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Launch!

The thesis exhibition reception was great!  I felt so good to be showing art with my amazing classmates at the University of Cincinnati Master of Fine Arts Program, with whom I have spent the last two years of my life.  The show looked amazing and was really well planned.  The turnout was great too, including local celebrities like Mayor Mark Mallory and well-known artists like photographer Michael Wilson.

The director of our program Joe Girandola got ahold of an amazing projector for me so the images were bright and crisp even at about twelve feet across.  Rather than simply project www.solgonda.com onto a wall, I built an environment to kind of bring some of the magic and mystery of the desert outdoors into the gallery.  Bill at Ohio Valley Stone hooked me up with some big rocks, including a 1,400 pound boulder.  I covered the speakers with Papier-mâché and painted them to look like the rocks, put the sub-woofer in a burlap bag, etc.  I figured, you only get an MFA once (unless you’re a masochist or bored and wealthy) so I pulled out all the stops with the details.

People were really into the work, and at many times there were lines to control the interface.  The best moment was receiving a hug from a young boy after his parents pointed me out as the artist.  The boy was so satisfied he was gleaming.  I joked that children were my target demographic.  But really, that is not far from the truth–if I can evoke a kind of child-like wonder in adults too, I know I’m doing something right.  At moments of extreme joy in my own life, I value adventure and discovery over predictability, the way children do.  Curiosity is the essence of my work.  Thank you for letting me share it with you.

If you didn’t get a chance to see the exhibition please enjoy the piece online now: www.solgonda.com

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Spot UV Gloss

Spot UV gloss postcard

Solgonda.com Postcard with Spot UV Glossy Coating

I always wanted to create a postcard with spot UV coating but never had an appropriate image.  Finally!  And I am so pleased with these.  I love watching people rub their fingers over the boulders and move the card in the light.  There is no texture, only a surprising shine.  The spot shine makes the card slightly interactive, like the web project.

I created this to promote solgonda.com so the text on the back is short and sweet: “Solgonda.com by Joe Hedges”.  The great thing about internet art is that it’s open 24 hours a day so you can have a private reception in your pajamas while eating Doritos.  Plus, the exhibition doesn’t end until I say it ends!

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Secrecy and Natural Wonder in Contemporary Art

Trevor Paglen

Trevor Paglen They Watch the Moon, 2010

I love the work of Trevor Paglen, artist, author, and cultural geographer at the Department of Geography at the University of California at Berkeley.  Paglen’s experimental geography and “anthropogeomorphology” explore ideas about space and culture by capturing and presenting images and texts that are interdisciplinary, pushing the boundaries of science and art.  His books and exhibitions range from examinations of the geography of the Pentagon’s secret world to the creation and selection of images to be sent into outer space as an anthropological record.  Like Paglen, I make use of photography and am inspired by locations that have a built-in mystery or ambiguity.  I am attracted to instances of “epistemological collapse” (Paglen’s words).

Nimbus II

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus II

Olafur Eliasson indoor sun, tate modern

Olafur Eliasson’s indoor sun, Tate Modern Museum

Two other contemporary artists who have influenced my work are Olafur Eliasson, whose Weather Project at the Tate Modern museum in London involved a suspended convincing indoor sun, and artist Berndnaut Smilde who became an internet sensation for his photographs of real clouds in art galleries.  Noticing a trend here?  I didn’t really consider the connection between my own work and these installations until recently.  I believe the recent popularity of recreations of natural phenomena in galleries is due in part to our ever-increasing reliance on screens, which are obviously flat, 2D representations of the world.  Making a dramatic installation is one way to excite audiences who are constantly looking at representations of reality already.

Solgonda - Magic Molten Rocks (Altered photograph from Joshua Tree National Park) 2012

Solgonda.com screenshot


While my own project is less ambitious, several scenes have the same aim as the works of these two artists–to bring a sense of the awesome vastness of the natural world into the indoor space of the gallery.  These works walk the line between representational and experiential art.  The installation version of Solgonda included actual boulders within the gallery space, blurring the lines between simulation and reality and between representation and intervention.

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Glyphs

Fun with black and red ink and mostly non-alphanumeric characters.

