Wavepool – I pick up on a strong interest in both genuine and mediated experience. How do you see those ideas aligning in you work?
Eileen Rae Walsh – I think it is interesting to be an image maker right now. This idea of the potential for genuine experience is something that I think is being absorbed by the amount of pictures being made right now, by anyone (or, everyone). Which, may be old news. But, for me, there is still something important about making pictures in the world instead of just through the screen. So, while several of my images involve sifting through what something looks like on Google (the sky, the horizon), I believe so much in experiencing the world and in an art practice that allows me to do so. That being said, I also understand the failure of the image to transcribe the visceral and ephemeral nature of engaging in the world that I love and celebrate so much. In a way, photography has become a kind of container for experience, for telling us what something looks like, and that actually begins to fill our brain-space with what it is. So, I began trying to find outlets to create a balance of this understanding, of the failure of photographs but their relentless perseverance and power. I’m looking for the sticky stuff between the gaps and the cracks that contemporary photography orchestrates. At the same time that there are so many images, a kind of meaningless in the surplus, there is an opportunity to excite people again. How do you surprise a generation that has been rubbed in the same spot for too long? How do you disrupt the numbing stream? That is what videos like The Sky and Paradise began addressing, I think.
The other thing that is particularly interesting is what something looks like that I can’t actually see. For instance, pictures of space on the internet. The other part of that is the way that a camera can see in a way that I can’t see. That any kind of experience becomes mediated, or potentially abstracted, through the camera, but in an exciting way. My main interest is in the way something can be experienced through an image. I don’t necessarily care about what it is, or was, but rather, what kind of unknowable or mysterious in-between becomes adhered to the image in the process of making the picture. To absorb the moment into something more interesting, to know what it looks like, then. Less about illustrating or pointing, more about discovery.
Wavepool – What are some of the techniques that you’re using to maximize that opportunity for discovery?
Eileen Rae Walsh – When working with the screen, I’m aware of the mediated, and of my speculation that this technological immediacy is challenging the level of curiosity about the world that I feel is vital. The body of work is called A History of Staring at Fires. Staring at a fire being this profound, mesmerizing, ancient act. My fear is that that act has been replaced with the act of staring at a screen, our heads bowed down with an artificial light source illuminating our faces. However, rather than just talk about screens, which seems simple, easy, and contemporary, I’m interested in this process of photographing and then looking at an image on a screen and then rephotographing again and again until the image becomes something else. It pushes beyond the screen. I’m interested in making pieces or videos that have a shared hypnotism with the act of staring at a fire, but derive from this artifice and mediation. I think that is one instance of using the camera to discover something potentially beautiful or profound through the means or technology that has kind of absorbed and changed the pleasure of looking, both at images and the world.
Wavepool – You briefly mentioned the sky and the horizon, two elements that repeatedly appear in your work in various forms. Can you elaborate on their importance as subjects?
Eileen Rae Walsh – I’m interested in the way certain phenomenological events have been absorbed through images. I feel the sky and the horizon are things that are described by pictures more than they are described by our natural experience of them. They have become photographic subject matter – to the extent that I can’t look at the sunset without thinking about images of the sunset. I also love the infinite, intangible nature of both of these things. Knowing you can never reach the horizon or the end of the sky, a kind of limitlessness, but that we are always looking towards or trying to grasp or fathom them… but also that these things are relentlessly photographed. There is a ceaseless attempt to capture these experiences, and those photographs will always fail at doing so. But, the amount of images of these events… it is like continuously trying to get closer to something that you can’t be close to. With a video like The Sky, I’m interested in making someone feel something for clouds with ten images of clouds on Google. There is an opportunity for an emotional tone in the work that highlights this false proximity. They are subjects that work as spaces to create this conversation and pull.
Wavepool – In addition to the images in The Sky, the audio in that video piece is vital to my experience with it and seems to toy with my emotions a little bit. It complicates things and seems to reverse the tone of the video at one point. Can you talk about that component and your intentions with the narration?
Eileen Rae Walsh – Sure. I like the idea of a dictionary.com definition of something that is unfathomable, or infinitely vast – an attempt to contain the idea of the sky or space, similar to the absurdity of the amount of images of these subjects on Google Images. (As if we are consistently trying to capture the essence of these things). However, I want to disrupt the narrative of the mediated and of that scientific language with subtle, personal appendages that make those unfathomable subjects somehow personal (again). I feel like some of the visual moments where you can see my desktop point at a personal experience of me, sitting at a computer, actually relentlessly clicking through these things. The video functions as a mark in time, that this is what Mac operating systems looked like in 2015, that this is an artist, trying to understand the new infinite that we’ve created, this impossibly vast archive of images and information – an attempt to personalize that search and experience. Both the search in terms of the Google search, but also the search for meaning, the shared sentiment of contemplating the unknown. The weird way in which a Google image of space is connected to my panic of what happens after I die. It is a vast territory to traverse in 55 seconds, but it is all really elastic in my mind in the way my ideas live and function and are affected by technology and a deeper, more cosmic connection to the world.
Wavepool – How do you go about structuring the viewing experience of A History of Staring at Fires, a project that includes similar imagery but also welcomes a variety of subjects and moments into the mix?
Eileen Rae Walsh – I’m interested in a kind of elasticity between the immediate urgency of some of the pictures I’m drawn to, a very first person narrative perspective, and the larger, more abstract, intangible questions and sentiments of trying to fathom the infinite that other images reference. I want to be able to move a viewer in and out, both in physical space and in idea. I’m pulled constantly between the micro and the macro perspective, the visceral nature of the temporal: a hose and a pair of legs, a pile of dead fish, sticky, wet hair…and the sun. And the sun on a screen, and the sky. Without a tight sequence, the whole thing falls apart (and often does). Jazz is incredible because of what is able to be accomplished in a single song. It can pull you through so many different experiences and emotions, seamlessly, and by the end you’re just kind of rubbing your eyes knowing that something profound happened, but unable to illustrate it with words, because it’s jazz. I feel the same way about someone like Philip Glass. I’m not saying my sequencing does this, by any means, at all. But those are the things I’m thinking about when trying to orchestrate these ideas. It might be too much. It probably is. But, I’m always trying to do that. And it gets messy. What I try to accomplish with sequencing is the same thing that I try to accomplish with poetry. My writing practice and visual practice are really linked in this way.
Wavepool – I like the connection between those practices in A History of Staring at Fires, where a poem is the statement for the work. When joining the two, do you start or end with the writing, or does it come somewhere in between?
Eileen Rae Walsh – I’ve never had a really organized practice. I’m kind of always doing everything, at once. That being said, the poetry can come before, after, or during. I’m always doing both. I’ve constantly been really torn between the visual and written languages. But, instead of trying to separate everything into some kind of linear practice, I just started allowing it all to happen fluidly together. That can be a dangerous tread, or maybe, I’ve been told a lot of times that this is a dangerous way of working. But, I just don’t know that this work has some kind of conventional artist statement. Someone asked me recently, upon reading this totally heady, far too long, academic and impersonal artist statement that I wrote “could you just write that you feel too much?” And I just decided this felt better. I’m pursing these big, complex ideas. The poems feel like small, honest rocks that keep me focused on the important parts.
To see more, please visit Eileen’s website.