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In the coming weeks, Carla founder and editor-in-chief Lindsay Preston Zappas will be hosting chats with members of the L.A. art community via Instagram Live on Wednesdays and Fridays.
The following was edited for web from an Instagram Live conversation on April 10, 2020 at 5:30 PST.
LPZ. How are you doing? I’m so curious to talk to you, specifically because you have a major solo show up right now, and I wanted to talk to you about that process: of making the show, hanging the show, and putting it up right [as] all of this [was] happening.
PMS: Oh god.
LPZ: It’s a beautiful show, too. So good.
PMS: Were you able to see it in some way?
LPZ: Not in person—I haven’t seen it in person.
PMS: Yeah. Up until the day of the opening, I was thinking that people could go by appointment or something, but I think the Saturday of the opening was the day that the social distancing thing started. I know large gatherings were not allowed.
LPZ: Yeah. It was March 14th, right? That’s wack timing.
PMS: [Laughs] Everything just came in bits and pieces. You work on a show for so long, a body of work, and then everything—
We were juggling the install between [my] classes and final things, and I think the Wednesday before the opening, it was apparent that we [couldn’t] have lots of people there. By this point we realized that large gatherings couldn’t happen, but we were hoping that maybe a few people could come by, but it really was the opposite of an event to be able to share with friends. I haven’t had a big show in Los Angeles since five, six years ago—
LPZ: Right. So many of us know your work from seeing it in New York, [but it] is so exciting to have a major show like yours here, and to see it in person.
PMS: I know… [laughs]
LPZ: So how has that been, that arc of making the show, prepping for the show, hanging the show, and now it’s like… here? [Left hand in flatlining motion, laughs]
PMS: It’s in limbo. Fortunately, there’s the idea that it can stay for whenever things open up, and then it will get its chance to be seen. I think the most exciting thing, for me, is that it’s the first time that I will have ever had a show where I live. Being able to be present [for] more than just the install, opening, and then maybe going back for a talk. For all the time I lived in New York, I didn’t have a big show in New York. My shows were elsewhere, like Minneapolis and Vancouver.
LPZ: Right. But to have your community, your students, and the people that you’re in conversation with on a daily basis to be able to come see the show throughout—that’s really exciting that they’re going to extend it and it can have a life after this.
PMS: Yeah, and just for me to be able to see the work—having shows in New York is great, because I lived there for so long, and I have so many close friends, and so much of the work is tied to there as much as Los Angeles, so friends could spend time with it. I just haven’t been able to. I was just so excited to be able to go see the show, and walk through with friends, and live with it.
LPZ: I wanted to talk to you about this body of work in particular, and the physicality and materiality of it, because it’s photography, which we’re used to looking [at] through digital interfaces. I’ve seen your show now only on a digital interface, and I do feel like something is lacking.
I was hoping that you could speak to that gap between the physicality of them and the flat, photographic nature versus the purpose of seeing them in person, or the desire that you have for people to see that materiality.
PMS: Oh yeah, because the scale is so important. I’m thinking about them in terms of the scale of what’s represented in the image, almost like a sculptural relationship to the apparatus, the idea of the viewer being implicated by the device that’s turned on them, but also paradoxically closed off. Each image that you see is made up in a space that is a closed loop—
LPZ: Right. So you’re using mirrors where the viewer stands, or should be. There’s a mirror that’s closing the photographic loop.
PMS: Yeah. For most of the works that you see, aside from a few— Actually, I lie. Every single one in that show, you are looking at the surface of a mirror—
LPZ: I think what’s really interesting [are] the iPhones in this work and that surface we see coming back to us.
PMS: The idea for the show came from some outtakes I had of a friend taking some selfies in between me figuring out the setup. There are so many pictures, and I incorporated those into other works, because I’m always folding material in on itself, but one of them just stuck with me after I did the project for the Whitney Biennial—which, I think a lot of people thought I was presenting my work, but I was presenting the work of friends who had been making photographs alongside me.
LPZ: So you’re taking photographs with your camera, but often, there’s a second camera in the shot, and you’re presenting all of those pictures: ones that friends were taking while you were making your work. So it’s like B-sides… Not even B-sides, but a second look—
PMS: —It was a second look. The show that I did at the Team (bungalow) in Venice three years ago, and then a show in Chicago in 2018—for those shows, I always included one or two of those images that have two cameras, and the first way that people described them was that those friends were staging making pictures, or modeling being photographs, and I was like, “These friends are also their own photographers. They have their own agency here.” And so that’s where the idea came from to represent a selection of the images from the camera that you can see in my work, but I wanted to flip it and call into question some ideas of authorship.
LPZ: So much of the work, too, feels collaborative. It feels really community-oriented.
PMS: Yeah. There’s an interdependence. So whenever you see something happening, the thing is happening. Nothing is staged. If you see a camera apparatus, that is that friend [making a photograph]. If you see someone else handling material or an object, that is actually happening. If you see an [cell phone], it is also making images.
This outtake of the cell phone—the selfie—stuck with me, and then I stopped asking, [and] stopped caring if other things came into the pictures, because often it would be that we’re hanging out, chatting, figuring out how we’re going to make some pictures, and I might have a few ideas sketched out. There’s always other cameras—there’s cell phones, whatever. There’s always the—“I’m going to get the camera, now let’s put away our cellphones” — and I just stopped being like, “Let’s put away our cell phones.”
PMS: Then, the idea came up [that] there’s this closed circuit that I talked about, of making and viewing wrapped up within the primary camera pointed at the mirror.” It looks like you’re standing in front of a scene, but that scene is already closed off to you. It should incorporate the viewer into its composition, but these [photographs] don’t.
