Some folks make the mistake of evaluating artists by how long they’ve been an artist, as if it were corollary that for every year one has been an artist, it’s assured you have improved. Artists know better: it’s not that time itself has lent to the quality of the work, but that dedication and artistic growth can come in many forms and measurements. In our second installment of studio visits with CSA artists, I join photographer Louisa Podlich and writer and musician Christian Dahlager on the patio at Aster Café to learn how one gChat conversation lead to daily artistic collaborations, spanning over 2 years and yielding over 450 new collaborative works and counting.
In her brief career as a photographer, Louisa Podlich’s work demonstrates accomplishment beyond her resume. Encouraged by a friend, she bought her first camera and equipment and took to teaching herself the medium, relying on her own resourcefulness by approaching experts, reading blogs and asking others for advice as needed. She currently works as a portrait and event photographer, specializing in weddings, personal portraits and images of loved ones under the monikers Louisa Marion Photography and Rivets and Roses, with other cohorts in the photographic community. Podlich often depicts moments romantic and loving in their nature – couples canoodling, brides blushing, tender little babes in arms – but the real romance in Podlich’s work is conceptual strategy behind her framing, which draws on science and philosophy. Her approach to commercial subject matter of portraiture is refreshing: she is interested in ways of seeing and understands that the person we meet in the mirror is our perception of our appearance and identity. She relates this phenomenon to chirality, the scientific property of asymmetry, which posits – much like Alice Through the Looking Glass – that organic life’s symmetry is imperfect. In relationship to portraiture, this asymmetry is also the converse of what her sitters would see in the mirror and provides her with the joy of seeing others in a ways that they are not able not see themselves, and the opportunity to present her sitters with this new self-image. This charmed me; like a clairvoyant, she has the ability to find beauty in others that they might not even know is there.
It’s this eye for the unnoticed that Christian Dahlager found compelling in her images. The two met through a mutual group of friends and kept in touch. One evening they both found themselves on gChat, the google-variety instant messenger, and their conversation prompted Louisa to send Christian a sample of her photography. Christian could see beyond the contents of the composition; he reacted to the piece, seeing it as being between moments, as though Louisa found a way to photograph the peripheral. He saw a larger story than what was presented at surface level, arriving at Richard Wollheim’s theory of non-localisation through the eyes of literary artist. Louisa invited him to caption the image, giving him the constraint of exactly 35 words to paraphrase the larger life of the photo. Christian obliged and a partnership was born. Each day for the next 364 days (February 25, 2010 – February 24, 2011) Louisa would send Christian an image from her catalog to respond to, each time with the same constraint of exactly 35 words. Louisa concurred that Christian “had the harder part of the project.” Each day the assignment had to be made before the day’s end; sometimes the image would come later in the day, sometimes he would wrestle over the 36th word, sometimes the caption would sneak in on a bar napkin, but their collaboration and commitment was not breached once throughout the whole year. Daily proof of their dedication was made available on their tumblr blog, where others were invited to follow their progress.
The culminating project, onethirtyfive was displayed at Umber Studios in Minneapolis, as the gallery’s swan song exhibition. Both artists where astonished at the impact of seeing their labor coalesce in one room. With no option to edit, the summation of the project was not intended to showcase ‘good photos,’ but rather an accumulation of a process. Both found that the project was bigger than that; it was gratifying because it spoke largely about artistic practice. The project became a metaphor for artistic struggle, for what it is to be dedicated and what it means to be an artist: everyday.
These unintentional successes and new values aside, the project is a very compelling amassment of individual artworks. Each image Louisa
sent Christian was culled from her larger archive consisting of everything from scenes on the margins of commercial work, to biographical images, friends and family, to street photography. Christian’s 35-word captions fill the images with a new subtext, adding magic to an otherwise everyday scenario. It’s amazing how words can to that. We often look at images – especially images-as-art and look for context. We look for a didactic to explain ‘what this is,’ or want more information about what we are being presented with. Christian’s words do not help us interpret what we are seeing, rather they fill each image with more possibility. Coming from a background in literary arts and journalism, Christian writes music and lyrics for his band We Became Actors as well as produces short stories and works of fiction. While he has a penchant for classics like Hemmingway and Fitzgerald (he even has a tattoo of the last words of The Great Gatsby on his arm!) he also draws on subgenres like magical realism, in which writers like Haruki Murakami position their readers in a world so well described and rooted in a familial reality that they accept the possibility that the fantastic can happen at any time. This potentiality is the enchantment of Louisa and Christian’s collaboration. Both see beyond the edges of what’s presented to them and together create a world of everyday magic.
For their CSA contribution, they revisit the onethirtyfive project – one photo, 35 words – in the form of a 100 page book, based on black and white photographs of Twin Cities neighborhoods.
We welcome you to join us, Christian and Louisa, and fellow CSA artists to celebrate at the next Pick Up party on July 18!
Pick up party date: Wednesday, July 18
Time: 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Location: Silverwood Park
2500 County Rd. E
St. Anthony, MN 55421
Visual artist Alyssa Baguss (http://www.mnartists.org/artistHome.do?rid=136021)
Visual artist Krista Kelley Walsh (http://kristawalsh.mosaicglobe.com/)
Photographer Andy Mattern (http://www.andymattern.com/)
Christian and Louisa will also be partnering on an upcoming piece in the debut issue of thirtytwo, a current affairs and culture magazine for the Twin Cities. Help them celebrate at the launch party at Club Amsterdam on June 14th!