The Pixel Swamp: A Flourishing Habitat is an exhibition of digitally crafted, pigmented ink prints. These works take the viewer through a fantastical ecosystem comprised of misty forests and seductive swamps, hidden creatures and obscured desires.
Sarah Elizabeth Taylor’s work flirts with the boundaries of dark, libidinous impulses and playfulness, romping in a playground of primordial romance featuring pixel-blobs as actors in a fantasy. Erin Lindsay Dodson’s imagery displays the natural world through a portal of reality-obscuring glitches. The bubble-lens serves as a vehicle to explore a distorted habitat. Both push and pull around a central theme of the primeval and the aqueous, using digital technologies to mimic the natural world of the cellular and the reproductive.
Over the course of a few weeks, Erin and Sarah asked one another a few questions about their respective work.
Erin: Sarah, I’ll ask the hardest question first, which is usually what I want to know anyway: what are you attempting to do, or say, with this body of work? And how do you think the work does that?
Sarah: Well, first and foremost, I am attempting to gratify the senses. If the images aren’t pleasing to anyone, then I’ve failed completely. I want to give the eye something to feast on; I’m a visual hedonist and want to provide as pleasurable a viewing experience as possible. As far as the content of the work goes, REVENGE OF THE PIXEL-BLOBS is an ever-growing collection of images that are inspired by the natural world, works of science fiction, beauty and the beast narratives, and personal fantasies and fixations. I don’t want to get too specific here, because if I began to speak earnestly regarding my own personal fantasies, then people would begin to realize just how truly weird they are. There will always be a necessary distance between what is actually going on in my head, and what appears publicly in ROTPB.
Erin: I think you’ve succeeded, in that the work is certainly pleasing! The colors you choose appeal to me so much. Are you influenced by trends in fashion and design, or is there some other place that your color inspiration comes from?
Sarah: I am a firm believer in the idea that people have innate or ̈native ̈ palettes. I have always been attracted to certain colors: pearly, complex grays; bright lime greens; cadmium oranges and reds; aquamarine and cerulean blues; and, of course, the fleshy nudes. My eyes are naturally drawn to these colors, and I have to believe that my brain is somehow wired to appreciate them. Regardless of show or subject matter, are there colors that you find recur throughout your body of work?
Erin: The images I’m displaying now are considerably more muted, but I do often gravitate towards more saturated colors. There is an abundance of sky in much of my work, so that range of deep cyan to pale grey is a common theme. Being underneath a fully leafed tree, looking upwards… that sort of muted, shade-greyed green… that is probably my second most common color. An orange, coral, pink, something warm, that would be a tiny fraction, an exclamation. Indigo is a color I find frequently in my work, and I think it’s the most exciting, deep, beautiful color. I started really noticing indigo when I discovered that if you scan a piece of paper and invert it digitally, it’s opposite color is a very deep indigo – so indigo is the opposite of a warm paper-white, which is interesting.
What is your process for making art, these images in particular?
Sarah: ROTPB is not so much a “series” of images as a collection of loosely-affiliated works that sometimes involve a narrative, sometimes not. I am very sporadic, spontaneous, and impulsive in my art-making, and any medium is fair game for inclusion. That said, all of my images have been either created digitally or scanned in digitally, and all are eventually executed as pigmented ink prints. “Uvula Cave” was made using basic brushstrokes in Photoshop; “Swamp Fetus” was made using an archaic version of Microsoft Paint; “Sucker Doodle” was derived from a traditional doodle made on the back of a notebook during class using ordinary pens, pencils, and markers; “Sunset Near the Black Lagoon” originated as a color transparency taken on a cheap plastic film camera. They are united thematically, and not necessarily by medium.
Erin: I am not committed to any specific tools in my work either, I will use whatever makes sense for what I’m doing! Although I certainly use some more adeptly than others. And like you, all of my work goes through a digital stage. The prints we’re showing currently are all pigment prints, but I’ve also recently found a place in town that does digital chromogenic prints, and I’ve enjoyed playing around with this hybrid of traditional and digital photography tools. What, if any, traditions in your chosen media do you feel you’re embracing, or reacting against?
