Tuesday, August 5, 2008

interview • calvin lee

i heart photograph: this photo, of a burning photo, points toward both the photograph as a means of representation and a material object. in the image and in your work in general, are you aiming to balance the two or emphasize one over the other?

calvin lee: for this initial photograph, i was interested both the representational value and material aspects of a photograph. i wanted to create an image that is layered in its complexity and i was interested in documenting the performance of the photo paper ignited by fire as it slowly burns. (in greek, photography means ‘light writing.’) it is fascinating how fire is a primitive source of energy and light that can be contained and/or chaotic and uncontrollable. with the burning of the paper, the event becomes almost ritualistic as the fire creates marks on the surface and alters the geometric form as well as reduces materiality, physicality, and opens up space. the reductive process in this image relies on its narrative logic, metaphysical relationships, and contingency.

'studio burn' (2008) points at the scarcity of materials due to commerce and the anxiety that comes with that loss. what intrigues me about this specific image is the conceptual space (i.e. distancing) in between the actual piece of analog paper being burnt which is kept as a new form of evident, the documentation of the paper burning, and its final existence as a digital print/file. the production of this image was a way to expose what is unconscious through literalness. i wanted to metaphorically articulate the idea entropy and transformation, as a way to comment on photography’s indeterminacy and demise as digital becomes the dominant. this series is a more generalized investigation on the current discourse of photography and consists of different images composed with specific elements/events piecemealed together.

i.h.p.: your work has often involved photographs as part of large, complex sculptural installations, and you mentioned this image is part of two series. what role does the image take as a photo and an object?

c.l.: the role of this image in both of the series i am currently working on deals more with its content rather than its initial form or unconventional display. one of the series as mentioned above deals with the medium of photography and technology while the other series deals with cultural transformation and nihilism. i intentionally want to find new relationships with my archive of images. i believe a single image has multiple functions and should be able to be reused or altered to fit its placement.

in my work in general, i do not think i am aiming to balance or emphasize representation over materiality but am questioning the experience between the two either as photographic documentation or as a sculptural object. my investigation includes experimenting with pushing the static nature of a photographic image from two-dimensional space back into three-dimensional sculptural form (and/or moving pictures) then testing its potentiality for rupture. the experience of viewing an actual object in play within real time/real space vs. viewing a repressed representation of an anxious object has a greatened experience for contingency and a heightened anxiety.

i’ve done live performances of the photo paper burning for my studio meetings and some people enjoy the actual spectacle. i wonder what would be more impressive—standing in front of a piece of photo paper burning in real life or a representation of that event?

[photo: studio burn, 2008 by calvin lee. see more of calvin's work here.]

interview by nicholas grider