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Gary Justis: New Light Images
I begin making these photographs with my digital camera capturing unusual light projections on a flat, white surface. In the process I use a variety of light sources. As I manipulate those sources, the projected images might suggest life forms, objects and peculiar structures. After I have taken digital pictures of scores of projected images, my editing process begins and I save only the digital picture files I find interesting. I try to locate and record unfamiliar subjects that lie on the edge between still visual order and material displacement. I strive to confront the viewer with an image that is wholly unfamiliar. With some of the edited images, I apply parts from other pictures of light projections using Photoshop technology, yet all of the final images originate with real-time light projections.
This experimental exploration gives me glimpses into a new visual order where my subjects might yield images that suggest they have their origins outside our conscious awareness. Some images yield depictions of objects, structures and events, all seeming to have a transitory existence where the physical spaces that contain them express a vastness beyond the limits of the photo’s edges. Still, some of the subjects in the final photographs have a sentient quality and in a way, I feel I’m depicting a form of consciousness that is dissimilar to our symbolic visual order of things.
Gary Justis earned His Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1979. He has developed his work professionally in the area of sculpture, printmaking and photography for the last 41 years. He lived and worked in Chicago from 1977 to 1999. He currently resides in Bloomington Illinois where he continues his work in sculpture, printmaking, experimental photography and writing. He holds a Professorship at Illinois State University. He has exhibited work at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Phillip Morris, NY, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, NY, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art. He has also exhibited work in numerous exhibitions at Art galleries in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Rome, Barcelona and Budapest, Hungary. Gary Justis’ work is included in various collections throughout the country, most notably: The Museum of Modern Art Library, The New York City Library (special collections), The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago Artist’s Books Collection, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC and JP Morgan Chase, New York, NY.
Gary Justis: New Light Images
While the title of his series points us towards the appropriate path of interpretation, in order to understand and appreciate the images of Gary Justis, we also need to be certain of their nature in advance. That is, we have to know that we are looking at photographic images and not, for instance, products of computer-generated imagery. As we will see, our knowledge of the ontological status of the works – photographic versus non-photographic images – plays a crucial role in appreciating their artistic content.
The nature of ‘New Light Images’ is revealed in Justis’ artist statement, making the statement itself an integral part of what we need to know about the series. As the artist himself explains, the images were created by photographing light projections on a flat, white surface. Some of the images in the series are single photographic depictions of the light projections that were visible in front of the camera, while others are composite images of two or maybe more single photographic images. This is certainly the first significant piece of information that we need to interpret in connection with the visual content of the series. For the series is beautifully unified visually; the viewer cannot tell (at least this viewer could not tell) which image is a single photograph and which is a composite. In other words, Justis visually blends two ontologically distinct type of images: single photographic images and composite ones. The difference between their very nature dissolves in the creative process, since the viewer does not know if the visual properties of a single scene or the editing of two or more scenes are responsible for the final result. The artistic gesture amounts to a strong statement about the possibility of blending ontological differences into conceptually and visually unified works. Are the ontological differences between our perceived world and the unearthly places and entities subtly suggested by the images also so insignificant?
This question prompts us to consider more closely the depictive content of the series’ images. They all test our perception in the most intriguing way. Although we understand that we are looking at single or composite photographic images of light projections, our perceptual processes cannot refrain from automatically trying to see spaces, objects, even creatures in the abstractish forms. This follows from the nature of our perception, and we are rarely faced with such tasks when looking at photographs. As a result of this contra-standard feature of the series, new layers of meanings open up when the viewer reflects on her own interpretative process between the real (light projections), the abstract (visual impressions), and the imagined (seeing as).
All of the images have their own title within the series, making it even more rewarding to explore the rich conceptual connections between the verbal and the visual. For instance, Origin of Sleeplessness may be interpreted visually as an abstract 3D space, while conceptually as the depth of consciousness we rarely reach. The interplay between the visual and the conceptual is certainly one of the most important achievements of Justis’ work, inviting us to return to them for yet another investigation.
Gary Justis: New Light Images
In his photographs, Gary Justis combines his sculptural concept and the diverse tradition of light art in an original way with a distinctive form language. The photographs are interesting blends of static and dynamic states, using the full colour spectrum to present the artist’s image of the world in an abstract way. Some of the art pieces are highly abstracted, working with lines, curves, and their imprints and shadows. Several works point towards microscopic art, drawing on ideas around mereology – or the philosophy of parts and wholes. In the era of rationalist thinking in the 17th century, it was formulated by the mathematician, physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal. These photographs reflect on the notion of negative and positive infinity, which appears in contemporary mathematical and artistic research into fractals.
The works of Gary Justis can be analysed with the tools of objectivist aesthetics, both from the point of view of the creative invention of the artist and from that of the observer. The works also provide an opportunity for personal impressions; we can find our own experiences, projections, memories and desires in the harmoniously arranged compositions of colours and shapes. Approaching the exhibited photographs from the field of aesthetics, they form an exciting bridge between objective and subjective aesthetics. The combination of microscopically designed and roughened light effects creates a special harmony in the photographs.
