2017 YEAR IN REVIEW
2017 was an intense year of personal change for me. As the world began to implode on a 24-second news cycle, I did an immense amount of soul searching and recalibrated my practice from the ground up while firmly establishing a line of inquiry that comes from within to extend outwards. I feel like I finally got to the bottom of my well, turned on a lantern, and had a solid look around. If life is like a spiral and we're just spinning in time, then this past year represents the resetting of my cosmic clock to point toward an unseen future.
In early 2017, right before my 40th birthday, I took a hard look at a body of work I've been thinking about for a long time. People always asked me why I worked with light and more specifically neon. I always wondered about this too. Ever since I began making work again in 2011, after a decade in the black hole of addiction, light has always been with me. But it wasn't until I wrote a 27,000 + word artist statement that I entirely began to understand my attraction to this medium.
I went inside. I dove into myself asking, "Who am I, why do I do this and what does it all mean?" I had fully intended to emerge from the other side at rest and walk away from making art altogether. But I went from looking with caution to throwing it into the void. I found something down there, not the answers but better questions. Throughout the rest of the year, I traced the narrative of light from the cosmic to the personal by creating a video sourced from live views of space, three interconnected noble gas installations, and working with my family on a virtual reality memoir in conjunction with Grant Kirkpatrick and Fritz Rodriguez.
A work-in-progress selection from this line of inquiry, NETWORK, was exhibited as part of (in)compatable, a group show curated by Julia Greenway and I Want You Studio at Interstitial in Seattle. Presented alongside the work of Kathleen Daniel, Carla Gannis, and Faith Holland, the exhibition explored the origins of online culture, structure, and aesthetics while mining the splintered after-effects of the already long-dead post-internet movement. Working in mediums that don't quite make sense yet is always a challenge and I was psyched to work with independent voice and all-around badass curator Julia Greenway. It's rare to work with someone who holds so true to their vision, ensuring something is authentic but reaches out to communities in and beyond the art world.
I went on to expand this entire body of work and installed the completed ELEMENTALS series in an abandoned restaurant in the Rainier Valley district of Seattle. From the beginning, the set was full of problems. Each gas behaved in different and unpredictable ways. While neon and argon were easy to work with, helium was incredibly tricky to power: the glass would burn so hot from the inside out that it seemed like the tube would explode. Every transformer combination used to energize all five at once would inevitably leave krypton and xenon pulsing in weak and diminishing spirals, sputtering into faded streams. It was like the process was driving itself toward its appearance. Once I realized this and let go of my image of the work, they began to reveal themselves slowly, and I was able to isolate the right tube diameters, pressure, and transformer combination to allow each gas to express its unique qualities while joining the greater whole in harmony.
The process yielded three distinct bodies of work: SOURCE CODE, NETWORK, and SCREENS. For me, it's like envisioning energy as data streaming from some core place in space across a vast interconnected series of beacons into a field of sound and vision. It's the transmission of starlight to microchip with humans in-between. Each iteration is both an expansive and discrete view into a slice of what I see when I look up into the night sky, deep into the internet or inside my mind. Each gas produces a varied and intense quality, yet the overall effect is pointedly obscure as the meanings remain veiled by a minimal amount of clear information — atmosphere as open vista, light as the gate, energy as an entrance. See more about ELEMENTALS.
In June I was featured in an extensive recorded interview with Elena Parise for an article in MiND Magazine, an Italian publication focused on global art, culture, and aesthetics. I also exhibited a new light-based work, presented a lecture, and collaborated with MiND for a three-day summit alongside creative directors from Nike, Nordstrom, Patagonia, and MG2.
I was psyched to share my work at Out of Sight from August 3-27. Across two separate locations I exhibited both INTERFACE and SOURCE CODE. The pieces reinforced themes I have been chasing my entire life and worked together to create a total installation operating simultaneously from remote nodes. Both works were covered in Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, and Vanguard Seattle.
