Sophie Barbasch’s Fault Line

Sophie Barbasch’s Fault Line

Posted by on Feb 27, 2015 in Liz Sales | No Comments

This week I spoke with thoughtful New York City-based artist Sophie Barbasch about isolation, intimacy and family.

Liz Sales: I’ve just finished reading about your recent photographic project, Fault Line, and I had some additional questions about it and your work in general. For instance, you mentioned that you collaborated on this project with your cousins. What was their level of involvement?

Horizon, 2013

Sophie Barbasch I started Fault Line in March 2013. Since then, I’ve been going up to Maine about three times a year to shoot. My cousin Adam helps me come up with ideas and he is a willing model, even in sub-zero temperatures. He’s young but he’s very intuitive about photography. My other cousin, Wes, is also game for anything–he scouts locations with me, poses for photos, and gives me the extra encouragement to take pictures. They tease me about asking them to do weird things for photos, like lie down in tide pools, swamps, and other similarly unappealing stuff. I usually laugh for a minute and then seriously propose that they go ahead and sit in the tidepool. Sometimes they agree! I show them my shot lists, contact sheets, and finished photos, and they help me figure out what works and what’s missing.

LS There is a sense of loneliness and isolation in these images.

SB Yes, I try to use formal elements to convey that people are not connecting. I stage subjects as if they are shut out of the house or alone on the road with no car in sight. They face away from the camera and they don’t look at each other. Sometimes, their eyes are closed or they are alone in the frame. When people do touch, I try to make it ambiguous. For example, in one picture, Sun Spots, Adam is holding my eyes and mouth in a way that could either be interpreted as caring or coercive. In another, “Junkyard,” Wes hugs Adam from behind. They are in a weird field, and it’s late in the day. The gesture seems like it could be protective, but because of the surroundings and the fact that neither of them is facing the camera, it’s not totally clear.

Junkyard, 2014

LS Why do you think you feel so disconnected?

SB I’m not sure if I’m more isolated than the next person or if I just think about it more. But I have experienced a lot of conflict in my immediate family. I was estranged from my dad for a while. Also, some of my immediate family relocated to Brazil, so there have been various separations over the years.

LS Is this project a way of bridging your sense of isolation by connecting to your cousins?

SB Yes, definitely. It’s comforting that we get along and we can share the experience of our particular upbringing. I think this is true of any group of family members, or anyone you’re close to–you don’t have to explain the backstory. There’s room for nuance in our relationships and in our perceptions of each other because we know all the details. Another way that this project helps diminish the isolation is that it directly involves all of us in the same creative endeavor.

LS Intimacy and a lack thereof is one of your overall themes. Is your performance project, I will read to you, still active? If I write readastorytome@gmail.com, will you email me a recording?

SB Yes, it is!


Sophie read me The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde

LS That’s great! I’m going to write you and ask you to read me a story. Is Goodnight Call still active as well?

SB It’s still active, though I haven’t checked the voicemail service associated with it in a while.

LS Do you want me to call you and wish you good night? Or are you specifically soliciting calls from men?

SB It’s usually gender specific, but I always welcome calls.

LS But your work does seem to explore something about gender relationships?

SB I needed to figure out some stuff about men.

LS Like what?

Goodnight Call, 2011, single channel video, 00:04:32

SB I made Goodnight Call right after a breakup. I wanted to know why the breakup happened, how it happened, and where it went wrong. I was spending a lot of time thinking about relationships in general, and I had the idea that if I could build a fake relationship in the context of an art project, I would gain some understanding about how real ones work. I was thinking about the arc, or phases, of a relationship. In its finished form, the piece is a 4-minute audio track of strangers from Craigslist pretending to be my boyfriend and wishing me goodnight. It exists both as a video and as an audio installation. In the process, I went through a lot of different questions and received about 300 messages over the span of 8 months. I asked for apologies, confessions, marriage proposals, dreams, encouragement, forgiveness–pretty much everything except a breakup message. I wanted insight into this random sampling of men, their motivations, their emotions, etc. In this sense, the project was about learning. My books also relate to this search for knowledge. The set of books is titled Training to be a girl and each one looks like a plain textbook.

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Training to be a Girl, 2013

LS What did you learn about the dynamic between men and women?

