Saturday, December 22, 2012

Catherine Wagner : Frankenstein Revisited

We had the good fortune to spend the day with artist Catherine Wagner earlier this summer. It was an arranged visit, with the writer, myself and Sz. I had admired her work for ever- she really was always able to achieve the anthropological author-less distance in her photographs that I never could figure out. They were always very perceptive with a keen understanding of the power of details. But the masterful stroke her work carried was this kind of invisibility. You never really got a clue on the artist by looking at the photographs. They almost seemed to have been created by a simple data collecting machine.

We all exchange introductions and then the conversation moves rapidly.Wagner's brain works fast. Lots of long term projects and we really are riffing from brand new work to older work to new proposals that are out on the horizon. Lots of ideas branching out like a tree: one idea leads to another idea that then opened the door to this chance occurence that led to the creation of this whole new project. And here we are! One story that stuck with me and isn't fading at all references a project from 2003. It was a great example of how all our experiences feed our art. It's our job to be open and make the connections.

In a casual way she explains how she was randomly offered a trip to the Arctic Circle and essentially refused it, writing it off as being more trouble than it was worth. At the same time she was re-reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Wagner makes the connection she never really made before and decides to make this trip. In her words:

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein (The Modern Prometheus) opens with a series of letters written by Arctic explorer Robert Walton, who was engaged in a personal quest to expand the boundaries of the known world. It is Walton who first encounters Victor Frankenstein in the Arctic, desperately searching for the monster he has created. The explorer becomes the only person to hear Victor Frankenstein’s strange and tragic tale.

With this literary/scientific storytelling running in her head, she accepted the trip to Arctic Circle.
Trilogy: Reflections on Frankenstein, the Arctic Circle and the History of Science is the resulting work. See it here.

Frankenstein IV, 2003. Lambda print, 60" x 48" by Catherine Wagner
Why are we writing about this now?
My job that day really wasn't to hear all about Wagner's art and get inspired. It was to create a solid portrait of her. Photographing any artist is a challenge. Now photographing an artist you are already intimidated by...well it is almost impossible. The first attempt really seemed to be a ship that was sinking fast...and once that starts it is very hard to recover. In the end we found a quiet place where we could seem to connect, and that ended up being our portrait, above. I wanted her intelligence and strength to come through. And Catherine most likely just wanted to look decent. I think we got it in that portrait. Eventually I found that color that brought it to life with the help of The Color Shop...and here we are, most likely the last work oriented post of 2012.
Rock on.

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