Creative Capital Edition: Connie Samaras, "Edge of Twilight"
Every year, we partner with a Creative Capital Artist to create a special project or edition for our Benefit & Auction. This year, for our 15th Anniversary Benefit, which takes place in New York on October 21, we are thrilled to offer a stunning photo by Connie Samaras (2012 Visual Arts) to everyone who purchases a Premium Benefit Ticket. The image is from Edge of Twilight, a series of photos and videos shot at an all woman, predominantly lesbian, RV retirement community located in the U.S. Southwestern desert. Samaras shot close-ups of the RV homes on film late at night under the park’s safety lights, capturing eerie, somewhat unearthly light and colors.
Samaras, who is based in Los Angeles, recently had a major survey of her work dealing with the future imaginaries of global capital, Tales of Tomorrow, at the Armory in Pasadena. The exhibition was accompanied by a beautiful catalogue funded by the Warhol foundation and available through DAP/artbook. I connected with Connie to learn more about her Creative Capital edition and the Edge of Twilight series.
Jenny Gill: When did you first learn about the RV community where the Edge of Twilight images were shot? What made you decide to do a project around it?
Connie Samaras: A few years ago I was attending a meeting where it seemed that the only purpose being served was to bring the majority of us two hours closer to death. Eventually I realized that I needed to replace the fantasy that was overtaking me (exhaling giant blasts of fire as a way to force an early adjournment) with a more positive vision of trying to picture myself elsewhere. To my surprise I suddenly saw myself sitting at a table inside a trailer writing something like a memoir. I was in the Southwestern desert and through the windows and doors I could see a spectacular sunset. All my neighbors were women and some were waiting for me to come join them for dinner.
This image persisted throughout the fall (as did the meetings). At the end of the year I went to visit a close friend who’d left California a few months before to take a new job in a desert city. As we prepared dinner for a group of recently found friends, I told her about this recurring vision. Later that night, one of the guests, a lawyer, mentioned that he’d just done some work for an all-women, mostly lesbian RV retirement community in a nearby small town. Amazed, my friend and I got the address and drove out the next day.
This is how I came upon the subject of Edge of Twilight and decided to base a series of photos and videos around the community. The term “twilight” is culled from pre-Stonewall terms for queer girls and a ’50s lesbian pulp fiction title (not from the cult of vampires who wait until marriage before having sex).
Jenny: The photographs in this series are shot on film at night, with no digital manipulation or color correction. Can you talk more about that process and your decision to use real film rather than digital processes?
Connie: The images are shot on color film at night under the RV park’s vapor safety lights. Unless one corrects with color filters placed on the lens, the “uncorrected” result is the fantastical bright yellow color that appears in the photographs. Some of the images have a green cast as well—that’s how the color of incandescent and florescent lights translates onto film when left uncorrected. So instead of manipulating the camera with filters to create a “natural” look, I allowed for a real-time color “distortion” to take place—the product of film, time and place.
After the image is shot, the film is developed chemically. From there it’s all a digital process; the negative is scanned and output to a inkjet printer. But there is also no digital manipulation of the photos—they are “straight” images, so to speak. The uncorrected light makes it look as though the park models and trailers are flooded with bright, unnaturally yellow sunlight even though it is clearly night time.
Jenny: These photos are part of a larger series that also includes two video installation projects. Can you talk about how those videos will relate to the photographs, both in form and in content?
Connie: The photographs are the start of a trilogy of works dealing with speculative imaginaries positing the future as a series of shifting possibilities, rather than a singular probability. The first video is very closely related to this photo series; it’s set at the same location and is also called Edge of Twilight. The project deals in part with the vernacular histories of closed communities—places and groups inflected with the legacies of ’60s and ’70s social change movements and their subsequent transformations and mutations. The RV park is a closed community and although very large (populated by more than 250 women in high season, with an age range from 50 to 100), many of its members understandably do not want to be known on a larger public scale. However I’ve built a strong alliance with the women in one of the neighborhoods and many have agreed to be part of the project and allow me to shoot and film on their lots. The surreal look of the Edge of Twilight photos, where documentary intertwines with the fantastical, is the one kind of aesthetic framing device I’ll be using in the video.
Although I’m considering other components to this piece, a central focus will be an experimental approach to oral history that complicates and collapses timelines. I’m hoping to spend three months living and working in the park so that I can “hang out” and develop ways to play and film personal narratives without having them devolve to a predictable oral history narrative.
The second video installation is based on the ’70s correspondence between science fiction writers Joanna Russ and James Tiptree Jr. Tiptree was the pseudonym for Alice Sheldon who wrote under a man’s name undiscovered for almost a decade. “He” was hailed as both a “man’s man” for his grasp of hard science and high adventure as well as a “feminist” man because of the way he developed female characters and their plot lines. Twenty years younger than Tiptree, Russ was one of the few successful female science fiction writers at the time, and certainly the only out lesbian in the field who dealt with feminism and queer sexuality in her work. The two writers had an extensive, fascinating correspondence, and for the first five years, Russ assumed she was writing (and arguing) with a man, until it was revealed in the late ’70s (to both Russ and the world at large) that Tiptree was a woman. I’ve spent some time researching the Russ/Tiptree correspondence, which is housed at the University of Oregon, and decided to base a separate video installation on this archival material—one that would initially run parallel to the Edge of Twilight installation.
Jenny: Thank you, Connie. I can’t wait to see the video projects as they develop, and all of us at Creative Capital are so grateful to you for creating the beautiful Edge of Twilight print edition to help support our annual Benefit.
Connie: It was my pleasure.
Creative Capital’s 15th Anniversary Benefit is on Tuesday, October 21 at Studio 450 in New York. Along with the Connie Samaras edition, this year’s Benefit will feature performances by a fantastic line-up of awardees, including Sanford Biggers and Moon Medicin, Jace Clayton, Daniel Roumain and Kristina Wong, along with a raffle and silent auction. Click here to buy tickets!