SB Not to sound too cheesy, but mostly that we are strikingly similar. This was actually a surprise to me. Asking questions and making demands was a way for me to assert power. In the process, I came to empathize with these strangers who were willing to tell me things. The questions I asked came from my own vulnerabilities and obsessions, and the guys mirrored them back, reflected on them, and related to them. Though I did not become pen-pals with anyone, or even reveal my identity, I think the project is still an exchange–if not between me and the men then perhaps between the viewer / listener / reader and the men.

I have a new book called Women find love easily in which men from Craigslist sound off on whether or not they should be scared of women. They contradict each other a lot. But that is the point of the project. I am asking questions that don’t have real answers. My larger aim is to point at the futility of asking these types of questions. For example, the question behind my Craigslist-solicited, text-based book Tell me why I’m a good girl is a ruse, but the men who responded answered my question sincerely.

LS I know, I was surprised by how seriously they took your request.

SB That was my point: to get them to voice these really terrible stereotypes. It was important that the framework allowed them to think they were being constructive and helpful. This mimics a certain unfortunate, patronizing element that I encounter in my daily life. With this book, I was still playing a damsel-in-distress, but I was also trying to subvert the power dynamic and control the conversation.

Excerpt from “Tell me why I’m a good girl”: “OK, you are really a good girl because you leave it for others to show you how to be a good girl, that is very smart.”

LS Can you talk about the relationship between these crowd-sourced projects and your photographs?

SB I made books and audio work because I wanted to be specific about certain story-lines, and I couldn’t be specific enough with photography. In photography, my questions weren’t accessible to viewers. This started to be a problem for me. With the books, the questions are usually the titles, so they are pretty central.  But my photos and books and audio projects are similar in that they allude to a kind of withholding. I am taking things out of context. In the books, the text floats on the page with no reference to the emails the guys wrote me, the email address, etc.; it is removed from its original context. But more than that, the actual texts, the excerpts, are just that–excerpts. Often, the misuse of punctuation suggests new meanings, or duality, in the mens’ responses. Sometimes even simple answers seem like they could mean more than one thing, almost like the idea is pointing in two different directions. This also occurs in the voicemails, where they say things like, “I love you honey, I want to marry you. Call me sometime, maybe.” I suppose I am withholding both information and clarity in the way I choose to decontextualize these elements. It’s hard to pinpoint in my photographs, but I am going for the same type of tension. I try to highlight the strangeness of mundane things that suggest duality and contradiction. In both ways of working, a big part of my thinking has to do with coming up against what I don’t know and trying to use photos or texts to figure it out.

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How long does it take to forget a face, 2013. Softcover book, 8.5×11 in., 43 pages

LS Structure is another big element in your work. Your photobook, How long does it take to forget a face, is a sort of animated still image, like a flipbook. Structurally, it is almost the opposite of your video piece, Moving Stills, which freezes most of the action within a still frame. Could you talk about your interest in playing with structure?

SB I like the interplay of a very hard-to-answer question and the simplicity of this book design–plain white cover, 8.5×11 computer paper pages. The structure is sort of illusory. The book format has some authority, which maybe gets undermined by the difficult question.

LS Undermined how?

SB When you reach the book’s end, you aren’t any closer to answering the question–it kind of leaves you with nothing. The book is about making something into nothing. After looking at it, you still don’t know the answer. This is something I strive for in my work.

Sarah Palmer’s No Whiteness Lost

Sarah Palmer’s No Whiteness Lost

Posted by on Feb 17, 2015 in Liz Sales | No Comments

This week I had the pleasure of meeting with photo-based artist Sarah Palmer. Here in her studio at The Invisible Dog Art Center, Sarah arranges, photographs and re-photographs small assemblages to produce thoughtful, highly literary images. For me, Sarah’s insights into photography, literature and her current project, No Whiteness Lost underscore the importance of continually connecting with and learning from other artists.

Liz Sales: You have so many Polaroids here!

Sarah Palmer: I have hundreds more. I shoot 4×5 film with strobes, so Polaroids or, these days, Fuji Instant packs help me to pre-visualize my images. A photograph is such a different visual experience than real-life seeing.

Liz Sales: But these don’t always serve a solely utilitarian purpose, do they? You include Polaroids in your still-lifes —for lack of a better word.

SP: Yes,I like to include photographs as physical objects within my images. I think of them almost at mirrors that reflect inward, eliminating the elusive “viewer,” creating an almost disturbing psychological space.

Mirror Dance

Mirror Dance, 2014

LS: Is this something you’re exploring currently?

