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Art Break: Plugging In

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Cody Hudson

While the summertime draws music lovers out into the sunshine, artists traditionally use the hiatus from school and gallery shows to retreat to wilderness residencies, and so the city seems emptied of its artists while all other scenes thrive. Within the summer’s lull, Jennifer Keats saw an opportunity to create a new artist residency in Columbia College’s digital photography lab. Keats is the digital lab’s facilities coordinator, and instead of letting her machines idle, Keats contacted a couple of artists to spend a month in the lab, in collaboration with the summer crew, to make big, beautiful digital prints.

Last summer, Keats inaugurated the Digital Artist-In-Residence program by inviting Stephen Eichhorn into the lab for a month, and this month ended the current residency session with Cody Hudson. Both artists create photo-based work, that is, they scan and cut and re-imagine photographs that already exist in the world, culled from vintage books and Internet images, but neither Eichhorn nor Hudson are strictly photographers, which is what the digital lab specializes in processing, so the residency so far has been an experiment in heightening the quality of each artists’ work by introducing them to new methods or providing technology to make it shine. “We have a ridiculous amount of equipment,” said Keats. She explained that Eichhorn was not familiar with the potential of Photoshop and digital tools to dramatically scale up and reproduce his imagery. Hudson, a graphic designer, uses these tools all the time, so he jumped right in and engaged the technology with ease. Both artists created mural prints at 40×60 inches that have luscious surfaces.

Stephen Eichhorn's print (detail)

Keats engineered the introduction of guest artists into the digital lab to be a two-way street between the artists and Columbia’s photography students. She mentioned that students who take digital photographs, process them in Photoshop, and print them in the lab rarely make any hands-on alterations to their prints, and are perhaps unfamiliar with the potential to experiment with their materials. Eichhorn began slicing up his prints with a blade, and Hudson crumpled his prints into sculptural shapes, and that’s when Keats noticed the educational potential of having an established artist work openly in the lab. It got the students interested in interacting with their art beyond clicking and printing.

Keats is modeling the Digital Artist-In-Residence program on Anchor Graphics’ residency program, also housed at Columbia, in which printmakers produce editions with the help of a master printer. So far, Keats’ program is informal and applications to participate in the residency are not currently available; artists are chosen at her discretion for their ability to interact and collaborate with the lab’s community. But there is a large amount of potential for her to build the program, and if it succeeds beyond this test phase, Columbia’s photography department, already one of the best, will grow to benefit artists and students alike. (Jason Foumberg)

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