Justin Charles

Video art is a key area of interest at PHOTOFAIRS | San Francisco, and the fair’s Connected sector specifically highlights those artists working in moving image.
The theme for 2018’s Connected sector is “The Channel of Democracy: Womanhood, Power & Freedom in Video Art”. San Francisco-based artist and curator Justin Charles Hoover will create a 90-minute loop of video artworks showcasing the breadth of talent currently working in contemporary video and new media art. Justin explains to Jill Cotton more about moving image, and his plans for the fair.

The boundaries between still photography and other art forms, including video art, performance and installation, are increasingly blurring. What is it about this merging of the mediums that excites you as an artist and a curator?

What excited me about this blurring of boundaries is the freedom it provides. This freedom is not only for the individual artist to feel free to move in any direction, but for artists who work in non-traditional spaces such as political arenas, or in food, or in athletics for example, to bring the context of their work into the context of the art world. Perhaps it is more precise to say rather, that artists are expanding the contexts of the art world to include increasingly non-traditional contexts. Jon Rubin, Tania Bruguera, Nato Thompson, Phil Ross, Heather Cassils are a few of my favourites that I’ve worked with (or admired from a distance). They pursue larger concepts and allow the forms of art they create to emerge along the way. Obviously, the photograph and the video document still play a huge role in the production of art, but as media continues to blur and the contexts of the art world expand we are only going to see art that becomes more and more relevant and engaging.

Which emerging local and international artists would you recommend who are working in moving image?

That is a tricky question, because I think the moving image is very complex and we are currently in a moment of evolution. Artists and scientists are currently exploring what the moving image can entail. There are a few camps. There are those who think that the image is a discrete entity, like a painting that evolves over time and is has a beginning and end. It can loop indefinitely, but fundamentally, it is a fixed item and will not change. Classical filmmakers are like this. In art, Pippolotti Rist is one such example. Much of her video work is finite. It is immersive and amazing but the videos all have a start and an end and you can watch them without affecting them. Her video art does not evolve or change each time it is played. Then there are those like Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, who believe that a fixed video means death for the artwork and believes instead that a type of code or algorhythmic element to a piece is a big part of the artwork. For his work, the code creates an artwork that is reactive, generative or evolving, always changing and never the same twice. For him, the audience’s participatory is fundamental in activation of the work and thus the relationship between the image and the audience becomes paramount as well. To name a few of varying levels of establishment these would be some of the best moving image artists that I’ve worked with and a group at the end who I have not but whose work has greatly inspired me: Heather Cassils, PussyKrew, Sophie Calle, Sophie Clement, Tiffany Trenda, Kate Gilmore, Tra Bouscaren, Desiree Holman, Li XiaoFei, Huang XiaoPeng, Lucy McRae, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Pipolotti Rist, Rachel Maclean, Melanie Bonajo, Julika Rudelius, Nao Bustamante, Zhang Peili and Yang FuDong.

Looking forward, how do you feel technology will shape photography and people’s interest in the medium?

For general consumers, new technology in art means that more people can be artists. It also means that more art is available, albeit at a lower price point and usually coming from a less conceptually rigorous and researched place. In this way technology broadens the possibilities of who gets to have a voice in the production of culture, but also waters down the pool of what is innovative art. Diverse viewpoints become more equitably accessible which is vital, but you have to wade through so much more generic or derivative images to get the truly unique outliers. What is most readily lost though is subtlety. I look at artists like Eggleston today, who I greatly admire and who was one of many who inspired me years ago to make art, and I wonder if he was coming into being today would the available tech, the ease of digital, and the variety of tools to manipulate images distract him from his craft? On the other hand, you look at someone like Zhang Peili and Yang FuDong and think “I’m really glad that film and video cameras were available to them so they could find their voice in such powerful and prescient ways.” People who are using cutting edge tech or non-traditional tech to find the medium that allows their voices to ring out is priceless. And now that interactive tech is becoming easy and cheap, I’m excited to see how participation in the arts is becoming more and more integrated into experiential design in museums, art centres and in commercial galleries. 

What can we expect from your curation of the Connected sector at the fair?

The theme we are working with is “The Channel of Democracy: Womanhood, Power & Freedom in Video Art”. This serves to describe video art as a medium which uniquely enables and effects socially meaningful work. And specifically, we are working with artists who take on challenging political issues in ways that not only are aesthetically powerful but politically meaningful.

Specifically, we will present an approximately 90-minute loop of video artworks in a black box screening room that will play continuously throughout the period of the fair, with slight variations on Sunday to accommodate a more family and youth focused day.

Featured video artworks explore a wide array of forms of video art, from stop-motion animation, to performances made for the camera, to three-dimensional computer-generated music videos, to more conventional cinematic art films. In regard to made-for-camera body-based performances Kate Gilmore (courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery) will present Built to Burst a video in which the artist climbs throughout a 16:9 format custom set, breaking ceramic vessels of paint, effecting the scene and altering the shapes and order of the scene. Another highlight includes a new stop motion animation titled Slam Bang Blue, by Palestinian-Lebanese-American artist Zeina Barakeh about the mechanisms of war and the polarization of contemporary politics. A third highlight, Oyinda-Serpentine, by international digital artist duo PussyKrew, wraps a daring video about post-human corporeal aesthetics, fluid identities and their synthetic organic notions in luscious R&B inspired emotive, husky, down beat pop music.