SP: Yes, in many different ways. I’ve been slicing up old prints and putting them back together. For example, this is an image of a balloon that I composited with a Hubble Space Telescope image of the birth of a star. I took the same image, inverted it and printed that, as well. I combined the images and re-photographed the collage. There is this hard shadow, cast onto the background, which a real balloon would never make. I think this non-indexical quality widens the gap between what an object is and what an image of an object is, which is an important idea in my work.

Nursery (Carina)

Nursery (Carina), 2014

Liz Sales: So, this is part of a larger body of work?

SP: Yes, this series is called No Whiteness Lost. I borrowed it from a line in The Descent, a poem by William Carlos Williams. He became one of my favorite poets, when I was studying literature in college.

LS: I’m not familiar with The Descent. Could you tell me about it?

SP: Williams wrote, “[N]o whiteness (lost) is so white as the memory of whiteness.” He wrote this poem as an older man, and, to me, it really articulates the way memories transform as time passes. I don’t remember events as vividly as I remember feelings and emotions. If you asked me about a novel or a film, I would be more likely to recall how I felt when I read or watched it, the color or formal elements, the music and the tone, than the plot. That’s why I’ve appropriated No Whiteness Lost as the title for my series – I’m interested in making pictures that create color/form, “music,” and tone rather than narrative.

LS: That resonates in Object (Swann), which references Proust’s idea of the fallibility of memory. Are literature and poetry significant to your work in general?

Object (Swann)

Object (Swann), 2014

SP: Yes, text is always significant to my work. While making this work, I’ve also been thinking about the lead light and empty horizons – a sense of ecstatic futility – in Beckett’s Endgame, as well as the whiteness of Melville’s white whale, as a metaphor for horror.

LS: Whiteness as a metaphor for horror in literature often references Colonialism and racial dominance. Is that idea relevant to your work as well?

SP: That is quite a complicated question for me. I resist the didactic in my work. I am politically concerned but have a complex relationship to activism, and I struggle with how to engage these issues in my work. Perhaps this will change over time, as I mature as an artist. Photography is such an easily illustrative medium and I thwart clear narratives; rather the “whiteness” I reference here has the power to blind with glare, to obscure, to create blank space.

Hence, I tend more toward philosophy, looking at artists and poets who explore ambiguous spaces, including Williams and H.D. among Modern poets; Samuel Beckett; my father, the poet Michael Palmer; the poet Robert Duncan and his partner, the artist Jess, (both were close friends of my father’s); the poet and painter Norma Cole, (also a friend).

I’m also drawn to contemporary artists who engage with photography in fascinating ways, including my husband Dillon DeWaters, Sophie Ristelhueber, Viviane Sassen, Gabriel Orozco, Sigmar Polke, R.H. Quaytman (herself, the daughter of a poet, Susan Howe), Leslie Hewitt (whose work engages in a fascinating way with history), my friend Lucas Blalock, the brilliant Paul Chan, Lorenzo Vitturi, whose work I just discovered, and I could go on for pages and pages. It is really important for me to be part of a community, even if is a community of influence, artists I don’t know. The smallness, the inter-connectedness, of the world makes it more engaging to me.

A Shadow is a Shadow

A Shadow is a Shadow, 2015

LS: That reminds me of a conversation I had with Dillon.  He also stressed the significance of being part of a community of influence and the importance of artists, filmmakers and writers being in conversation with one another through their work. How does being married to and sharing a studio with another artist influence your practice?

SP: Dillon’s and my work are hugely influential on one another. When we met ten years ago, we were in love with photography, with the history of photography. For both of us, that relationship to photography has evolved and developed, has transformed, really, into a more complex and interesting one, into an art practice. Both of us have moved away from more traditional forms of photography, into ourselves and our psyches, finding sources in other artworks rather than just in the field. We also have a son now, which makes an art practice both far more difficult and incredibly, more necessary. We have had to make peace with our pasts, so to speak, and in my case, that involves embracing my love for words and the way words make my heart race, create electricity in my head. That’s what I desire from my work.

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Polke 1969 (Perfume Picture), 2015

We also end up photographing the same subjects, from time to time, on our own. We are actually on the cusp of releasing an ongoing series of limited edition diptychs, Pyramid Editions, one a month in 2015.

LS: Congratulations! It’s also note-worthy to me that you mentioned empty horizons in literature earlier. I’ve noticed that your images tend to obfuscate the horizon line. For example, in A Spiritual Urgency, an empty stepladder seems to exist midway between Earth and the stars, with no distinct horizon line separating the two.

