Christopher Coville's most recent exhibition Works of Fire is explosive . . . or the result of an explosion at least. This series of photographs, on display at Bokeh Gallery through the end of the month, was created through a process of igniting gunpowder on silver gelatin paper.
The images look celestial from a distance, but up close, the detail and texture reminds us of something closer to home. Perhaps the only thing more intriguing than the images themselves is the method with which they were created.
We spoke to Coville recently about the methodology of this latest artistic endeavor, and how it fits into both his personal career and the photographic medium at large.
How did you come to work with gunpowder in your art? (We are imagining a sort of mad scientist accidentally spilling gunpowder on a photograph . . . but wouldn't be surprised if it were more planned out.)
A few years ago I was invited to take part in 7 Rings, an artists and collaboration published through the Huffington Post. For this collaboration I was given a poem by Nichole Walker, and had 24 hours in which to create a visual response. My photograph was passed to the next writer who had 24 hours in which to create their own literary response. The piece I was given was titled "Germination." It was a beautiful poem that made me think about the creation of new life through energy and explosions of seedpods. With this imagery in mind, I wanted to create an image that was the direct result of energy, I wanted to make something that was the result of an event rather than the replication of an event.
I remembered that when I was a child two of my friends and I made a short run of trying to create fireworks with gunpowder we harvested from shotgun shells. Thankfully, they weren't very successful attempts, but I did remember the marks our small pyrotechnics left on the sidewalks.
So that night, I went into my backyard and experimented with different configurations of gunpowder on silver gelatin paper. Basically, I started making little explosions in my backyard as a way of creating imagery. I was excited by the explosive power, I have to admit this is kind of fun! I was also interested in how working in this way tied back to some of the work I have created in the past.
How much control do you have over the kinds of images that are created by the explosion? Did you have to adjust your creative method to account for the element of unpredictability?
Unpredictability and the loss of control are big parts of this work. The majority of my experiments don't work. Making this work is a kind of dance. I use objects from my environment to direct or filter the blasts. Often, I will use the same objects multiple times, making small adjustments with each blast, depending on how the explosion exposes burns and abrades the paper, until the piece evolves into something I am excited about. I am very excited by the evolution of these sorts of events. While most of the experiments don't work, they provide clues that allow me to react, move in a different direction and find the next step.
What are some of the ideas behind this project?
I am fascinated by the dual nature of creation and destruction along with the possibilities of making something out of an act of obliteration. I feel that working in these ways I am able to push the material and symbolic limitations of the medium, pushing photography past its indexical limits! These images turn photography upside down and use the photographic materials to create images from the inside out. Instead of recording something that happens outside the camera, they are direct result of an event. I suppose that in many ways, this work is about the subversion of photographic image and the dynamic nature of life.
Where does this project fit in with your larger body of work? Do you enjoy working in this kind of experimental way?
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I make many different types of work. I feel that photographers often find themselves planted either in traditional practice of photographic representation or more experimental modes of production. I want to have conversations in both arenas. The two bodies that I am currently focused on, both in one way or another, celebrate experimentation and the loss of control. This is most apparent in the gunpowder work, which is also intimately tied to an older series titled "Emanations," where I created images from the bioluminescence emitted from decaying squid. On the other end of the spectrum, the images from my series Instar, appear to be the most controlled or traditional images I am making because they employ the language of large format landscape photography. These images however, are of phenomena that are part of a continuum of experience I don't fully understand. In the end, ideas and questions drive all my work. It is all an attempt to better understand the world we live in and I hope that through a process of experimentation and reflection, the work will thrive, grow and lead to the next question.
You can view Christopher Coville's Works of Fire at Bokeh Gallery through the end of the month. For more information, visit the MonOrchid website.