Entretien avec Erica H. Adams, observer, teacher, researcher, artist (juin 2015)

Entretien avec Erica H. Adams, observer, teacher, researcher, artist (juin 2015)

FM: As an observer, teacher, researcher, artist, are you interested in the use of new technologies (digital technologies) in art, and in contemporary glass creation in particular (art, design), and why ?

EHA: New technologies in every era inform the new languages of artists who advance the ideas of their time from Renaissance perspective to new chromatic pigments - red, yellow and blue - of Impressionists to the invention of the camera, cinema and digital media: artists transform new technologies as much as they are transformed by them and culture follows. Significantly, new materials are new ideas whose new vision requires new materials without a history to deform or conform the artist’s vision into conventional shapes. Artists often use new technology in ways not imagined by the inventors of those technologies.

For example : Naim Jun Paik stacked and scattered the relatively new media of televisions as electronic building blocks for his [glass] sculptures and used magnets to alter or distort their televised images. Exposition of Electronic Music_Electronic Television (1963) at the Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal, West Germany. Jean-Luc Godard (80) became interested in 3D cinema for his film Adieu au Langage / Goodbye to Language (released 2014) because he says  “I always like it when new techniques are introduced. Because it doesn’t have any rules yet. And one can do everything.”                                                                                     

We live in a culture of screens where the increasing flatness of our lives and superfluous cascade of images is largely undigestedIn Godard’s hands, last week, I witnessed his 3D cinema form an intimate, deep and poetic space when a chair jettisons into the viewers space as it is superimposed over a mundane scene or a text lifts off and floats above another scene. This is not the flamboyance technics of Rio, the 3D animation where a bird flies into the audience’s sanctum.

The New Yorker review of Godard’s first 3D film stated :  It’s a commonplace to talk about a great director’s vision, but Godard is, above all, a director whose greatness is also a matter of touch — of physical touch — and “Goodbye to Language,” is his most tactile film to date. Pardon the expression, but, because of his use of 3-D, the film is the ultimate example    of a touch screen. It suggests a movie that embodies the touch of the director, and that invites the viewer to seemingly touch what’s on the screen1Richard Brody, Godard’s Revolutionary 3D film The New Yorker, October 29, 2013. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/jean-luc-godards-3-d-movie”.              

John La Farge (1835-1910) pulled depth out of flat stained glass panels by layering glass fragments like a watercolor in ways not seen before or after his life.“How did America’s leading muralist and painter, the decorator John La Farge, become its most revered and innovative stained glass artist? Two revolutionary techniques allowed his flat glass to appear sculptural: one, by “plating” layers of glass like a watercolour. The other, experimental use of opalescent glass, its patent remains a legal issue between Tiffany and La Farge heirs2Erica H. Adams Layered and opalescent: John La Farge, in column Through the Glass, Fjoezzz quarterly 1/2008.”.                                                            

Contemporary glass artists desanctified glass from its elevated position in church windows and high-born domestic interiors by conceiving of their glass sculptures and installations as Art meant to inhabit public spaces on museum floors and in public gardens eg : the rigorous aesthetic and social critiques of Josiah McElheny, sensuous materiality of Roni Horn and, irrepressible reach and exhuberance of glass works by Dale Chihuly who took glass where no glass had gone before.

Now, “as an artist”, new technologies from the early 1980s were an open door that I walked through to create new languages for new ways of being in the world. There existed a post-war (WWII) optimism regarding our future and it was present in new technologies that sparked new ideas, forms and ways of being.

Specifically, the 1983 invention of the digital image inspired my transformation from a classically trained painter into a theory-based “artist using photography” a defensive term used in the early 80s by a handful of artists including Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman. Photography in the early 1980s was never considered Art but a machine-based craft [a double negative] based in the factual and used for documentary work, eg: usually for magazines like LIFE magazine, WWII war photography or for social reform based photo-essays.

The constructed photograph or ‘digital image’ impacted the law because since a photograph could now be constructed, it could no longer be considered prima facia evidence in a court of law. As ‘artists using photography’ we constructed our photographs by using appropriated photographs and by creating mis-en-scenes in order to deconstruct and expose social constructions of sexual, religious and cultural norms.

Since PhotoShop would not be commercially available until early 1990s, I invented photographic techniques from 1982-1991 -painted, layered negatives, made double exposures, and re-photographed each layer, etc.  And, I tried to access the only digital ‘machine’ in the world via the inventors of the digital image who worked near my home, at Sci-Tex Chromacom in Bedford, Massachusetts. On the verge of bankruptcy when I (naively) asked the inventors for an ‘artist’s grant’; instead they asked me to buy their two ‘machines’ for almost a million dollars. Didn’t happen. As well, I used the world’s first semi-automatic camera, a Nikon FE-2 (1983) and, to print my photographs large-scale (up to 8 feet long) I used the new technology of “instant prints” Polaroid Large Format 20 x 24 Camera (1978) in Cambridge, Massachusetts3http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20x24_Studio.