SP: The ladder is actually surrounded by fake “snow” which I created by blurring stars photographed by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. I have a memory of being backstage at the ballet while they were testing the fake snow for The Nutcracker—snow falling on an empty stage. It was thrilling, and it stayed with me.

A Spiritual Urgency

A Spiritual Urgency, 2013

LS: That sounds like a wonderful memory, and hearing about it adds a tenderness to the work. Are you a romantic?

SP: I’m a bit of romantic, but not (I hope) a blind romantic. I’ve thought a lot about the Sublime, ever since reading Edmund Burke as an undergraduate, and have been searching for that heart-stopping and wonderful-terrifying moment, looking over the edge of the cliff (hence, EndgameMoby DickThe Descent – apocalypse, horror, facing inevitable death). As a result, my scale has gotten relatively small; I used to make landscape photographs.

LS: I don’t understand.

SP: In my graduate thesis, I was searching for the sublime in America to see if it still existed, post-railroad era—

LS: Oh! Does it still exist?

SP:  Nope, not in the German Romantic sense. So, I started to explore the sublime inside my studio, and my scale necessarily condensed.

Control

Control, 2013

LS: It’s definitely worked out. In contrast to the small scale you’ve adopted primarily, you also appropriate astronomical images. Could you talk about your interest in space?

SP: What could be more terrifying than the vastness and unknowability of the universe and time, and our relative infinitesimal tininess? The terror I first felt at the idea of non-existence was not dissimilar from the terror of space and infinity, both around age 9. And yet, the Hubble has made these incredibly beautiful, knowable, picturesque images available to us. Even if they are romanticized data approximations, they are so late-80s and fantastic. Black light posters and smoke machines and raves. All-night dance parties.

LS: You’ve found a tension between fear and pleasure, which I associate with the sublime, especially in your depictions of people. Could you talk a bit about your decision to seat your subjects facing away from your camera?

SP: That’s a very good question. I rarely photograph people and I’m not interested (in this work, at least) in making portraits, but people have this inescapable quality, a particular-ness, in photographs. And, therefore, there is something horrifying about removing their faces, which I do with hair or masks or simply by turning them away from the camera. I like to treat people no differently than I would treat any other object in my studio.

Wove out of the dark

Wove out of the dark, 2012

LS: I’ve noticed that you often use studio supplies, like ladders and buckets, in your work as well. Is that in reference to the artist’s process?

SP: I work intuitively and don’t have preconceived notions going into the studio, so I tend to use what is available. Also, I love the idea of turning something mundane into something uncanny or unrecognizable through context, use against purpose; re-examining ordinary objects, and somehow through that examination transforming them into something radiant. For example, people tell me this image, No Horizon, looks like a scribble, but it’s actually a photograph of gathered tulle.

No Horizon

No Horizon, 2014

LS: Oh, I did think that might be a photograph of a drawing!

SP: That’s what I love about tulle! It responds to light in a way that causes it to appear blurry or unfocused on camera. I’m always fighting against the inherent representationality of photography. It’s an absurd and impossible struggle; photography literally re-presents reality. I’m using a medium that is intrinsically representational, and I’m trying to move away from representation.

LS: That’s interesting, because even though you are pushing against the medium in many ways, I find your work to be inherently photographic, or at least self-reflective.

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Red Burn, 2014

SP: Oh absolutely, this summer I started a project, making contact prints on construction paper, by leaving 8” x 10” negatives on the paper out in the sun. So, even when I am not using traditionally light-sensitive photographic material, I am still referencing photography. Literature and philosophy are important to my work, but it is always still rooted in the medium of photography.

Amy Elkins’s Parting Words & Black is the Day, Black is the Night.

Amy Elkins’s Parting Words & Black is the Day, Black is the Night.

Posted by on Feb 5, 2015 in Liz Sales | No Comments

This week I spoke with Amy Elkins about her recent exhibition at Aperture Gallery and the two projects it included: Parting Words and Black is the Day, Black is the Night. Both explore issues surrounding capital punishment and her correspondence with male prisoners serving death-row sentences.

Liz Sales: Congratulations on a fantastic show!

Amy Elkins: Thank you!

LS: The exhibition comprised two bodies of work that you submitted to the Aperture Portfolio Prize?

AE: Yes, I submitted two bodies of work that are directly connected, and they selected me for both.  They thought it would be more impactful to show them side by side.  I couldn’t have been happier with the way it all turned out in that space.

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Poem excerpts from a man who has been in prison since the age of 13. He was retried as an adult at 16 for attempting escape and was sentenced to life in solitary without possibility of parole at a super max prison. He has taught himself to write poetry over this time.

