Jordana Zeldin Talks with Ryan Turley About
the Highs and Lows of Hi/Lo
Jason Stopa: I’ll start you two off. Ryan, I’ve known you since grad school and your work has changed a lot. How did you conceive of this project? And Jordana, your space is becoming known for a lot of emerging artists, particularly painters. How did this installation alter Art Bridge?
Jordana Zeldin: I’ll tell this to anyone who asks: seeing Trudy Benson’s show at Mike Weiss changed everything for me. It loosened up the way I see and made me the painting and materials freak I am today. I think that Trudy’s show is partly why ArtBridge is building a reputation as a space that exhibits painting; it’s what lead me to exhibit “Mud Doctors” by painter Alex Doolan, and likely to “MsBehavior,” immediately after. The truth is though, after just over a year of existence (and of curating for the same period of time), I’m not ready to settle into it being a one-trick pony. It’s quirky size makes every exhibition feel like a spacial experiment and after “MsBehavior,” I was really looking to push the strange down-the-rabbit-hole experience of walking down a nondescript corridor and finding a little room of art, even further. Ryan was originally set to be one of several artists in a (painting-heavy) group show, but after a studio visit and some good conversations, I realized that turning over the space to him would suit the shift in his thinking after his Franconia piece perfectly and keep our space feeling fresh.
Ryan Turley: Spectacle, an outdoor sculpture I made at Franconia Sculpture park last summer, was created to utilize natural sunlight to foster the effects of the prismatic film that lined the entire piece. When I started to think about how to translate or re-envision this work for an interior/gallery type setting, I realized that working with synthetic lighting, earth, and altered physical space might evoke a similar feeling to the work outside. It was after meeting Jordana and planning this installation at the ArtBridge Drawing Room that we began to be able to decipher what Hi/Lo could be about, expanding on some of the ideas I was thinking about for Spectacle into something completely unique and of its own. After experimenting with numerous synthetic light sources, diffraction film placements, build-out sketches and visits with Jordana, the plans were set and install began two weeks before the opening of the show.
JZ: A pivotal moment for me that came early on in the process was when I asked you about the relationship of your installation to the Light and Space movement of the 60s. Asking you that was my attempt to find a language to talk about the installation (I’d never worked on one before) and you made a pretty powerful distinction between what that was about and what you’re hoping to do with Hi/Lo that made me feel like the territory wasn’t so foreign. Can you tell me about that?
RT: I remember this conversation well. When I think of the light and space movement, Irwin, Turrell etc…I always think of it as illusionary. Illusion as in hidden components that when put together “just so” create an effect or mirage of sorts. Super slick and masterfully crafted design-like objects that as the viewer I am left in a sort of “how’d they do it?” state and once I figure that out I am left somewhat unfulfilled. What I wanted to investigate with Hi/Lo was an experience where the participant would have moments of immersion where they could potentially lose themselves as well as moments to clearly see what was happening around them and how the effects or visuals were manifesting themselves, and in turn, grounding them. I wanted to not only allow the participant a visual experience but a broader journey using senses like smell, touch, and motion with their body.
It was when I began to think of this installation as walking through, on and around a sculpture or three-dimensional painting that you and I really started to begin to envision how this work would exist. A main goal for Hi/Lo was to not make the participant/viewer feel any one particular feeling or experience any predetermined concept of my own but hopefully provide a place to contemplate the elements surrounding them and possibly embrace the oddity of what was around them and what they were essentially a part of at that moment. Not quite an illusion, not quite a reality, and most likely not a space they have ever inhabited before. It is in this odd, floating, middle-ground space where I wanted to position the inhabitant as well as the conceptual cornerstone of the installation.
I think that it is tougher for me to know if I have really done this as I am too far “behind the scenes” so to speak to be able to decipher if this is actually what happens to myself or most viewers when they interact with Hi/Lo, but I would like to ask you how you felt upon first ascending into Hi/Lo?
