Interview: Christopher Eamon
by Claire Ruud
Christopher Eamon is Curator of the Kramlich Collection and Director of the New Art Trust in San Francisco. In 2006, Chris curated SLAPstick at Lora Reynolds Gallery here in Austin and, at the time, he sat down with …might be good to talk about the position of new media within the field of contemporary art (see Issue #70). When Chris was back in town for the opening of Mads Lynnerup’s If You See Anything Interesting Please Let Someone Know Immediately at Lora Reynolds, we sat down to catch up with him. In addition to hearing about what he’s up to these days, we quizzed him on the accessibility of new media works and the systems of distribution used by film and video artists today.
…might be good: I wanted to begin by discussing the accessibility—or lack of accessibility—of new media. Presenting a three-screen film installation by Isaac Julien, for instance, requires equipment and technical expertise that some small art institutions simply can’t afford. For this reason among others, it’s difficult for many viewers to get access to new media work.
Christopher Eamon: When I think about accessibility, my question is: What is the intention of the artist? Is the artist’s intention to create an installation that has a certain sense of scale, a certain sense of sound and so on? If this is the case, the installation must be shown in a specific location that creates these conditions. In a way, the site-specificity of these kinds of video installations is self-marginalizing, because without having seen the installation in person, it’s difficult to conceptualize and difficult to study.
…mbg: As I’m sure you know, it’s fairly expensive to rent film and video works even for just a single, educational screening. I was talking to a friend who teaches contemporary art at
CE: On one hand, I think that the emergence of YouTube has given people a little extra push to rethink the question of accessibility in respect to video—particularly since access to YouTube is free. It has opened up the possibility for video art to have a broader audience. On the other hand, I think the real pleasure of YouTube is the clips that show humorous mistakes or absurdities; video art is a very small part of the website.
…mbg: What kind of strategies do you think young artists are adopting to make their work more visible to the public?
CE: Very recently, you see a lot more interest among younger artists in trying to offer free distribution of their video work. But often, these same artists market and sell their work through galleries as well. Some artists—Paul Chan and Seth Price, for example—will find a way to make one piece, sell it to a collector and then re-edit the piece for distribution on YouTube or through an organization like Electronic Arts Intermix. Many of these artists are making a second version of a work for ideological reasons—they believe the work must be accessible in order to bring about real change. But sometimes it’s not clear that the decision is anything more than an economic one—the artist wants to make a living from collectors, but also wants the notoriety that might come from free distribution. In my opinion, multiple versions of a work are only interesting when the artist tailors each version with an eye to the different contexts in which it will be viewed. When the work is altered for the Internet, distribution through EAI or a gallery installation, there must be substantive meaning behind the change in the work’s form for each of its incarnations.
…mbg: I remember that last time you talked to …might be good, you argued that form and context have been grossly overlooked in the exhibition of new media works. I’m wondering how you dealt with the specificity of form and context in the large-scale exhibition you were working on at the time, Beyond Cinema: The Art of Projection, which opened in
CE: Actually, the exhibition was really fulfilling for exactly that reason—we were able to be very faithful to each artist’s original intention for each of the 26 installations included in the exhibition. We had the luxury to pay attention to the kinds of details that make such a difference to the experience of a work—for example, the wattage of the projector, the amount of light entering the gallery—because we had a lot of space, proper budgeting and a very capable crew of technicians.
Before Beyond Cinema, I had already worked on two earlier large-scale exhibitions of film and video, Into the Light and Seeing Time. After working on these two exhibitions, I remember thinking that I would never work on a large-scale exhibition of video again because it’s just not natural to the work. Usually, film and video installations are intended to be shown singly. But in most museum spaces it’s nearly impossible to prevent sound and light bleed from one installation to another, and moreover, there’s viewer fatigue involved—it’s just an unreal expectation that a viewer should be able to sit through 26 installations in a row. The pieces aren’t meant to be viewed that way.
The innovation of Beyond Cinema was to make all 26 installations into a series of solo shows. The building we were in gave us 100,000 square feet to work with, so we were able to build a number of individual gallery spaces inside this one building. There could be vast spaces between installations, we could carefully control the amount of light entering each space and we could easily prevent sound and light bleed from one installation to another.
…mbg: In terms of future projects, your catalogue of the Kramlich collection, Prime Mover: Five Exhibitions from the Pamela and Richard Kramlich Collection is coming out soon. Why did you decide to structure this catalogue as a series of potential exhibitions?
CE: In 1998, I designed five exhibitions of works in the Kramlich Collection as a way to help Herzog & de Meuron—the architects of the Kramlich’s house—figure out how to design functional spaces tailored to the type of work the Kramlich’s had in their collection at that time. In the last ten years, I’ve tried to acquire new works that would relate to one of these five exhibitions—in particular, I’ve tried to bolster these exhibitions with historical video work and works in other media. When the opportunity arose for me to make this book, I decided to use the structure of the five exhibitions to reveal my curatorial approach to the collection.
…mbg: One final question—who do you think is making exciting work in 2008?
CE: Julika Rudelius. She’s an artist who splits her time between