School of Arts and Humanities News

CentralTrak: MFA Exhibition Experiments with Video, Sound


Lace, video still photographic print

In CentralTrak’s final in a series of MFA graduate exhibitions this summer, Caleb Shafer’s video and sculpture installation opens August 20th from 8-10pm. The artist’s experiments with video and sound culminate in this brief opportunity for patrons to immerse themselves in an orchestrated multi-media experience.

In a discussion with fellow artist and CentralTrak graduate-student-in-residence Clayton Harper, Shafer reveals details about his practice and methodology.

Harper: Many of your works render motion at an almost uncomfortably glacial pace, which to me seems like a deliberate contrast with the fluid, fast manner through which we interface with technology today. What about this sense of time and motion interests you? Is it something you’re attempting to impose on the viewer, or is it rooted in purely formal concerns?

Shafer: The primary function of the motion is to capture the feeling of expectation. That feeling of uncomfortableness, not being able to “understand” what is happening. The extended length and “slowness” gives the viewer time to move past that expectation, revealing the screen itself along with the imagery on the screen.

H: The colors you employ also have this purely synthetic quality, reminiscent at times with Cory Arcangel’s Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations, but where Arcangel’s hues are sterile and austere your compositions seem ethereal, procedural, out of focus. Artificial, but somehow mystical. What are you pushing toward with these interactions between colors? Are they influenced by nature, technology, psychology, or something else entirely?

S: The colors I use become a representation of what could be on the screen or what has happened on the screen. They are the remnants of past media and work, a reflection of what “used to be” there. Using your words mystical and ethereal, they could be seen as ghosts of past media. They reveal how we view and interact with the screen. This is where my interest lies, how we choose what to believe and how we react to different ideas. What about the screen, and the imagery on it, becomes controversial, endearing, important, boring? If the screen’s “content” is reduced down to its basic forms (color, movement, time, shape), that content becomes a different presence, a presence that is invites personal interpretation. This is the space that I like to transform, uncovering something that may not have been seen before while revealing that the screen is an active mediator between you and the content, not just a passive technology in the exchange.

H: Sound is also a central component in your work and, as with your manipulation of color, it feels neither natural nor composed but radiated by unconscious technological phenomena. What kind of synthesis are you trying to produce between sound and image? Are they separate, competing, or synonymous forces?

S: The sound is what can bring the experience of the light and color to the viewing. The image exists as light exiting the screen. Sound resonates all around you, giving you an awareness of the image as light and not just a feature of the screen.

H: What kind of dialogue are you trying to create between hardware (monitor, screen) and software (video, image) in your work? In No Violence and Earth Delete for instance, you employ clusters of small, rugged monitors, a far cry from the sleek, weightless forms we might expect from work in the new media genre. As someone who works with digital media, how do you want these forms to be presented to the viewer?

S: The hardware is part of the video itself; it is not separate from the video. The video cannot exist in the physical world without a screen. The hardware is there as a reminder that the media only exists as physical object when something else is showing it. It is reliant on technology and that’s interesting to me because all current sources of media focus on the content while ignoring how it is to be seen. In very few instances are we able to see a film or other media the way it was created or meant to be seen. By giving each work its own hardware, the piece has its own way of being seen and becomes a finished work. As to the use of older, more industrial hardware rather than a flat screen TV, I believed the works needed a more physical presence instead of trying simulate that they existed outside of screen.

H: The viewer is not merely a hypothetical object in your work, either—in several of your pieces, they are incorporated both actively and passively into the images generated by the work. What kind of power dynamic are you trying to create between the viewer and the image, and would you describe these works as interactive or reactive? Where are you positioning the viewer?

S: In the actively putting the viewer’s image on the screen through video cameras, I am further implicating the viewer a part of the work, increasing awareness to their presence and involvement.

“Efficient Degradation of Contaminants” by Caleb Shafer will be at CentralTrak Aug. 20 – Sept. 3. The opening reception will take place Saturday, Aug. 20 from 8 – 10 p.m. 

Press Contact:

Sarah Larson, (214) 830-6429

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