JZ: It’s hard for me to approach the installation as I would a gallery-going member of the public because, like you, I’ve been behind the scenes. That said, what continues to resonate about the piece for me is the way it thumbs its nose up at slickness and trickery and asserts itself as a piece that feels hand-touched.
We talked early on about the installation offering viewers a solitary experience with the piece — you built those booths to reinforce that — but what I never accounted for was the off-kilter interaction that might take place between a new visitor and someone already in the installation sitting up high in one of the seats. It’s pure theatre; the person up high seems to the person entering like he/she belongs there, is part of the piece, even, and certainly knows the rules, while the newbie feels disoriented, like he/she might be interrupting something. Given that, Hi/Lo speaks to physical elevation but also to power dynamics created by that elevation. Did you plan for that?
RT: I’m not sure that I planned exactly for that particular outcome or situation, that being said, I’m very much interested in hierarchy; in physical space as well as that of a social construct. I believe the two are always related and getting to the route of how this occurs and why it is so engrained in our makeup is interesting. The booths being reminiscent of nightclub seating with an alternative option to sit just a few feet higher was completely intentional. The urge to be “higher” or “see more” or be “seen more” are options in this installation. Not only is the viewer following a certain amount of direction from the physical space they walk through but are lured in a way to act out this “climb to the top” so to speak.
It’s complete theatre that was part planned on my behalf and part instinct on the viewer/performer. I think I would now consider this piece a bit of a study into our social conditioning and with the reactions and feedback I’ve received, my hypothesis was correct in that viewers, knew somewhat how to behave, they for the most part had a favorite spot(the higher up single perch) and felt disoriented and yet comfortable after more time spent acclimating to the environment.
Ryan Turley, Hi/Lo, 2012 Various light fixtures, soil, wood, diffraction film, dimensions variable.
Photography Copyright Saul Metnick.
JZ: One of the more interesting reactions I heard was from an artist who went in, sat in one of the seats, and then waited for a minute for it to “turn on.” When nothing happened he went out and asked the gallery assistant if it was working. What do you make of that?
RT: Oh yes I remember that one as well! I really think that backs up this notion of expectations with artistic installation work. What does it mean to activate a space or create an environment? Is it total escapism that results in a successful installation environment or does there have to be a beginning, middle, and end to the experience? This is really what I wanted to explore here. To allow for the participant to feel anticipation, awkwardness and possibly confusion at points as well as hopefully more gratifying moments where they are allowed to “get it” if they wanted to. To not allow for a right or wrong way to encounter the space but to give clues and moments of experiences without dictation of a specific outcome.
I think that this person and the idea of whether or not something needed to be “switched on” is inherent in much of what installation artists focus on. There is no moving image, there is no “aha” moment in Hi/Lo. There are however many components that play with all of one’s senses. Sight, sound–or absence of sound–touch, and smell. These sensory components are out in the open and not hidden. They are not illusions but more cues to allow the participant the access they may require in order to sit for a moment and have a unique experience whether or not they feel the piece was “switched on” or off. In my opinion, for this particular viewer the anticipation of waiting for the piece to “switch on” was the experience itself and for me, that is perfect.
JZ: It seems that for you (and certainly for me) the installation did more than I anticipated. How has Hi/Lo influenced the direction you anticipate going in with your work. What has changed for you, if anything? What are you eager to further explore as a result of it?
RT: This installation has most importantly solidified my goals to create experiential environments through my work. Hi/Lo was a further development on a theme I was exploring and now has been the catalyst in the projects I am currently pursuing. I am excited to continue to play with all of a viewer’s senses and not rely on sight alone. It was my aim to force the viewer into a participatory role in the work and Hi/Lo, I believe, achieved this task.
I think a large part of this experience was learning to let go of some details while developing others further especially as you and I were working very closely throughout this project. Up until recently I worked in a closed studio so to speak and editing was extremely difficult for me. Working in a more public manner and relinquishing some control has been fruitful and assists my future pursuits of working with public art and social issues.
Hi/Lo will be on view at The ArtBridge Drawing Room through
Thursday, December 6. ArtBridge Gallery.