LS: Could you tell me a little about each?

AE: Black is the day, Black is the Night is a project that revolves around direct communication, through written letters, with seven men scattered around the country. Most of them were serving death row sentences; two of them were serving life for non-murder crimes committed as juveniles. At first, this was just a writing project. It slowly developed into an exploration of concepts surrounding isolation, memory, distance and time-passing.

The project is made up of tangible pieces of evidence from our correspondence, like scattered letters, cards, returned mail  and torn envelopes.  It includes black on black text pieces that reflect the inaudible voice of a man who has been in solitary confinement most of his life— his words to me helped set the pace for the project.  The remaining works are to me the most important.  Portraits and landscapes created to reflect the time each man I penned with had served and how that time might have impacted their sense of self, others, memories and environments from their past.

LS: Right. The sublime capital “R” Romantic landscapes that are included in the show stood out to me. Could you talk a bit about how these images tie in to the rest of the work? They seem to echo the vast sense of isolation that might accompany incarceration.

AE: The landscapes are definitely meant to explore that vast sense of isolation, longing and loneliness of empty, open places. Early on in our correspondence, I had asked each of my pen pals a string of questions about what homesickness felt like, looked like, smelled like and sounded like. They were modeled after questions that a writer had asked me in regards to a show I was in years ago, and they made me really think about my roots. So each of them wrote back, and their answers were amazing, thought-out and full of regret and longing for a past they would most likely never see again.

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Thirteen Years out of a Death Row Sentence (River)
A pen pal serving a death row sentence describes being baptized several years ago. The Father had to reach through the bars to touch him, even with such restrictions he remembers the touch as electric. Despite the act of the baptism he feared it wasn’t good enough to save him. He longed to do a full submersion baptism in a river, like Jesus had. This image was constructed out of his description of the river he wished to be baptized in using appropriated images which were then composited to account for the amount of years spent in prison.

I sought out imagery through google searches that echoed their descriptions and went from there.  The first composite image I made was of the sky. I layered and layered the sourced material until I had as many layers as years he had spent in prison.  Nineteen years, nineteen layers.  It was made for a man who went into prison at the age of thirteen.  He is now nearly forty years old and has spent over two decades in prison, primarily in solitary confinement. He was the first to write back about his homesickness, and his answers really struck me. His desire to see something as simple as the open sky stayed with me as it’s something most of us take for granted.

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Nineteen Years out of a Life Sentence (Sky)
A pen pal serving a life w/o the possibility of parole sentence in a supermax prison (solitary) described being able to see the sky through a metal grated skylight in the small concrete exercise area he was permitted in alone for one hour a day. The additional 23 hours were spent in isolation. This image was constructed out of his description of the open sky he wished to see, using appropriated images which were then composited to account for the amount of years spent in prison.

 

Several other landscapes in the project were made out of descriptions given to me by the additional men I wrote with.  All of which I found equally captivating, haunting, charged  a river one wished to be baptised in,  a forest once frequented as a child, a Texas death row inmates dying wish, a haunting memory of the ocean, a teenage hideout, the desert landscape.

LS: What was their take on the compiled images you made for them?

AE: They responded with a lot of intrigue and curiosity. Some decorated their cells with the images, and some seemed confused about what the images were, as if they were damaged in some way.

One response I loved getting,  “I must admit to you that when I first received your letter two days ago I could not stop myself from feeling so overwhelmed by this longing of being in a place as lovely as that. I really do wish to convey my appreciation for [your] bringing these places to me right in my cell, where it makes my mind run wild.”

LS: That’s wonderful. As I understand it, of your original seven pen pals, one has been released, and two others have been executed. Could you talk a bit about how the lives and deaths of these men have affected you and your work?

AE: This is a question I could answer with pages upon pages.  But to keep it short – the things that unfolded within my years of writing these men did take a hold of me in ways that I hadn’t foreseen.  I was pretty blown away that within months of starting a project that looked to Capital punishment one of the seven men I wrote with was executed.  Years later when the second man I wrote with was executed it hit much harder.  We had several years of letter writing behind us and he had been fighting to the last minute with appeals in an attempt to save his life.  It was the hardest part of the project for me and one I could in no way have anticipated.  As for the man who was released, his letters started to taper off far before his release.  In these letters, he seemed very eager to start his life again.  We were in touch briefly after his release and it seemed he was doing great.

