This is an interview by writer Katelynn Dunn with 2020-21 Ground Floor artist-in-residence Carlos Franco.
Carlos Franco (CF): I am actually interested in how to think outside of language. What spaces can be opened up that aren’t bound by the rules already set for us? We use the same words to explain radically different realities, so for me interviews are tricky, or just conversations in general, especially if they’re trying to be too linear.
Katelynn Dunn (KD): I went to your website, and the whole page is covered with a lot of artworks. I wouldn’t call them videos.
CF: See, that is what I am looking for. This is where language fails.
I work project to project, and definitely wouldn’t call myself a video artist. The videos you’re mentioning from my website are pieces from earlier this year. They’re usually one second long loops with content sourced from Instagram, mainly ads, and then dropped back into that bucket. I do them on my iPhone, which like for most, has become the space to be throughout the pandemic. You know, social media, the seedy spot that’s the only one open after hours. That workflow and distribution feel right. I think they deal with attention span. Not quite sure, words fail me.
I’ve enjoyed working from my mobile devices these last years during the in-betweens of life: commuting, before zzz, the bathroom, in the mid, between more time/space consuming projects. I’ve been inclined to play around with these devices for a while now, but from around late 2016, I was traveling a bit and started investing more time in them. The earlier projects that share the same genealogy as these, used to last up to 1:00 min, which has now collapsed into 00:01 sec. Got rid of all the saturated fats.
That series, which has overpopulated my website, as I had mentioned, was created throughout the pandemic. I like that it has overtaken the site. It’s like a mob, and it reflects the design approach to this iteration of the website: a democracy, a digital flattening of my work, no hierarchical values in the relation between things, just stuff.
KD: I think there is an overall wave of a narrative when we view the condensed clips together. However, each one of the smaller pieces works individually as well. They all seem pretty critical of our social situation.
CF: I see them as micro essays. The content and information being so collapsed into each other creates an interesting cognitive effect where the relation between signifier and signified gets scrambled. Recently, another curator, Margot Norton, called them paintings, which I find interesting. It makes me think how that gap between the static and the moving image can collapse: at the end of the day it’s either your eye moving or the image, but there’s always movement, even when seeing a painting or reading a page. I love to use a phrase: ‘how many moments are there in one second?’ I think these pieces start to reflect that.
It’s been a whole thing about how to present these works outside of the social media context from which they’re created. In April, Galleri Nos in Stockholm commissioned an exhibition for their Instagram account of this work, which I quite enjoyed working on from the comfort of my bean bag and couch while quarantined. More recently I was working with a curator to have them in a show in a monastery in Rome which got cancelled, or postponed, who knows these days. The structure was based around a media player I designed which is linked to a folder on the “cloud.” Each time a person comes into a spot, the media player gets triggered and chooses one of the pieces from this folder at random and loops it until that person leaves the spot, at which point it goes blank, until: loop.
I don’t want to treat any of these videos as objects by themselves, or treat them as is usually done with art pieces: precious objects. These, I want to treat as a full set. The relationship with the video ends up being a mathematical or data set. Currently there are about 170 of these videos, give or take.
KD: The presentation of the multitude of fast flashing images makes the work feel a bit larger than life. You throw a lot of content and information at us. The images are disassociated enough that they then create new associations as they are presented, and it happens so quickly that we might not even realize what is being shown to us. There is also the sense that you don’t allow the media to limit you, which also speaks to your approach to language. The way you use material now, utilizing the digital content, is much different than your other, I would say, physical, pieces. What is your perspective on materiality and medium?
CF: The medium is the message. To put this into context, we could refer to media theorists Marshall McLuhan, Friedrich Kittler, or more recently John Durham Peters. If you put a video on an iPad, it will take a lot for me not to see the video as a sculpture. Even more so if it is in a white cube. I remember Sharon Grace once telling me “There’s no innocent space, everything is designed.” If I’m going to put an image on a wall, that has its own history including the architecture and the act thereof, then I think about how to acknowledge cultural cues as well as interesting ways to contextualize them within theoretical frameworks from which to work. Nothing happens in a vacuum, we are the vacuum.
Referring to my work, S.01, Ep. 02-03 (2020), in relation to media specificity, I ask the questions, what does it mean to keep time? What is a landscape? How do those two relate? Connecting those two is basically the basis of modern societies, or agrilogistics. I think about Hesiod’s poem, Works and Days. I think about how much of societal structure was choreographed around the seasons, about harvesting, about surplus of grain. Then I extrapolate that to the country of my origin, Puerto Rico, where season means a wholly different thing. There is hurricane season, and that’s about it. I think about those first Europeans in the Americas and how they contended with the phenomenon and the concept of these massive storms; how European ideologies made sense of American ecologies while sidequesting into colonialism… so on… so on.. so on.. and now binging.
Those “stories” emerge from the node that is the work S.01 Ep 02-03, which at the end of the day is a clepsydra. This is just a fancy word for “water clock.” However, I wouldn’t expect any viewer to make the same connections or have the same experience. I’m reading what I see within the space such as water tanks and plantain trees from my own nexus. This goes back to media specificity. How do you create a space for brains, and sometimes bodies, to play within? In the most obvious sense, that depends on awareness and capacity to frame these materials and their composed realities. I used to compare my work to designing video game levels. For example, you have a world that is built and designed. It seems competently coherent, but it’s up to the player to find her or his way through it. I would never say that my work aims to be coherent. That is too easy. However, I do aspire to nourish agency within the viewer by creating work that is captivating enough to entice the viewer to enter it within their own “within.”
KD: I like the idea of thinking about non-physical space, and this touches on your point about what kind of systems we work for. Spaces are also for thinking, imagining, or perceiving things, which is a reason why I wanted to conduct these interviews. I wanted to hear from artists how non-visual space is shaped in times where our physical capacity is restricted, and how these impediments in movement affect our abilities to create. I also want to know how artists are devising their own spaces for creating right now.
CF: That’s a good leeway for one of the projects I am working on which may be my last “media as media” project, because I need to back away from my mind. It is a VR piece which will allow you to have a new kind of relationship with a media library, with a tint of my own style spread into the mixture. I don’t want to talk too much about it.
Image caption: installation view of Carlos Franco’s ISCP studio in the Ground Floor Program, November 2020.
Image alt text: In the front of a white rectangular room, a long, disorganized wooden desk is visible with a computer, laptop, monitor, water bottle, glasses, phone, and other items. To the left. a rectangular fence with rounded sides holds 6 funnels each with different color soda bottle connected to clear tubes filled with soda. A rod is suspended horizontally in the center of the room by a yellow chain. Close to the rod is a plant in a white plastic bucket. Three geometric posters hang on the right wall. In the back of the room, a black curtain covers the bottom half of the wall, with an air conditioner hanging above.