Photos courtesy of Moremen Gallery.
ABOVE: Install of Untitled #149 (Cleaver), 2013. 2 HD video channels.

SPEAKING: Josh Azzarella

with Mary Clore

Josh Azzarella’s solo show at Moremen Gallery, INTERSTICE, features work in a variety of media. It’s all held together by the space between things, as the artist explains. Azzarella has removed all of the people from Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video, filling in the empty spaces with data he constructs. He’s also extended moments from Psycho, North by Northwest, and The Wizard of Oz into lengths of contemplation and tension. By creating new data in between the original frames of film, Azzarella is able to slow the movement to a seamless crawl. Mary Clore joined Azzarella for a conversation in the gallery, amidst a levitating sculpture and large scale prints of fragments from 35-millimeter film reels, including iconic images from 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining.

MC: Josh, in your experience, what does it mean to be an artist working in Louisville?

JA: We're somewhat new here so we're still getting the lay of the land, but the thing that jumped out immediately was the access and the support that we see from the community, both the arts community and the larger community. Institutions know you're in town and they do not hesitate to reach out and say, “Hey, let's do a thing. We're working on this. We have this idea.” That’s something that we don't see elsewhere as frequently as we would hope. It's been great thus far. I did the project with the orchestra and ballet earlier this year, which was fabulous and new. It's been an amazing few years for us.

MC: How did this body of work at Moremen Gallery come about?

JA: I consider myself at this point to be a lens-based media maker. I don't know if I like the word “maker,” but that's where I'm at today. It's been developing for a very, very, very long time; 2003-2004 is the origin. The particular thing I've been looking at and investigating is the space between things. That's where the title of the show comes from. I'm interested in these in-between spaces—the space between you and me, the space between me and the wall.

Out here [in the gallery] it manifests in the space between objects. There's the levitating work, where it's not about the base or the object itself—it's about that half an inch or so between the bottom of the object and the top of the pedestal. That's where the work happens for me. What are the possibilities in that space? When I began looking at my older work, it pops out. I was doing that in 2008 and I didn't have any clue that that's actually what was happening. I was thinking about other things at the time, but it was always there.

With the most recent work, the still works, that space ends up being that black bar in between the two images. With those works in particular, I wasn't acknowledging that as space while I was making the works, I was acknowledging that space as time. Theoretical physicist Carlo Rivelli has this book called The Order of Time, which has been in my head for a bit now. He's making the argument that time exists somewhere between memory and anticipation. When I'm thinking about that, that's a huge expanse. I have this memory from when I was a child and I'm waiting for this thing when I’m an adult—that seems like forever, but it can actually be really minuscule as well.

For me, it's that 1/24th of a second between two frames. It's that black space that exists between them. That's where the memory and the anticipation come from. As we feed 35-millimeter film into a projector, we feed it from the top to the bottom, so the image is upside down, and then it's oriented so that it's fed backwards, which is why the images are upside down and backwards. The lens is the thing that makes it right-reading and top-side-up, which is the same thing that our eyes do. We actually see upside down and our brain fixes that for us. I needed to undo the thing the machine does so I could actually begin investigating the time.

MC: The work isn't dealing so much with the content of the films themselves, but are you interested in the line between film as art and film as pop culture?

JA: I am to an extent. I'm interested in that moment when somebody makes a film and they don't intend for it to be capital-A “Art” and then it becomes that, either through something they have done or some other way that it's been interpreted. I'm not a cinephile by any definition of the word. The films that I work with, I ended up approaching them the way that I did as a young photographer. When I was an undergrad, I was very much a rigid black and white photographer, after Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Lewis Baltz. I would just go for a walk, much like Eggleston, and if something made me look twice, I knew I needed to make a photograph of it. I wouldn't always know what it was that had captured my attention, but I knew that was a thing. It's the same way with the films. If something makes me look twice or I find myself thinking about it when I wake up at three in the morning, then I know there's something there I need to investigate.

MC: In the context of this work, would you say the films operate more as collective memory?

JA: Yes, absolutely.

MC: I do think that movies have a way of demarcating time differently than artworks, because they're experienced by a broad culture all at once.

JA: All at once most of the time, because there are some things that we all come to later on.

MC: True, but there's no before. There’s only life after.