There were two things that came together: this other photographer, Aspen Mays, had mentioned that she really loved this idea that she couldn’t tell what the setup and the event was in my work. We were hanging out in my studio, and she’s like, “I love this thing,” and also that the cell phones always pointed toward a circulation outside of the images.
They were kind of the way out, because those images could circulate on Instagram, or text messages, and they often revealed—and that’s the thing that you can’t see when you see the show digitally. In those little cell phone screens, they sometimes reveal our faces which might be turned from my camera, or they reveal a wider aspect of the setup.
LPZ: I feel like, these days, when livestream is so much of our way of connecting, your work almost seems slightly prophetic. You’re photographing these in-person, physical, tactile, really loving-looking experiences, but then there’s also the allusion of the phone. I like this idea of what you said about the phone going elsewhere, because often that’s the thing that pulls us out of the physical experience and into this rabbit hole of other places.
PMS: Yeah, yeah. Also, they’re just fun.
LPZ: Are you making art right now?
PMS: No [emphatically]. Everyone’s just scrambling. Every gallery is scrambling, artists are just trying to find ways to stay connected. There hasn’t really been much free time, or maybe there has been—no, honestly, it’s been overwhelming. I’m not making work. I brought my camera home, and I’m making a bunch of really bad pictures, but I might as well keep taking some pictures, but no, no.
LPZ: I was thinking, too, about how after a major show, I don’t go back to the studio. I almost have to wait for the show to close or something, like that’s all part of the thing. Also, the fact that we’re all in isolation and your work is so communal, and involves other bodies, other people, and physical touch, which we’re not allowed right now. That also presents a whole other challenge for you as an artist.
PMS: That’s something to be seen, if this lasts for six months.
But that’s also one of those “I don’t know” questions. I mean, the irony is that I was feeling [that] this new situation has kind of felt overwhelming, having to catch up with having to learn so many new skills. I have avoided, always, any live media—I don’t like moving images, I don’t like video—and so things like this have been really challenging.
There’s been a lot of overwhelming catch up like that, but in a broader sense, I had been feeling overwhelmed by a lot of things, and wishing for when I could finally take a break, and then this happens, and it’s not the break that anyone ever wanted. But I was like, “God, I wish I could relax for a part of the summer, and actually spend time with friends rather than being gone all the time,” and now, everything is canceled. I guess I’ll be stuck here. Luckily we’re in LA, and we have some green space.
LPZ: I know, I know. Even just walking through the neighborhoods has been so lovely. I feel like I, [and] so many people in the art world, have been pushing all fall and through the art fairs and Frieze. I feel like so many people were like, “In March, I’m going to take a break.” This is not that. We’re all at home, but [that] is not what this is. Even though we are presented with this time, mentally, it’s very different, right?
PMS: Yeah, yeah it is.
LPZ: Is there anything that you’re doing that provides some peace for you—reading, cooking, walking, or anything like that?
PMS: We’ve been doing a lot of walking and cooking. I never realized how much time having to cook every meal takes up, you know? This afternoon, we took a four-and-a-half mile walk after the rain. I kind of like these rainy days, because you don’t feel guilty for staying inside.
LPZ: Yeah, yeah, which we’re doing—
PMS: —Which we’re doing. Right now, I kind of want the sun because I need to get out of the house. So taking walks, pulling weeds in the yard, planting things. Some friends from Colorado sent some seeds. We’ve been trading clippings with friends.
LPZ: It sounds like we’re having pretty mirrored experiences. I’ve been doing a lot of gardening, cooking, walking—I mean, the things that are accessible to us right now. And again, I feel like gardening is very physical, and cooking too, and we’re not getting very many IRL experiences these days.
PMS: Yeah, and it’s been time to get away from the screen. I don’t know if you have [had] this thing happen, but for the first week of this, I had on my phone that thing that’s supposed to tell you to stop being on your phone. I got some notification that said, “Your screen time is up by six hours and 41 minutes a day.”
LPZ: It’s like, what other time is there?
PMS: Like, this is awful… So it’s just time to—cooking, or gardening—it’s just everything is a way [to get away].
LPZ: I know. You can’t flip through Instagram or the news if your fingers are in dirt. Anything else you wanted to chat about? Your show— I just think it’s so exciting. I’m thrilled that it’s up and will remain up, and we’ll all have a chance to see it in person.
PMS: Yeah. [crosses fingers]
LPZ: Because that’s not the case with certain exhibitions that have to accommodate other schedules.
PMS: I think that if the opening date had been a week later, and we hadn’t finished install[ing], it wouldn’t [have opened]. I put two posts in highlights of little walkthroughs… so we’re just trying to make do with whatever material we got.
If the opening had been a week later, the show would’ve just been pushed back, you know? There’s the artists whose shows are scheduled after mine—now, those are indefinitely canceled. I was very lucky that at least the show is up, and there’s something for us—however [we] have to adapt—there’s something we have to work with.
LPZ: Totally. One way—bright side—is to look at it like the images are circulating, [and] we’re all looking at them and becoming familiar with them. When we are able to go see them in person, we’ll already be in your conversation.
It’s almost like this opposite way of how it often works for me as a writer and a critic—to go into a show and immediately form an opinion or jump to writing about it—and this seems like the opposite effect, because we’re going to be getting a lot of context and conversations and time to stew on it.
PMS: Yeah, yeah.
LPZ: I don’t know…
[Both laugh]PMS: Hopefully we’ll get to see it.