Fiona Annis’s Celestial Measures in Ferrotype

By | 1 February 2014

Real Things Do Not Dream Long | Fiona Annis | C-type enlargement of wet-plate collodion | 91x91cm

Common threads in my work include the use of instructions, time-based media, and esoteric technologies. This is paired with an ongoing interest in how the past inhabits the present. In this respect, the prefix re is in constant use: return, revenant, remediate, reinvent, and residue all reoccur in the writings that describe my various projects. Most recently, the impulse to riffle through discarded or disavowed material objects is interwoven with an exploration of obsolete lens-based technologies. The process of working with antiquated photographic techniques led me to reflect further on the ethereal nature of photography. Because photographs are tangible manifestations of intangible moments they can be associated with the phenomena of specters: ghostly manifestations that give material presence to the immaterial. With this in mind, I investigate how photographic imprints act as an echo of matter – a manifestation of time’s wreckage. This anachronistic method of working explores an alchemical territory, the result of which is often but a whisper of an image.

Project Description

Celestial Measures describes an all but forgotten navigational method of geographically situating oneself in respect to celestial bodies. The original meaning of Celestial Measures becomes wistfully paradoxical when applied to a selection of photographic images wherein the possibility of discerning a specific location is obscured. Rebellious light, imperfect blacks and other process-based aberrations completely or partially overshadow concrete subject matter. In the absence of reference points, how do we locate ourselves, what are the means of establishing familiar ground? The photographs are coupled with a text-based work engraved on multiple anodized aluminum plates interspersed throughout the exhibition space. The fragments of text are composed of citations relating to cosmological and quantum theories. In this respect, Celestial Measures explores phenomena particular to the instability of matter, the speed of light, and the duration of time.

Research Context

I am working with the thesis that history inhabits the present in very real ways, and I therefore seek to revisit obsolete technologies to question how they may continue to illuminate the contemporary context. During a six-month artist residency at the Center of Alternative Photography in New York City I was introduced to the historical, chemical, and technical aspects of several photographic processes that span from the conception of photography to contemporary darkroom techniques. Through this study I came to focus my exploration on the wet plate collodion process. Developed in 1850, wet plate collodion is a chemically complex and demanding process for which a defining attribute is the use of a light sensitive concoction that requires a liquid state.

Images courtesy of the artist and Galerie Lilian Rodriguez

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