Sage Lewis

Statement of Purpose

An Archeology of Image Structures

I am particularly interested in the Terra Foundation summer residency program because of the link between intensive studio research and the critical dialogue that occurs within the participant community of scholars, artists, curators, historians, and critics. This sharpening of visual language and contextual meaning is essential to invigorating our collective practices and allows for important connections to be made across disciplines. As a visual artist, my research takes me into fields of philosophy, history of science, and architecture and I am seeking visual and conceptual source material to deepen my inquiries.

The current focus of my work centers on the tactile and dimensional qualities of the surface of a print or photograph in relation to the depth of perspectival space that is represented by the image. Recently I have made a series of prints picturing the surface of the desert in Qatar which demonstrate the notion of an “archeology of surface” that I would like to bring to this project. (See work sample image #5.) In these carbon gelatin prints, the black areas of the photographic image become shinier than the lighter areas, which remain matte. This allows the black shadows of rocks to reflect light and create a type of reverse constellation. Tiny bubbles that pockmark the surface of the gelatin puncture the image and reveal the receiving paper that lies underneath. Through these bubbles one could imagine a surface that exists behind an image. In the printing process, the image is quite flexible and fragile floating in water until it dries and becomes fixed to a receiving paper. I am attracted to processes in which the image can become malleable, fragmented or broken down in ways that correspond to the subject of depiction. Through this material relationship, conditions of architecture and ruin may be drawn together.

My time at the Terra Foundation Summer Residency in Giverny will focus on two aspects of this research, that of production and that of gathering imagery. In the studio I will work with printed material to produce series of collage and assemblage works on paper. Through methods of cutting and building an image, I plan to investigate an archeology of image structures related to the spaces of Gothic architecture. I consider the cut as a way to let light through, to expose something behind (the opening to another image-surface) and to give the flat space of printed paper a three-dimensional capability. Often, I make cuts to emphasize a foundational configuration, such as the ribbing of vaults, and these cuts may also serve to undermine the structural integrity of the form. These assembled paper forms may become sculptural objects to be photographed and scanned for digital media, as well as becoming individual finished works. I will begin by working with prints that I have already produced as a material to generate new works, and these newly composed forms will undoubtedly be influenced by architectural site visits I plan to make in the region.

To fulfill the second aspect of my research, I plan to make a number of day-trip site visits to view examples of Gothic architecture in and around Paris. Architecture is important to me as a structure that can embody aspects of strength and stability as well as the potential for weakness and failure. Vaults are essentially precursors to modern tensile forms that exhibit strength while maintaining a flexible airiness that gives way to more ephemeral applications. This notion of light and flexibility against the darkness of stone and the ability to hold tension in two opposing directions makes the deep perspectival space of Gothic cathedral vaults particularly compelling for me. I am also fascinated by the scale of these spaces in relation to the human body and the potential for disorientation that can occur when looking upward. This is not unlike the sensation of losing one’s sense of scale in the vast blankness of the desert, where normal markers of distance and depth are not present.

The number of site visits will depend on what time would allow for during the 9-week period. It would be important not to break the focus of my daily studio work and my engagement with the residency participants in seminars and discussions throughout the days. There are many options for creating a flexible itinerary to this effect. Outside of Paris I have identified cathedrals at Chartres, Reims, Amiens, Laon, and Beauvais that would be excellent sources for me. Within Paris, Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, the Cluny Museum, and Saint-Germain des Pres would also be on my list. Having completed graduate course work with Karl Whittington, an art historian of Medieval art and architecture at Ohio State University, I have selected readings and texts related to these sites that help contextualize their history. However, I am most interested in encountering these sites according to my interests around surface and space as outlined above.  These interests are rooted in visual and perceptual experience.

While the region that includes Giverny holds many examples of potential sources for developing new work, the setting and context of the residency program are important for other reasons. I want to invest my time in this residency because of the potential for deepening connections between research and studio work that is supported through the community that gathers at the Terra Summer Residency. While my personal studio practice can be fairly solitary, I look for communities that promote interdisciplinary working and more importantly, interdisciplinary thinking as crucial components for developing my artistic practice. At this juncture in my career, I am looking to expand my network of colleagues operating across subjects, borders, and locales because these relationships create a lasting mutual benefit as we disperse into our fields. I see the Terra Summer Residency as an opportunity to construct conversations that build upon my research and develop a critical discourse among peers and colleagues that would extend well beyond the residency term.