Jeremy Blake [USA]


location: wall of a building, 14 Czopowa Str. (can be viewed from the Sukiennicza Str.)

In soft clouds of color and light, floating through architectures both imaginary and half-remembered, the work of American artist Jeremy Blake slowly travels conflicted psychic terrain. He could not escape his personal demons in this pursuit – committing suicide one week after his 12-year companion did the same in July of 2007. Yet despite his early passing, Blake is still considered a pioneer in the fusion of painting and digital practices. Beginning in the late 1990s, he vividly married post-painterly abstraction, cinema, photography, animation and digital processing into hybrid experiences coyly dubbed “time-based paintings.” Within these beeping, blinking stews of tone and technology, Blake teases out his ghost in the machine: carefully treating every frame of film into hallucinatory windows of a virtual spirit world. What follows is a dream-like form of storytelling: less about structure and direction, and more about an amorphous mist of hazy details, foggy memories and the suggestions of shape. Like a futurist form of a psychedelic trip, the works revel in ecstatic experiences of liquid color and ravishing swims through subconscious thought. When meanings start to coalesce, Blake conjures meditative ruminations on the mythology of American pop culture – traversing the glamour, decadence and violence of celluloid fantasy.

The Winchester trilogy (this is the first of 3 films) distills and abstracts one such story – turning a woman’s eccentric attempt at exorcism into a parable of bloodshed, catharsis and reconciliation. Blake explains, “It was inspired by my interest in the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. The Mansion is an architectural wonder that Sarah Winchester, widow of the heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, constructed over the course of 38 years, beginning in the late 1800s. After suffering the premature death of her child and then her husband, Winchester, informed by her deep belief in Spiritualism, concluded that the angry spirits of those struck down by her family’s guns had cursed her. An advisor agreed and suggested that she build an enormously large house – an endeavor that would both accommodate good spirits and ward off evil ones with the sounds of never ending construction. The result is an eccentric, sprawling 160-room mansion, well outfitted for the undead with staircases going nowhere, doorways leading out into open air several stories above ground, and miles of darkened hallways for the spirits to roam.”

Yet while Blake draws upon a true story and documentary footage of the mansion itself, he emphasizes: “What [interested] me was the neurosis of this person.” As such, he authors a psychological tour, “Not so much of the architecture, but of some of the more fearful chambers of Sarah Winchester’s mind.” To do so Blake combines 8mm film footage, 16mm shots of old photographs, hundreds of ink drawings and frame-by-frame digital retouching into a metaphorical lens upon guilt, obsession and desired absolution. As the film unfolds, lawmen and outlaws meet the ghosts of their victims – serving as destroyers and conjurers as smoky trails of trauma swirl. Within pools of pastel suggestion and supernatural presence, Blake imagines “paranoiac glimpses of shadowy gunfighters, painterly gunshot wounds blossoming into Rorschach patterns, and a spectrum of images from Winchester rifle advertisements.” They coalesce into a simmering indictment of frontier colonialism and ill-fated atonement – where fear becomes manifest in built follies of dubious affect. Moving through the Winchester mansion as a reflection of this obsession – and the mind that built it – we tumble into Western excesses of architecture (scale, luxury, sprawl) as a site for both ego-centrism and erasure.

Such buildings house paranoia and piety at once – becoming a piecemeal collage of competing efforts that echo across the back of this unique building on Sukiennicza St. Rather than a slick, unified façade, Winchester plays across a Frankenstein pattern of walls highlighted by a grid of cement blocks; an old, stained brick foundation; a horizontal concrete beam; and golden planes of new brick sheltered by wavy black roof tiles. This multi-faceted tapestry also speaks to the larger city as a manifestation of its citizens’ histories, traumas, and dreams. In this evolving collection of manifest memories – where every new building imagines the future and erases the past – ghosts are simultaneously accommodated and evacuated.