Owen Kydd‘s works are durational photographs made on video. Born in Calgary, Alberta in 1975, Kydd moved to Vancouver, Canada where he graduated from Simon Fraser University with a joint degree in Film and Fine Art. Over the past decade he has presented his work in numerous group exhibitions, including 2009’s “Sentimental Journey” at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver. Kydd currently lives in Los Angeles, CA.
Install of Knife (J.G.), 2011
© Owen Kydd
Lucas Blalock: Can you talk about the transition in your work from more episodic videos that produce a sort of serialized experience to the very tightly contained loops you have been making recently? I further wanted to ask a sort of goofy question about whether you think of these static, durational, looped pieces as still films or extended photographs?
Owen Kydd: I began by working with a duration of about 30 to 40 seconds per image. I found it was a good length to investigate still/motion, because it seemed enough to provide the manifest of a moment while also giving me the chance to create a montage. I made projects that would slide between a series of 9 or 10 of these images (with ellipses in between). Through this process of looking and editing I began to learn more about making pictures that responded to an extension, and I eventually felt like I could make some singular works.
One thing I found was that durational photographs worked better when they lost the indicators that tied them to a past, and began to confuse the moment of filming with the experience of viewing. Cinema or video works that have a long duration usually quote a recorded or lived time, and even in early pieces like Warhol’s Empire, which is close to losing its temporal markers, one is always made conscious of at least the possibility of an end point. This awareness could also be the tied to the projector’s flicker and the grain, but I also have found this condition in more recent video works. I am interested in trying to locate a more hallucinogenic or endless quality.
Still from Sighting, 2010
© Owen Kydd
In terms of the loop’s designation, I can say that when I think about making a still film, I think about changing a momentum and this feels decisive. But when I think about extending photography it suggests continuing a photograph’s inertia, and this seems more indefinite. My works are technically films because they rely on apparent motion, but the movement is limited within the frame, the effect is minimized, and often the same image is overlapped for many seconds without interruption. This process allows me to consider how a photograph can involve itself in motion.
LB: It is interesting to me that through this ambiguity between the still film and the “durational” photograph you end up bringing into question the boundaries of the device and even the strict usefulness of these categories. I feel that this is akin to the kind of interrogation that has prompted artists of late to return to the darkroom (amongst other strategies), but we are really discussing different limits here altogether.
OK: My pieces are exhibited on backlight screens or monitors. So, as with photography, there is a picture merged with a surface, albeit one that has a CFL light and a refresh rate. I feel that there is still an implicit tension between the screen and the subject. And because I am interested in making a picture of something in the world, I hope this tension presents something like the “possibility of reference” (to borrow Walter Benn Michael’s terms) rather than a fight against it. This is wrapped up in the forced distinction that the flatness of the photograph (and here, the screen) must make between itself and the exterior of the object it depicts, and this is a separation that I’m not sure fully exists in the projected image. I can also say that (with the monitor in mind) I find myself looking for specific surfaces.
Still from Yucca Color Shift, 2011
© Owen Kydd
LB: Thinking now of the refresh rate, I am also beginning to feel two competing senses of time in these works – one that relates to the possibility of a totalizing photograph achieved through massive accumulation and the other a very slow, meditative temporality that fluidly elongates our looking.
OK: I think the temporal modes you are describing always appear together, although in different ratios, and probably stem from distinct types of photographs; the totalizing image probably begins with a snapshot while the more meditative likely comes from genre imagery. I made a picture of a carving knife in a store window that I think begins with the former. It has the found street ambience of an object that has been framed or chosen out of a passerby’s field of view, and in this sense it is a snapshot – a photograph that exemplifies an instant of lived time.
The Knife begins with this traditional correlation, where a frozen segment of time comes to denote its opposite – that is, fluidity. It adds back the perception of lived time, and this is mixed in with the occurrence of watching the video. In this sense I am trying to intensify the elongated sense of looking that is less pronounced in the imagined photograph of the knife, or the moment the head or camera turns to see it. It reenacts the moment the image was taken.
Still from Knife (J.G.), 2011
© Owen Kydd
LB: Your description makes me think of Barthes and the melancholy that he associated with the temporal/photographic relationship. I am wondering if you could talk a little more about what you meant by “looking for specific surfaces”?
OK: You could say it’s a bit like adding-back-in Barthes’ lament, trying to apply duration but after the fact, and usually to an image that doesn’t contain a high degree of trauma in the first place. I’ve been concentrating on documentary or street images for this, somewhat to the chagrin of photographers in my life, because I find these images fit the performance better. I think the pictures I’m looking for also have something to do with that sense of inertia I was describing, not necessarily in terms of a compositional arrangement that draws the eye around the image, but more in terms of the things themselves, objects with a resistance to change. The monitor contains this same constancy, always on, or sleeping, it’s pixels perpetually repeating in the same place.
LB: There is something rather sci-fi about that and it is interesting to think about this stillness or constancy as a cultural metaphor of the digital age where the same binary code and pixel matrix underwrites an extraordinary breadth of information. Seeing the material of the “information super highway” as inert opens up some really unusual relationships to the inertias of the objects. For me these objects occupy a really tense environment. To stand still for some duration in the world, particularly without peripheral vision, as the space of your videos ask us to do, introduces a sense that something could “happen” at any moment. But for me it is not so much that I am waiting for something to take place in the video as much as I find myself bodily anxious as if the parameters of vision leave me both highly attenuated and at the same time vulnerable.
OK: That’s a great way to describe that sense of anxiousness. I think it stems from the fact that the snapshot image is made continually strange by duration, instead of being completed by it or reassured by it. When time is added, it is akin to an accumulation of snapshots all pointing to the flow of time, or the ‘before and after’ of the moment the knife was photographed. As a series it could appear as a bit of a paradox. But at 30 frames per second and 60hz, the accumulation masks the illogical nature of the sequence. The result is an unreal and impossible time and I think the ultimate effect of this is a more traditional ‘distancing’ between us and the picture, albeit a heightened separation.
Still from Canvas Leaves, Torso, and Lantern, 2011
© Owen Kydd
LB: To end I’d like to ask about Canvas Leaves. This is a new work that uses the same presentation device to ponder a very different, highly contrived tableau.
OK: Canvas Leaves is intended to reverse the distancing process. It is a studio-set with a window box chiaroscuro made as a compendium of several storefronts on Pico Boulevard. Everything in the arrangement is plastic or artificial and even though it is static, I tried to make its arrangement unpredictable. The white canvas leaves hanging upside down, rotate left and right with the flow of air in the room (I had to rent an air-conditioner because it was a really warm August).
I hope in a way this piece takes a type of still-life that concerns the effect of time across objects, and doubles down on its imaginary time by adding a perpetual loop. There is no original ‘before and after’ and also no specific space or time that is chosen out of ‘reality’, so something like a psychological rupture occurs when it is brought into the framework of a lived interval. I think the autonomous and abnormal time of the still-life is actually normalized by this process and that is what is really unsettling. This is hard for me to apprehend though, because I filmed it – it exists as a memory as well.