I have an early memory of playing on a typewriter upstairs at my father’s office.  While I was old enough to have typed words or even a short story, my first impulse was to use the machine to layer and mix mostly non-alphanumeric characters (periods, brackets, commas, etc.), combining the red and black strips of ink to create what I proudly presented to my mother as “my own language”.  I knew then on some level that what I had created was and was not language at the same time.

In my recent art projects I have explored the visual output of both past civilizations in the form of petroglyphs, and contemporary computer coding languages in the form of obscure characters.  Both systems of glyphs are nearly completely unintelligible to the layperson and remain obscure even to the specialist.  Thus, these systems have an inherent relationship with semiotics, as the associations between the characters and symbols fail to create meaning.  While one function of code is to communicate, another equally useful purpose is to obfuscation (as in Morse code, etc.). Many children are attracted to this capability of code and language, evidenced by the marketing of secret decoder rings and fake spy gear.

Code Display

Solgonda Code Display

A basic principle of semiotics is that meaning is constructed through difference [1. Saussure, Ferdinand De, Charles Bally, Albert Sechehaye, and Albert Riedlinger. Course in General Linguistics. LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1986. Print.].  In the world of computer languages, fragmentary, rigidly organized, intensely fragile components cannot even be understood in terms of difference, for difference is found in such abundance between coding languages and within any specific language that difference is completely stripped of its organizing power.  It doesn’t really make sense to call computer programming languages “languages” at all, in that while they have a metaphorical resemblance to human language, they are essentially data systems of commands that are not spoken nor written, save to transmit information to machines.  This misleading resemblance is what makes code so frustrating for the uninitiated and so intriguing for me visually.

Taking a huge leap back in time, petroglyphs or rock carvings are also systems of information but not necessarily language either.  When I first stumbled on some petroglyphs in and around Joshua Tree National Park I was struck both by their art-ness and their resemblance to written language.

Joshua Tree Petroglyphs - Great Basin Abstract Style

Petroglyphs

These symbols are often referred to as “rock art”.  There is an undeniable formal beauty in the line work and abstract renderings of these peoples, and it is easy to feel an artistic connection.

Most of the Joshua Tree markings belong to the Great Basin Abstract style and are believed to have been carved by by the Serrano or Cahuilla Native Americans several thousand years ago [2. Austin, Donald. “Serrano Petroglyphs at Coyote Hole, Joshua Tree, California.” Petroglyphs, Pictographs and Rock Art. Petroglyphs.us, 3 Jan. 2006. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.].  But beyond their physical appearance, we know little about them. There is no reliable way to carbon date a rock carving, since the carving is literally the absence of rock, and the rock itself predates humans.  Furthermore, sites may contain carvings from multiple tribes or carvings made at different times.  Most individual meanings of the markings are lost to time.

In my most recent web project I use JavaScript code to randomly generate an array of images of glyphs arranged into a grid.  Clicking on one of the glyphs advances the user to the next page, but the correct choice is a mystery.  While the grid evokes modernist notions of organization and understanding, the random placement of the glyphs underscores their unintelligibility.

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MFA Thesis Reception Friday April 19

Solgonda

Solgonda

Solgonda: An Internet Art Gallery Installation by Joe Hedges as part of
Launch: University of Cincinnati Master of Fine Arts Students Thesis Exhibitions
The University of Cincinnati Sycamore Gallery
628 Sycamore St. Cincinnati, OH, 45202
Reception Friday April 19 6:30-10 p.m.
Artist talk Saturday April 20 12-3 p.m.
www.mfalaunch.com

Please consider stopping by my thesis exhibition.  The reception is free and open to the public of all ages and walks of life.  Come as you are and enjoy art, hors d’oeuvres (free food), wine, and fun.  My work will be on display during the Friday April 19th reception, the second of three consecutive exhibitions featuring nineteen Master of Fine Arts graduate students.  The exhibition will feature a diverse array of media including painting, sculpture, installation, photography, animation, mixed media, video art, internet art, and sound art from myself and several of my peers.

