Lindsey White and What's "In That Case"
Lindsey White, Steal Ditch Switch, 2014. C-print, 2014
Artist Lindsey White was interviewed by CJM Associate Curator Lily Siegel about what is going on In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art. White is the first artist to participate in this collaborative series. She chose to work with Los Angeles-based comedian and performer Ron Lynch. Both artists have an affinity for challenging expected modes of visual presentation.
What is the most exciting part of In That Case for you?
Most people don’t think about artists as being researchers, but we are. Artists are always asking funny questions and stealing time from various people. So the chance to go above board and connect with one of my heroes is a singular opportunity.
Lindsey White, Levitation, 2014. C-print, 2014.
I’m so glad that you said that. From our very first correspondence, I had a sense that you got what this project is about. I’m pretty lucky as a curator because I get to learn from the artists—who have to do the hard work and research—on a daily basis. I hope that In That Case provides an opportunity for all our visitors to share in that sense of excitement.
Why did you ask Ron to collaborate with you on this project?
When you have the opportunity to see Ron Lynch perform his stand-up routine, you get a glimpse into the timeless art of slapstick. I’m drawn to his vaudevillian approach, especially the way he transforms into the “magician” Mesmerizo—a bootleg performer whose tricks are hilariously unconcealed. The magic is in the performance itself. Another character he activates is an animatronic comedian moving his lips and arms to a pre-recorded comedy routine created by Ron himself. This transports an audience to an experience they might have had on a Disneyland amusement park ride in the 1950s. His voice commands a room and his expressions are similar to some actors from the silent film era. I, too, have been working with the language of magic and comedy to challenge perceptions of the ordinary within my own work. With Ron’s help, I’ll be able to engage in a larger conversation about how to activate a joke and about the physical nature of being a performer.
How does this relate to your use of photography? Historically, photographs were thought to communicate the truth. Now, it is pretty commonly accepted that we should always question perception and what is concealed in a photograph.
Magic and jokes are about tricking people; vaudeville can be associated with freak shows and the circus; your work is so cheerful and generous, there is nothing mean about it. Similarly, Ron’s approach to poking fun at the deception of comedy and magic is generous to his audience while remaining respectful to the historic genres he is riffing off of. I guess the question is, who are you working for? Do you consider your viewer when you’re working? Do you consider the performers? The culture of performance?
I’m interested in how the photograph can both document and manipulate our ideas of the real, especially via the visual sight gags we inherently have on file in our brains. Through comics and cartoons we learn the language of slapstick humor such that if a person is walking with a ladder and spins around we very well might get taken out. Another example of this collision is a video piece I made called “Three Color Method;” a work inspired by the early trichromatic/color photography experiments of James Clark Maxwell. The video is largely concerned with the fact that primary colors are not a fundamental property of light but are related to the physiological response of the eye to light. Additionally, the red, yellow, and blue vases that the viewer witnesses breaking in slow motion over and over are made of “breakaway glass;” a composite substance which is made to break more realistically than glass itself. This piece plays with our formative knowledge of color theory with a bit of magic and trickery. The fact that glass can’t even break the way we think it should on film speaks to how we digest not only photography, but our experience in everyday life. I work with all kinds of media—photography, sculpture, and video—but my artistic approach is rooted in photography. I consider all the work I make to be a suspended moment.
Vaudeville was one of the earliest forms of entertainment, where anything was game if people were entertained. Performers could get away with throwing tissues in the air as they peddled a stationary bike while playing a bugle if the audience clapped and cheered. For me, this off-the-wall entertainment was pretty democratic and open-ended for its time. However, Vaudeville was a comedian’s inside-track to radio and later television. When you’re messing with humor you’re always thinking about your audience. Not everyone is going to understand your approach. Peoples’ taste are all over the map when it comes to humor and art. And thank goodness or we’d all be doomed! But humorous art usually gets the raw end of the deal, especially if you’re a woman. Everyone thinks it’s too easy or stupid, but humor comes with sharp observational skills and a can’t-fail attitude. Nobody wants to bomb at telling a joke. Artists are already self-deprecating, but when you’re on stage all eyes and ears are on you. Most comedians make jokes about their attempt at making jokes. The audience is less threatened if you’re lifting them up while you’re putting yourself down; it enables the performer to get on with their analysis with less judgment. Magic and Jokes aren’t mean—they let us escape for a moment and remind us that we’re witnessing a lot of messed up stuff on a daily basis. Why not laugh about it?
Do you think you’ll try anything new for In That Case?
Definitely. At the moment, I’m looking into some lo-fi Hollywood Special effects. Whatever happens—it’ll be unexpected, playful, and perfectly stilted.
Have you found many people out there still using special effects that aren’t computer generated? Just as no one is using film anymore, people may not be producing artificial rain with water.
To be honest, I haven’t talked to many special effects folks. I am more of a do-it-yourself (all wrong) kind of person. I’m continuing to investigate objects and techniques that are generated for lo-fi purposes, such as breakaway glass. I am drawn to the handmade or to attempts at rendering a scene more real with a stand-in or a stunt double.