JA: Life after The Truman Show. The Truman Show is one of those films I keep going back to, and there's something there but I don't know what it is. I absolutely think films are part of the collective memory and they inform and impact collective memory. There are some times when we remember something that we think of as collective memory, but it was just really part of a film. Collective memory is something I've been interested in since 2003 because I was making these slow-moving works that just ended up being amorphous and abstract shapes moving around the image plane. One of those was the Kennedy assassination. I took the seven-second clip and made it twelve minutes, and everything's really saturated and lush. It was unrecognizable, and then people recognized it through the pink of Jackie's hat. That's the moment in collective memory. I wasn't alive, I didn't see it on TV, I barely know the footage, but I know that pink. I feel like that's been passed down generation to generation. There's something about that pink. It gets into the collective memory and it's just there. We can't escape it.

MC: At the end of the gallery, there are these Alfred Hitchcock video pieces. I was thinking about how we take in a tremendous amount of information through screens. In those works, the movement is so gradual and so subtle that it kind of disrupts the way we're used to receiving information. You mentioned time existing between memory and anticipation. Would you say those are working with anticipation?

JA: Yes; Hitchcock was investigating the same thing—so was Kubrick. They were building that sense of anticipation until they had to move forward. Otherwise, the audience or the viewer would be very frustrated. I don't have to move forward, so I don't. I want that to build slowly, and I want it to sit and I never want it to resolve. North by Northwest doesn't completely resolve because it is a seamless loop. The only resolution that you might get in that is every so often—and it's random—you hear the crop duster plane, but it's always in the background. It passes by and it never gets really close. With the Psycho piece, it fades to black and it fades in from black, so I feel like there's more of completion there.

With Kubrick's 2001, I have slowly removed everybody from that film. I have six shots left to complete and then it will be done. What I found is that he is also extending that time and dragging it out sometimes as far as he can. He edits in a very particular way and a lot of times things will feel about a half to one second too long. He's looking for that anticipation and building it. He's drawing on that memory to push us forward. I've had the luxury of being able to spend a lot of time in this really contemplative space. It's about creating this space where you can sit and begin to look at the rest of the image and hopefully understand something new about it.

MC: How do you think that disrupts or changes the viewer's relationship to the screen?

JA: A lot of times it frustrates them. Part of that frustration comes from the fact that we are much more in control of the screen and what is on the screen now than we ever have been. We think we're so addicted to screens now, but we were addicted to screens when screens first appeared. When the television first hit, it was an obsession, and before that, we were addicted to the radio. I don't know that the radio was really any different than the screen, it's just the devices changed. The addiction probably hasn't.

Because I'm not giving the viewer exactly what they want, when they want it, they get cranky. That's a small minority. For others, it gives them the moment to sit there and really look at and contemplate and hopefully begin to understand something that they didn't before. In the Dorothy piece, there's a moment when she's passing in front of the camera where there's a glint in her eye. In the actual film, it's over in eight frames, but in this piece, it's like six minutes. I as well as others have found a lot of emotion in the few minutes of that glint because it's not something that you actually get to look at intently and intensely when you're viewing it in real time. I’m hoping that I give that moment of contemplation.

The thing that's happening with those two Hitchcock works and the Wizard of Oz work is that they're moving slowly, but I'm creating data that was not actually there in the original. That’s the process I have to use to get it to slow down. That is kind of an interesting place for me to exist, because there's a moment when it flips—when the work is more me than it is the original. The Wizard of Oz piece is something like 0.0072% the original and the rest of it is me now. It's all new data, but it's convincing and it fits what was there. It allows me to slow it down, and allows me to investigate her and her facial expressions and the minutiae much more intensely. I hope the viewer can do that as well.


INTERSTICE is on display at Moremen Gallery through September 21, 2019.

Moremen Gallery is located at 710 W Main Street, Louisville, KY 40202 and is open Wednesdays and Thursdays, 12-5p, Fridays and Saturdays, 12-4p, and by appointment.


Mary Clore
Development & Outreach Editor, Contributor

Untitled #176 (Albedo 0.343), 2015-2016. Object: copper neodynium, polyamide, steel. Base: acrylic, copper, custom circuit board, steel, wood. 

Still from Untitled #142 (Bob Coe from Wasco), 2013. 2 HD video channels.

Untitled #207 (Ullman’s ball), 2019. Dye sublimation metal print.

Install of Untitled #141 (The Sun is the same…), 2012. HD video.

Still from Untitled #142 (Bob Coe from Wasco), 2013. 2 HD video channels.

RUCKUS, 2018-2023
Louisville, KY