Finally, London-based artist Sophie Clements presents her newest work How We Fall (2017) in a special test screening with PHOTOFAIRS | SF. This brand-new piece observes a moment of change as a metaphor for how cities, governments and humans all eventually fall. This piece is both a study of material and light, and a suggestion of melancholy reflection on our changing fortunes. Using state of the art photographic technology to capture a moment in time in 360 degrees, How We Fall (2017) shows falling cement, transformed into evocative structures or landscapes, reminiscent of many of the contemporary images that surround us today. Conceptually, this piece also bridges the representation practices of photography and video using multitudinous simultaneous camera angles to deconstruct and re-assemble time and material to question the notion of physical reality in relation to time and memory. In this way, this artist represents an important place between a photographer and a video artist, one who creates moving pictures from the numerous stills afforded by emerging super high-speed photography tools.

What do you hope visitors will take away from seeing the Connected works?

In shifting the context from the commercial art fair to a darkened black box space, we are creating an opportunity to explore a new type of art in a different space. We plan to create a space that shifts the experience of time as well, so that the rush of the fair, the push of consumption is sublimated by the need to conceptually engage and allow oneself to be immersed in the work. The time scale of video is inherently different from that of photography, yet they share a mind-set. We believe the patrons who explore collecting photography, naturally can look to collect cutting edge video art. To this end we have made all the works on display available to collectors and can advise on the best ways to collect, display and maintain such new and important artworks.

What advice can you give those who are new to collecting moving image?

Collecting moving image work is easier than it seems. Many people are daunted by the potential for technical issues. But a trusted video artwork can be easier than hanging a painting. Personally, my philosophy on the subject is to become comfortable in “throwing light”. However, I’m fairly libertine on this topic. What I mean by this, is that it isn’t necessary to have a special viewing room, or a custom space built for video art. Many people think they need special technical tools or their own black box. Not true. Personally, I have a large video art collection and I outfit my home in San Francisco with mini projectors on small portable stands and position them throughout the home. I even use the white shower curtain in the guest bathroom as a projection screen during parties.

However, this is a very subjective mode of engaging with media, one perhaps best suited for an experimental curator and an artist. The more traditional ways to collect media would be to have a fixed object, like a projector mounted in place, or a dedicated screen with a built-in media player. The moving image artwork would then be able to be played and turned on or off. I personally enjoy slowly evolving silent pieces, works that almost trick you into thinking they’re static. They are ambient. There is no narrative, but that is a personal aesthetic decision. Collecting time based moving image work is just like collecting any other work, first and foremost, does the work inspire and transport you? Will it improve your life? If so then don’t be daunted by any technical fears. All the technical elements are easy to work around to make it simple and easy to install and operate.

What insight do you have into the unique collecting opportunities in San Francisco? What opportunities do you see for growth in this market?

There are many unique collecting opportunities in San Francisco at all levels. There are, of course, the mega-galleries with top tier artists; the must-haves for the global collector. But these interest me less than the many local galleries with mid-level or even emerging artists that are fantastic and positioned for capturing more of the market in a few years to come. These galleries include SF Camerawork, Euqinom, Catharine Clark Gallery, R-SF, Chandra Cerrito Gallery, and Gallery Wendi Norris to name a few. But then there are the “outsider” artists featured at places too, like Creativity Explored and Creative Growth, two special-needs arts centres with really amazing artist teachers and some very compelling products. SF also has a wonderful alternative art scene of galleries in homes and apartments. Since rents are some of the highest in the world, many great curators and gallerists work out of private spaces. No Exit is just such a space that recently popped up and 3rd Floor Space is on its way out, but equally fantastic. It’s hard to keep the pulse of these hidden spots, but they are fantastic and really give a view into the work of some very special artists.

Lastly, why does a city like San Francisco need PHOTOFAIRS?

San Francisco is a place where there is very high concentration of wealth but a practice of going elsewhere to collect. Fairs like PHOTOFAIRS encourages locals and a global audience to think of San Francisco, not only as a place to live and travel, but as a place to look to for leading contemporary art. This is vital as San Francisco continues to develop as it is a way to bolster the market here for photographers and fine artists overall. Also, as the central city to Silicon Valley San Francisco has quite a few “outside the box” thinkers. A fair such as this one provides a commercial context for collecting other people who think outside the box, namely artists, and hopefully can help inspire more creativity, passion and innovation. Finally, as the practice of collecting becomes more and more woven into the fabric of our cultural ecosystem it will continue to support more and more artists and enable them to stay in San Francisco, leading to a stronger market and a more diverse community.

Photo: Courtesy of PHOTOFAIRS | San Francisco