To get at the essence of what, at bottom, screens are and do, I have often asked: what images would our image-making technologies produce, if they were liberated from their servitude to our demands on them? What would they show if they weren’t doing what we usually ask them to do (our photos, TV, app scrolling)? Over many years of improvisational, performative research – a kind of old media archaeology – I have rescued old video mixers and other image-processing gear from the trash and have tinkered with “off-label” uses for them, eliciting from them a densely-patterned, abstracted screenlight that I liken to visual music. Allowing chains of low-definition video effects to express their hard-wired inherencies and “preferences” through the instantaneous reiterations of feedback, I imagine the image processing circuits in this antique video equipment to be painting what I consider a kind of “self-portrait” of screenlight technologies (albeit one that may be a couple of decades out of date; contemporary equipment doesn’t behave in the same way, and anyway, I couldn’t afford it)
Such questions have animated my video work for years, but pandemic-era shifts towards digital life gave the project a greater urgency. Most of the people I knew were suddenly submerged in screen life to an unprecedented degree – some would even say drowning. Could we all learn something about this predicament by endeavoring to investigate “screenbathing” (which I imaginatively liken to the wellness practice of “forest bathing), with intention and mindfulness?
Through my work with old video equipment and feedback, I had been developing a personal language of experimental imagery for many years, but suddenly, with the onset of the pandemic, it seemed to me that the grammar of early video art (the layering of photographic and synthetic moving images, the transposition of the camera feed of face and body into virtual realms) was being deployed across the Zoom-verse and other video platforms. Through a residency in the television studio at the Institute for Electronic Arts (Alfred University), held during the era of pandemic livestreams, I began to explore sandwiching my own body between layers of abstract video, testing the limits and inverting the aesthetics of the videoconferencing boom that had recently taken over the world. If I could bend this image language towards some meditative repose, perhaps I could offer up something like digital firelight, during a dark time.
While at Alfred, I also had some exciting opportunities to explore new video synthesis possibilities on Alfred’s rare equipment, and test some ideas for multiscreen installations, in their gallery spaces — iterations on the reposeful multiscreen installations I had been making in prior years, especially Tele Vision Music (2019).
But the opportunity to really synthesize these varied ideas and threads of work came when I was invited for a solo exhibition — my first! — at the Art Center of the Capital Region in Troy, NY. Though mostly consisting of new work, the exhibition also pulled in some of the threads from my prior two residencies (IEA Alfred 2020 and KIAR, Kathmandu, 2021, see the page about my Kathmandu Projects).
The exhibition’s centerpiece, the 3-channel film RGBW (2022, 45:00), was threaded with voiceover reflections about screenlight and screenlife, paired with slowly shifting abstract imagery and a meditative space in which to look, listen and be with screenlight in a wholly different mode than the one we had become accustomed to.
The exhibition also featured plaster sculptures (produced in collaboration with Amanda Messineo) and a related short film (co-directed with Yajyu Manandhar in Kathmandu, Nepal) that imagined screens inside and amongst human forms and bodies, in an effort to invite consideration of the ways that screen energies are already influencing and interfacing with our embodiment and corporeality, while also gesturing at a certain cyborg futurity, and perhaps at screen-laced bodies as deity images.
While remoteness and virtuality continue to threaten to supplant in-person presence, with for-profit platforms betraying us in their gestures at replicating public space in the metaverse, I find it more important than ever to memorialize and reinvigorate the DIY culture-making practices that flourished before the screenlight “rooms” reared their heads and showed us how easily screen technologies could dominate our work and sociality. My work seeks and shares oppositional, alternative views of a screen-based future – one that braids and old and new media in the hopes of encouraging gathering, participatory interaction and knowledge-sharing beyond the dominance of corporate-controlled tech platforms, and, for this purpose, gropes towards the construction of a sort of mobile cathedral. Combining the emotional gravity of slowly-changing imagery, color and sound, this glimmering audiovisuality evokes stained glass, thrumming pipe organ, and reverberant sonic immersion, all in an attempt to offer succor, uplift, space for reflection, and time for connecting with the materiality at the heart of the virtual.
To this end, during the run of the exhibition, I offered gallery visitors the opportunity to sign up for one-on-one “A/V baths.” In these sessions, I invited participants to get comfortable and then engaged them in a conversation about how, for them, health, wellness, and embodiment interfaced with screens and screenlight. How did screen time feel for them, and how did the participant want it to feel? Where did they feel thier screentime in their bodies? What energies required rebalancing? I conceptualized these conversations to be akin to a consultation with a massage or other healing practitioner, engaging participants with the imaginative conceit that the imbalances and dysfunctions that many of us experience in relation to screens could be addressed through the principle of sympathetic magic: could we employ the disease as a part of the cure? I then attempted to digest and synthesize these conversations into an audio/video improvisation that I projected onto the participant’s body, attempting to massage into the participant whatever qualities of energy (staccato or flowing; bright or dim; colorful or muted) they requested in our conversation. Through discussions of the experience afterwards, participants generously offered me reflections that have influenced my further development and articulation of this practice.