Monday, November 19, 2012

Risky Business, Business as Usual

Meeting our group last night, Fiona Annis welcomed us into her "live/work" space in Griffintown for a memorable introduction to the art and science of wet-plate collodion photography. As suggested by the impromptu portrait session depicted above -- Jeff donning a fur, Fiona lighting her target as the rest of the group looks on, slightly stunned -- the spirit of "making do" or bricolage in the Levi-Straussian vein would seem to be central to Annis's practice. A credit card has been bent to hold her aluminum plates in place inside the gerry-rigged plastic cartridge she attaches to a thrift-store camera. An ice-fishing tent draped with light-blocking cloths becomes her portable darkroom. And the accreted condensations of silver crystals on and around the corners of her plate holder become the noisy artifacts of her photographic images.

But, how much of these menaced, compromised or otherwise accidental mutations can really be explained by the "inevitable" constraints of those improvised situations? That is to say, Annis's own attractions to sublimity, darkness, and a Surrealist-informed aesthetics of monstrosity feel much more compellingly present as the gravitational force propelling these occasions for decay. As we canvassed her collection of dripped candles, books on the art of Joel-Peter Witkin and other items worthy of what Restoration poetaster Ned Ward called a "Ware-house of Egyptian Mummies, old musty Skeletons, and other antiquated Trumpery," we heard tell of her friend's 32-page suicide note as "an extraordinary document." We saw her images of sites of famous, melancholic deaths. We smelled unfurling around us the pungent odors of the highly toxic ether, collodion and silver nitrate requisite to this procedure with which she works and sleeps

Annis claimed at one point that her art aims for "a sense of meaning without actually making sense." Wet, wooly and intentionally designed to court visual danger, I think there actually is a very clear way in which it does make sense—as a risk-seeking indulgence of a full-throated death drive. Fluid this work surely is in its material making. Liquid it may be in its squishy, morbid reflections. But, is it intelligent? More broadly, does an account of liquid intelligence need to breed in the dark, marshy backwaters of this plangent lugubriousness? Or might we model its movement—as with Fiona's posing of Jeffacross the face of brighter, lighter surfaces?

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