Artist Stefanie Schneider And The End Of Polaroid Film

Last week, Polaroid announced that it would be discontinuing the beloved Polaroid film. Even if it was expected, I became instantly saddened by the news. With today’s digital “take 50 keep 2” picture-taking mentality, I know fewer and fewer people who even keep photo albums because the sheer editing task is so daunting.

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Stefanie Schneider. Untitled 40.2 x 39.4 inch Limited Edition

I will never forget when my parents brought home their Poloroid SX-70 Camera. After “say cheese” we would grab the photo from its mouth and flap it around like angry chickens with the misguided belief that this would help it develop. Then, we watched the image appear like a magic trick before our very eyes. Little did we know then that the real magic would occur decades later, when the colors would fade in a yellow green haze and offer an aesthetic aftertaste even richer than the instant gratification of seeing it develop.

During my last show, “Mom’s Friends,” about my mother and her friends in the 70s, I foraged through old family albums and found page after delicious page of distorted photos that to me signified nothing less than the new born freedom of a generation redefining itself.

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Stefanie Schneider. The Princess, 128 x 125cm, c-print, edition of 5

It was around this time when I was researching my show that I discovered and fell in love with the work of the German-born artist Stefanie Schneider. Schneider uses expired Polaroid film and lets the medium’s natural distortions and milky opalescence infuse every frame. She creates narratives with a cast of characters who sizzle in what appears to be imported thirty-year-old California sunlight. Like old film stills, the ensuing dreamscapes provide an ideal stage to watch a story unfold. I caught up with her in her studio in Berlin where we discussed light, love, her new film and the reality of obsolescence.Kimberly Brooks: How are you mourning the news that Polaroid is discontinuing your medium? Stefanie Schneider: It’s an era ending again. No more family pictures developing in front of the children’s eyes. A piece of beauty disappearing….a piece of culture. Polaroid material has the most beautiful quality — the colors on one side, but then the magic moment in witnessing the image to appear. The time stands still and the act of watching the image develop can be shared with the people around you. In the fast world of today it’s nice to slow down for a moment. At the same time Polaroid slows time, it also captures a moment which becomes the past so instantly that the decay of time is even more apparent– it gives the image a certain sentimentality or melancholy. Because of that intensity of the moment it seems to change the interaction of the next moment. The Polaroid moment is one of a kind, an original every time.
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Stefanie Schneider, The Days I Saw Him Last, 125 x 150 cm, c-print, edition of 5, 2007.

KB: You’re from Germany, yet you in many ways capture such a California essence. Did you spend time in California before you conceived of your first show shot there? What was your first California experience?SS: California always had been a dream to me. I guess growing up in the 70s with movies like Vanishing Point, The Getaway, and Badlands formed the need for me to leave Germany for California. I’d never even visited before I moved there. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1996 right away I felt at home. Everything was in place and the dream was alive. California looked it and the Polaroids made it even more real.
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Stefanie Schneider, Untitled, triptych 60 x 70 cm each, c-print, edition of 5, 2007.


KB: In Hollywood, it’s a truism that all the best cinematographers are foreigners because they can see a place the way a native can’t. You capture the essence of California better than most Californians do. At what point did your work with Polaroid start your journey as an artist?
SS: It was all a coincidental life source. When I started taking polaroids I didn’t even have a gallery. But I met gallerist Susanne Vielmetter about half a year after I started working with Polaroids and when I shuffled them out of a box onto the table. She loved them right away and we planned a show together.
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Stefanie Schneider, 29 palms lot, 60 x 60 cm, edition of 10, c-print 1999.


KB: I recognize California beaches and Joshua Tree, in your work. Is it all in California or did you venture out?
Almost all my photographs are taken in California, a few in Nevada like the Vegas series and the photographs for the movie Stay have been all taken in New York, of course. Most of my work is being shot in 29 Palms in the California Desert.
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KB: I saw the photos from Stay (featuring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor). Even though I recognize them as actors, the sequence still allowed me to get lost in the narrative –What were they doing on the top of the building? Why does he grab her arm?”, etc. Have you ever worked on a movie?
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SS: I am working right now on a feature film on Polaroid. In it I explore and document the dreams and fantasies of a group of people living in a trailer park community in the California desert. It will be finished in about five years and is developed online at www.twentyninepalms.ca“. Every year we are having an exhibit to show the bits and pieces already shot. I hope I will be able to finish the film. Due to the closure of Polaroid this project might be in jeopardy. Because I’m working on outdated material I have a little bit more time. This is the first and only film ever made on Polaroid. Right now in Berlin I’m showing the very first exhibition of the project. It’s still on till March 15th.KB: What is the ultimate subject for this medium?SS: Love. There is no past, no future, no present. All seems to be happening at the same time. It breathes a senseless pain that has no place in the present. The ex-lover experiences the residues of love as an amputee experiences the sensation of a ghost limb. It is the tangible experience of “absence” that has inspired this piece below.
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The Princess’ Brother, 128 x 125cm, c-print, edition of 5, 2007

