Thank you to each of you for your willingness to participate in this interview. This exhibition, The Illusion of Being, is a captivating exhibition in the Hawn Gallery and I hope that many more visitors at the university and in the arts community take advantage of seeing it before it closes on May 17th. It has been phenomenal to have this installation in the Hawn Gallery at Hamon.

To begin, each body of work by the three of you has a very strong affiliation with the concept of illusion. Could you discuss how this concept, whether through its creation in photography or other design, served as a lodestar in the development of your work?

Lynné: My work in The Illusion of Being is a culmination of 10 years of research and exploration.  It is hard to say how this work will influence the art I make next, but I can definitely see how I got to this point.  I have been working with origami and photography for quite some time now.  I am interested in how the combination of the two mediums transforms both the image and the form into something new.  With the work in The Illusion of Being, I added another layer with the introduction of the mirror.  I like how the mirror creates a horizon into another dimension, showing a different side and perspective to the objects.  I was also interested in the fact that the viewer could see themselves in the mirror, essentially becoming part of the piece.  This work not only morphs, distorts, and changes my body; but it also incorporates the body of the viewer. 

When creating artworks, I am always translating my emotions and personal experiences into a physical object.  What I am essentially doing is translating what it means to be human into an object.  When Ross suggested the title for the show as The Illusion of Being, I thought it fit perfectly with the concepts all three of us continually make work about.  It really sums up what we do.  These objects are only simulations, they are not the actual experiences.  However, through these objects we can approach these emotions and experiences from a different vantage point.

Ross: The body of work I have in this show is entitled, In Search of the Uncanny Valley.  The term, “Uncanny Valley,” was coined around 1970 by Dr. Masahiro Mori, a Japanese roboticist who was designing a thought experiment around the future of robotics.  He had postulated that the closer robotics and artificial intelligence get to simulating our reality the less liked by us they will be.  This would continue up to a certain point of dislike between us and them before they would start to be accepted and liked again by us.  The graph he designed to demonstrate this produced a ‘valley’ thus forming the term, “uncanny valley.”  This is where the illusion comes into my series of work, I feel we are on the precipice of this valley, we are still ok and accepting of the rise of ultra-realistic robotics, and human-level intelligence AI because we still control and contain it.  I feel video-games can be viewed as a window into how we have become so accepting and inviting to ultra-realism in technology.  They were designed at each stage to become better and better at replicating our reality and a generation has grown up alongside them.  They continue to grow with our current augmented reality and virtual reality platforms and now more than ever provide us with the ‘illusion of being.’

Ashley: My creative research explores optical illusion as a way to illustrate nightmares and the dark corners of the subconscious. In my series, Mind Loop, illusion is explored through the staging of the objects in front of the camera as well as the digital manipulation of the images within Photoshop. When I stage my sets to photograph, I often use mirrors or patterns to skew the viewer’s perception. I also experiment with distortion through the use of magnifying glasses, glass objects, or filters placed between the camera and set. After I photograph the set, I use Photoshop to further manipulate the images, often copying and repeating parts of the image to create a new and alternate reality.

Artist Ross Faircloth discussing his series, In Search of the Uncanny Valley, framed on wall.

What is it about photography, as opposed to some other genre or art practice, that enabled you to create these works?

Lynné: I think many contemporary artists, and contemporary art in general, is becoming more interdisciplinary.  Many artists are looking outside of their traditional mediums to create something new, or achieve a different feeling than anything we have seen before.  I have training in drawing, painting, sculpting, bookmaking, and photography.  However, photography was the one medium that felt the most genuine to what I wanted to say as an artist.  I like that photography is grounded in reality, but it is also a lie.  That inherent relationship between truth and fiction in photography has always interested me.

First and foremost; I think of myself as a photographer.  I always approach making new artwork from the photograph.  However, much of my work being based in origami, lends itself to being 3D.  The concept and themes behind the work dictate if a piece will be more or less sculptural.  I like to disrupt how the viewer thinks about the photograph and how the 3D shapes are altered by adding photographs to the surfaces.  I am concerned with the final product and the experience the viewer will have standing in front of the pieces. 

