Two Seattle artists use the bountiful Internet to make art scarce.
A single photograph by New York artist Maggie Carson Romano appeared on an unassuming, white webpage last April. In the photo, a mirror leaned against a wall in Romano’s East Village apartment, reflecting her ceiling and ornate crown molding bathed in pink morning sunlight.
Hours later, the photograph disappeared, replaced by another image of the same room, this time from a different angle and in colder, bluer light. Then that image, too, went down, replaced by another, then another, in a subtly evolving series of evaporating visuals. Romano manually changed the images on the site for an entire week, sometimes posting photos for a minute or less before removing them without a trace.
“I wanted to reward the observant observer with unexpected, unexplained changes,” Romano says of her exhibit There, there.
Romano’s photos were hosted on the website Violet Strays, a project that distinguishes itself from most art blogs and websites because it purposefully—almost defiantly—sets out to be anti-archival. Most content on blogs, gallery sites or online journals is indexed and archived, but the exhibits on Violet Strays publish an artist’s work for one week. Then it’s gone.
Launched a year ago, the project is the curatorial collaboration of artists Serrah Russell and Alyssa Volpigno. It began with their desire to launch a storefront gallery—but after a disappointing search for the right brick and mortar location, Russell and Volpigno turned to an entirely different exhibition format. They started discussing how they might use the Internet to show artists’ work in a new way.
“It’s a simple page that’s constantly changing,” says Volpigno, “like a stray thought.”
When Russell and Volpigno met while studying art in Rome a few years ago, they bonded over a mutual love of photography, collage and a sympathetic taste in everything from cuisine to fashion. Both women make art that plays on the idea of ephemerality and the passage of time, finding inspiration and source material in fleeting gestures or commonplace objects.
Russell works mostly with found imagery and Polaroids. Her subjects seem incidental and sometimes barely there: a vacuous gray sky with a pinhole sun, or luminous vignettes of limbs. Volpigno is a chocolatier who also makes collage. She mixes humor with glamour—fusing fragmented vintage fashion spreads with scalloped seashells, embroidering sunbathing beauties with yarn bikinis, floating Technicolor cigarettes and leopard prints against a monochrome mountain range.
Artists who exhibit on Violet Strays echo Russell and Volpigno’s aesthetic. With temporality in mind, exhibiting artists treat the site as a platform for projects that might not be able to exist outside the Internet. Violet Strays has shown 50 artists and groups so far, roughly one a week for the past year. Many of them are Seattle-based, but some are as far flung as London.
Some artists exhibit animated gifs or interactive imagery designed specifically for the site. Others arrange off-site happenings or show video, photographs, drawings, text or live feeds from webcams. Gretchen Bennett’s recent exhibition documented daily walks in Seward Park where guests helped her collect letter-shaped twigs for her Windfall Alphabet project. Last June, Jenny Heishman uploaded a mesmerizing, seamlessly scrolling 360-degree panoramic image of one of her sprawling sculptures.
“Our grandparents always tell us they save our emails and bookmark the links to the site to look at later,” Russell says. “They don’t understand that it’s a time-based project, that the point is to take advantage of the momentary and create a heightened awareness of time.”
See new exhibits on Violet Strays every week at violetstrays.com. Image above by Jenny Heishman.