Artist Amanda Ross Ho on the impetus behind her new installation at the MCA
by AMANDA ROSS HO September 2, 2013 1:12PM
Updated: October 18, 2013 2:25PM
This month, I had the pleasure of unveiling my first large-scale, outdoor, public work, “The Character and Shape of Illuminated Things” on the Museum of Contemporary Art plaza. This was an honor for multiple reasons, as it represented both a milestone in my career as well as a warm homecoming to my hometown.
The piece is based on a set of found photographs originally shot by photographer David Brooks and featured in his 1980 book, “How to Control and Use Photographic Lighting.” In order to demonstrate the effects of variable studio light on a photograph, Brooks set up a basic still-life approximating common subject matter: a cube (planar surfaces), a sphere (curvilinear surfaces) and a mannequin’s head (the figure) — reductive versions of what an amateur might encounter through their camera’s lens. With this simple exercise, Brooks created a simplified illustration of everything.
On the MCA Plaza, we recreated this vignette in monolithic scale, transforming the site into a massive, dimensional picture plane to be traversed on foot, allowing the sun to play the role of variable light source. As a viewer, you are asked to become acutely aware of the experience and sensation of looking, not only at these objects, but by extension, everything that surrounds you in the world.
From the beginning, David Brooks’ images were created with a populist intention. They were intended to grant anyone access to the knowledge and craft behind producing pictures, and to promote a sort of generosity, in which specialized information is not withheld by an elite group, but shared and accessible to anyone.
One of my favorite aspects of “Illuminated Things” is that it maintains this value system of openness and shared experience in its cellular structure. Despite its monumental singularity, this piece only exists because of the skill, hard work and generosity of many, many amazing people. From engineers to interns and everyone in between, every role was essential.
In fact, much like Brooks’ photos, the piece completely resists the notion of the sole artist/author, and is critically dependent on the efforts of the masses at every phase of its existence. Now, complete and situated within the public sphere, it continues to rely on the viewer, activated by engagement with the subjectivity of every gaze, the subtle variations of light creating a unique experience every time. This isn’t simply a byproduct of the installation — this direct interaction is precisely what makes the piece function.
So, in the spirit of this work, and these times, in which access and sharing have taken on new meaning, I wanted to take a moment to publicly thank and acknowledge by name the people without which this artwork would not exist. The problem is, the list is so long that it literally won’t fit on this page. Instead, we have compiled it online at mcachicago.org. And while it is impossible to list every person that has viewed, photographed, Instagrammed, tweeted and interacted with the piece thus far, your names belong on this list, too. Thank you so much for making this work.