 

LS: You mentioned your roots. What is your relationship to incarceration? Where did your initial impulse to reach out to these intimates come from?

AE: I do have my own roots with the U.S. prison system. I’ve had several family members go in and out for various things, so it’s not something that is too abstract within my upbringing.

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Ballpoint pen drawing on paper, folded into a card- sent from a then 33 year old man who has been in prison since the age of 13. He has been primarily in solitary confinement since the age of 16

Initially, I stumbled across this website for inmates seeking pen pals from various prisons around the country. It sparked my interest, but I had no project in mind. I was sort of haunted by that site for a while. I remember telling people about it. It made me feel really uncomfortable—this idea of clicking a button and finding thousands of men serving death-row sentences, all of them waiting for their execution to be carried out or fighting with appeals. I kept finding myself going back to that site and scrolling as if it were one of many social media sites we are all so drawn to.  It felt very similar.  The profiles were pretty basic, showing: age, location, religion, a profile picture, sometimes artwork.  But below all of that, there were always links to their crimes and sentences.

LS: How and when did this project start to bridge the gap between life and art?

AE:  It took me a few weeks, maybe even months, to decide what I wanted to do. I remember my boyfriend at the time warning me that it seemed exploitative to do a project about these men. I didn’t think so. I still don’t. I wanted to tell stories about men who have probably been forgotten and are far removed from everyday life, and that is what I attempted to do with BITDBITN.  I have exhibited the work a little, but never in its entirely.  The project is so dense I feel a book is the best way to share and get the stories out there.  I have been working on getting one published and hope to have it out there in the world at some point.

LS: Your past work is concerned with our ideas of masculinity. This one seems to be as well. Why did you choose all male pen pals? What do you think is particular about the male experience of incarceration? How do you think this particular experience manifests in the work?

 

AE: Yes almost all of my work deals with masculinity and when I started this project I thought of it that way.  The project of course became about so much more.  But initially I wrote to several men in an effort to explore notions of hyper masculinity and their drive towards violence.  What unfolded was so much deeper and poetic in scope.  Rather than focusing on masculinity, we explored concepts that every human faces throughout various chapters of their lives: time, distance, memory, identity..

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13/32 (Not the Man I Once Was)
Portrait of a man 13 years into his death row sentence, where the ratio of years spent in prison to years alive determined the level of image loss.

LS: I noticed that you use various visual strategies to obscure your imagery, like text, layering and manipulating photographs digitally according to the amount of time the inmate has been incarcerated. This could be read as a direct metaphor for incarceration, but I was wondering if it was also a response to the idea that the mug shot should be seen as a vestige of physiognomy because, in a way, by obscuring images of these men, you are returning your subject’s personhood.

AE: I thought of the various ways of obscuring as a fairly direct reflection of the memory collapse, imagination, notions of identity or identity loss, etc that couldn’t help but be muddled after being so far removed from the world.  When thinking of how to approach making work about such concepts, it only seemed suited to completely obliterate, fabricate, construct or deconstruct the images in a calculated way.  So each was distorted based off of direct sentences and ages of each man involved in the project.

 LS: Parting Words are mug shots of men executed in Texas, recreated with text and gradations so that they appear as recognizable portraits at a distance but dissolve into readable text—these prisoners’ last words—as the viewer approaches.  Can you tell me a little bit about these works?

AE: Parting Words was actually an offshoot of BITDBITN. My first pen pal was executed three months after we started writing. He was in the state of Texas. When I went to find more about his execution on the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice I found the other 400-plus men and women who had been executed, and my project was created out of that information—all provided by the state of Texas. Mug shots, last words, age, crime.

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Ignacio Cuevas, execution #39, age 59

LS: What made you decide to incorporate the last words of executed men into your work?

AE: There was just something so damn haunting about being able to look up all of the prisoners who had been executed. It’s like reading an insanely mesmerizing novel that you can’t put down. You can start reading about the first man executed in 1982 and work your way all of the way to people executed last month, last week, yesterday.  I would start by reading their last words, some of which were angry, haunting or non-existent.  But some were just so heartbreaking.  I would often feel compelled to read about their crimes. It took years to read through all of their last statements, make notes, dates,  and pull quotes, etc because I had to work on this in small batches and take breaks often to keep from getting too worn out from the entire process.  On top of that, just keeping the notes and dates, execution numbers, age, all organized.  It was just a tremendous amount of work.

LS: It’s also layered and complex and very compelling. Thank so much for helping me unpack it.

AE: Thanks, I appreciate it.