SCOTT PATRICK WIENER is not a landscape photographer. However, he does use a camera to explore how our personal and collective visions of place are manifested in the clichés of landscape photography. Whether using drones to capture images that blur the line between surveillance and Romantic painting or printing appropriated images from his father's travel archive in the least archival way possible, he participates in and interrogates the attempt to hold on time and place. Scott earned his BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2001 and his MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2007. In 2010, he attended Skowhegan and received a DAAD Scholarship for Fine Art to study in Leipzig, Germany. His extensive group exhibitions include shows at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York (2014), the Boston Center for the Arts (2014), and Kunstverein Weiden in Oberpfalz, Germany (2012). In 2015, his work was included in Another Spectacle at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Survey Without Surveillance at Nave Gallery in Somerville, Massachusetts, and he mounted solo exhibition I Can't Hear What You Can't See at Emmanuel College in Boston. Scott lives and works in Arlington, Massachusetts.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Where does your interest in landscape come from?
Scott Patrick Wiener: First and foremost, the medium of photography. I don't say this to be coy. I excavate and invoke all manner of photographic traditions in my work. Landscape just happens to be the focus at the moment. . . well many moments. . . or really all of them since grad school. What really draws me to the genre is how it used for colonialist purposes in both personal/private and socio-political arenas. (Yikes, have I become a landscape artist?) I’d really like to get back to portraiture at some point or at least invoke it in some project connected to either Landscape Acquisition or Surrogate Parables.
OPP: Are photographic landscapes simply mediated experiences of nature or something else entirely?
Hmmmm? That’s a big question so please bear with me. Yes, landscape
photographs are mediated experiences of nature, but so is simply walking
through the woods. Humankind constructs an ideal from that experience
and produces/reproduces it in language. Then we make decisions, based on
our cultural dispositions, about what are appropriate representations
for those concepts. This starts with painting and ends in the hands of
the tourist, ultimately finding its way to postcards, calendars,
computer desktops, etc. All this to say that cultural norms for the
representation of nature are most purely expressed as cliché.
To your question, I find landscape photographs to be some of the most fascinating expressions of banality in our culture. Yes, these clichés flatten out meaning, reducing it to a cultural norm, but there is also something amazing about clichéd representations: they are one of the few places in human culture where large groups of people can agree on something. This is incredible to me. So I use extremely familiar representations of landscape in my work to establish a zero ground for consumption before distorting the view and making it unfamiliar. I like to think that happens at the moment of reception, when my materials work to disintegrate the line between the subjective (interpretive moment) and objective (banal representation). Most of my recent work with landscape imagery is appropriated as well, so the images already exist and have been consumed. I simply work to transform them, to give them another life beyond the one they already lived. It’s a kind of bastardized resurrection.
I was giving a talk recently and someone asked whether or not it was barbaric to embody the view of an other in re-presentation. This was a great question and held me accountable to the famous Adorno quote that I use in my lectures: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” I thought for a moment and responded by saying that I am not embodying an others gaze but taking its evidence (the photograph) and subjecting to an filtration process where it is transformed in its final expression. Therefore I do not propose that an other's gaze, or subject position, is my own. Rather, I am a consumer of images, and those images must be revisited so the suppressed content of the original can emerge for consideration dressed in its new skin.
OPP: "The ongoing project Landscape Acquisition
(2012–Present) is a multidisciplinary exercise in the collision between
familiar vocabularies of airborne surveillance and the Western history
of beauty in art." This in-progress project seems connected to The Luxury of Distance
(2008-2010), in which you photographed views of the landscape looking
out from various concentration camp sites. The connection for me is a
collision between what we see and what we know—based on text— to be true
of the point of view. Thoughts?
SPW: I really like your read! When working on The Luxury of Distance
in Germany, I wanted to establish an antagonism between seemingly
opposite forms of representation established as baselines for depictions
of wartime trauma and beauty in nature. The connective tissue for me is
banality. Our culture knows and expects certain kinds of images to
stand in for particular subject matter. Also of importance is the
mutually constitutive dimensions of the language/image dichotomy. When
one views images, one describes to themselves; when one reads text, one
imagines based on description. I aggressively positioned the body
between depictions of the the sublime and horrific. Further, the
commemorative view of trauma is utterly denied.
I want to paraphrase Sontag here from Regarding the Pain of Others. She says that photographs make distance explicit in reception, not close proximity, but the latter remains our demand for the image. This closeness is impossible. I want to invoke that position so once again the body is compromised by geographical, psychological, and temporal distances.
