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Interview with Nate Larson by Jess Kemp

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Nate Larson is an artist that’s recently moved to Baltimore. He’s a full-time faculty member at Maryland Institute College of Art, and that’s how I first met him. Before teaching at MICA, he taught in Chicago. He’s a fantastic artist and photographer as well as an awesome professor. Recently, he and I completed an email interview for Bmore Art, discussing his work and how he’s liking his recent move to Baltimore.

Jess: I guess to start you could tell me about your past work: what subject matters are you driven to?

Nate: I’m interested in the ways in which we make sense of the world around us and the systems that we construct to explain, understand or communicate our perceptions and beliefs. I’m fascinated by religion, and I’m also interested in popular culture, consumer behavior, fringe culture, science, pseudo-science, the occult, and online social networking. The intersections of all of these things is particularly fascinating and the places in which they mingle to create a new hybrid is a rich territory for my imagination. I make photographs, usually with a textual component and usually in series, about these intersections and argue that photography is complicit in these systems, as a way in which evidence is presented and shared, and also as a tool for critical analysis.

Tasseography, 2005

Eucharistic Miracle, 2004

My past projects have explored miraculous potatoes with glowing crosses, scabs in the shape of continents, photographs generated by the mind, reincarnations of pop culture figures in baby goats, apparitions of the divine in clouds, epiphanies revealed through falls down flights of stairs, fortune cookie numbers that win lottery prizes, and healing spells that are transmitted through the television. My recent book project and photographic series, Miracle Pennies, responds to a letter received from an evangelical minister, promising miracles by mail, if an elaborate series of tasks is completed and a minimum donation returned. I also recently built a Kirlian Device, which shoots high voltage through objects to produce Aura images, and have been using it to test processed American food choices. You can see these various projects on my site, www.natelarson.com

Kirlian Photographic Device, 2006
Kirlian Photographs: Twinkie, 2007
For the last two years, I have been collaborating with another artist, Marni Shindelman, in addition to my solo work. Our collaborative work focuses on exploring the notion of distance as perceived in modern life. Each of our projects attacks the problem of collapsing geographic distance and the contemporary technologies used as a means of increasing communication and to quell hypothetical loneliness in this age of hyper–connectivity. The geographic gap between our homes, in Baltimore, MD and Rochester, NY, amplifies this conceptual interest in the nuances of our working process as we collaborate over distance.

Our first collaborative project, Witness, reinterpreted US Government experiments in psychic espionage, first enacted and disbanded during the Cold War and recently revived during the Bush Administration. Our second project, Semaphore, translates Facebook status updates into Semaphore flag code in public locations, echoing the information transmitted online to the physical public. We are currently working on two concurrent projects, one in which we make large scale drawings by walking with GPS transponders, and a second, called Geolocation, which I go into in more detail below.

Semaphore (He Said, She Said), 2009
Semaphore (He Said, She Said, Detail), 2009
Semaphore (She Said, He Said), 2009
Semaphore (She Said, He Said, Detail), 2009
Jess: I know that you have a few artist books- what made you choose to represent your work through artist books? Nate: I have had a strong interest in narrative for a long time, and the artist book became a manner in which to extend the narrative sequentially over time. Prior to the book projects, most of my photographs were self-contained narratives, each photograph functioning as a record of an event . The book form also appeals to me because of the one-on-one relationship with the viewer, where the viewer turns the page and moves through the narrative. I have done video work as another way of extending these narratives, but there’s something about the intimate space that the book creates with the viewer that keeps pulling me back to it.

Jess:What are your favorite projects so far?
Nate: My favorite project is always what I’m working on at the moment. Currently, I’m working on a series with my collaborator, Marni Shindelman, called Geolocation. Twitter users have the option of embedding geotags in their tweets, which includes the GPS coordinates from the originating location. Not every user has this option enabled, but many do, and I’m not sure that everyone that does is aware that they have that option selected. We monitor these postings and when we find one that is particularly compelling, poetic, or personal, we travel to the GPS coordinates and make a photograph to mark the location in the real world. Each of these photographs is taken on the site of the update and paired with the originating text. The text is re-presented with original grammar, spacing and spelling intact. The series is not yet posted to our site (www.telepathicwitness.com), so I’ve attached a couple of examples for you.
Jess: I’ve become really interested in both Facebook and Twitter lately, as well. I like the idea of them being these catalogs for our daily lives- I’ve looked back on my Twitter to see what I was doing on different dates, etc. It’s fascinating how, because of the convenience of it, I update constantly and you create a voice for yourself that might be different from yours in real life because there is a sense of privacy because it is your Facebook and your Twitter but everyone can see it. Anyway, next I’d like to know how you feel about Baltimore now that you’ve been here a few months. What do you think about the art scene here? Has it or life here in general affected your work or caused any new project ideas?

Nate: I like your thoughts a lot, especially the part where you talk about the idea of voice. It is fascinating to see the differences between one’s online voice and one’s real world presence. I think that there’s something to that idea of implied privacy, because many people that we’ve observed post things that I can’t imagine people saying in the real world. Personal details about relationships, unflattering narcissism, or other things that you just wouldn’t say in polite company. There’s a writer named Clive Thompson that writes about what he terms “Digital Intimacy” that describes the knowledge acquired through the data stream of personal information in this quasi-public forum.

Baltimore has not yet generated any site-specific project ideas, but I’m sure that it will reveal interesting gems to me. I don’t think that I’ve been in Baltimore long enough to assess the full art scene, but it seems like there’s very good energy here and that people are making interesting things. I’m looking for things to check out, so if there are any things that I should be sure not to miss, please let me know. My experience at MICA has been great and I’m looking forward to making a home here. The other thing about Baltimore that is nice is the proximity to the eastern seaboard. In the short time that I’ve been here, I’ve been able to zip up to NY to participate in a Performance festival, and have been shooting projects in NYC, Connecticut, and New Jersey. I have plans to collaborate with a friend and fellow artist in Virginia and am talking about doing a project with another artist in West Virginia. Being centrally located has really opened up some wonderful possibilities.

*Posted by Jess Kemp for BmoreArt

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