Casey REAS is an artist and educator. He has a studio in Los Angeles and he is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles in the Department of Design Media Arts. With Ben Fry, he cofounded Processing in 2001.
My first instinct was to fill this list with all of the vile political actions of 2017: the increase of hate crimes, attempts to repeal and sabotage the Affordable Care Act, travel bans, the appointment of Neil Gorsuch, the current tax bill! This list of ten could easily be filled by the cruelty of the first week of December or any week of the year. I am enraged and you probably are too. And, these are things that are probably already on your mind. So, instead of amplifying existing anxieties, I chose to make this list more personal, to share some of the rabbit holes I fell into during 2017.
Sleep Well Beast
My most concentrated studio work in 2017 was directing videos for The National’s new album Sleep Well Beast. I constructed visual worlds for six songs in collaboration with the band, Graham MacIndoe, and Matthew Miller. The videos blur distinctions between video, photography, and animation in different ways. They all use collage techniques and visual distortion to elicit specific moods.
Unrelated to my collaborations with The National, I was fully captured by the Beast in Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête (1946). As portrayed by Jean Marais, filmed by Henri Alekan, and with makeup by Hagop Arakelian, the beast is a “monster” by his own admission, but he is tortured by his dual nature in a way that I feel is true.
Jlin, Black Origami
Sometimes I listen to something for the first time and it fills a void I wasn’t aware of. This music is unique and extraordinary. I’ve listened to it nearly every day in the studio in the last months of the year.
Jan St. Werner, Spectric Acid
Like Black Origami, this album caught me from the first listen and I never stopped returning to it. The way the sounds attack, modulate, and cycle captures my full attention.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory released a set of declassified films of nuclear tests on YouTube in March. These recently-restored films of test explosions detonated in Nevada in the 1950s have made their way from classified films to digital videos files uploaded to a Google video service. I’m still getting my head around this and my Cold War memories.
The Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN) has been in operation in 1979, but in 2017 its unfiltered live and archived video provides a unique view into the United States federal government. It captures the theater and performances of lawmakers as a direct source, without the layers of interpretation and redirection provided by pundits and social media bubbles. It’s a less-filtered channel for access to current discussions and to compare the past and present.
Muriel Cooper died in 1994, but when I saw her work and the work of her students in the Visual Language Workshop in 1993 it forever changed my life. This year, her legacy has become more accessible, and it will hopefully spread, through the publication of the book Muriel Cooper by David Reinfurt and Robert Wiesenberger, published by MIT Press.
Poor People’s TV Room and Dearest Home
Dance is something that has always had a powerful effect on me, but I know little about it. I’m learning more through an ongoing collaboration with UCLA CAP’s CODA project. I was fortunate to engage with intimate rehearsal performances of Okwui Okpokwasili’s Poor People’s TV Room and Kyle Abraham’s Dearest Home, and both were overwhelming.
I’ve never been interested in technology for its own sake, but I’m always engaged to see things I’ve never seen before. New visual images can open new ideas and emotions. In the great energy expended around machine learning and artificial intelligence in 2017, the portraits created by Mario Klingemann are the most compelling.
Things not related to people
Some of my best hours this year were spent away from (other) people and the things that people create. Moments in Death Valley and along the California coast (Leo Carrillo, El Capitán, Topanga) are among the slices of time that linger in memory.