The Landscape Acquisition project also invokes physical distance through the detached gaze of unmanned aerial surveillance, but here that distance is collapsed by the very real and violent consequences one can inflict on an other from afar. It is said that the more images one has of another culture/people/place, the more power the producer has over that space. Not only can one see more, but behind the visual production of the subject lies the implication that the seer has more advanced technology and therefore is more of a threat.
The Untitled (Spies in the Sky) pictures abide by this menacing framework and are most similar to the work in Germany in that they visually conflate beauty in nature through landscape aesthetics established by Romantic painting and the sinister, detached view of aerial surveillance. The latter uses the position of looking down and grain in the photograph to invoke cold-war style surveillance pictures. Here, the exertion of power over geography becomes the will to establish control over place via the production of technological imagery.
OPP: When you work in video, it is with a photographer's eye. Videos like The Wanderer (2011) and Some Kind of Equilibrium (2010) are static shots of barely moving bodies. They function like photographs with sound, but also remind us that an inherent part of photography's nature is the illusion of stopping time. Why do you sometimes choose video instead of a still image?
SPW: You’re picking up on years of my trying to understand and use video, which remains difficult for me, but ultimately necessary. The only way I could initially approach the medium is from an understanding of the still image. That is why the earlier video works you mention are so static. I chose video for those pieces primarily because the still images I made initially for the works were so booooooooooring. Later I realized that movement within a single static frame was very important and that I could trap gestures of im/balance when confronted with a natural environment in Some Kind of Equilibrium and striving for a sublime experience in The Wanderer. The latter was particularly significant for me in that it places a slightly overweight dude—me in another life—in Friedrich’s wanderer/hero role and forces him to repeat the same walk up a set of stairs placed intentionally at the top of some sad hill. The video loops infinitely without cuts to make clear the Sisyphean dimension of the act. This experience for me is about longing for the sublime experience of nature idealized by the western world in philosophy, painting, photography and moving images. But standing in front of an aesthetic object is not the sublime as Kant would have it because the body is not present in the wilderness, comprehending simultaneously the horrific and beatific dimensions of the natural world. It is an experience of the idea of the sublime.
More recent video work has moved beyond the static shot into places with far more movement (eg. Rehearsal for Sonata in C and Three Surveys). I guess my exploration of the still frame eventually gave me permission to move beyond it.
OPP: Processes in I Want the One I Can't Have (2012-Present) and My Light Bulb Burns Gray
(2012-13) are significant to the content of the work about fading
memory and the inability to hold on to our experiences or grasp the
experiences of others. Can you explain how you reproduced these images
and talk about why you choose those particular images?
SPW: Both of those series from the Surrogate Parables project use images appropriated from my family's travel archive, mostly photographed by my father. Selecting the pictures was based on a simple premise: I chose the most common pictures that a tourist might take to show how they had both acquired and established image-ownership over their destinations. The Eiffel Tower, the Hollywood sign, the Grand Canyon all exemplify those types of pictures. People who travel for the purpose of leisure all make images like this, myself included. I wanted to use the recognition of that common language to establish a foundation for the reception of the work. The pictures also indicate ownership over place in the act of “capturing” the destination and containing it within the four edges of the frame; a kind of image-based bourgeois colonialism.
In the My Light Bulb Burns Gray series I digitally drench the images in 18% gray (neutral photo gray), leaving no white highlight or black shadow. This was the first iteration of the Surrogate Parables project and makes literal a ‘graying out’ of nostalgic experience of travel imagery. The attempt to preserve a moment deemed historic through photography is at the heart of this work.
The process in I Want the One I Can't Have is a bit more involved. Memory motivates this work as well, which pulls images from the same travel archive. Here, I turn the originals into inkjet transparencies, place them against a piece of construction paper under glass, and expose them to sunlight for a week. After this time, the image appears due to the fading of the non-archival dyes in the paper. In display, they are never fixed. They are transient, fugitive images that change and fade over time, just as memory does. Eventually they disappear completely, forcing a confrontation with the human obsession with preserving the self beyond death by denying the image that possibility. No matter how permanent we want our images to be, we continue to change, as does our understanding of them every time we open a history book or remove the top off the shoe box that houses the most personal of family pictures.
I remain frustrated by the way the paper is ignored in photographs to
focus on the depicted event. In this work I prioritize the material
before the image so that the paper itself has conceptual consequences
for the interpretation of the event in question. This way the paper is a
significant part of how the picture is interpreted and experienced.
When encountered, there is no denying that the material is construction
paper. It may even be the first thing one notices. This forces the
recognition of a place in time where the past and present coincide in an
impermanent and consequential way, which is antagonistic to a
historicist understanding of photography as an image that forever places
a halt on a given moment. This idea is continues to motivate all of the
work I do with technologically reproducible imagery.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, runs through December 19, 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL).