The contemporary young artist is one who finds themselves, at one point or another, sailing through a season of turbulence between a creative intrapersonal and interpersonal practice. Today’s emerging artist is faced with the unavoidable maneuvering between an earnest, inward search for a “unique creative identity,” and the pursuit of a deeply inspiring and communicative circle of artists for whom they can openly draw imagery, color schemes and streams of thought from. These two aspects of the creative process can seem to contradict one another, and for some artists, create cycles of self doubt and confusion. The melding of the interpersonal practice and intrapersonal practice might cause one to believe their creative identity is compromised via unoriginal ideas, or their work less poignant because “its been done already.”
But the truth is, it has all been done already. The creation of an entirely new, never before seen and incomprehensible work is not a humanly possible objective. Our inner dialogue is informed by our external experiences, and the current age of pocket computers and inescapable digital information leaves no room for work inspired by thin air. We have visual stimuli surrounding us at all hours of the day, and it doesn’t stop whether we are conscious of it or not.
So as artists navigating a culture of constant novelty, where does this leave us? How do we resolve the desire to develop the aforementioned “unique artistic identity” while amidst the numerous apparent similarities of hundreds of other artists on and off line? While speaking with Dylan Vogel and Jessica Bloom, artists of image.error, Dakota Gallery’s April exhibition, and delving into their experimental photographs, it became clear that I was in conversation with two artists striving to explore a very similar dilemma.
Image.error is an exhibition of altered and manipulated photographs that subtly and whimsically illustrate intrapersonal events; Bloom and Vogel both are creating images that are a result of a culmination of relationships - our culture - however, they are doing so in an effort to bring about an interpersonal dialogue for their viewer. These two experimental photographers are obscuring the raw image in an attempt to challenge the culture’s tolerance of the overwhelming amount of visual and spacial stimulation it has seemingly subconsciously found itself coupling with.
At times, we can’t fully come to terms with what is happening at an interpersonal level until we encounter it in an intrapersonal context. The artists of image.error have developed images that allow for such an encounter by creating abstract environments, where in order for the viewer to understand said external environment, one has to acknowledge what is happening at an internal level. Similar to our discussion about the balance between artistic self discovery v.s. the pursuit of creative influence, both Vogel and Bloom use the results of personal process synonymously with the outcomes of the over production, exchange and consumption of media in our culture.
Bloom, who manually, and rather viscerally, alters her polaroid film photographs, finds herself developing sculptural, landscape-eque images, complete with earthy color palettes and entirely dimensional forms. She shoots in the style of any social media savvy millennial, photographing her loved ones, found objects and daily events. However, shooting in film, as well as physically working its surface, she is devising a very contrary image in comparison to your average Instagram user.
Bloom’s process entirely obscures the photographs subject matter, leaving the viewer to observe her images much differently than they might view one on their smartphone. By using such familiar and mundane content, and then manually forcing it to become something seemingly different, she is creating an unanticipated encounter from a context that so many of us normally carelessly, even subconsciously, browse though. It could even be argued that her work is a representation of how poorly we digest the thousands of images we see in a day; blurrily and fragmented. She is making physical what is becoming frivolous, and therefore, using an interpersonal process to bring intrapersonal truth.
Conversely, Vogel’s intricate and seemingly tedious digital photographic collages represent an environment entirely more built and possibly more planned. His minimal, yet playful, urban settings might fool a passerby at first glance, however, their sparseness, architectural uniformness, and sometimes it’s very structural integrity are exaggerated and not to be miscalculated. To a sensical human who desires to travel within an environment, Vogel’s collages, or urban “plans”, would pose multiple issues, if not a lack of options.
Again, Vogel’s process is one of an intrapersonal and interpersonal exchange. Drawing directly from mostly industrial buildings found in any western city, of which have overtime created an often disorganized and disharmonious landscape, he subverts and overemphasizes the reality of what is truthfully encountered in an attempt to magnify the unfortunate results of the intrapersonal conversation, or lack thereof, concerning industrial urban planning. As a viewer, it’s difficult to see one of his photographs and not try, and fail to make logical sense of the space. This interpersonal dilemma leaves a viewer questioning and challenging the intrapersonal functions of our consumerist culture.
Bloom and Vogel, both BFA candidates graduating from Western Washington University this spring, have spent the last several years working alongside one another. During our conversation, as well as the artist talk they both gave to the community, Bloom and Vogel expressed how working together or collaboratively was never something that seemed natural or obvious to them. It is true that their bodies of work look very dissimilar and their concepts seem to be unrelated as well. However, as these two spoke deeper into their work, their interests and their processes, it became clearer and clearer how these two, in conjunction, facilitate a well rounded discussion about how we all relate within our sometimes chaotic culture. At the meat of it, what both these artists are making work about is humanity’s response to unconsciously or unintentionally constructed information. They are using process focused work to open a discussion about how we process stimulus, the results of which seemingly have no premeditated process. They challenge the way we create and have created in the past and are calling for us, as naturally creative beings, to change the way we produce and consume.
To take it a step further, I would argue they are making work about the lack of and importance of intimacy in today’s culture. Due to the ever increasing amount of media and built space, it seems as though honest human connection is becoming more difficult to experience. Both photography and architecture are known as two prominent facilitators of human connection and intimacy, however, as found in Blooms and Vogel’s work, these intentions seem to be getting lost amidst the chaotic modes in which today’s culture functions. Their processes are a step toward redeeming keystone creative mediums, of which could be argued, have begun to lose their purpose.
The three of us talked about how their photographs emulated other mediums, such as drawing and sculpture. However, through the discussion of their work, it became pretty clear that all these photographs were actually installations - environments even. They both expressed how they desired their viewers to truly and intimately engage with their constructed images, and mentioned ways in which they were attempting to do this via display and organization of their pieces. Two artists so deeply intrigued by unconscious production and consumption, and deeply desiring their viewers to digest these created environments intentionally, I believe the natural next step for them would be to develop a more intimate experience for the viewer; an installation.
Artists like Vogel and Bloom are crucial. Their elegant exposures of the chaos that results from a disconnect between our external decisions and internal dialogues bring about a timely conversation. Will the overwhelming amount of stimulus we are surrounded by distract us from making tactile and intentional creative decisions? Will it get more difficult to find connection amidst a world of increasing chaos? These subverted experiments in photography are not just done to showcase unchecked consumerism, they are labored over in an effort to leverage a connection gone fragmented.