My own work combines assemblage sculpture, installation, and interactive digital art that makes use of my own photographic imagery and data from a variety of sources, using technologies such as HTML, PHP, JavaScript, etc. to arrange content into interactive scenes or pages.  After the exhibition the piece will be available online at www.solgonda.com.

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One Man’s Trash: Assemblage Art and the Act of Reclaiming

I have been hard at work preparing for my thesis exhibition.  The Reception will be Friday April 19th in Cincinnati.  Save the date!  Details here:  MFALaunch.com

Wood, random parts and wheels

Wood, random parts and wheels

My show is now essentially two parts, digital and physical, which is fitting since that has been my conceptual focus.  Initially I imagined the exhibition would consist entirely of a digital projection.  However, I was inspired recently to create two functional sculptural elements for the space, one a projector stand (more of an assemblage tower) and the other a desk which will house the computer and mouse.

I spent last weekend digging a lot of things out of roadside piles of trash and trashcans at DAAP.  But some of my best finds were at One Man’s Trash Inc. where I was fortunate to get a “just lock up when you’re done” from a gruff but generous man.  One Man’s Trash specializes in clean-outs of attics and cellars, etc., so I was able to find many very strange, old weathered wooden items in their yard including a beautiful dresser and what looks like an old mining cart.  Essentially, I am bringing some rustic, Hi-desert aesthetic into the otherwise boring, clean white cube space of the gallery.  Below are some in progress images of the work in progress.  For the real deal please come to the exhibition!  (I will also post installation shots after it’s up)

I always appreciated sculptures and functional items that included recycled bits of material that would otherwise end up in a land fill.  This is not a new idea of course.  So-called American folk-artists have been creating some amazing works in this vein for centuries (Noah Purifoy, for one).  The popularization of the now trendy term and concept “reclaimed” is reflected in internet sites such as Craigslist, Etsy, Pinterest (for the aesthetics not action) and the “Rise of the Sharing Economy” more generally.

For me the word reclaimed evokes notions of community, recycling, and creativity.  The act of creation is essentially claiming–acquiring or claiming materials and then stamping, signing, declaring the new form as one’s own.  But while supposedly more original processes such as painting and sculpture are often thought of as the creation of “original works of art”, the notion of re-claiming gives a deserved nod to the universe at work.  Someone manufactures paint tubes and canvas.  We claim the wood from trees for paint brushes.  Trees create more trees.  Pigments were formed in the stars, eons ago.  Everything that is made is made through materials and tools that are acquired through sale, theft, or some other method of claimed ownership.  Reclaiming is a concept that at once reflects our human needs to take and to give.

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Common Threads

My MFA thesis will be continued work on this project that began last summer at Joshua Tree, which is tentatively (and somewhat arbitrarily) named Solgonda.  Above are a few images from a recent exhibition at 840 Gallery at DAAP.  I had intended to shift gears after this show, but I found that I could not stop working on this thing. Instead, I am hoping to present the ever-growing project in a larger format (projection or larger screen or screens) in the spring as a more varied investigation of the visual language of photography, digital art, and science. Everything begins with photography but I am using HTML, PHP, and javascript, to create interactive music and visuals, and exploring themes including:

  • art as information
  • information as art
  • information and code
  • images as code
  • systems of organization and categorization
  • language systems
  • networks
  • buildings
  • clues and puzzles
  • magic and mystery
  • artifacts
  • geology and landscape
  • history
  • wonder (vs. alienation)
  • Simulacra
  • Archive as art
  • Collecting as destruction or preservation
  • Image making as collecting
  • Visual Anthropology
  • ethnography

This list arose as I attempted to find some common threads or links between my last paintings of boxes and the accompanying interactive web project, mintabox.com, and my current research which came out of the Joshua Tree trip but continues to evolve.

Even though I am working a lot with the computer lately, I still think of myself as a painter. Now I am creating interactive paintings. I am also working on a series of 10″ x 10″ static paintings and art objects which I am hoping to show with this project or shortly thereafter. These came about during bouts of occasional frustration with code, which gave rise to an accompanying need to do something physical. They are also round-about solutions to the challenges of commodifying internet art. I will post some images of those soon.

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