Although we may conceal or otherwise bury something, it inevitably reappears in a new form. I’ll Tell You Later presents the work of seven Bay Area-based artists who engage the concept of time in various ways, exploring connections among people, nature, and truth as they interact with both productive and entropic results. Representing a wide variety of media and aesthetic styles, works by Rachelle Bussières, Tanja Geis, Kaveh Irani, Sara Kerr, Christopher Nickel, Brittany M. Powell, and Jonathan Sprague all speak to complex notions of time—from geological time, to the abstract space of human memory—and the transformations that occur in those spans.
I’ll Tell You Later is guest curated by Joanna Szupinska-Myers, Curator of Exhibitions at California Museum of Photography.
About the Graduate Fellows Program
Headlands’ Graduate Fellowships is a year-long studio program for recent MFA graduates in partnership with esteemed Bay Area academic institutions. Graduate Fellows are given the support of a private studio, public presentation opportunities, and participation in Headlands’ peer-to-peer community of local, national, and international artists.
By Joanna Szupinska-Myers
According to Greek mythology, Apollo, after a disagreement with King Midas, transformed the king’s ears into the furry ears of an ass. Embarrassed, Midas concealed his ears from his subjects; only his barber knew about them. But sworn to secrecy by the king, the barber felt burdened by great responsibility. Seeking relief, he entrusted the king’s secret to the earth by whispering the truth into a hole and burying his words. When grasses grew from the spot, however, wind blew through the reeds, disseminating the secret. Although we may conceal or otherwise bury something, it inevitably reappears in a new form. I’ll tell you later presents the work of seven Bay Area-based artists who engage the concept of time in various ways. Representing a wide variety of media and aesthetic styles, works by Rachelle Bussières, Tanja Geis, Kaveh Irani, Sara Kerr, Christopher Nickel, Brittany M. Powell, and Jonathan Sprague all speak to complex notions of time—from geological time, to photographic time, to the abstract space of human memory.
Time, caught still, is a key element of photographic works by Jonathan Sprague and Rachelle Bussières. Sprague travels with his camera into the border spaces of the California desert, between the built world and complete wilderness, where he encounters hikers, campers, and gun-wielding teenagers at target practice. To create Velocity gradient, the artist brings with him wide swaths of thin clear plastic sheeting which he installs in the landscape, draped between boulders or suspended by thin rope as if laundry drying. His long exposures record the still elements of the scene: wiry reeds, the texture of the earth, and crisp outlines of mountains beyond the horizon are rendered in intricate detail. Meanwhile his interventions—the wrinkled sheet, the line by which it is hung—are ghostly, billowing in the breeze, blurred. Additionally, employing strobes during the long exposures, the artist freezes multiple fleeting moments, capturing the surface of the plastic in quick bursts of artificial illumination. Sprague’s pictures faithfully describe the geological time in the setting of these scenes, as well as the fleeting photographic time of his interactions.
Whereas Sprague decidedly understands himself as a photographer, Bussières uses the camera but considers her practice more akin to painting. And whereas Sprague’s interventions into the landscape are captured by his lens, Bussières’s artistic interventions are reserved for the studio. Her works are layered, augmented by actions executed in the darkroom or later, in the cases when she physically collages pictures together. To create the works presented here, she begins with photographs of the landscape, including aerial views made from airplane windows. She speaks of the Eastern Sierras as fantastical landscapes, embodying the genesis of the world in rock. She takes liquid light to her prints, makes multiple exposures in the darkroom, and folds the photographic paper in unconventional ways, abstracting the landscape. She takes scissors to her works, or layers up prints like geological formations. The time contained within her works includes the millennia-old processes that formed the earth since the beginning of time, and the immediacy of artistic actions that make each of her artworks unique.
The works of Christopher Nickel, Tanja Geis, and Sara Kerr carefully engage the time and space of the galleries themselves and of the surrounding area. Nickel turns his lens directly to the deep history of the lands on which the Headlands Center for the Arts is located. Interested in technologies and how they change over time, he is drawn to the historic architectural and other military remnants of the area, and in how nature consumes—taking back—the stone concrete structures, hard geometries and all. His intervention in the landscape lies not in darkroom manipulation, but in selection, isolation, and monumentalization: Collecting local rocks, he photographs them as singular specimens, magnifying them into pristine photographic prints. Each specimen reveals a palimpsest of activity in which volcanic rock is layered with millions of years of crushed plankton exoskeletons, compressed carbon in the form of quartz, and other mineral deposits. Naming the series of photographs using the geological term for places where the sedimentary timeline has been disrupted by earthquakes and the movement of tectonic plates, Unconformity is comprised of straightforward images of rocks that highlight the unreliability of linear timelines and echo the complicated interactions among geology, nature, and humans within the history of this place.
Having studied marine resource management prior to becoming an artist, Geis is naturally drawn to the nearby coastline. Fascinated by the ecologically diverse beaches, her work brings forward both the natural beauty and omnipresent toxicity of this place. Herself becoming part of this complex landscape for the past months of her residency, the artist has collected and categorized. In her site-specific installation, she transposes her findings into the gallery by arranging several hundred objects found on the nearby beach, arranging them according to shape in a continuous series. As viewers we are invited to reckon with the variegation of these objects, found here carefully arranged in the gallery rather than among the sand of the beaches.
In her multi-media practice, Kerr interrogates various—often fallible—methods for measuring time as they relate to our phenomenological experience of its passage. Her installation here consists of a mirrored sculpture in a pool of water carefully situated to fracture and reflect light throughout the gallery space. Disturbed by a steady drip, the resulting reflections are not static; instead, rippling light dances across the surfaces of the gallery interior and other artworks, effectively fragmenting time rather than faithfully marking it. The viewer’s experience of time is heightened by her awareness of each drop of water. Inspired by the incremental changes in nearby Rodeo Lagoon—the water which slowly rose over the course of the artist’s residency at Headlands—the sculpture measures time through the rise and fall of water as the pool is simultaneously filled and drained.
In their contributions, Brittany M. Powell and Kaveh Irani take us back out of the gallery and beyond the Headlands. Powell’s series of portraits entitled The Debt Project will, on completion, consist of 99 portraits and brief accompanying texts. The photographs picture American citizens in their homes, surrounded by their belongings. In accompanying texts, the sitters all identify their occupations, how much debt they carry, and explanations for their debts. These narrative statements, inflected by the handwriting of each sitter, become the captions that inform the photographic portraits. Within the project, the question of time is present at the level of a person’s adult life: the past is evoked in the explanations of decisions that led to debts, the present is in the photographic portraits and in the immediacy of the handwriting, and the future is implied through the promised labor of each sitter obligated to work to pay off what they owe.
Finally, Irani’s works often take up the immigrant experience, transporting us out of the US entirely. Imbuing objects with significance of their origins, he brings disparate things together in ways that explore how they do and do not resonate with one another. His assemblage works call up the space of travel through the use of fabrics, acrylic paints, spray paint, and other elements that suggest another time and place, evoking remembered or misremembered moments and states of being. In a two-part sculptural installation comprising found materials, Irani connects both galleries. He invites visitors to play a sort of musical instrument located in the westwing gallery, and the sounds are emitted through the sculpture’s other half located in the eastwing, heard simultaneously by different viewers who happen to be in either gallery.
In these ways, the works presented here all engage the concept of time, exploring connections among people, nature, and truth as they interact with both productive and entropic results. The projects all speak to complex notions of time and the transformations that occur in those spans.