Ross: Photography naturally has ties to technology as it is widely viewed as the first technologically driven art form, largely because of this, its acceptance as ‘fine art’ within the greater arts community was slow to say the least.  Choosing a medium that traces back to the roots of the technology used in viewing and creating video games seemed like the natural choice.  There is also a reference or nod within this work to the new topographics movement within photography, think Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, or Lewis Baltz.  Whereas these photographers were photographing the changing landscape around them, primarily from rural to suburban, I am photographing the changing landscape of our time from reality to virtual reality.

Ashley: Photography allows me to experiment more than if I were using painting, drawing, or another medium. For me, photography is inherently a much quicker process to produce something, especially with digital. I can work through multiple ideas or intuitively create different variations in front of the camera with ease. The medium of photography allows me to experiment with many different ideas and not feel slowed down. Sometimes I have a completely different idea for an image than what the final product looks like. My artist practice relies on the tension between creating rules for myself and then breaking them. Experimentation leads me to many new ideas and directions within my work.

In past discussions, I particularly recall Ross citing the idea of impermanence at play in his work. Permanence is something that libraries and archives strive for in their preservation of materials for the present and future, which often becomes a record of the past. Would any of you like to discuss or elaborate on this tension between permanence and impermanence?

Lynné: In the history of photography, you see a large conversation around permanence and archivalness.  Even from the invention of photography, early photographic processes struggled to produce images that were in fact permanent.  Even now, many photographic prints are sensitive to light and must be monitored for fading and color fastness.  There is also a large conversation around archivalness throughout the 20th century, when photography was proving to the rest of the art world that it was in fact a real art form, and not just a commercial instrument.  Masters in the medium dictated standards and archival practices that would make photographic prints last for decades and centuries.  I think photographers are inherently aware of the conversations surrounding permanence and archivalness because of the nature of the medium. 

That being said, I don’t always approach artmaking from a point of permanence.  I am ultimately trying to create an experience for the viewer, and that doesn’t always fit into what is considered archival.  Many of my works are made from sheer fabrics or paper, neither of which is very durable.  The 3D paper sculptures in The Illusion of Being are quite fragile and malleable.  I am interested in materials that will change with time, or even by the viewer walking past the piece.  The piece may not last 100 years, but I hope they are enjoyed while they are here. 

Ross: A different but equal reason for making these works was to provide a permanence to what is a naturally impermanent medium in video games.  Photography has a rich history of being used for just this reason.  Whether you are talking about momento mori photographs from the turn of the century, or Edward S. Curtis’ documentation of the Native American Tribes, or more official purposes like evidence recording, the permanent nature of photography has been the deciding factor for its use in a multitude of applications.  However, video games tend to have shelf lives that usually span the length of their parent console (give or take 10 years) or until the next game in their series comes out.  Not long after one of these events occurs, the mass popularity and support from the developers starts to go away, and eventually all that is left of these worlds are digital files that may or may not be readable in the near future if they can even be located.  This tension between the impermanent game world and the permanence inherent in the darkroom process of photography played a major role in the creation of this work.

Ashley: I think about permanence when I’m making my sculptural books. These books are made of images that are cut up and sewn back together. The piecing together of the images is created intuitively, without a preconceived plan. The impermanence of the cut image paired with sewing which fixes the images together, creates a tension between something fleeting and stationary.

Are there other photographers whose work or career you are following now? If so, why?

Lynné: Recently, my artist crushes have been Alma Haser, Rusty Scruby, and Sebastiaan Bremer.  They all use and manipulate photography in their work, but I think we all utilize these techniques in different ways.  I am always blown away by the work that Alma Haser is creating.  The way she thinks about the imagery, physical form, and the concept behind the pieces is just so smart.  She has a new series called Within 15 Minutes where she takes photographs of twins, prints them on puzzles, and alternates the pieces to create a combination of both people. It’s haunting and so well done.  With Rusty Scruby, I really respect the difficulty and craft behind his pieces.  He also uses origami in his work, and the pieces are insanely intricate and complicated. And lastly Sebastiaan Bremer.  He takes appropriated photographs and draws new imagery directly on the surface, creating a whole new composition.  Bremer’s work is dreamy, mystical, and psychedelic.  I really appreciate the way Bremer takes something that has already existed and creates a new image and a new way of looking at it. 

