Friday, February 13, 2009

Brandon Morse's current show at Conner Contemporary, This Shape We're In, paints the walls of the front room with large scale projections of his digital animations--in which skeletal, boxy structures in shades of black and grey are shown buckling, collapsing, and reforming. It's a dramatic use of Leigh Conner's gorgeous Florida Ave. space. Definitely worth a trip--the show remains up through March 21.

Morse lives and works in the D.C. area, and teaches at my old alma mater, UMDCP. I asked him a few questions about scale, abstraction, and his relationship to sound:

Hatchets & Skewers: How do considerations of scale enter into your work? I ask this because Leigh's new space is obviously so much larger than her old digs in Dupont...and your new pieces all definitely look like they're meant to be shown as large, wall-filling projections. Will this group always be shown at this scale? How do you determine that/how flexible are you with your presentation?

Brandon Morse: With the pieces currently up at Conner, I knew I had a big box to play in, so that helped determine where I went with the things I was doing when we committed to the show. I had set up some structures, and put them through their paces…the base idea of working with the degradation of architectural forms was there, but the final product had not yet been determined. Having a set space to work within helped in determining where I went with the systems.

I think this is clearer with the work in my previous show at Conner. That work would not have taken on that final form if it were not for the spatial confines of the old venue on Connecticut.

As far as future presentation, I'm not terribly concerned…I do hope that my original inclinations towards presentation are kept in mind. That may be more attainable for institutions rather than collectors. I suppose it's a rare collector who can set aside an entire room for the projection of a two-channel piece that wraps around a corner.

H&S: I don't know that I've seen enough shows of your work in the past few years to make these sorts of generalizations, but it seems to me that the forms in your pieces have become more and more linear, involving architectural forms that behave organically--whereas in earlier pieces, I felt like you were trying to emulate the look of organic phenomena: clouds, sunsets, etc. Would you agree or disagree? How would you characterize this progression?

BM: This seems like a fair assertion. At some point I realized that what I was really interested in depicting were systems, and behavioral activity—massive amounts of singular action and reaction coalescing into recognizable behaviors and forms. Weather seemed the most common example of this, and that was where I most immediately saw it. But after a while it seemed that the representational nature of the video was getting in the way of what I was really attempting to depict: There was a lack of fidelity to it that I was never happy with; I couldn't coax the computer into giving me the detail and complexity of the real thing, and it raised questions as to why I didn't simply shoot the real thing on video and be done with it. So, I decided to do away with the representational elements and focus on the structural, systematic and behavioral.

Of course, having said that, the work that is at Conner right now is fairly representational: abstracted a bit, and brought down to its platonic state, but still certainly depictive of architecture. This work I think is the most specific I've been about subject matter. It's about collapse, and there are currently a lot of things collapsing, so the building metaphor seemed to fit.

H&S: Right--though your pieces are abstract, they do bring to mind all sorts of ominous associations. The current show resembles giant skyscrapers buckling, collapsing in on themselves, or being ripped from the earth and assumed into the heavens. How do you think about the relation of your pieces to recognizable subject matter? Are you actively thinking about 9/11, or architectural excess, or apocalyptic visions of the world...or are you more or less disconnected from those sorts of associations when you design these pieces?

BM: Neglect and the consequences of neglect are what I'm more directly interested in. It's a passive form of the destruction, as opposed to events such as Sep. 11.There were specific events that got the work rolling in a certain direction--the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis happened at right about the time I started working with these pieces. It seemed a perfect symptom of the present moment, and a kind of harbinger of the many collapses that came after.

H&S: I was interested to hear you describe how you arrived at the soundtrack for these--how each originally had its own individual score, but now that you'd shown them all with this one soundtrack (slow, ominous thrumming; continuous cricket-like noises) it seemed like you were suggesting that they would all be shown with that sound from now on. How do you see the link between the soundtracks you create and the projections? And how does your process for recording sound differ from creating the animations?

BM: I did create audio that was specific to some of the pieces at Conner, but all of the pieces are in the same room together, so there was no way that would work. When it came time to decide on audio, I used a piece that I had made during the time I was making the videos…but I hadn't assigned it to any particular one. It seemed to be a unifier and work most cohesively with all of the pieces. They will all henceforth be attached to the audio that is currently in the show.

As a procedural side note, I will usually only listen to one album and occasionally one cut on an album while making a series of works. This time it was the great 'Timeline' by Edith Progue. That's still the audio I associate with the pieces. I suppose that I think of audio as being less associated with specific works, more as being relevant to a time of making.


Pictured: Brandon Morse, Achilles, 2008, 2-channel video, dimensions variable, copyright the artist, courtesy Conner Contemporary Art.

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