By SHANA BETH MASON, MAR. 2015
New York based artist Carolyn Marks Blackwood is, at first glance, a cultural chameleon. Somehow, she shifts mental and physical gears between screenwriting, film production, and photography. Yet, she remains, invariably, an artist in the strictest sense. Her photographs of water in its solid, liquid, even subliminal states are executed with such a degree of labor intensivity, that her entire constitution changes completely with each series, and especially with each season. Her other pursuits, while equally demanding, never intersect with her practice as an artist at any juncture. "There is no overlap," she says over the phone on a frigid February morning. "It's rather incredible. Once I finish shooting ice or water or fog and complete a body of work, it's as if I have to teach myself to write again. That part of my brain was inactive during the time I was shooting. It's completely separate." Quite simply, when Blackwood inhabits her role an artist, she is that and nothing else.
Blackwood's photographs, as fluidly as the things they represent, move between symmetry and dissonance; every composition and every moment is so painstakingly selected, that the final iteration approaches mathematical precision. Both math and music, as core disciplines, leave their traces as an abstract sensation and a written language; tone, cadence, rhythm, dynamic are appropriate terms to describe the activity within the frame and the framing, itself. The ultra-high resolutions of her images seem to defy the possibility of being handmade (even hyperrealism is just beyond the reach of these pixelated captures), although Blackwood identifies more closely with gestural painting versus photography. Images such as the Flux and Blue Shift variations are the clearest demarcations of this aesthetic. The general appearances of General Relativity and Redshift could easily be mistaken for either Kelly or Rothko, and such an association is, for Blackwood, simultaneously serendipitous and deliberate. It is worth noting that none of these photographs experience any form of manipulation, post-production, other than a highly focused zoom on a single sector of the original image. In essence, Blackwood extracts painting from the biosphere. Perhaps her most interesting, and most popularly misunderstood, works revolve around imagery of ice. As water freezes and crackles (whether it is on the Hudson River or within the Arctic Circle), she steals glimpses of the process in real-time as the ice takes on sharp, even harmful-looking forms. But for Blackwood, ice is not just water taking on a weapon's shape. Instead, she contends that there are glimpses of stillness and order in those straight edges; she hears sounds like the breaking of glass and feels the burst of tingly wind as the ice is dislodged beneath the U.S. Coast Guard's massive ice-breakers, upon which she is frequently a passenger. "I don't see the ice photos like many others do," she says with audible bewilderment, "I just don't see how people think it's somehow dangerous. It's such a peaceful, quiet feeling for me when I'm shooting the ice." While her general audience tends to extract nature's violent potential from the ice images, she proposes that they are meditative instances. It is possible that Blackwood acknowledges the presence of cruelty in the larger world, but finds solace in the, literally, frozen image.
There is a lengthened tradition of photographers turning to nature, uninterrupted, as an aesthetic gesture. Stieglitz, Sugimoto, O'Keefe, Adams, Smithson, Wall - their paths are long and well-trodden. Blackwood, frankly, has not developed anything strikingly innovative with her
photographs of variant states of the earth's most plentiful element. But her skill is not resident in the novelty of the image, rather, it lies in her ability to mold and shape the short timeframe in which she works. Her technical knowledge of her own equipment, and her ability to execute fully-realized compositions within a dedicated moment; these accomplishments are of far greater intrinsic and critical value. WM
Carolyn Marks Blackwood: On The Edge is currently on view at the Von Lintel Gallery in Los Angeles from March 7 - April 18, 2015.
Shana Beth Mason is a critic formerly based in Brooklyn now active in London, UK. Contributions include Art in America, ArtVoices Magazine, FlashArt International, InstallationMag (Los Angeles), Kunstforum.as (Oslo), The Brooklyn Rail, The Miami Rail, San Francisco Arts Quarterly (SFAQ), and thisistomorrow.info (London).
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