Gabe Wilson interviews Jeremy Bolen

Jeremy Bolen on His Participation in the Exhibition Cosmosis

Interviewee: Jeremy Bolen

Interviewer: Gabe Wilson

Jeremy Bolen is a Chicago based artist and educator interested in site specific, experimental modes of documentation and presentation.  Much of Bolen’s work involves rethinking systems of recording in an attempt to observe invisible presences that remain from various scientific experiments and human interactions with the earth’s surface.  Bolen received his MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2012 and is a recent recipient of a Anthropocene Campus Residency in Berlin, Germany; Center for Land Use Interpretation Residency in Wendover, Utah; Joshua Tree Highlands Residency in Joshua Tree, CA and the Provost Award for Graduate Research from the University of Illinois at Chicago. His work has been exhibited at numerous locations including La Box, Bourges;  MOCP, Chicago; The Mission, Houston; Galerie Zürcher, Paris; Andrew Rafacz, Chicago; Salon Zürcher, New York; The Drake, Toronto; Untitled, Miami; Gallery 400, Chicago;  Depaul University Art Museum, Chicago; Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, and Roots and Culture, Chicago. Bolen currently serves as a Lecturer at the School of Art Institute of Chicago.


Transcribed from a video of an interview that took place on Tuesday March 24, 2015 in the artist’s studio. The interview has been abridged for length. The original runs for 37 minutes.

As far as Cosmosis – as far as your background – what kind of relationship do you have to the cosmos, scientific inquiry, or, as Steven says*, childlike wonder… do you have any history with these sorts of ideas?

*Steven is the curator of the forthcoming exhibition Cosmosis at the Hyde Park Art Center, in which Jeremy is a contributing artist) 

Absolutely, I’ve been having these conversations again and again the last 3 or 4 years with Steven. I grew up out in the suburbs near Fermilab, which is near Batavia Illinois, and I used to go there a lot as a kid, especially in high school. When I got into graduate school I started making actually at Fermilab – kind of thinking about the Tevatron particle accelerator that they had, which is now defunct, but I kind of made work based around what was happening there. That led me to a lot of other things actually. One of which was when I went to CERN in Switzerland near Geneva, and I did a project there for the summer in 2012. I made work on these same sort of principles, around sort of recreating the Big Bang and also thinking about the Large Hadron Collider – which is, you know, the largest machine ever made by man. I devoted an entire exhibition based on that work in 2013… The work that is going to be in the Cosmosis show, or at least part of the work, is from working in the Argon National Laboratory, which is also the suburbs, that’s a really interesting story, I think. I started making work there while I was in graduate school. A friend of a friend let me in and let me do some stuff. Someone let me in really not caring much about art. At the time the scientists really thought that what I was doing was sort of stupid. But it changed in this amazing way when I worked with this scientist on something called the advanced photon source, which is a beam of electrons that they use for a whole variety of purposes. He started doing some trials with me, and he was really interested in the results, and they actually helped him rethink some of his processes while he helped me rethink some of mine. This led to me applying to work at the Advanced Photon Source as a scientist, even though I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination… and I was super surprised that I was accepted. A little over a year ago I had a full day when I was able to make work with the APS. And the work that’s going to be in that show is work that was made that day.

Do you think you’re making this sort of work to satisfy your own curiosity, or because you want to reframe or re-present new kinds of scientific interactions or events for your audience. Who is this work for? 

I’m definitely a very curious person. A lot of my work I consider to be documentary photography in a loose way, or at least an expanded idea of the document, but a lot of it is much bigger than that. There are so many ways to explore phenomena, and why I’ve always been so interested in photography is that it’s a way to extend your senses, a way to see the unseen. A lot of the work that I do is recording invisible light so to speak. So finding a way to harness that energy into an image—not a digital sort of translation, but actually a direct artifact. I’ll devise a way where the energy emanating from some kind of source will alter the material that I’m using. In Science there’s been a sort real failure for scientists and artists of forming really generative representations of what’s occurring. I’m not saying that’s necessarily what I’m doing, but I’m interested in the language of images and being able to explore that and empirically observe things. I don’t think I’m presenting truth necessarily, but I think I’m showing different ways to explore these ideas.

I know, as far as your contribution to Cosmosis, you’re doing more than putting pictures on the wall. I know you haven’t built the installation yet, but what are your thoughts and process leading up to it?

It’s exciting for me. Like I said, this is work that began for me at the end of 2013, and I’ve never shown it anywhere, because it hasn’t felt complete until recently. When Steven asked me to be a part of the show I floated some ideas by him, and this one was something I was really excited about and so was he. It’s going to be an installation involving a few components, one of which is going to be a 16 millimeter projector with clear leader. The leader is going to have oil on it that’s essentially going to be recording particles in the room. So it’s going to be an evolving piece. It’s going to be a long loop; the loop is actually going touch the floor and go back into the projector. It’ll actually be gathering particles, dust and human interaction, so everyone involved will sort of be a part of what’s occurring. It’s going to be projecting through this film which is 8×10 chrome, slide film essentially. One of the first experiences I did at the Advanced Photon Source was to use a black box, sealed with 8 sheets of 8×10 chrome sheets inside, and we shot the APS through it for 40 minutes. So it was never exposed to any sort of actually visible… anything—just a beam of electrons that shot through it. It formed these images that are going to be hanging in front of the projector. So the projector is going to be gathering these particles from the area, shooting film though that clear leader onto these chromes that were made in this way. There’s a lot of ways of making something visible that’s nothing. It’s not an object or anything… it’s a cross section of something that doesn’t really exist to us. The projector shooting through these pieces of chrome will project them onto the final part of the installation which is going to be a sheet of plexiglass that’s going to have flora, so different grasses, things from Argon, adhered to the plexiglass. That’s going to act as the final screen. I’ve never done anything quite like this before. I’m excited, because I think it’s pushing my practice to a different place. To create the sort of presence I want from this work and the kind of interaction I want people to have with it, I had to alter the representations I’m making for the public. I didn’t want it to just be 2-D wall work, I wanted it to be something that was very interactive in a certain sense. Maybe interactive is the wrong word, but something that had more dimension to it. There’s a lot of space in between each element, and I like having that space to show parts of what’s actually occurring.

Are you trying to insert these sort of fantastic or hard to conceive processes into a sort of lived, real, or tangible space? Or that the image is living in between our presence and all of these foreign phenomena?

Yeah, there’s definitely this human element to it as well, these additions of the visible. I’ve always been interested in this tension between representations of the visible world and actual material in the invisible world… I think there’s a sort of tension being presented. I think a lot about when you go to places like Argon, or CERN, or Fermilab about the grass that is growing there, all the things that are growing around these amazing experiments, where they’re recreating he moments after the Big Bang… It’s an element that is seen in these invisible interactions that’s alive and growing.

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