My photographs were included in the historic postmodern traveling exhibit of photography Acceptable Entertainment (1988-1990) circulated in U.S. and Canada by Independent Curators International, in New York. 

After a decade (1983-1993) in this new, disembodied world of [the digital] or constructed photographs, I made some “Photo-Sculptures” (1987-1991) to give a body and context to the floating world of constructed images: one photo-sculpture Industrial Icon: Nature (1987-1989) was fabricated by a series of specialists: its photo-etched glass, a steel plate placed 17 inches behind the glass and a wood frame, my sculpture was featured in Glashelder4Erica H. Adams -De Begrippenlijst: Deconstructie: Glashelder, Belgium: Mei 1997/ No.10, p 18.

These new technologies inspired me to re-think all aspects of photography in a parallel tract to re-thinking the construction of all aspects of the social and the disappearing line between “real life” and television /media culture a breach that no longer exists in the fluid identities of the 21st century.

While then new, postmodern photography was exhibited in the 80s and, by early 90s being absorbed into the academies, this movement was not really understood but everyone knew it was important, as was admitted in 2003, by David Ross the ever-controversial director of museums from Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (1982-1991) and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY (1991-1998) to San Francisco Museum of Art (? 1999 -2001), and current Chair of School of Visual Arts-NY5http://www.berkshirefinearts.com/11-18-2011_former-ica-and-whitney-director-david-a-ross.htm.

The newest technologies quickly became obsolete or overshadowed by newer ones –consumer culture accelerated and trivialized this aspect –but, significantly, new technologies inspired and fostered new languages, new and critical ways of thinking for hybrid works –eg: Polaroid instant cameras (1980s), Nikon’s first semi-automatic “FE-2” camera (1985) and the unique Polaroid Large Format 20x24 Camera with instant film that I used from 1982 -1992. Instant prints without the darkroom were a preview of PhotoShop (1991-3) and archival quality digital printing that emerged late 90s, evolved in early 21st century.

From the 1990s, the first digital programs for photography and animation were mesmerizing. Programs crashed often and were technically challenging to techs I worked with.

By the 21st century, a fully digital working environment became the norm and I used it all –faxes, email, digital cameras, digital animation to cell phones and cell cameras and Epson’s large-scale digital printers, etc This virtual world inspired a reaction found in ‘slow art’, not unlike how Art Nouveau reacted by resuscitating the handmade during the rise of the industrial world.  The aura of digital works and of new materials cannot be underestimated, but, is this really different from the past? We move towards transparency, anti-gravity and speed. The Corning video (2012) exemplifies this.

In 1999, a Virtual Reality collaboration of artists and scientists at Boston University Photonics Lab resulted in group exhibit “Spirited Ruins”: my glass and plexi-glass sculpture “Shallow Water” had a motion sensor which triggered a sound file that activated my Virtual Reality sculpture site “6 Pac”, a monumental six pack of beer, the remains of American civilization. The excitement of the artists and scientists collaborating in this V-R project was palpable. Most sculptures were illustrative or like diagrams instead of being art6http://scv.bu.edu/visualization/hipart/SpiritedRuins/Artists/adams/adams.html.

Following this V-R project, in 2004, I designed an interactive glass work to be installed in a public space, preferably outside. The proposed work was to be a large, interactive and freestanding glass wall or two-sided barrier that would display a live-stream of information and simultaneously receive and display responses from viewers. This interactive work asked a philosophical question: how do people process the same information but form such divergent opinions?

To realize this project, I contacted Phillips in the Netherlands for help with the technology to realize this idea but it was ahead of the technology of the time. We are coming closer.

In the meantime, as artists, we ‘translate’ the idea into what is possible to create given economic conditions and materials available at the time.

FM :  Experimentations in art with digital technologies are they a necessity, to overcome them, transform them, to try to express feelings or perceptions differently?

EHA: Digital technologies may overcome humankind (HAL in 2001 A Space Oddity?) but have changed our lives and with it, our sense of what it is to be human and what we can achieve. Let’s not go backwards to find paradise. The present digital environment seems limitless regarding its options for creative individuals including glass artists, scientists and architects. However, the more virtual our lives become, the more we look back to traditions that were, in fact, the innovations of their times. Lalique’s early experiments in glass melted in his kitchen’s oven immediately comes to mind and resembles American Studio Glass originator, Harvey Littleton’s. We move between the physical and virtual, reality and dream: it has always been so. What is earth or heaven, after all?