Ross: This is always a tricky question as there are many photographers who’s work I admire, appreciate and have influenced me from Joel-Peter Witkin, László Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, Frederick Sommer, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, and the list could go on for a while.  There is no one photographer in particular I follow the career of, but if there is one photographer on that list I could credit with allowing me to start thinking of photography and more importantly the photograph itself in a different manner, it would be Joel-Peter Witkin.  His physical mark making on the negative and ability to take the often grotesque and provide it with a sense of beauty, wonder and awe has always struck me as sublime.  Within most traditional schools of photography, the negative is sacred. Any damage to it and you have start from square one.  Seeing an artist disregard this concept made me realize photography could be treated and explored like any other medium without the need to stick to its inherent rules.

Ashley:

Juul Kraijer
Cornelia Hediger
Annegret Soltau
Roger Ballen
Lauren Semivan

These artists provide inspiration for various reasons, stylistically and professionally. Currently, I am very interested in Annegret Soltau’s use of sewing and mutation of the figure through the photograph as object. Looking at artists regularly helps me to understand why I make work and what excites me about the medium.

Finally, please share with our readers any of your current or future projects, or installations. I am sure they will be interested to learn about them.

Lynné: I have had a busy spring and The Illusion of Being actually wraps up a lot of my current projects.  However, Sequential Self, an exhibition I co-curated with Iris Bechtol which focuses on Female, Non-Binary, Trans, and Queer Voices in comics and zines, has been invited to travel to another venue.  We are currently working on hammering out the details, but we are excited to bring the show to more people.  Keep an eye on my socials for more details.  Sequential Self should be on-view again in 2020.   

Coming up in May I have a selection of artworks that will be on-view in an exhibition that is in conjunction with the Friend of the Artist: Volume 9 publication launch.  This exhibition showcases the work of select artists who have been featured in past issues.  My work was featured in Friend of the Artist: Volume 6 last year.  The Friend of the Artist: Volume 9 launch party is on Tuesday, May 28th from 7-9 pm at Ma Fille Art Gallery in Dallas, TX. Check out the Friend of the Artist publication at www.friendoftheartist.com .

Recently I was awarded a Public Art commission in Fort Worth.  I have spent the last four months working on an initial design proposal, and am happy it was selected for the project.  I cannot divulge the details just yet, but check in on my socials soon for an update.

Besides working on these upcoming projects, I plan to spend some time in my studio.  I have a couple of series I started over the past year or so, and I am looking forward to flushing them out a bit further.  To keep up-to-date with my upcoming projects and in-progress artworks, follow me on Instagram or check out my website:  @lynnebowmancravens  | www.lynnecravens.com

Ross: I will have three photographs on display at the Bath House Cultural Center from May 4- June 8 as part of an exhibition titled The Intentional Hand: A Photographic Exhibition of Manipulated Imagery.  The works on display there come from a series titled Dark Grandeur and consist of hand distressed, toned and collaged gelatin silver prints.  The following weekend on May 11, I have a show opening at 500X Gallery in Dallas where I am also a member.  The show is called A Life After and is a documentation of objects and a collaboration with photographs left to me from my grandfather who passed away a few years ago and was also an artist.  I will be present at both openings which begin at 7pm. Hope to see you there!

Ashley: I am currently preparing for a two-person exhibition opening on May 11th at 500X Gallery. A Study in Symmetry, an exhibition by myself and Rachel Fischer explores pattern and repetition through drawing and photography. For both artists, repetition implies the stability they seek in upheavals of their sense of family. Each artist finds visual parameters with which to order the complicated mix of beginnings and endings that each of their experiences entail. A Study in Symmetry is on view at 500X Gallery from May 11-June 2, 2019. The opening reception is Saturday, May 11th from 7-10 pm. I also have a solo exhibition opening at Brookhaven College in August. Follow me on Instagram for more updates! @ashleywhittfineart


The Illusion of Being continues until May 17th. The Hamon Arts Library will be closed on May 18 – 19th. Apology for other postings listing May 19th as the closing date.

Featured image: Installation view of The Illusion of Being with artists, Lynné Bowman-Cravens (left) and Ashley Whitt (right); credit: Chloe Nix, photographer.
Blog interview questions: Beverly Mitchell, Curator, Hawn Gallery and Assistant Director, Hamon Arts Library.