Robert Hirsch The SIXTIES CUBED
First Floor FLUX Gallery, March 25 - April 30, 2011 | Opening Friday, March 25, 7 - 10pm.
The 1960s Cubed: A Visual History by Robert Hirsch
1960s Project Description
• Cube montages in gallery windows
Why the 1960s?
Defining the 1960s
Conversely, there were the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy plus the murders of African-Americans, and civil rights workers. President Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War resulted in civilian and military casualties estimated at 2,500,000 people. Inner city riots and antiwar protests took place along with hedonistic and nihilistic extremes as exemplified by Altamont and the Charles Manson Family murders. It was also an era of Thalidomide babies, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Missile Gaps, and above ground testing of nuclear weapons, all of which took the world to the edge of “Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD). Finally, the 60’s marked the beginning of a long, downhill spiral of faltering public confidence in the ability of Big Government (aka Liberal Democrats) to make things work correctly and honestly.
Although its legacy is hotly debated, there was an intense drive to generate alternatives in how cultural institutions operated that defined the 1960s. That said, my intention today is to discuss just a few of the project’s key artistic and conceptual underpinnings with the intent of encouraging viewers of all political and social persuasions to rethink the 1960s and how it continues to affect American culture and politics.
Art as a Transformative Practice
In our point-and-click culture, any data we Google can provide an initial matrix for new creations involving mash-ups, remixes, and sampling. Is there any difference between photographing a building or a web page? Both exist as completed constructions and as potential raw material for resourceful directions. The more we know about how art is made, the more derivative and evolutionary we recognize art to be. Innovative artists think, imagine, and express notions differently from previously recognized views of a similar subject. Hence, thoughtful picture making is an act of authentic assertion, control, and organization over a subject. Each generation of inventive imagemakers confront the same challenge: how to make memorable pictures of their times. What is vital is not where you take things from, but where you take them to. Digital society thrives on this beehive of information and the recognition that all is ours, and nothing is ours.
Use of Multiples
Our western capitalist models are predicated on copies, duplicates, multiples, replicas, the mass production and circulation of useful identical products. This was also a driving force behind the invention of photography, creating a matrix capable of striking copy after copy.
We learn and are inspired by studying the examples of others. Often they say something that we immediately identify with, but could not express until we came into contact with that work. We come to SPE conferences in hopes of encountering something that will offer us insights and/or directions in our work. This is the transformative process at work. Select any artistic practice and you will find this progression of observation, accessing, mixing, and innovation. Ultimately, copies are us.
The image selection reflects a diversity of major events, such as assassinations, civil rights, hip culture, the nuclear arms race, the space race, and the Vietnam War. Images follow themes that include arts, politics, popular culture, science, and daily life such as ads for beauty aids, cars, cigarettes, and liquor during a period of rising consumerism that encouraged people to buy the American Dream.
Regardless of who first captured them; all the pictures were treated to the same procedures. This involved researching and obtaining images; photographically isolating and altering specific content by utilizing a variety of cameras and lenses under controlled lightings methods, such as daylight, florescent studio lamps, flash, and electronic ring light. Contact sheets were made and labeled; images were selected to be proofed; images data were cataloged into Lightroom. Next, in Photoshop, each image was set into a black vignette, harkening back to how a lens forms an image, which in turn frames, separates, and focuses attention on each individual picture. These were then adjusted to custom profiles, printed in pairs, similar to a stereo card, and then outputted twice. When complete, the same image appears in all four sides of the cube. The final images were trimmed; tagged with an ID; stamped with an artist chop (signature); folded; and finally placed in a plastic cube.
One cannot will spontaneity, but one can introduce unanticipated factors with scissors or a moveable cube. The juxtaposition of the cubes keeps the meaning of individual images on the move, by changing it, hiding it, multiplying it, and ultimately undermining it with no permanent result. This utilization of informed chance actions echoes Brion Gysin’s cut-up method in which text is cut into sections and randomly rearranged, bringing collage into the literary world. The cut up reconfigures the fragments into something new that reveals an unseen aspect of the original by addressing how we live in a world of assembled fragments that unfolds over time. My modified Dream Machine pays homage to these ideas that Gysin experimented with in the 1960s.
Purpose, Time & History
Time is an implicit project theme. We see and learn in time. Each photograph not only presents its own historical reference, but how it was perceived when it was recreated, and interpreted by each observer. The nonlinear, stream of consciousness flow of images invites viewers to look deeply and rethink the past to understand the present so we can make informed decisions about the future.
Conventional histories look for beginnings and endings that form the diversity and randomness of life into structured progressions. Certain facts are put forward while others are ignored. Through their unsystematic placement, the large cube montages scramble this model, allowing images to flow forward and backward in time while being connected to the present. Audiences do not merely consume images but, like a Rorschach test, build and rebuild them. This re-seeing process underscores how meaning is personal, flexible, and in flux.
Such an ambiguous, open-ended approach emulates how the paradoxes and puzzles of our own memories are constructed. Their non-analytic nature can convey a never-ending and ultimately unknowable tale about humanity that exists outside of chronological time. It is this flexibility that gives photographs their strength, allowing them to bend, change, and transform without breaking, making each image alive with possibility. They do not tell us what to feel or think. Instead they evoke a visceral, emotional, point of discovery that asks one to dig deeper and come up with your own telling. It brings to mind Oscar Wilde’s remark: “The moment you think you understand a work of art, it’s dead for you.” Fantastic images are living entities that repeatedly draw viewers back to them because they can reveal things you don’t know or see were there until you need to know them.
This project was made possible through the creative assistance and able advice of Anna Kuehl, Susy Stefanski, Anne Muntges, and Frederick Wright Jones.