KB: In terms of artistic inspiration, who are some authors or artists you look to?SS: I am more inspired by film, music and books. Like Days of Heaven, Badlands, 2046, The Last Picture Show, The Flaunder by Guenther Grass, the songs by Hildegard Knef and Serge Gainsbourg or Coco Rosie. I am also inspired by the 29 palms, California Group. We inspire each other.
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“Badlands” Movie Still from featuring Sissy Spacek

Stefanie Schneider received her MFA in Communication Design at the Folkwang Schule Essen, Germany. Her work has been shown at the Staedtische Ausstellungshalle am Hawerkamp, Muenster, the Kunstallianz, Berlin, the Institut für Neue Medien, Frankfurt, and the Nassauischer Kunstverein, Wiesbaden, Kunstverein Bielefeld, Kunstverein Recklinghausen, Museum für Moderne Kunst Passau. Upcoming shows includeBerlin: “29 Palms, CA” <> ), Galerie Spesshardt-Klein, Berlin – 10th of February to 2nd of March 2008 – also shown at the Berlinale / Forum expanded
Les Rencontres d’Arles – Photo Festival South of France, 7th to 13th July 2008, curated by Christian Lacroix
Frenzy, Salzburger Festspiele, Sujet of the year presentation
Sidewinder, Galerie Robert Drees, Hannover, Germany
Sidewinder, c.art-Galerie, Bregenz, AustriaStefanie Schneider is represented by Scalo Guye in Los Angeles, California and Galerie Robert Drees in Hannover, Germany.

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The Nudist, The Chemist and Artist Ethan Murrow

As an artist, I consider art on a sort of spectrum in my mind by the manner in which it is rendered. I picture two opposing ends: one a chemist, who has a pristine lab and measures everything in the most precise manner, conducting experiments in a white coat with the thinnest of pipette, a Bunsen burner, and a notepad to meticulously record results. On the other end is the nudist, someone completely of the body who paints without a trace of inhibition, who never decides what to put on the canvas in advance but just instinctually slathers it on with a huge brush or spatula, perhaps even while sipping a glass of wine with the other hand, all while naked. In my mind I call the two types of artists “The Nudist and The Chemist.” With every painting, I fall somewhere in between–with “The Nudist” being my ultimate goal as an artist, like Howard Hodgkin or perhaps the elder Matisse, working in bed into his eighties with yards of fabric, sunglasses and a big pair of scissors.

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LEFT: Ethan Murrow, “Lava Collection – Well I definitely heard something” graphite on paper 54″x54″ 2005.

When I first saw the works of Ethan Murrow, I thought they were photographs. I loved the subject matter, the adventures of the people, often the portraits of the artist himself, in the midst of an unknown experiment. Upon second glance, however, when I realized that these are in fact extraordinarily large graphite drawings done with such precision, such sensuality, with a subject matter that deals directly with fear, ambition, and humility, I decided that, nay, he is both a nudist and a chemist and that one can very much be both.Murrow and his wife Vita Weinstein develop plots and film their stories, and then Murrow searches for frames worth portraying by hand. His upcoming show “Dust Mining” debuts March 15th and is his most ambitious to date.

Kimberly Brooks: One of the elements that I find so intriguing about your work is the difference between content and medium. Your medium is highly controlled and photorealistic. Yet the subject is highly dynamic, people are doing strange things with ropes in holes, water and air. How does Marshall MacLuhan’s aphorism “The Medium is the Message” apply to your work?

Ethan Murrow: I think media effects and often controls the message more than most would like to admit, but I don’t think you can say that it always does. That said, media IS often the overarching structure and also the motivation so it’s influence probably outweighs content and concept a lot of the time. For instance, I began these drawing projects in part because of my pure satisfaction with paper, graphite, the atmospheric effect I can create with it, the meditative plodding process, the obsession required and the raw endless simplicity of this approach. But, those things are also very important to me because they relate to my content. Ideas of obsession, perseverance and pig headed-ness are key elements in both media and concept. I like to think the process/media and the content are integrally linked but I do not think one can exist purely without the other and maintain the same effect. In my work content also brought about the media. I aimed to create work that referenced historical documents, black and white photography, monumental glorification and so on. Large scale graphite drawings fit that bill. So the media is at the mercy of the concept too.

