Thursday, August 15, 2013

McLean Fahnestock

Video Still from In the Offing by McLean Fahnestock

You often talk about your work as negotiating the public arenas of the institutional or political as they refer to deeper human desires that play out more personally. In other words your work looks for personal longings in the archives of a history museum or NASA. Could you talk a little about where the inspiration for that kind of investigation started because it seems to be a pretty consistent thread in your work?

It initially came out of an interest in exposing emotion. I began to play with videos of political figures engaged in interviews with the idea that I could slice them open and show the real person working behind the political character. I then expanded my source to include other public figures that embody an ideal; olympic athletes. It was a short jump to astronauts and then NASA. Space exploration was something that really captured the relationship between human desire for excellence and a government institution. Moving now in to museums and libraries I am still contemplating what makes a historic character and what lies beneath that but I am also investigating the way that those characters are portrayed and their deeds preserved. I am looking at what it takes to make it in to the institution and if the validation of inclusion make automatically those deeds truth.

From the Fahnestock Expedition series

Your work often subtly plays with language and exploits the personal and political connectedness you feel for example, in your recent pieces that depict islands are gold leafed. You seem to be approaching the connectedness between vacation and vacancy. Could you talk about that work and describe the series for me?

From the Good Director Islands series

The series "Good Director Islands" is about the western idea of paradise and the longing that goes along with it. Made of desktop wallpapers found by searching 'paradise' and etched with song lyrics, the works allude to the desire to escape to our own personal island. A popular fiction portrayed as a daydream. The title reveals the personal aspect to this series. My Grandfather and Great Uncle, in their book Stars to Windward, claimed to have discovered an island chain in the South Pacific. Their fantasy became a published reality. But thanks to technology, it has shifted back to fantasy. The coordinates in the book point to an empty spot of sea. 
From the Fahnestock Expedition series
 Your pieces that explore your Grandfather's Fahnestock expedition also seem to go further into that social space of collective memory as it relates to the personal. The resulting images seem almost like spy images taken furtively with a hidden camera in a library, almost as if you are stealing little pieces of your Grandfather and even yourself in the privacy of the museum backrooms. Could you expand on the idea behind the series and some of your experiences relating to the series?

I am at the beginning of a large project based on the three voyages made by my Grandfather and Great Uncle. It is an effort to build a bridge between my time and theirs. Between their experiences and my own explorations. By working with the institutions that they were working with and visiting the places that they visited as well as balancing the more personal side–their lives and families and what happens after the expeditions end. 

When I am in the back rooms of museums I get a rush of discovery. I can understand how it would be easy to get hooked on that and decide to make it your vocation. It is also when I feel most connected to my Grandfather. Being that I can not remove the articles from the institutions, I collect them on site in anyway that I can, I scan documents with a wand scanner, capture sound with a tiny digital recorder and video with an equally small camera. 
Still from Love Sick

Your video pieces, Love Sick and In the Offing seem much more personal than the piece you are most famous for that features the space shuttle blasting off on various grades of film stock gridded rather formally. Your latest pieces deal with antiquated films but they are images of the sea and as the sea line ebbs and flows there is a feeling of the presence of the viewer as a conscious separate eye with a personalized even poetic experience. Can you talk about the differences between these different kinds of video pieces and what you have learned?

I think that because I am dealing with something closer to me, to my family, that I am taking a different approach. The shuttles were about the presenting the entirety of the life of the orbiter and the emotional impact for a whole generation. I used the very rigid and formal grid and set up time as my parameter for the entrance and exit of the clips.  Because I am shifting my focus from working with material that is well known to footage that is not as immediately recognizable I have been considering other ways to make sure that the impact is still there. I am working more on developing the soundtracks and taking a more organic and lyrical approach to editing. 

I have always been interested in presentation of video and now I am looking even more into the technologies and options for my work. How the video is experienced has to be considered by artists and curators alike.