Thursday, December 2, 2010

an attempt at getting my hands dirty

I have been at odds with, and seeking an antidote to the precious-ification (if any of my wordsmith friends out there know a real word that means this, please let me know) of the natural world in a new way since moving to Portland last year. This region is filled with true appreciators, adventurers, environmentalists, and so on. But there is also a very prevalent aesthetic in the depiction of the natural world specific to this region (and more widespread, but it's endemic here) that makes me absolutely recoil. When I first arrived here and started to see it everywhere I looked, it had a huge effect on my own practice. I was making work that, outside of this context, felt genuine, and exciting to me. In this new context, it suddenly felt completely cliche and flat. I came to a screeching halt with the series that got me into graduate school. I shoved it into the darkness of my portfolio. The work I made thereafter was stark, and described to me by some as "academic" or "specimen-like". In many ways, this aesthetic fell in line with my conceptual path, but part of this jump was absolutely a response to this place. I was reacting against the contemporary picturesque. I felt vehemently against it. I've spent my time since then working on articulating why.

Historically, the idea of the picturesque allowed for the artificial composition of landscapes for the sake of including those qualities of nature that best emphasized its untamed, wild beauty. Whether the natural features all truthfully existed within one picture plane or not was thought to be less important. The unintended consequence of the picturesque, as described by Malcolm Andrews in Landscape and Western Art, is that “The Picturesque view of nature is one that appreciates landscape in so far as it resembles known works of art.” One does not have to think hard to see the harm such attitudes could have on the preservation of actual nature – if it does not resemble a grand landscape painting, is it worth preserving? Is the true value of nature merely in appearance? To make nature precious is to put it at grave risk. While I believe the Romantic and Naturalist artists and writers' motivations to preserve nature were authentic, I see problems in the way their words and treatments perhaps unintentionally perpetuate nature as decoration, and as commodity. The Contemporary Picturesque can be just as vapid.

The reality of nature is not accurately depicted or experienced when one's interaction with it is heavily mediated. We want to be outside, we want to be off in the woods, but we don't want the violence. We don't want the danger. We bring mountain goats into Olympic National Park (perhaps to make it look more like the picture in our head of rugged western mountain scenes), and then when one fatally attacks a hiker, for the first time since their introduction to the park in the 1920s, the public outcry includes calls for their removal and/or complete elimination. This trend can be traced back to the development of pastoral living as an upper-class privilege. The manner in which the new class of rural residents integrated themselves into the countryside was problematic. While many claims were made of this more pure, natural lifestyle, it was an extremely mediated existence. The residents of Villas were incredibly selective with their interactions with the natural world, using their gardens and lawns as buffers or transition zones between the home and the wild. One might argue that the level of mediation negated the entire claim of a more natural lifestyle.

At the risk of stepping out of my academic, specimen-like zone, I will say that this is a conflict that really tugs at the core of my being. We all want to try to be a part of something, and do it all the way. Often, that is dangerous, and we have to risk parts of ourselves, emotionally, physically...therefor, often we are selective with our leaps. How high we will leap from. What ground we will trust to leap upon. Jarring loose parts of ourselves that we prefer to leave uninspected in the shadows. Those who leap without abandon make us defensive and anxious. Those people are less afraid than us, and it highlights our fear.

I had a moment on the train this summer looking through a dirty glass window at a stretch of rich brown soil, and I knew if I could just step off the train for a moment, and push my hands wrist deep into the dirt, I would remember it forever [perhaps I will anyway, because the desire itself was so strong], and that my experience would be much more whole. If I had been able to do that, I would probably be able to tell you what the light was like, if it was warm out, if there was a breeze, and if there was a breeze, what did it smell like. My experience would have transcended the cerebral relationship to the dirt that I was limited to that day. Because really, who wants a cerebral relationship to dirt? I remember more about the subsequent day in the mountains when I was stung by a scorpion.

