Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Angela Strassheim: Social Observation & Interview

Angela Strassheim was nothing short of intimidating as a professor during my early semesters as a photography student at Minneapolis College of Art & Design. With multiple grants and fellowships, a BFA from MCAD, an MFA from Yale for photography, and the 2006 Whitney Biennial under her belt, the idea of having Angela critique my work on a regular basis made me slightly nauseous to say the least. Her photography then stemmed from her upbringing in a conservative Christian family in rural Iowa; Angela either actually used them in her images or reenacted scenes and memories from her own childhood. Angela’s “hyper-controlled, candy-colored esthetic, and focus on the same type of airless, white suburban Minnesota, full of spacious, ordered houses, overstuffed but emotionally vacant rooms and Middle American ephemera. But whereas the idea that she was capturing her family was built into the concept -- and the reception -- of the previous works, here her figures deliberately reach for a more universal significance.” (Ben Davis, ArtNet Magazine)

            Angela’s connection to – yet alienation from – this stereotypical Middle-American world she so publicly makes observations about with each and every minute but entirely deliberate and in-focus detail in her images is one of the things that makes her work so comprehensive and really draws the viewer in. She brought this same fascination to her newer work on photographing inside homes where a familial homicide had occurred in California. One might question the bridge or transition from one to the other but once you see her Angela’s images from Evidence, that same eerie voyeuristic quality is still present, like we are looking into this private and unknown world and we know we shouldn’t be.

“So these are images of what remains from familial homicides. Basically, after a space has been cleaned up, and nothing is showing – all these places if you turned the lights on, you wouldn’t see anything at all – and when you turn the lights off, I spray this product called Blue Star. The base of Blue Star is a luminal-like base and when you mix it with an oxidizing agent and an alkaline agent, and then that comes into contact with blood or the hemoglobin in the blood, it illuminates and creates this chemical reaction that becomes the light in the room. So that was the other thing that was really appealing to me was that this thing that was a stain of someone’s fight for life becomes this light in the room almost as a memorial to the person who fought for their will to live.”

“For me, I think the photographs themselves have the same struggle between looking at something that is beautiful on the wall – and like a striking image (especially the one that is over the bed that looks like fizzled out fireworks that almost come out in a three-dimensional way. So you can appreciate it for that but then you realize what it is and it makes the viewer, if they really want to think about it, struggle with the beauty and then what it is actually representing, something really horrific and something that we can’t really wrap our heads around. So it is this layered meaning that is behind the making of the image and the product of what you’re looking at.”

Angela's incredulity at these familial homicides only informs her ability to photograph them in different and unique ways. Her photographs display the permanence of these tragedies - even after all is cleaned up, painted over, and the people have moved out, there is always some way of finding evidence of what has happened in the past.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011