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RIGHT: Ethan Murrow, “John McCarty, promoter of the mines and professional middleman” graphite on paper 74″x74″ 2007

KB: What was the inspiration behind the way you approached this series, creating a back story in the first place?
EM: In The spring of 2004 I had a chance to do a three-month residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Nebraska. When I arrived there I was in the midst of projects that dealt with landscape painting and, truth be told, I was somewhat bored with the direction of my work. I spent a lot of time talking with and watching some performance Artists who were also in residence at the Bemis at the same time, particularly the group Bushwick Farms whose work revolves around an extended fictitious genealogy. The simple truth was that they were having a blast, using stories from their own lives to help construct scenarios, events and narratives that engrossed both them and their viewers and participants.
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LEFT: Ethan Murrow at Pinto Brothers shoot in Manzanita Oregon 2005.

KB: What led you to the subject of experimentation?I have always been obsessed by flight and that became my first subject. I began jumping off of cars fences, ladders and chairs, flying through the air in Nebraska wheat fields in front of cameras, embarrassing myself in front of some local farmers as I documented the body in motion. I then brought this imagery back to my traditional processes and used it to create drawings and paintings. The new work was exhilarating because it was chaotic and unknown. At the beginning, I wanted to create pieces that documented my prowess at flying through the air. It took me a good year of fits and starts and mistakes before I realized that the work was at its best when it captured my weaknesses, mistakes and innocent moments, instead of fictitiously glorifying what I could not achieve. I began to create narratives that dealt more with failure and the overpowering and blinding need to succeed rather than success itself. Many could have told me this from day one, but it took me a long time to realize that I am at my best as a performer and storyteller when I am making fun of my own ego. At the core, my characters are self-portraits, craving glory, yet eternally doomed to make mistakes.

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Ethan Murrow, “Off of Gaspé, ready to dive for the elusive whale”, graphite on paper 60″ x 96″, 2007.


KB: I am a big fan of mistakes. It’s the most exciting and critical part of making art. What is the story within this particular film and how does it illuminate these themes for you?
EM: The Freshwater Narwhal Hoax documents the exploits and downfall of the fictitious marine biologists Banvard and Barnum Orson. Banished from the scientific community due to fraudulent methods and suspect motivations, they are determined to rebuild their reputations and achieve the fame they have always desired. The brothers delve into highly suspect whale research and begin to weave a complicated and fraudulent tale for the press. They focus their attention on Narwhal whales and assert to anyone who will listen that they have located a pod on the St. Lawrence River. Hefting gear of unknown provenance the Orson brothers attempt to prove their bald assertions. Their story is one of obstinence and drive in partnership with chicanery. Like many of my characters their insistence on success at all costs becomes their ultimate downfall.

The things I keep returning to are failure and obsession. It seems to me that there is a fragile line between reckless obsession and brilliant success. My work resides in this area, applauding ridiculous pursuits and cringing at ill-fated experimentation. To examine these issues I have created fictional narratives rooted in the historical fact that humans will attempt anything. I attempt to give credibility to the ridiculous pursuits of my characters by creating a pseudo documentary world full of black and white photo-realism and fake documentary films about their exploits. I want the work to be believable, insane and humorous all at once.

KB: How did this particular story arise?

EM: Working with my wife, Vita Weinstein Murrow, a frequent collaborator, a story began to arise from our discussions in early 2006 about two people who had been driven to the edge of their profession and so turned to desperate measures. The characters we had dealt with up to this point were obsessed by fame and glory but rarely had this caused them to swindle anyone. We wanted to dig deeper into failure and investigate what happened to people who had nowhere to turn. The Orson’s aren’t horrible people, they just use their drive and grit in inappropriate ways.

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Ethan Murrow, “Cloud Collecting with the Pinto Brothers: at the moment of launch, the quick release jammed and Huffaker lost his cool.” graphite on paper 72″x144″ 2006.

