Kohl Gallery visiting artist’s digital exhibit re-contextualizes contemporary world

By Victoria Gill-Gomez

News Editor

Sept. 9 marked the opening of the first digital exhibition, “the Realest,” for the Fall 2020 season at the Kohl Gallery.

“The Realest” features artwork by Baltimore-based artist Khristian Weeks. The exhibition is a site-specific work of video art, curated and edited from early August around the Washington College campus, that aims to make viewers re-contextualize their interpretations of reality.

Originally the exhibition was to be in person. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Director and Curator of Kohl Gallery Tara Gladden suggested to Weeks back in June to create an exhibit for one visitor at a time. From then on, with the intentions of an in-person exhibit, Weeks began to adapt his pieces for a solo experience.

It was only in early August, when WC decided to go fully digital, that it was decided that the exhibition needed to be exclusively virtual. 

“The piece I had planned would not work on a screen,” Weeks said. “I changed my focus, taking into consideration that the viewer would now only experience the work through a screen. Instead of this virtual exhibition being merely a video walkthrough of a show, I wanted the video to be the work, somehow…while at the same time still being a kind of video-walkthrough-of-a-show.”

Gladden hosted a Zoom webinar for a conversation with Weeks on Monday, Sept. 14.

Students and members of the community heard Weeks speak more personally about his work. Afterward, he connected with senior Studio Art majors and their own artwork.

According to Gladden, who is also a lecturer in studio art, the exhibit carries a connective essence between the “vibrant culture of [WC] as we experience it now online” and being in-person once again. This connection is executed through an immersive, multi-layered, physical experience of both sonic and visual textures, which are meant to be viewed through a screen.

The 25-minute video shows a testimonial of the Kohl Gallery and WC campus at varying times of the day with layers of static transition to moments of a plastic sheet floating in the air from fans.

The introductory image — first blurry, unrecognizable, and low-lit, accompanied by the crescendoing sound of static — transforms into the back area of the gallery with movement on the floor. 

Transitional images of foliage show glimpses from outside of the building. The lens distorts and stretches the back entrance of the Daniel Z. Gibson Center for the Arts along with the shadows from the sun. The camera walks closer to the gallery space, showing a “No Entry” sign on the door. The camera pans to the inside of Kohl Gallery, again at this back-wall space with a clear drop sheet undulating in the air and low light. The space is then empty once again against the sound of silence. 

“What I think ended up happening is that the works that I made and documented became less interesting to me than the ideas I wanted to explore in the final ‘video exhibition.’ The subject of ‘reality’ is much more interesting to me just now than the specific research I’ve been doing with phenomena and natural forces. So my challenge was to put something together that examined ‘reality’ through some of the idiosyncrasies of our current technological situation, for instance live streaming and screen-life in general, using only the footage I had gathered in and around the gallery,” Weeks said.

The video contrasts a space being filled and then empty, silence and then noise, darkness and then light.

Weeks said he explores “thresholds and boundaries — and in the blurring of them.” He accomplishes this using different transitions of the natural surrounding environment then centers on various angles and lighting situations of the floating drop sheet, only to move the view closer for the audience to see every crease and ripple beside the solid white walls.

The video ends with several scenes of the ripples of reflected light projected onto the different walls of the gallery.

“While the video medium creates a layer of removal, it succeeds in translating and transcending the physical experience of the work,” Gladden said.

Weeks’s process is both experiential and experimental in his relationship with nature. His works are composed of sonic, visual, kinetic, and situational phenomena to construct these environments. He uses everyday objects whose shape can be distorted, such as a plastic drop cloth and mylar sheets, using air and light to see how they animate within time and space.

While Weeks was earning a bachelor’s degree from The New England Conservatory of Music in the early ’90s, he took a few years to re-examine his life.

According to his biography in the Maryland State Arts Council website, Weeks began working with infants in 1990. He quickly learned that while tending to this group of young children, it was best “to provide them with a sensory-rich environment.”

Later on, this same environment arose in his creative work.

Gladden describes Weeks’s work as, “composed choreographies that oscillate between moments of chaos and control” that are meant to persuade the audience to embrace the “precarious nature of existence,” as well as solitude.

Weeks realized while working with infants during his college years the extent to which solitude generates his artistic process. In his biography he said, “the consumption of the work prefers a solitary experience…or perhaps the work is simply company” as the community navigates creating art in isolation.

Overall, his video does not attempt to mislead the viewers as some kind of escape from the world. 

“I’ve cultivated a conviction that my work needs to be…’more’ than just a screen experience, for various reasons, not the least of which is how everyone is living in a screen, especially children, and so my promoting a fuller spatial and sensorial experience borders on my work being a strange [Public Service Announcement].  However, there’s an opportunity for me to reconsider my practice, not only as it relates to screens, but overall how it engages with an audience, and vice versa. I think ‘an experience’ is still important to me, but the manner in which time is used — how one spends their time within a work can be explored further,” Weeks said.

While the video includes many of Weeks’ personal conventions of materials and phenomenological practices, he also introduces and explores the experience of camera work as an additional element to reframe the experience for contemporary audiences.

“In our current [COVID-19] dominated reality, this is a challenging idea to explore. It brings up many questions about the nature of reality and the ways in which we are experiencing it at this moment in time,” Gladden said.

Instead, the embedded “metaphors and subtle codes that question our [current life]” can be navigated through screens, windows, and exposure for a deep longing for what is real, according to Gladden.

“It’s difficult to deny the importance of self-knowledge, and when it comes painfully it often takes time to see it as something resembling growth. This project was yet another opportunity for me to push into things that I am not comfortable with, to attempt to get at some of the things that I’ve not been able to get at, yet,” Weeks said.       

“The Realest” exhibit video and the accompanying essay will be available on the Kohl Gallery website until Oct. 10.

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