In some new drawings, I am working on ways to visualize this conflict. Everyone knows that animals can be violent, and some would argue (though I might disagree) that their behaviors are entirely instinctually motivated. That which sets us apart from them, in part, is our higher consciousness.  I am very interested in the real psychology, as well as the mythology of nature's effect on the human psyche, as far as bringing out our more animalistic qualities. I want to confront that violence, in a broader sense. I can't help but to intellectualize it. Nevertheless, it is visceral. As difficult as it can be to digest on that visceral level, it is completely whole, and unmediated. It can shake us out of our domesticity of the mind. It may be what is most feared in our animal selves, but what better way to remind someone of that part of us which has tremendous value, than to take it to the extreme? Isn't that a valid and effective way to learn something deeply? To be confronted with that which is uncomfortable.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Obligatory Presentation Post

I don't expect anyone to be able to garner much from the visual aspects of my presentation without my words, and I simply don't know how to post a PDF on a blog.


I suppose the most helpful thing you could do for me, dear audience, is to watch my video in its entirety. I warn you, it is 15 minutes long, so of course I will only be able to show a clip during my presentation.

You can find it 3 posts down from this one. It is entitled "Across the Country in 15 Minutes".

As far as questions, I'd really rather not pose any. It doesn't feel realistic, and coming up some some would be forced. I'd rather leave it open, and simply take in your reactions to the work. Just as it would be out there in the "real world".

Forgive my slight insubordination in this matter.

Good day.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Anecdote of the Jar

Anecdote of the Jar

Wallace Stevens

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

across the country in 15 minutes

Across the Country in 15 Minutes from jillian vento on Vimeo.

this video piece is a manifestation of a trip i took this summer, in which i traversed the united states over a one month period via trains. in this edited format, i tried to capture the slow transition of the landscape, from east to west, along a southern route. i am also quite interested in the conflict between the engagement and indifference of the train passengers pertaining to that which was passing through our window views at any given time. often, bits of dialogue take on a new meaning and level of interest when taken out of context. here, i think the context is precisely what makes the words so interesting, regardless of their level of connection to the passing landscape. the context is inextricable.

[note: there are still some edits to be made, for example, the obvious incongruity of the title with the actual duration of the video. this will be fixed. i am also still open to some further manipulation, but for now, i want to get this version out there and ready for feedback, as it is very closed to resolved for me. feedback welcomed and encouraged.]

Friday, October 22, 2010

worms, white noise, and so on

so i suppose i should get this blog going again. here goes.

i overwhelmed myself this summer with source material, and have perhaps doomed myself as a result. going into my second year, i should maybe feel a bit more streamlined, conceptually. focused. but this summer, i opened up an existential can of worms...or maybe i would rather arrange that phrase as can of existential worms. yes. i would. it is taking some serious time and reflection to sift through it all.

and speaking of worms. i started the new academic year off with an experiment in installation. worms were only implied, and not actually present. maybe that's what it was missing. i don't think the piece was a success, but it is a new mode of working for me, and one i assembled very instinctively, which is not something i often allow myself to do. in that regard, it felt very good. i have no images because i broke my camera at the coast again.

i am re-reading one of my favorite books - don delillo's white noise. i cited this book in last year's "personal canon" paper written for a theory class as an influential piece of work. i think of it as a particularly first-rate example of the aestheticization (this should be a word) of death, among other things. speaking of aesthetics, i love this first edition cover design. typical.

last year, in late summer upon first moving to portland, i did something similar. i passed up my modest pile of books-i-own-but-have-yet-to-read to re-read an old stand-by. wow, that was a lot of hyphens...sorry.

and now, instead of drawing, i am reading interviews with, and academic analyses of delillo's work.

i HAVE been doing some work, contrary to the tone of this post. sometimes i get into a place where the source gathering feels equally, if not more satisfying than the production. i am in a grey area between the two places, currently. here's a quick low-quality cell phone shot of a sample of said work...or rather re-work:

in recycling and reworking past pieces, they have a way of feeling brand new, once i decide how to actually resolve them. even if it does take almost a year. yeah...i'm one of those.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

self-taught filmmaker and haircutter, Brent Green

gravity was everywhere back then, trailer

just came across this fella today...brent green. watch that trailer!

it's been pointed out to me that i have recently gotten really into people recreating houses and/or sheds. so i have, haven't i?

i'll be spending some more time on that there website, for sure.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

some quotes on drawing and studio practice from william kentridge

 i went to the kentridge show at moma while in nyc this past week. it was pretty epic, and i feel like i gained a lot from seeing it. i'm still sort of processing what it means to have seen that show, and the marina abramovic show in the same building, on the same day, with the same eyes. more on that later. 