KB: What is your process and how do you collaborate with Vita to create your work?EM: Half of my time is spent on project development, reading, thinking, researching and planning. Much of this process includes discussions between Vita and me about different story lines, scenarios and logistics, all leading up to performances. The performances are planned yet disorganized. When we began they were two person affairs with Vita shooting video and stills of myself in a variety of costumes. We usually shoot in remote and difficult settings. The entire Cloud Collecting With The Pinto Brothers for example was shot on the Oregon coast over five weekends in 2004 and 2005. Four of those five weekends it was pouring and windy, the fifth it hailed. For that one Vita was in a tent to protect the technology while I tromped around in the sand with various props getting hammered by the hail. I have always felt like these moments of ridiculousness connect me directly with the characters, who all are depicted in equally problematic scenarios. Once the performance imagery has been collected I begin to cull through it on the computer and think about which images connect best to one another to help tell a full story. I then use the collected imagery to create large-scale graphite drawings and short video pieces.

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RIGHT: Vita Weinstein Murrow directs two actors for Dust Mining shoot in Dorset, Vermont 2007.
Now some of this process is changing. Working with Vita and Harvest Films we have crafted a new storyline about a group of miners harvesting dust for profit. We are working with a wide array of actors and media professionals to craft a short film with Harvest for my March show at Obsolete in Venice. This piece will be shot over the next few weeks. It is a big jump, forcing us to more carefully consider every step in story development and opening doors to tools and collaborators we have never had access to before.KB: Indeed, has there been an artist who has inspired you in both your interest in film and drawings?

William Kentridge, who creates stop frame animation films about the history, politics and culture he grew up amongst in segregated South Africa, has probably had the biggest effect on my career. His haunting depictions of characters struggling between dream and reality and cause and effect are all rooted in his own experience and figure (meaning he loosely depicts himself as the protagonist in his films). I admire the way he examines his own role in history through his work and formally I can never get enough of his crude yet completely full and confident drawings. Kentridge collaborates with puppeteers, actors, musicians etc etc. and he has served as a model to me in that realm as I have worked to create healthy collaborations with my wife, Vita, and others in different projects.

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William Kentridge, Drawings from Mine charcoal on paper 120x150cm each, 1991.

Ethan Murrow was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts in 1975 and is presently based in New York City. He received his B.A. in Studio Art from Carleton College in 1998, and his M.F.A from The University of Chapel Hill in North Carolina in 2002. Ethan’s upcoming solo exhibition will be at Obsolete in Venice, California, opening on March 15th 2008 www.obsoleteinc.com or Ethan’s website at www.bigpaperairplane.com).Selected recent solo exhibitions include: Winston Wachter Fine Art in Seattle, Washington, Bucheon Gallery in San Francisco, Obsolete in Venice, California, Youngblood Gallery in Atlanta and Reeves Contemporary in New York City. Ethan has participated in residencies and fellowships at the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Nebraska, the Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughn, Ireland and the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont. Ethan teaching experience includes: Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ethan’s awards include an emerging artist grant from Spaces in Cleveland, OH and an Outstanding Student Achievement Award for Sculpture from the International Sculpture Center in Hamilton, NJ. Recent reviews and publications include Time Out New York, The Seattle Times, The Los Angeles Times, Harper’s Magazine, Art New England, Sculpture Magazine and New American Paintings. Ethan’s work is in many public and private collections, including, the Guggenheim Foundation, Twentieth Century Fox, The Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Liberty Media and the Burj Dubai, EMAAR.

First Person Artist is a weekly column by artist Kimberly Brooks in which she provides commentary on the creative process and showcases artists’ work from around the world. Come back every Saturday for more Kimberly Brooks. You can view more columns and essays at www.firstpersonartist.com

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Why Artists Shouldn’t Have Blackberries

A few months ago, after an unfortunate incident involving a melted chocolate bar and my cel phone in my car’s console which rendered the latter useless, I decided to try a Blackberry. It was something I’d been debating with friends, family and myself for years. I was extremely hesitant. I would regularly interrogate the people I knew who had them as if they’d just casually used the Orgasmatron in Woody Allen’s Sleeper.

 

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Woody Allen in Sleeper
“What’s it like? Is it weird? Is it really that great?”

“Oh, yes!” They’d always exclaim. “Can’t live without it. It’s saves me so much time. I could be waiting in line at Starbucks and get so much done!”

I broke down at the cell phone store. I was so ashamed that I didn’t even tell my sister when she was the first one to call and I held the thing up to my head.

I am not a Luddite nor a technophobe. Au contraire, I have always been an early adopter– the first to have email, a website, etc. After all, painting is a technology. The very root “techne” derives from the Greek “art” or “skill.” But when I go to the studio I leave all the gadgets at home. I figure that the people who must reach me will have my cell number. Other than that, I had avoided the Blackberry until that moment.

