(Alberta, Canada/United States)
THE PEOPLE IN THIS PICTURE ARE STANDING ON
ALL THAT REMAINED OF A HANDSOME RESIDENCE
Centre des arts actuels Skol
September 10 to October 10, 2015
The forces of nature seem to have been tamed by modern predictive techniques (geological, meteorological, and so on), which have ousted ancient legends: the blow from Thor’s hammer provoking a terrible earthquake, or Poseidon beating the waves to cause a tsunami. Catastrophes are regarded no longer as divine punishment or premonitions announcing the end of the world, but as blows to our expectations and to human pride. Jean-Luc Nancy states that since Fukushima, the natural disasters of the past have been replaced by a single ongoing civilizational catastrophe. Nowadays, disasters are immediately made into spectacles through media coverage. How, then, can we describe traumatic events without veering into sensationalism? How do we provide information without succumbing to morbid curiosity?
With a background in environmental studies, Christina Battle has oriented her work toward subjects such as history and counter-memory, political mythology, and the iconography of catastrophes. Her video installation The people in this picture are standing on all that remained of a handsome residence (2014) evokes Black Friday in Edmonton, Alberta, on July 31, 1987, when a devastating tornado killed dozens of people, injured hundreds, destroyed homes, and caused colossal material loss.
Battle downloaded eyewitness photos of the Edmonton disaster and videos of tornadoes published by news outlets on the Internet. She then altered the codes of the images to produce random crashes or glitches and “collapsed” the results into video files, once again corrupting elements in the codes to force simultaneous reproduction (datamoshing). “Mute” images consequently become “eloquent,” while fragmentation and repetitive abstraction de-spectacularize the drama. Impervious to the temptations of “disaster porn,” Battle suggests that every catastrophe sheds a certain amount of light.
Christina Battle was born in 1975 in Edmonton, Alberta; she lives and works in Denver, Colorado. She holds a master’s degree in fine arts from the San Francisco Art Institute (2005). Her works have been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions in North America and Europe, including the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities in New York (2014), Gallery 44 in Toronto (2014), the Ryerson Image Center in Toronto (2012), the Rotterdam Film Festival (2008), the Foreman Art Gallery in Sherbrooke (2007), and the London Film Festival (2007). She has received many awards and grants, including the Best Canadian Work Jury Prize at the WNDX Festival of Moving Images in Winnipeg in 2013, the Steam Whistle Homebrew Award at the Images Festival of Toronto in 2008, and the James Broughton Film Award from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2005.
INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTINA BATTLE
GENERAL QUESTIONS ON THE ARTIST’S CREATIVE PROCESS
What is your artistic process? What is your starting point for creating a new work of art? What inspires you?
I often have no idea how the things I make come about until reflection after they are completed. I am inspired a lot by the news and media and the ways in which they are used to disseminate information, often in manipulating ways. Usually, that’s where ideas begin. The form and process changes based on the piece and how it needs to go.
Do you work on many projects at the same time?
I usually have a few things going at once. I like thinking about a number of ideas or approaches at the same time. Usually, I work on multiple things that are ultimately related. It lets me come at an idea from a number of ways.
Describe a typical day in your life as an artist.
Most of the time it feels like juggling 2 full time jobs. Most days are non-stop work – both at my job and for myself. I write a lot of emails, I do a lot of paperwork, I organize a lot of things, I cook, I garden, I try to make time to relax and enjoy life. It’s all a blur.
If you were not an artist, what would you be?
I studied Environmental Biology in my undergraduate studies and I sometimes think about going back to it (botany more specifically nowadays). It strongly informs my practice and I’d love to spend more time studying and researching it.
ART WORLD RELATED QUESTIONS
What work of art do you wish you owned?
I just read an article online 5 minutes ago that Risa Horowitz (an artist currently in Regina, SK) posted on Facebook about Leah Emery’s cross stitch works and they are awesome. I’d love to have one in my house!
What is the weirdest thing you ever saw happen in a museum or gallery?