The cliché that mistakes lead to civilization’s greatest discoveries if only the explorer, artist or scientist ‘thinks differently’ and re-directs the original work, will always be the operative principle of creativity. Umberto Eco in his essays titled Misreadings (1993) parodies how our readings are usually a misreadings that are perhaps more viable than our correct readings. We can say civilization has progressed by misreadings or by trial and, mostly errors. We might be thankful!

FM : Do you think that digital technologies can enrich the glass creation (aesthetic, artistic, formal dimensions), change something in the processes, in the way of create, perhaps also in the spectator perception?

EHA : Digital imaging technologies have enriched every sphere of life from art to medicine’s new visual, diagnostic technologies: much is visible first time and in such an unprecedented clarity that it promotes an new approach to understanding the human body.

Glass in architecture evolved through digital technologies: to produce glass columns strong enough to support buildings or form the glass building itself.  Printed serigraph patterns on glass buildings act as decoration and a kind of screen. Smart glass walls or windows of buildings can be programmed to interact with the sun can shield or let shine through interiors, absorb or store the sun’s energy. There appears to be no limit, save imagination, for uses of smart glass.

In architecture, a digital program first used by NASA was modified for Frank Gehry to configure the curves of his sculptural buildings -drawing what no hand can draw or model and do calculations for complex curves.

The revolution suggested by 3D printing has begun to change how we conceive of objects and when or how many we make. Curators in the U.S. are now talking about presenting ‘experiences instead of objects’ whereas in Japan, this was already the norm in 1985. The virtual, disembodied culture of screens we now call home is actually embedded in our cultural and spiritual systems.

FM : Which are, for you, the limits in the use of digital technologies in glass art today ?

EHA : Some ideas spring out of the mind whole but are modified by the physical or digital realities. Other ideas are formed through material –glass or digital –and are modified by a myriad of realities as well.

There is no clear answer for this: personalities, the time including economics, available materials and access to digital programs all these elements figure into the equation of how I do work along with the good fortune of mistakes: as Kierkegaard said, it’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

As an artist, an arts school faculty and arts writer, I experience as much virtually as I do physically. Each digital or manual technology has limitations. However, the distinction that I saw collapsing in the 1980s, between “real life” and “televised life” (reel life) and, that disturbed me enough to make work about it mid-80s [exhibited my Media series at Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston Now: Photography] now seems, in 2015, to be so irrelevant –what with Skype, FaceBook, etc - that it’s probably worth revisiting the breach between the real versus and the virtual.

Concurrent with my ‘interest’ in climate change, I am profoundly attracted to low technologies:

In 2015, I’m exhibiting “un-paintings” / “abstractions” that are essentially about geology and climate change as made through a chemical interaction between materials  [glass, soda ash, stone, pigments, etc] that secondarily results in what can be called ‘paintings’7http://formalaspects.blogspot.com/2015/02/erica-adams-result-of-living-year-round.html

And, my abiding love of sandcast, large-scale glass sculptures that I first saw in Junichiro Baba’s studio at Penland (NC) in 1998 when Angela van der Burght and I first created, wrote and edited our first quarterly This Side Up! (1997-2006) followed by Fjoezzz quarterly (2007-12) and now on-line Glass Is More (2013 -).

Equal is my enchantment a kinetic sculpture by Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy seen as a 2006 replica of “Light Prop for an Electric Stage,” (1930), at Harvard Art Museums8http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2007/07/light-prop-shines-again/.

But, this co-exists, at the same time with digital technology: photographs I’ve exhibited that are made with my cell phone and internet samples that result in digital prints about contemporary violence and second world war’s Holocaust. .

FM : The use of new technologies should be accompanied by critical thought on new technologies themselves in social, political, ecological, economic terms ?

EHA : Critical thought is always in short supply. And, our interconnected world results in our differences being immediately visible. Critical thinking is required.

However, there is a Third Stream that bridges our classical and contemporary multiverses: we know more than we allow ourselves to believe that we know or intuit. I trust the human race, in particular, to its creative core, despite evidence to the contrary. New technologies are always the way through a solution, starting (?) with fire. We don’t abandon our hands when we sit at our laptops. My text is handmade! Our tools change and we are changed by our tools, but not too much.

Green technologies in particular, make me a believer in the human race’s capacity to turn this Titanic around. And, dire necessity is truly the mother of all inventors. Think positive, it’s cheaper and easier on the soul. We must survive as a species.

Photographie : Erica H Adams, Industrial Icon Nature, 1990,Wood, Photo Etched Glass and Steel.