Sarah: The only tradition or idea that I truly react against in any art-related context is intolerance or narrow-mindedness when it comes to methodology: all tools, no matter how rudimentary, are legitimate and valid. You don’t have to have fancy software programs or an expensive camera; use what you have at your disposal! Accessibility is underrated; anything can be used to make art.
Erin: All of the works in this show are open-edition, as opposed to us placing an artificial limitation on them. What are your thoughts about editioning your prints?
Sarah: It is very important for as many of my works to exist in the world as possible; for this reason and others, I will never edition my works. Twenty years from now, if I want to make a print of a work done in 2011, I will be able to do so with impunity.
Erin: It’s something that I’m still dealing with too, and I continue to play with the parameters. There is not a long established tradition of digital art, and it will be interesting to see how the choices we make about putting limits on our work play out over time. Are there any artists making digital work now that you really love? And what is your favorite way to view work that is digitally generated; do you prefer that the end result is physical/printed?
Sarah: My favorite digital artist would have to be Petra Cortright. Her 2009 animated GIF piece, ̈Gold Drip ̈, was a revelation: all oozing forms and comical orbs, campy consternation and dread. It ́s at once hilarious and poignant, and remains my favorite artwork of all time.
There is something magical about creating something mediated and intangible (the digital image) and then making it immediate and tangible (through the printing process).
Erin, you shoot film but also use digital cameras and computer software to produce and edit images. Can you tell me what attracts you most to working digitally?
Erin: In the most basic way, I prefer to work digitally because I have so much more control of the end result. The work I’ve been making recently involves some simple manipulations in Photoshop – which would probably be possible to do in the darkroom, but I feel the result is just as valid when I make manipulations digitally. I have a medium format twin lens reflex camera that I used to make this series, but I only use it because I love the images it makes! If I could afford the digital version of that, I would certainly use it, although there is something nostalgic about cleaning up actual dust marks on my images that makes me feel connected to the history of the medium.)
Sarah: Fantasy or reality–and, why?
Erin: I’m pretty sure the turning point in my work was when I was able to… when I realized I could… totally embrace the unreal. I learned how to be a photographer in a traditional way: learn how to use the equipment, go out into the world and see what you can capture, come back and process your film, work in the darkroom, edit, etc… then determine what truth about the world you had uncovered, what beauty you had captured. The question I always wrestled with regarding photography was: how can I take an idea, and use a camera to manifest it into images? With photography it always seemed you were starting with images and gleaning ideas from them, depending on what you edit out, how you arrange them, and how you use the formal elements to communicate. The answer I found was that if I take these images out of the realm of reality by incorporating glitches, orbs, or anything else that makes them obviously unreal, I have unburdened myself of the weight of coming up with some sort of “truth” about the world. The images become my place to play with reality, and I hope to point out the flaw in the idea that a photograph represents something “real”.
So we’ve created a fantastical little world here, The Pixel Swamp. We were playing with the idea that the swamp is this fertile, rich habitat where flora and fauna can proliferate rapidly… and drawing that connection to us also being able to reproduce our work endlessly and quickly because of our digital capabilities. My images for this show are also arranged into a sort of creation narrative, starting with the simplest, undefined blue depths, and becoming increasingly more complex… to end with the flower petals scattered in the dirt (in celebration of “The Swamp Man Takes a Bride,” of course). What are some of your thoughts about your images related to The Pixel Swamp?
Sarah: It is interesting to me that you inserted ̈Man ̈ after the word ̈Swamp ̈ (and, to be fair, until now I have not corrected you); in fact, the title for this piece is, ̈The Swamp Takes A Bride ̈. While many of my works do include a male creature or would-be paramour, this one does not: in this instance, the swamp itself is her lover. REVENGE OF THE PIXEL-BLOBS is entirely a female fantasy, and the blobs contained therein represent not simply the love of a man for a woman, but something altogether different: pure, unadulterated Love In Goo Form. The kind of perfect love that envelopes you entirely and will never leave you…ever.
The Pixel Swamp is a perfect metaphor for my mind: a lush dreamscape, irrational and organic and full of mystery and danger, where I am forever free to fantasize about brave beauties and the lonely monsters who love them.
Erin: I hope the viewers enjoy exploring our misty, mysterious digital swamp!