Light art today renews traditional fine art frameworks with light festivals and lighting objects. These are usually large-scale works, often made possible by current technological conditions. In contrast, in the ‘New Light Images’ exhibition, we see compact constructions that capture the moment of play of light in a framed photograph hung on a wall. Justis’ work both intrigues and excites in its combination of classical fine art and contemporary approaches of light art.
Gary Justis: Metaphors of Bioluminescence
Let me begin with a quote from a truly bizarre little book, Vilém Flusser’s Vampyroteuthis Infernalis: A Treatise, with a Report by the Institut Scientifique de Recherche Paranaturaliste, first published in English by the University of Minnesota Press in 2012:
“All incoming bits of information have, simultaneously, a tentacular, optic, and sexual dimension. [This] world is not doubtful, but surprising; vampyroteuthic thinking is an unbroken stream of Aristotelian shock.”
More about “vampyroteuthic thinking” in a moment.
The flickering strangeness in Gary Justis’s “New Light Images” arises less from their methods of making than from their surprising evocation of bioluminescence. The artist has noted that the makeshift armature he uses to make this work includes an old dentist's illuminating lamp and projector and many colored light filters and reflective foils held in place by clamps or suspended from cables. He uses both incandescent and Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs, and the digital camera he employs reads what’s been illuminated very well while interpreting surrounding spaces as black.
Justis’s setup, then, employs the discards of past technologies and the limitations of contemporary recording modes for what constitutes its new production. If a quality of hauntedness arises from the New Light Image works, it might bear mentioning that Jacques Derrida offered us the term hauntology 25 years ago, describing how any attempt to locate origins or histories is dependent on (always) already existing language, which make "haunting the state proper to being as such." In the realms of the haunted we find such exotica as ghosts, zombies, and vampires. This last incarnation enters into the biological as well as the fantastical. Vampire bats, for example, are actual creatures as well as “familiars” associated with Dracula. More important for this introduction is the deepsea squid, Vampyroteuthis infernalis, whose scientific name translates to vampire squid from Hell. Vampyroteuthys is a bioluminescent ocean inhabitant that lives several thousand feet beneath the surface. It reaches a length of barely twenty centimeters; its eyes (3 cm in diameter) are proportionately the largest of any species in the world. It has another distinction; that of being the subject of an ironical case study by the media theorist Vilém Flusser.
Flusser’s contributions to media theory rank with Walter Benjamin or Marshal McLuhan. His most important books, Towards a Philosophy of Photography, 1983, and Into the Universe of Technical Images, 1985, are both concerned with understanding the cultural significance of images. Flusser introduces this premise in Towards a Philosophy . . . by stating,
“Images are significant surfaces. Images signify — mainly something 'out there' in space and time that they have to make comprehensible to us as abstractions (as reductions of the four dimensions of space and time to the two surface dimensions). This specific ability to abstract surfaces out of space and time and to project them back into space and time is what is known as ‘imagination'. It is the precondition for the production and decoding of images. In other words: the ability to encode phenomena into two-dimensional symbols and to read these symbols.”
In what turned out to be his last book (he died in an automobile crash in 1971) Flusser and his co-author, the artist Louis Bec, authored a 70-page treatise on the consciousness of Vampyroteuthys, reflecting, through it, on the capability of living things to understand their own existence. Flusser and Bec describe the biology of the vampire squid on their way to addressing Heidegger’s proposition that the non-human animal cannot understand dasein, or being-in-the-world: “The animal behaves within an environment but never within a world,” as Heidegger writes in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics. Flusser and Bec, however, point out that the vampire squid creates its world through bioluminescence: “The vampyroteuthis itself irradiates the world with its own point of view. Its bioluminescent organs engender appearances, that is, phenomena. A world such as this cannot deceive because it is a self-generated deception.” If human beings have a worldview, Flusser notes, then so does the vampire squid.
Gary Justis’s photographs of projected light are themselves recordings of a world he has created. Justis adheres to Flusser’s understanding of how images are surface signifiers. In a recent correspondence with the artist, he noted: “In the beginning, I had a very serendipitous working method, but with practice, note taking, and lots of body memory I’ve begun to learn how to repeat some effects, although with the constantly evolving lighting technologies, there is still more new territory.” It’s an appropriate choice of wording to join artistic investigation with exploring terra incognita. Justis is an artist who depicts waking dreams, different imaginative spaces, and alternative worlds. Questions of "when" as much as "where" or "whom" subtly haunt artworks of this exotic scenario or that. Through his New Light Images, Justis aspires to make sense of this world while simultaneously drawing forth specters of its often-displaced reality.
This exhibition was supported by the Local Government of Ferencváros District (Budapest Főváros IX. Kerület Ferencváros Önkormányzata).