"I believe that in the indeterminacy of drawing - the contingent way that images arrive in the work - lies some kind of model of how we live our lives. The activity of drawing is a way of trying to understand who we are and how we operate in the world."

"Walking, thinking, stalking the image. Many of the hours spent in the studio are hours of walking, pacing back and forth across the space gathering the energy, the clarity to make the first mark...It is as if before the work can begin (the visible finished work of the drawing, film, or sculpture), a different, invisible work must be done." 

all dialogue from gus van sant's Gerry

Thursday, April 8, 2010

new duds

i just wanted to show everyone that i got a new backpack.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

what a view!

i noticed this across the street from the art building, behind the law offices by the max turnaround. looks like they were offended by their view of a concrete slab of wall, so they painted this green jungle scene or some such, just large enough to cover the peripheral view from the window. awesome. they must really feel like they work in a scenic place now.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

more museum museum work

Over on the Museum Museum blog, I have just posted some brief explorations of the artist Coco Fusco, in relation to the work she has done that I see as pertinent to the course content. I am glad to have had this reason to investigate, as she is an incredibly intelligent and pointed living artist.

Have a look-see if you are inclined.

I also sent her an email, and although the chances of a response are most likely slim, I find myself hard pressed NOT to email an artist I care about when handed their email address.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Another [altered] postcard to Mark Dion.

Friday, February 12, 2010

museum museum

Rather than post it twice, I will simply link you to my account of my recent visit to the Oregon Maritime Museum. I chose to visit this particular institution as part of an assignment for the museum studies course I am taking. This is the class blog:

but in the end it is a love story.

Dirty Projectors are one of my favorite bands, and this letter was written by the front man of the band, Dave Longstreth, in 2005. I love this, because as much as it can be viewed as simply a letter addressed to Don Henley, it's much more than that - it is an artwork in and of itself. An accompaniment to The Getty Address, the album it speaks of. I see this letter as a part of that "series". If those songs were hung on gallery walls, I would hope this letter would be up on those walls with them.

I think this letter fits well into that grey area between an "artwork" and an "artist statement". A hybrid. Where the words are not just an explanation of what you are looking at, or in this case listening to. But they stand on their own as an important creation.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

best documentation of my current work in progress

pessimism is complicated

Lexa asked me to send her this quote. I got carried away. Good thing I don't have Photoshop anymore.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

the best times are maritimes!

today i went to the oregon maritime museum, which floats in the willamette river between the morrison and burnside bridges. it is a steam powered tug boat built in 1947. this visit was prompted by the 'museum museum' class i am taking this term and next, being guided via satellite/speaker phone/postcard by mark dion. mark is an artist i have admired for years, so this is all very exciting of course.


i am glad for acts like this one, prompted by being in this graduate program. it falls in the category of something-i-could-do-any-old-time-on-my-own, but if not for being in this program right now, probably-would-not. it's a very ambiguous category, as you may have gleaned. but one very dear to me.

i chose this museum, of many, for a few reasons. my main reason being my most gut reaction: i love the sea. i grew up on the ocean, and i FULLY romanticize it in every possible way. just hearing the word "maritime" hooked me (get it? hooked..?).

i also chose it because i have less experience in museums like these...those that focus on a very particular subject matter that is not art. i had a feeling that it would be a fruitful experience, personally, and i was right. for instance, i have never spent 3 hours enjoying conversation with a volunteer docent at MOMA, that is for damn sure. [charlie haughey is a swell guy. and very insightful.]

i took many photos, and when my memory card filled up, i took some with my cell phone, and even one with a disposable camera (that one got me some looks). i will probably write an illustrated entry about my visit, more in depth, when i upload them all.

for now, here is sam. the most inquisitive small child i have ever encountered. he is pictured here employing the sonic powers of one of the ships many variations of whistles.

Monday, January 11, 2010

altered postcards

my most recent postcard to mark dion. altered with acrylic paint.
[i wonder how much of it will chip off in transit?]

this one might be better for that experiment, considering i covered MOST of the map with the paint, leaving just the borders and the oregon trail itself.

after these, i'm moving on from the geographically themed postcards. what a world there is out there.

this is sadly all i have time to write right now. expect a much better blog entry soon.