NOW CURATING: YOMI
s t r e e t a r t i s t
Julianna Foster is currently (2015-2016) a visiting assistant professor in the photography program at the University of the Arts. Foster has been a guest lecturer at Rowan University and Temple University and has sat on Fulbright and Graduate Thesis Committees at UArts. She received a BFA in Design from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (2001) and an MFA in book arts and printmaking from the University of the Arts (2006). Foster was an artist member of Vox Populi Gallery in Philadelphia from 2006 to 2013. Solo exhibitions in Philadelphia include Philadelphia Art Alliance, Painted Bride Art Center, Fleisher Art Memorial (2013 Wind Challenge recipient), and Gravy Studio and Gallery. View Julianna’s full bio here.
-Amanda V. Wagner, co-founder
For years I have kept a snapshot of my mother, my older sister, and me in a square yellow frame. It was taken in the early 80’s on a mountain in North Carolina. I don’t recall that day at all, but my mother told me that it was a very windy day. We picnicked on a bench near where the photograph was taken. Whenever I look at this image, I envision what it was like on the mountain that day. I have (re)created a memory that can only exist in the periphery of the image, outside the margins of the photograph.
Maybe it’s longing. Maybe it’s compensating for loss. But for me the photograph is never only about the thing photographed. I imagine what is unseen, not necessarily what the photograph itself describes, and I want to tell that story. There is life in the peripheral, there is history in the margins.
It is well documented that for more than a century after its birth, photography, with a few exceptions like spirit photography (a sensational example of which is the portrait of Mary Todd with Lincoln’s ghost), was assumed to be authentic: because of the immediacy of the photographic process, it was believed to be a veracious account of whatever the camera lens was pointed toward. Photography, more so than any other medium, has been used to document—in the strictest definition of that word—cultural history. The power that a photograph can possess is immeasurable, and is crucial to understanding the world around us.
My interest in photography was piqued when I discovered artists challenging these traditions. While researching cinema and its influences on photography (Jean Luc Godard, Wim Wenders, Chantal Akerman), I was introduced to artists using the medium in a more directorial manner: “making as opposed to taking,” creating instead of capturing what already exists which became prevalent in the 1970’s and work by artists such as Theresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler, Uta Barth, Sophie Calle and James Casebere, to name a few, were highly influential. This cinematic mode appealed to my desire to create invented narratives, opened doors for me to explore the medium in a new way, and ultimately led to a sequential way of thinking that resulted in me making books, videos, and photographic series.
Over the last few years my work has veered towards objects that I have hand built on a tabletop scale in my home studio and then digitally combine with subjects I photograph that can be found in the world, particularly landscapes and seascapes. Although the impetus for the imagery derives from an existing narrative, the use of characters and plot are less relevant than they have been in the past and ideas relate as a series instead of a sequence of events.
The studio environment has allowed me to consider subject matter and narrative structure in more of an illusionist, metaphorical space. While the photograph continues to be a representation of the thing photographed, the thing photographed is now a fabricated reproduction of what could be out in the world. An example of this in some of my recent work is a smoke machine simulating clouds, white styrofoam carved to resemble an iceberg, a dilapidated dollhouse damaged by floods and overgrown vegetation. All of these I build by hand, photograph, and then combine digitally with my own archived images.
One of the reasons for this change may be that I now have two small children. Photographing in my home studio became more of a necessity, opposed to scheduling models, scouting locations, and organizing shoots. While the work has increasingly moved away from sequential imagery based on a directorial, cinematic linear narrative the photograph remains constructed in terms of its fabricated stories, whereas each image can be read/viewed as a singular experience.
The series Swell started with a story I read in a newspaper years ago of an eye witness account of the aftermath of a nor’easter in a small town on the Atlantic coast. This evolved into a retelling of events, based on what I imagined the witness experienced in the aftermath of the storm. Similarly, the series once, you were an island originated from a story told by a friend about the the demise of a woman who comes to the midwest to reunite with her married lover. The media picks up her story and embellishes or misconstrues it to the point where legend and truth are intermingled. Through my process of creating images in response to these narratives, the intention is not to illustrate, faithfully reconstruct or document the story, but to interpret and embellish, taking liberties with their account of events, allowing fact and fiction to intertwine. Maybe in the same way I do with the snapshot of my family in that square yellow frame, insert what I imagine exists on the periphery or margins of these stories. The camera captures a moment in time, yet the story of that day isn’t explained in what is visible, but in what is imagined, the life outside of the frame. The existence of the photograph proves this moment did occur, there is evidence the three of us stood on the mountain that day together, arm in arm. What happened next is up to you to decide. The power of a photograph is immeasurable.
All images courtesy of Julianna Foster.
From bronze to digital, Tyler Kline’s art spans the ages, melding ideas of time, space, metaphysics, and humanity into packages of cast metal that last forever, or into Vine videos that live for seconds in a Twitter feed. Tyler is fearless in his use of materials, generous in his treatment of others in the art community, and one of the smartest artists working in Philadelphia today. He’s a member of the Little Berlin collective and by day he manages the Sculpture shop and the bronze forge at University of the Arts and curates several art spaces at that university.
