Sarah G. Sharp Guest Post: #imaginaryspaces

As part of our focus on Moving Image + Art, leading up to our Delve event on March 17, we invited our guest speakers to write a blog post on their interest in the topic. Today, Sarah G. Sharp shares her insights into imaginary spaces achieved through media (in all its various definitions).

Current technologies and the social realities they produce are interconnected with the technologies and social realities of the past and future. The new social spheres promised by our machine-based hybridity, and described by Donna Haraway in The Cyborg Manifesto, have both come to pass and been absorbed by the ways we now consume and produce experience online.

The internet once represented the ultimate utopian escape. The technophiliac narratives that surrounded our new networked connectivity said that online we would be without bodies and therefore leave behind all of the elements of our identities that affect us in the concrete world. We would now be floating brains connected to keyboards, interacting with others in a new truly egalitarian society.

MCI television ad, 1997

In the text-centric world of the early internet, where storage capacity and bandwidth constraints produced images that were largely lo-res and “moving” images that were often very short loops or GIF’s, the relationship between our online personas and our offline realities could be highly abstracted. We could actualize imagined spaces and more easily try on other identities, experiment with expressing our innermost desires and seek community without threat to our “real” lives. But technology has advanced and we are more savvy users. We know that our online actions translate to data that talks back to us. We are asked to share, to connect, to reveal. (Hopefully, we are also learning to value our embodied experience… brains need bodies to survive and minds are not formed in a vacuum.) With the ubiquity of images and time-based media in the post-internet moment, we now manage personas that are mirrored shadows of our concrete selves, a persona still, but connected to our bodies, our faces, our offline world. In fact we often report on and seek validation for our experiences with total immediacy (were you actually at that concert if you didn’t Instagram it? Did you actually have an #amazingtime if it no one “liked” it?)

Still, there is a great deal of power in an imagined space. Utopian fantasies provide maps for future possibilities and point towards gaps in our lived experience. An imagined space has even more power once it is made visible, re-formed into a film, photo, pic, gif, .mov, a work of art. And, as Marshall McLuhan, and others, have told us, the form of media inscribes meaning. In The Medium is the Message he wrote: “The serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because (s)he is an expert aware of the changes in sense perception.”

Sometimes re-organizing, cutting apart and stitching together the world around you is the way a new social reality is imagined.

Dziga Vertov, Man with a Movie Camera, 1929, (English titles with sound (1995) based on notes by Vertov.)

“Kino-Eye uses every possible means in montage, comparing and linking all points of the universe in any temporal order, breaking, when necessary, all the laws and conventions of film construction.”  -Dziga Vertov, 1929, From Kino-Eye to Radio-Eye

Sometimes leaving earth is the only way it seems possible to form a new world.

SunRa, excerpt from Space is the Place, 1974

“Space is not only high, it’s low. It’s a bottomless pit.” -Sun Ra

Imagined space can be produced through a critical re-working of the media artifacts that come into our homes and shape our identities.

Dara Birnbaum, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman,1978

“Explosive bursts of fire open Technology/Transformation, an incendiary deconstruction of the ideology embedded in television form and pop cultural iconography.”  -Electronic Arts Intermix

Seeking out analogies and repeated forms across media can produce new metaphors and shed light on our past uses of technologies.

Stephen Beck, Video Weavings, 1976

“Inspired by the analogy between weaving (vertical warp threads traversed by horizontal weft threads) and the construction of the television image (vertical and horizontal scans of an electron gun)...” -Video Data Bank

Elaine Reichek, SETI, 2004

Elaine Reichek, SETI, 2004

“Like a picture on a computer screen, an embroidered image is a collection of minute fragments (stitches) that the eye assembles into an image... The embroidery reproduces a message sent in 1974 from the world’s largest radio telescope, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, toward the constellation Hercules, some 25,000 light years away. A string of 1,679 bits in binary-code pictogram was assembled into a pictogram showing the numbers one to ten, the chemical formula of the DNA molecule, two human figures, a description of the solar system, and other data.” -Elaine Reichek

In this rapidly paced, digital moment, the stillness of paper and print media seems to have a new aura. I’ve been working with an issue of TIME magazine from 1969 that contains a photo essay about the “Youth Commune” phenomenon. This was popular media’s way of explaining the desire to drop out and experiment with forming new societies to America at large. As I rework these images, I think about the time in which they were made and what it meant to concretely produce an imagined space, and then reproduce it via popular media. I look for what might be revealed about that moment, both in the impetus to leave “normal” society behind and in the framing mechanisms present in popular media. I think about the way I view these works in the present moment: slowly, silently, surrounded by text, yet non-hyperlinked and delineated from advertising. I imagine and make visible a new space, one that connects the future with the past.

Sarah G. Sharp The Youth Communes, 2013 embroidery thread on found Life Magazine cover. 18” x 22”

Sarah G. Sharp
The Youth Communes, 2013
embroidery thread on found Life Magazine cover.
18” x 22”

Sarah G. Sharp A New Way of Living Confronts The US, 2013 found images and embroidery thread on paper 18" x 20"

Sarah G. Sharp
A New Way of Living Confronts The US, 2013
found images and embroidery thread on paper
18" x 20"

Sarah Sharp is the recipient of a Getty Library Research Grant and a BRIC Arts Media Fellowship. Exhibitions include The Aldrich Museum, CT, The Hampden Gallery at UMass Amherst, Frederieke Taylor Gallery and Stephan Stoyanov Gallery, NY. Her oral history interview with Elaine Reichek was published by the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institute in 2009. Sarah is the co-founder of Cohort artist’s collective. She holds an MFA and an MA from Purchase College and is on the faculty in the Art Practice MFA Program at the School of Visual Arts and in the Department of Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons the New School for Design in New York. She lives and works in Brooklyn.

OFFLINE, an exhibition curated by Sarah Sharp,  is on view this Saturday from 12-6pm and there is a closing event from 1-3pm on Sunday at Radiator Gallery in Long Island City.


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