INTERFACE is a next-generation light and space sculpture derived from the molecular shape of silicon. Floating on a MacBook Pro-inspired shipping pallet and encased in a massive hard drive from a lost Kubrick film, this work references both the occult dawn of our digital ecosystem and tech-noir future. Its geometric form and RGB spectrum invoke an astral, high-speed connection across our physical, digital, and spiritual states of existence.
SOURCE CODE is a multi-part series composed of transparent vacuum-sealed glass tubes containing helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon gasses under a high-power electric current. Every one of these elements has their unique property of illumination and form the building blocks of our entire digital ecosystem, from microchip production to cancer research. Each separate radiating shape is attached to a custom-made aluminum frame that references from left to right: focus, energy, union, and transcendence. See more about both installations here.
André Lucero, the owner of Western Neon and my frequent collaborator, has for at least a decade talked about creating a school for teaching art classes centered around the medium of light. Earlier this year, Kelsey Fernkopf — a master level neon technician — approached us about the idea as well. Our ambitions are focused on not only a permanent home for these classes but the desire to share what we have all learned with the next generation of artists working with light-based media and beyond. Thus, the stars aligned, and after over ten years of dreaming, the Western Neon School of Art was initiated in early September and will open in January 2018.
We plan to offer introductory to intermediate classes, solo instruction with a dedicated technician, open studio time, and exploratory sessions working in virtual reality. Our program will teach the necessary skills of pattern design, glass bending, cutting, and welding while working with essential tools such as the crossfire, ribbon burner, and hand torches. We will also offer local, national, and international artists residencies to create new work, instruct, and exhibit. With an equal emphasis on skills and aesthetics, the Visiting Artist Program will simultaneously engage with the creative community to incubate unforeseen ideas and foster new directions within the medium. See more about my new chapter in life as Creative Director at Western Neon in City Arts and check out the school.
Selections from my series NEW FOLKLORE were shown at Plexus Projects in Greenpoint, Brooklyn on December 17 as part of their ongoing series, Apparatus. This one night only solo exhibition featured self-confession videos performed by my clones, exploring notions of posthuman identity, anxiety, doubt, and the loss of reflexive meaning in a world gone insane.
I created these miniature versions of myself at specific points in time to best capture how I viewed my life at that exact moment. Over time, I've felt like they're simultaneously right on target and wildly off-base. They seem to float far out in a darkened valley yet appear right at home — like the neighbor next door you never see but whose nocturnal freak-outs remind you of yourself as if by osmosis. In the end, these ego reflections are black mirrors clipped up and reassembled into the essential components I feel like we all share even if we don't always know it. Check out more about NEW FOLKLORE and Plexus Projects.
In early January, I'll show new TRACKSTARS work along with Jeff Gerber at Sun Gallery in Seattle. I'm in The Woods, a group exhibition at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington in conjunction with Punch Projects that opens January 11. The Western Neon School of Art begins on January 23, offering its first class: Introduction to Light-Based Media. And I'm beyond psyched to be included in Hannah Stouffer's Lust For Light, a survey of light-based artists featuring Yayoi Kusama, Ivan Navarro, Laddie John Dill, Jennifer Steinkamp, and many others. Published by Ginkgo Press, this book drops in spring 2018.
Most importantly, METANOIA will open in Seattle at Oxbow on my twin birthday, February 3, 2018. Set in a self-help meeting, this is the presentation of my story. These are the events that led me to be me, this current version of myself. These are the experiences that propelled me out of the black hole of alcoholism into a place of searching.
With this body of work: I want to tell a story, banish a kind of lingering evil, reveal aspects of myself as naked as I can, and create a place where others might see things as they possibly never have before. This process could be fulfilling, and it indeed could be a disaster, maybe a failure full of possibilities — the place I think real creativity stems from, exploding in all directions with an unknown power.
In the end, I hope the entire odyssey represents the true meaning of the word metanoia, the antonym of paranoia, a turning toward the light away from the negative forces that lurk in the darkness outside the hearth of family and friends.
I want to thank my wife, son, mom, sister, the ever-patient Robert Yoder, Grant Kirkpatrick, Fritz Rodriguez and everyone who has supported me and my discursive work this past year. May you shine bright and go big in 2018, Happy New Year!