-Roberta Fallon, curator
I actually have a long history with disposable cameras. When they came on the market in the late nineties I would use them to document travels, skate sessions, art processes, and the architectural changes of the cities I was living in at the time.
With this project I find myself tracing the same threads of connection. I animated certain photographs to give them a heightened sense of transformation, invoking the sensations of a particularly poignant studio visit, the alchemy of certain art processes, or the visceral engagement of a skate session. Others I combined in a sequential fashion to emphasize states of flux, such as in the changing Philly skyline or the repetition of riding the 32 bus into my job at UArts.
I have always been inspired by the way Philadelphia is redefining itself in the early 21st century as a post-industrial laboratory of urban living, and I always use my commute as studio time: either through daydreaming, honing vision, creating digital designs on a tablet, or drawing in my sketchbook.
The other images are the flotsam and jetsam of my daily life: meeting friends for coffee, playing with my family, and walking along distinctly Philadelphian landscapes become the rhythms of my existence.
I met Sequoia when we attended Moore College of Art and Design, an undisclosed amount of time ago. She holds a BFA for Fashion Design and Art History and was the first student at Moore to earn this dual major. We reconnected through her project Art in Bars, where she gave me one of my first shows, at a Salon in Northern Liberties. Through this initiative she sought to promote emerging artists, alternative exhibition spaces, and art outside of the gallery scene. I chose Sequoia to write for Curate This because she knows something about everything. She can talk jive about everything from pop culture, to Julia Child’s recipes, to Native American art history, all while kicking your ass at Settlers of Catan. Enjoy her commentary on public art!
-Kelly Kozma, curator
There is an icebreaking game I play at parties: What’s your least favorite piece of public art? It’s an excellent conversation starter; people love to hate, and the responses come quickly—The Franklin head on The Parkway and the lumpy figures atop Society Hill. Someone names a mural they find trite, and another will dismiss the proliferation of Zagars. The holographic columns at Broad and Washington and the Comcast figures are among some of the unpopular public art pieces.
Without fail, William King’s Stroll will be mentioned.
You are aware of Stroll, perhaps. If you’ve found yourself at the terminus of South Street, or looked up at the right time while speeding down I-95, you’ve seen the stiff steel stick figures lumbering atop the pedestrian bridge, and the large and inconsequential sculptural installation attempting to bridge the city to the river. You know it, generally, but the details are imprecise. The number of figures. The proportions.
Why does it matter? Stroll an old work, in a style not currently in fashion. The artist is dead. It’s innocuous. It’s not even hateable, truly, because of its stifling mediocrity. How can one passionately argue against something that has nothing to say for itself?
Public art is an expression of a city, a visual of its pride and priorities, where the powers that be put that One Percent. The casual visitor or citizen often only interact with our public art, and only when said public art—sanctioned and “street”—presents itself in their path. These accidental encounters form the subconscious opinion of the creative capital of a city.
It is easy to despair and disparage the top grossing echelon of the contemporary art market, the dizzying sales commanded at art fairs and auctions. To argue about the demerits of artists who don’t craft their own work, the lazy, self-devouring orobus of art coopting the images of advertising, brands, popular culture, and regurgitating the pantheon of art history. Who deserves placement in the hallowed halls of our prestigious museums? But what of the creep of the insidious mundane, the bland and flat that is given the meager funds, the casual eyeballs?
It’s the flatness that niggles. Even under the rationalization of simplification Stroll is a failure. The stick figures are rigid in their stride, negating the implication of motion, emotion, and opinion. The material is pragmatic and inexpressive. The scale of the sculpture is off, neither comfortably visible by pedestrians, nor does it impress by dwarfing the viewer. The arrangement is inconsequential and uninspired.
It is easy for the layperson to trot out the tired cliche of, “I could have done that” when belittling a work of art, yet that argument is never presented when Stroll is being debated. It’s never, “I could have done that,” but just “why?” Stroll elicits a shrug.
King is capable of other similar figurative work that at least achieves whimsy—which, while not challenging concept, would be an improvement on the heavy humorlessness of Stroll. Stroll is a street sign, bereft of statement, heft, insight, or joy. It is utilitarian without the satisfaction of good design. Stroll is an irritation because it fails as an expression. It exists, large but uncommenting, stating nothing. Despite the scale of the work, it frequently fails to register with public audience, who pass through it unawares, and depart without it having made an impression.
Think of all the sculpture in Philadelphia that is just lousy with interaction. The area around City Hall and the Parkway is teeming with people actively living with their public art—adults passing by murals mid-commute, children clambering about and around sculptural installations. And then think of the joylessness of Stroll hovering at the edge of the city, above the freeway. The lack of play. The lack of awareness.
I think of the stumbled-upon works of all styles from the past hundred and fifty years hidden away in the recesses of Fairmount park, those with plaques frequently indicating their relocation from previous places of importance. Stroll can’t be discretely shuffled off in a future round of public improvement—where else could it possibly exist? It is site-specific to the point of dullness.
Interesting new work is constantly being added in the public sphere, yet Stroll will remain in the public eye as example of what Philadelphia views as fundable, always mentioned when quizzed as to the worst piece of public art.
Wouldn’t it be lovely to struggle to play that party game?
Photo by Christopher William Purdom.