Author Archives: Chris Lanier

Aaron Moulton and the Ghost of the Spiral Jetty

Aaron Moulton, curator for the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, gave a lecture to students at SNC on February 20th. The event was sponsored by the Capital City Arts Initiative. Moulton moved to Utah in early 2012 to take the position of curator after 10 years in London, describing himself as an “art-world anthropologist” (a full interview from The Salt Lake Tribune is here).


(Pic of Moulton from

Moulton had a three-part lecture that touched on the topics: The Politics of Value,The Politics of Spectatorship, and The Politics of Storytelling.

Moulton shared elements of an exhibit he curated that revolved around language, titled “Cantastoria.” One piece in that show was Archive of Dead and Dying Languages by Mexican artist Pablo Helguera. Helguera referenced Thomas Edison’s wax phonographs, making phonograph recordings of a poem, song, or joke in an endangered language. One particular piece possessed a recording of Mary Smith Jones, the last living speaker of Yaqi, a native Alaskan dialect. Helguera used the phonograph to symbolize the frailty and silence of a dead or dying language.

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Another piece in the exhibit was 50,000 lb. wall of books created by Adam Bateman. Considering himself a minimalist, Adam views “art as language,” and the way he speaks is with books. He doesn’t read these books, though – he utilizes them to build a unified structure. In a profile for, he’s quoted as saying: “The primary structure of my sculptures is the text of the books, the secondary structure is the form made of books. In that way, the books actually work as signifiers (like words) and so the structured arrangement I make with them is analogous to writing.”


In a nutshell, Adam stacks these books on one another to create a larger structure. The weight of the books keeps the structure from falling apart. The only type of adhesive he uses are liquid nails, which attach the top to the rest of the piece.

Moulton also spoke of his interest in the iconic piece of “land art,” the Spiral Jetty, near Salt Lake City. He talked about bringing artists to the site to experience its beauty. Many visiting artists see it as a sort of pilgrimage – encountering this famous artwork on its real turf, instead of through Google image searches or art books. Since it only can be seen above the water line for part of the year, most visits happen when it’s submerged. Moulton says of the artists he chaperones to the site: “They have to project their Google image onto the water.” He describes each trip as both exciting and wildly disappointing.

Here’s your own Google image view:


The final exhibit he talked about was staged at an abandoned house in an unknown location. Titled Each Memory Recalled Must Do Some To Its Origins, Aaron Moulton brings the viewer into a haunted and mysterious environment through a video tour. Aaron described his piece as a digital gallery. He dreams of some unsuspecting victim entering the gallery, not knowing the horrors inside. As we watch the video, sounds of babies crying and ominous voices tickle our ears. The audience is forced though an incredibly uncomfortable space – it looks like a building that was once inhabited by some strange cult. After the tour, the natural space outside of the house is like a breath of fresh air, free from the psychosis of society. Video below:

This post was written and edited by the “Fine Art Marketing” class.

JAPR Fall 2012

Guest post by Chelsea Cunningham:

In fall semester of 2012, nine Juniors (including myself) participated in the Junior Art Portfolio Review. The program is required for all art students for graduation and allows for the artist to display their work in a gallery-like setting. All of the art faculty facilitate the event and the general public is free to attend. Each student presents their work from conception to completion and engage in a Q & A from the faculty, students and the public. Each presentation spans about 10 minutes, including the Q & A. The JAPR is held each semester during the school year and goes from about 10am to 2pm on the selected presentation day.

You can get an overview of the JAPR process through the first video on the art department’s home page, here.



Art Thought

There was a very interesting interview a couple weeks ago on Science Friday, with the data visualization pioneer, statistician and sculptor Edward Tufte. As you could guess by that collection of descriptions – from statistician to sculptor, Tufte has thought a lot about crossing boundaries and disciplines. One of the benefits of Arts Education is that it helps students to see connections between disciplines more clearly, a very useful skill in our modern climate of technical specializations, where the idea of “interdisciplinary” studies is on the ascendance.

Tufte specifically speaks to some commonalities between the disciplines of science and art:

“…science and art, at least at a high level, have in common intense seeing, bright-eyed observing and deep curiosity.”

