Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An interview with photographer Nicole White

Nicole White is a Lecturer in Photography at UK’s School of Art & Visual Studies. She completed her BFA at Massachusetts College of Art + Design in 2002. In 2010, she received her MA in Art History from the University of Connecticut, and her MFA in Studio at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012. Her artwork examines the reproduction and dissemination of photographic images, particularly with a focus on the shifting materiality of the medium. See http://www.nicolewhite.net/

This summer, Nicole is spending time at the Museum, finding artworks of interest and photographing them as a continuation of her ongoing research. She answered a few questions from Director Stuart Horodner about this project: 

SH: You were sharing some recent photographs at a meeting of the Lexington Camera Club, and I was struck by their abstract and process-centric vitality. Can you describe what they are, how you made them? 

NW:  Those particular images came from an ongoing series loosely titled “Light Studies”. As of late, I have been working in a reductive process and thinking primarily about how materials can be transformed through the camera using light, reflections, and time.  The images in this series have all been produced differently (different cameras, printing methods, etc.). The process is dictated by what the materials are in front of the camera. The one piece we spoke about at length was Untitled (Ivory), a diptych that I shot at the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art just outside of Chicago. In this instance, my final image was made via a long exposure of light passing through a thinly carved ivory folding screen. I photographed the piece from the “wrong” side –the verso—in order to reduce the carved scene to silhouettes. 

When I make images, I’m not always attempting to abstract something to the point where the original reference in lost; I try to create a space where the thing depicted has been transformed in a manner that asks for a longer engagement with the final work. 

SH: It seemed like a no-brainer to invite you to work in the Museum as we get ready to reinstall our permanent collection, giving you access to our storage area and the freedom to use our holdings for your own investigation. What are you thinking about as you begin? 

NW: First and foremost, I was immediately reminded of my past experiences as an archivist and collections/curatorial assistant at various institutions of over the past decade. “Institutionalized objects” are fascinating both in and of themselves along with the processes employed to keep them stable. However, with this project I am approaching the collection as an artist, which means that I have the ability to juxtapose objects and materials in ways that otherwise would never occur.  
I’m looking at this experience as a site for recontextualizing the objects and the space that contains them (i.e. the museum). Most of the objects that I am drawn to are those that are in states of change or have a compelling tactile quality.  

SH: The embedded artist in a museum or collection is now a very established strategy—Fred Wilson and  Louise Lawler immediately come to mind. But your image-making seems less about critiquing the institution or the art industry, and more about using objects in a more generative way. Are there any historical or contemporary artists/photographers whose works connect to this project? 

NW: James Welling’s Glass House photographs would be one of the most immediate references. His images are an examination of light and reflection/refraction rather than documents of the architecture. The building itself acts as a backdrop for experiments that engage with Philip Johnson’s ideas but produce a completely new interpretation of the environment. 

Also, Spencer Finch’s approach to object production is one that speaks to my interests as well.  Many of his works reference specific optical or ephemeral qualities of canonical artworks through another medium. I recently saw one of his florescent light sculptures, Shadow, Sculpture of Centaur, Tuileries (after Atget), and was struck by the lengths at which Finch went to recreate a particular experience of color from an aged photograph. It’s a virtually impossible task, yet he attempts to tackle it – and while producing an equally beautiful object. 

 And, as you mentioned, there is a long history of photographers working within the museum’s walls. Those works are doing something different than what I hope to achieve, but I do think that their existence is what allow me to move from that conversation to one of closer inspection. They build a framework that I have to acknowledge and be aware of as I utilize some of their tactics in my project.
 Based on some of our conversations, I sense that you have a real desire to find new ways to connect the museum to the larger university. For you, what is the benefit to having an artist come in and rifle through the collection?  

SH: Yes, one of the major reasons I wanted to work here was to animate the museum by establishing numerous ways it could be used by the campus community. Logical partners are colleagues at the School of Art and Visual Studies, but also those faculty and students in music, theatre, architecture, creative writing, philosophy, etc. 

I like seeing how flexible institutions can be. I want to allow artists like yourself to see the museum from another POV, and use it as a studio or lab. I have no idea if this will yield interesting results but I want to see what happens. This is simultaneously generous and selfish.  We're all enjoying you being here examining the collection with us, and making unique images that we can share with our various audiences.

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