I once saw something pretty traumatic that I don’t really like to share. It was weird and it was terrible and really made me think about how sheltered museums and galleries often seem to be – but actually how public they are. We don’t expect to share traumatic experiences with others when inside museums and galleries and when it does happen it really pulls you outside of the experience.
The Internet can be thought of as a universal mirror in which the paths of our experience keep on forking: we can decide to exist and act in the tangible world, or in the virtual world, in which case the screen becomes the permeable membrane that affords us passage between one side and the other.
But in re-examining our notion of reality, we must also reconsider the meaning of the documentary genre as such. We can speculate, in deliberately tautological fashion, on the basis of two hypotheses, one holding that reality is what appears on our screens, which act as an interface between subject and object, and the other that in documenting the world in the form of images, we are actually generating more reality.
What is your relationship to the Internet in relation to your artistic practice? To virtual reality?
Most of my work begins with information that I am exposed to on the Internet, it is my primary site of research. It is reality, unfolding at lightning speed in front of me. Sometimes it’s flawed and it isn’t always trustworthy but that’s all a part of it. I’m inherently interested in these parameters – the unreal and the real of it, those slippery moments where truth seems uncertain – and how it has changed the way we interact with images, with one another, and with the world around us.
QUESTIONS RELATED TO HER WORK
What do the images in The people in this picture are standing on all that remained of a handsome residence represent and where do they come from?
The images began as found still images of a tornado that hit Edmonton when I was 12 years old. The tornado was quite devastating and was to date the only major natural disaster I have experienced. The images originally came from news sources that I found and appropriated from the Internet. They were then manipulated into abstraction.
You transform and beautify disaster images in The people in this picture are standing on all that remained of a handsome residence. What is” disaster porn” for you?
I think a lot about our need to see images of disaster – why we need to and why we revel in them almost to the point of them being beautiful. I once read a statistic that stuck with me - that only about 5% of Americans have actually experienced natural disaster - yet we all have an idea of what disaster looks like. With the rise of social media our thirst for seeing and sharing these images has grown. With an increase of natural disturbances over the past decade our ability to see documents of natural disaster, of death and destruction, has become commonplace. Yet, for those who actually experience and live through disaster those images are intensely personal. “Disaster porn” is a recent term used to describe this voyeurism. For me, there are things too personal to need or want to document in an image. The experience is too much to share. When I was sorting through images online archiving the tornado in Edmonton I remembered them – I knew the neighbourhoods they documented and remembered seeing what was captured within the post-disaster images in person. It felt strange to see people’s lives documented in that way almost 30 years later floating around the Internet.
What do you think of the proliferation of disaster images in the media and the fact that their diffusion has become a form of spectacle?
In 2014 I wrote a piece for Incite Journal of Experimental Media titled: “Hollywood Movies, Media Hype, and the Contemporary Survivalist Movement: An Appropriated Study” where I looked closer to this question. I think it is related to the statistic I mentioned above – so many of us have never actually experienced disaster in real life but yet we have experienced it endless times thanks to Hollywood movies and the media in general. We have a false sense of what disaster actually looks like and because of this it can be nothing but spectacle.
Can you explain the process of glitching and datamoshing?
Glitch and datamosh are two methods that allow you to manipulate digital images. Both take advantage of the fact that digital images are made up of code. The way that I used glitch was to initially manipulate the code of the still images themselves. I recoded the images to manipulate their initial form – to change the way they displayed colour as well as the way that the elements of the image were presented. Later, I used datamoshing techniques to blend the glitched still images with video documentation of tornados (also gathered from the Internet). The result is a moshing together of the static glitched images with the movement of the tornados.
What has drawn you to this process and what does it allow you to communicate through your images?
Early on while researching the project, I knew that I wanted to work with images of disaster and when I initially gathered the images from the Edmonton tornado I knew I couldn’t use them as they were. It felt too exploitative, they documented the personal trauma of strangers and I wasn’t comfortable in utilizing them. After further researching our relationship to disaster imagery I realized that manipulating the images would be the only way that I could take on these ideas and, since the images were found online and existed in digital form, I felt that I needed to use digital strategies to do so.