Beyond theory, he mentions a project of his that brings science and art into direct contact, a series of sculptures of physicist Richard Feynman’s diagrams of quantum electrodynamics.

Tufte also talks about a current project of his called “The Thinking Eye,” (a title borrowed from a collection of Paul Klee’s teaching notebooks, with material drawn from his lectures at the Bauhaus). To me, this title speaks to art-making as a cognitive process. One of the reasons art programs get cut in times of lean budgets is that the arts are seen as less “academic” – they are sometimes viewed as breaks from the “real work” of school.

Of course, if art is taught with integrity, it’s not a form of “mental recess,” and not in contrast to “real thinking” – the arts are modes of thinking unto themselves. Tufte talks about trying out a sort of “seeing exercise,” where he deliberately tries to allocate space in his brain to see more clearly. When he’s asked whether seeing better is related to thinking more clearly, he says:

“Well, I sure think so… In some ways, seeing is thinking. The light comes in through the lens and is focused on the retina. And the retina is doing – is pretty much working like brain cells. It’s processing. And then the two optic nerves are sending what we now know are 20 megabits a second of information back to the brain… 

And so the seeing right then is being transformed into information, into thinking, right as that step from the retina to the brain. And the brain is really busy, and it likes to economize. And so it’s quick to be active and jump to conclusions. So if you’re told what to look for, you can’t see anything else. So one thing is to see, in a way, without words.”

As an expert in data visualization, of course it’s Tufte’s job to tell the viewer “what to look for” – but this speaks to his integrity as a designer. You have to be able to see what’s really there in order to abstract it in a meaningful way, to make sure you’re genuinely visualizing reality, and not some figment of your biases.

Our world has become more and more data-driven, from the way sports teams acquire players, to the way complicated financial instruments function (or fail to function, as the case may be), to the way weather data is compiled to create models of climate change, to the way companies harvest the information we leave like breadcrumbs on social networking sites. Visualizing and interpreting that data has become a crucial component of navigating our world – doing it well has both utilitarian and ethical ramifications. Tufte implies that artists have an important part to play in that process. Towards the end, he’s asked “Is there data that can’t be visualized well?” He replies:

“Not if you allow artists into the arena.”

The full interview is well worth listening to – you can stream it by clicking here.

Smell Like You Mean It

Here are some images from Karl Schwiesow’s BFA show reception last week:

Karl himself, in piscatorial attire:

He walked up to one of his pieces, attached a small bellows, and began pumping with his foot.

Along the way to inflation, a few adjustments were made.

The crowd watched the emergence of a green silhouette.

Once the green silhouette was raised to its full stature, Karl produced a poem from his slicker, and read it (the title of this blog post is taken from the poem’s concluding line).

The poem was returned to its pocket.

The performance’s devolution was diligently recorded.

The bellows was used to deflate the inflatable.

Or perhaps the inflatable should simply be called the “deflatable” at this point.

And I’ll leave you with a few more images from the show, both populated an abandoned.

Tim O’Brien at Sierra Nevada College

The book “The Things They Carried,” by author and Vietnam Veteran Tim O’Brien, was chosen as a community read at Sierra Nevada College. This short video documents O’Brien’s visit to the university, and nearby Incline High School. The video includes excerpts from an interview conducted by Jason Paladino, a student writer for “The Eagle’s Eye,” the college newspaper, and a story told by O’Brien after a public lecture and conversation with author and Iraq Veteran Brian Turner, director of Sierra Nevada College’s MFA Writing Program. The video was shot and edited by SNC students Nick Cahill and Trevor Jackson, in collaboration with Associate Professor of Digital Art Chris Lanier.

Here’s the full Eagle’s Eye Interview as a streaming audio file:

The full audio of O’Brien’s lecture:

And the conversation between O’Brien and Brian Turner:


Student Nick Cahill has shot and edited a couple travel videos worth sharing. Together, they make for a nice contrast in climates – the top video was shot in Nicaragua, the bottom in Alaska.

Nick has a video production company with fellow SNC student Trevor Jackson – MHMM Productions. Click the link to see more of their work.