Around the same time, I watched this year’s Super Bowl. During a break, there was an ad for a Bank–I think Chase Manhattan– which showed a couple rock climbing near the top of a dangerous, devastatingly beautiful mountain that resembled Half Dome in Yosemite. In the commercial, as she dangles from the edge of a sheared cliff, her blackberry buzzes and she cheerily checks it and tells her boyfriend that it was her bank letting her know that her checking was overdrawn, but they fixed it. Blech! Did the ad executives really think that would be enticing? But yet, that was me, checking email after every conversation and at every stop light. Me and everyone I know, constantly in touch all the time.

I returned it two days later.

**

Although I have pondered the effects of technology’s impact on daily life before, I do so now within the specific context of how it effects one’s ability to be creative. I have come of age as an artist during the most accelerated period of connectivity our species has ever known. We have all been drunk on technology and only some of us are emerging from our collective haze. Last week, Mark Bittman of the New York Times extolled the virtue of taking an electronic Sabbath; The Dangerous Books for Boys and Girls fly off Amazon’s shelves because young kids are so wired they forgot how to play; Tim Ferris’ Four Hour Work Week is on the desk of every executive and Frontline’s “Growing up Online” chilling account of the first generation of children to literally be connected all the time where texting is a right, and online exhibitionism is second nature. It’s been a little more than a decade since it started in full force. But alas, it appears that we are finally starting to sober up and reacquaint ourselves with the Here and Now. Rules to navigate are being offered for all walks of life. I’m making one now: Artists shouldn’t have Blackberries and here are four reasons why:

#1 Artists Need to Daydream

When I divided the creative process into eight stages (a la Kubler Ross’ five stages of death), I started with Vision, which happens in an instant and sets an artist on the path of creation. But in hindsight, this was a mistake. The real first stage, the most important, doesn’t have a name. It is silent. It’s when the filaments of thoughts, the subatomic particles of ideas, are just lying around in the primordial ooze of your mind. It looks like a daydream or nothing at all, but this is the first real stage of the creative process.

When I studied biology, I remembered a curious anecdote about cell division. When a cell divides it also goes through five phases — Interphase, Prophase, Meta Phase, Anaphase and Telophase. The first phase is “Interphase” and for years, scientists thought that this was when the cell was sleeping. All the visible action happens from Prophase onward– the nuclei divides within the cell and eventually splits apart to form two. Eventually, when microscopes improved, scientists learned that this first phase was actually the most important part of the process when the DNA replicates. Even when I looked up Mitosis on Wikipedia (to provide you with a snazzy picture), they show imagery of all the phases but don’t bother showing “Interphase” because there’s simply not much to look at.

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Whether within a day or a year or a lifespan, moments and periods of apparent inactivity are critical. We’re always processing and receiving. We can’t do this with constant chatter and interruptions. Like a “rest” in music we can’t make music, or art, without it.

#2 Artists Tend to Be Compulsive

I use myself as an example, but before I create I need to have certain things in my own kind of order. I play certain music, I burn incense, get my materials together. Often I’ll go for a walk. If I want to procrastinate, I’ll clean and won’t start until everything is perfect. One more thing to procrastinate or get off my plate before I begin is a BAD thing. I’ve interviewed a lot of artists here and they all have rituals they go through before they get into their “zones.” Counter to our occasional reputation, artists are generally not mentally slovenly people who get to be flakey because they’re “creative types.” Instead, we have to exhibit fierce discipline and this is a crucial part of the process. When I had the Blackberry, I was corresponding with people all day long and more often even. By not compartmentalizing my accessibility, it became yet one more thing that either prevented me from starting or interfering with the zone that I worked so hard to create.

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Kimberly Brooks’ Studio

#3 Being Slightly Unreachable is CoolOkay, I realize this is facetious but really, must we be available all the time? Whatever happened to the artists’ mystique?#4 Real Artists Would Have an iPhone

Let’s face it, any self-respecting artist wouldn’t be caught dead with a Blackberry. If you have any sense of aesthetics, you lust the iPhone instead. Just dismantle the email function and you’ll be fine.

First Person Artist is a weekly column by artist Kimberly Brooks in which she provides commentary on the creative process and showcases artists’ work from around the world. Come back every Saturday for more Kimberly Brooks. You can view more columns and essays at www.firstpersonartist.com

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