view the scene. Landscape can be simultaneously that exact romance, or it can be a geopolitical position, or it can just be what it is. I think about the ‘apathetic’ as something that doesn’t care, and we don’t need to care back, necessarily, because it will happen anyway.
Landscape is here, and it is the platform which allows all of us to rest on. So, in Study for Convergence Performance, the landscape is something that simultaneously is present, but also constructed. We imbue it with meaning. On one hand, the history of landscape is just what happens with its own mineral construction, but the history is also what happens in terms of things like Manifest Destiny or why people occupy it. But, that’s our history. Landscape effects our history, and we of course affect landscape, but landscape will do what it does anyway without us. Robert Smithson’s work identifies industrial landscape and entropic landscape, as opposed to the romanticized landscape like Hudson Valley painters or ideas of the sublime. I’m thinking about landscape in terms of how it is we understand or choose to exist in landscape. But, a lot of that ends up being things like remote viewing, where I visit via Google Search for a lot of these projects.
JL: This makes me think of Roni Horn’s series You are the Weather (1994-1996), a series of very tightly cropped photographs of the face of a woman, in outdoor swimming pools in Iceland. Do you know that work?
KK: I do know that work.
JL: The images are so atmospheric and beautiful, and they are so subtle. Its like a portrait of a landscape that is not an image of landscape, but an experience of landscape through a totally different structure. There’s another project, The Library of Water, housed in a building in Stykkishólmur on Snæfellsness that is a collection of water samples from glaciers in Iceland, and its just these columns of water in this gorgeous room that looks out into the fjörd. And, of course, when you enter the room, you want to just look at this gorgeous scene in front of you, but right in front of you, there is this very real collection of the actual minerals and data that form that landscape from this place, the image of which is so exoticized and objectified.
AZ: I am wondering about your relation to landscape and the body. In questioning your compositions, like the figures, the bodies, the landscape – they’re flat, they’re naked, and green-screened, and integrated into one solid field in architecture. They’re sort of like bodiless bodies. So, when I originally saw these photos, they reminded me of Gursky photos, even though there are figures in them.
KK: I guess I have always been fascinated by how we organize space. It’s not necessarily how we organize things in space, but how we organize space, and the relationship between things. Bodies are one of those things that are arranged, but when we build we’re anthropocentric. So, when we have an architectural structure, we’re relating it to the body, whether it’s related to the size and proportion of the hand, or relating it to the size and proportion of how we stand or sit. When I think about space and the body or landscape and the body, I think about ways that we position ourselves within that – how to build something so the bodies will naturally position themselves there.
So for example, the title of the show and it’s relationship to the poem, Air is Air and Thing is Thing is also the title of an early installation that I had done at Triple Candie in New York. In that one I borrowed from Duchamp’s Étant donnés, so it was this whole room of sculptures that as you meandered through, if you looked through one particular object or group of people, you saw that all of the sculptures in the room aligned to mimic Étant donnés. But, the female figure was laying prone in the negative space. So, when the viewers were walking through the installation, unbeknownst to them, they were walking on the body of the figure that was viewed. In that particular piece, it was a matter of privilege whether or not you were able to see the body.
I haven’t answered the question directly, Alex, because it doesn’t talk about landscape. It talks about space. I think it’s space that’s more important for me than actual landscape. A long time ago when I did artist talks, I used to talk about my work as being somehow about landscape, but there was a moment when I realized it’s actually not about landscape it’s about what landscape is in terms of space, density, enclosure, and vastness – how landscape acts or what it does versus landscape as a notion.
AZ: That makes sense to me because you reduce landscape to space by making green screens, so they’re making use of cultural ways of thinking that would be an appropriate space to be a landscape.
KK: I also think about Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, especially with Study with Chroma (Julia and Shannon). This is not just because Shannon is sitting on the ground, but because how the bodies are positioned relative to each other. They seem to want to make sense, but they don’t actually relate, so I think a lot about that painting when I think about this work.
AZ: The other Ortega y Gasset Projects intern, Netta Sadovsky, and I were talking about our response to your work, and we both ended up with the same conclusion, but from different sides. I thought it was really interesting to see all the parts that create the display, the production that is the display, and the artist within that manipulation. This includes the digital noise and Photoshop evidence. While Netta still felt that same authenticity and truthfulness, but had no idea because she doesn’t really work in digital media. She thought these were just one take of the artist using mirrors to create a really chaotic and revealing shot that shows how fragmented our viewing is.
KK: What’s interesting about your generation, Alex, is that I end up thinking that you guys are much more digitally savvy, and that it is accepted without much thought in production, at this point. But, I have friends that are my age that either don’t care because they recognize the digital elements, or it really bothers them because it is not well done. But, my whole purpose is not that it’s not well done.
About 10 or 12 years ago, there was all this conversation about artifice, and for awhile artists were always saying things like, “leave the camera” or “point out where your hardware is, don’t hide it,” so on and so forth.
In some ways I’m just showing my age, but what’s nice, Alex, about your response between you and Netta, is that it relaxes that position. You are able to recognize it because of your knowledge of Photoshop, and you recognize it as something that’s necessary to constructing meaning within the image, which is what I want. I also like it that Netta doesn’t recognize it and thinks of it as a one take shot, in part because she accepts her vision. The work is essentially about my conversation with sculpture, in terms of thinking through space. The weird thing is that it is one shot. It’s a single shot with all the nudes, and then there’s a shot behind that with no nudes. That’s a single shot. It’s just that in the top one with the nudes some of the chroma has been taken away to reveal the back.
So, it’s nice to hear both responses because of your acceptance, but also your knowledge that of course I could have photoshopped it clean, or of course I could have collaged it in Photoshop as multiple situations coming in and made it seamless. That’s doable. People are experts at it. It’s a given in this day and age. By revealing the artifice or leaving things like the noise in just the right spots, I’m actually thinking about it as more painterly.
It’s this sense where everything that was there is there. It was actually in the space, the camera included. I didn’t do any of the photoshop retouching of any faces or blemishes. That’s not the point. Or, there’s stuff in the green screen. I think you still see the Home Depot trash bag or something in the background of one of them, and it’s kind of annoying to me. But, it’s there, so I left it there.
Kelly Kaczynski: Yes; Or As If is on view at Ortega y Gasset Projects in Ridgewood, NY March 1, 2014 – April 5, 2015.
Images courtesy of the artist.
Ortega y Gasset Projects (O y G) was launched in May 2013 as a gallery and curated project space in the Bushwick/Ridgewood neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens. Formed by artists living in California, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York, O y G operates as a cross-country collective and an incubator for dialog and artistic exchange.