Rachael Rakes: Maybe we can start off by addressing holes?
Jean-Paul Kelly: Sure, the sets of holes in this work are both negations. I’m really interested in the combination of allegory and its internalization of double meaning. Is it a hole, is it a plug? So you have an idea of material, and then the experience of that material, and what happens in between those two parts is where subjectivity forms. This work specifically, comes out of that idea, but as a more tangible, practical thing.
RR: Can you talk about how you approach that in terms of process?
JPK: In the studio I have an ongoing idiosyncratic filing system of images that I find online and print out. Within those are things that I can’t deal with, or that seduce me, or that I can’t compartmentalize in some way, or things that I don’t understand. I like this idea of the “poor image” that the images that circulate online in their pixel form have a unique substance to themselves. Sometimes I print out several and place them next to each other. Or I gather different variations of the same photojournalistic image, that has been cropped all kinds of different ways or shows up in different sizes in different publications. Some of the images I look at for months at a time. Some don’t make the cut, or some overexceed. But most of these projects stem from that process, from the ecology of the image.
RR: How does that concept of ecology relate to the abstraction sequence in the second half?
JPK: In this case, I was at that time also researching experimental film artists like Oskar Fischinger, Norman McLaren, and Mary Ellen Bute, and their activation of graphical sound work, as a kind of turn between senses. That is, not like synesthesia, but a conjoined sense of how you experience a sound and image at once. I visited the Center for Visual Music recently to see how the sound scores were put to paper. And they were these circles and squares that were perfect. I wanted to try and make templates for these, so I started drawing holes in these collected images, thinking that there was this relationship between that hole and it being a template for this other practice.
Then I wanted to connect the two parts by narrativizing these images. For instance, I had this image of J. Christopher Stevens, who was killed in Benghazi. There’s this cell phone image of other people holding cell phones and carrying his dead body out of the compound. It circulated like wildfire, and within that, one of things the Republicans said that because Stevens was queer he was soft of terrorism, and brought this on himself. So I began to look at that and found images of him as a young man with a friend—who could be friends or lovers. Within the image stream, there are parts that are highly geopolitical or contested, and also parts that are abstract or oblique or subjective contiguities between each other. It’s similar to Tumblr pages, or communicating through images, what filters through outside of language.
RR: Does this relate to the head covering of the actor you have standing in for Truman Capote? There’s also a withholding there, obscuring the reenactment or the idea that this is a reenactment.
JPK: One thinking process there was that the seduction of someone on screen in film is sometimes too present. The other was this tether of Truman Capote throughout the work. That in this reenactment of the speech he’s giving, he talks about this infatuation with the killers of the Clutter family from In Cold Blood. I wanted to foreground that strange space between the speaking voice and the desire within that voice. So I cast the actor because of his tattoos—in the book Capote goes on at length about the killer’s tattoos—and I asked him to watch that clip and study his mannerisms and affectations, which is this crucial part of that queer identity.
RR: You include quotes from Capote about his idea of aesthetic theory of documentation. Do you apply that to your own practice?
JPK: I am interested in the aestheticization of lived existence and it again goes back to that space between the material and the experience of that material and the subjectivity that is produced within that space. It’s the same connection between observational documentary and visual music animation. These things are both abstractions, and they’re both trying to illustrate the world in their own ways. When Capote says “it’s poetic reporting,” that’s what I’m interested in doing as an artist. I’m interested in the metaphors and possibilities of the documentary substance.