Sean Deckert: Reflective Properties
Over the course of the last decade Sean Deckert has been creating photographic works that capture something of our changing relationship to energy on a personal, global and cosmological scale. By using recombinant methods, such as time-lapse exposures, a sense of simultaneity and pictorial superimposition, Deckert has made a dynamic catalog of work that addresses the role that photography can play in documenting what exists at the limits of the visible, and even the invisible.
While this small survey of Deckert's video work focuses on a selection of pieces from 2011, the general development of his oeuvre is reflected in these video vignettes in any number of ways. As a meditation on transitory states and transformations in the environment, these documentary shorts act as a critical rejoinder to his photographic projects, making them an important contribution to his artistic program in their own right. But above all else, they have been brought together here for what they say about the present, and what kinds of insights they offer us into the larger spectrum of vision and visionary experiences.
Part One: The Despotic Cause of Dyspnea.
Our point of departure for understanding Deckert's foray into videography is a short work called Dyspnea, which means breathlessness. Composed from a series of still images that are animated using stop-motion effects, Deckert's aesthetic is retro-futuristic inasmuch as it takes the look of an older technology and makes it new again. Using a pulsating rhythm, Dyspnea brings the dry and reductive pallet of Georgia O’Keeffe together with the stylistic inflections of neo-expressionism, balancing the striking qualities of both of these idiograms with a focused intensity that harkens back to the early films of the surrealists. Given to the viewer as an image that feels like it projects itself outward in the form of a hypnotic solar pulse, Dyspnea can be seen not just an iconic image of radiant energy, but also as an allusion to the enduring heat of the Sonoran landscape, where being conscious of the sun and its effects is as much a part of daily life as breathing.
Of course, the sun is also thought of as a symbol of higher consciousness, being equally implicated in the practices of solar worship, certain forms of shamanism, and in hermeticism as a representation of the heart beat of our planetary system. And yet, Deckert's Dyspnea really seems to function as a modern cipher for the multitude of meanings we attribute to the sun as desert dwellers by giving us a cinematic glyph, or an animate gif, that allows us an opportunity to view the un-viewable. Afterall, the central object of our solar system is something we cannot behold with the naked eye, and this fact gives the trance like quality of Dyspnea a touch of the ineffable by beaconing us to stare deeply into the unfathomable depths of an immeasurable force. As such, we can say that Deckert's work provides us with the image of a celestial body that our culture is returning to once again as an object of contemplation because it represents a nearly inexhaustible source of energy at a time when our natural resources seem to be running dry.
Part Two: The Symbolic Import of Joining Two Horizons.
By comparison, we find that Deckert's second video, Joining Two Horizons, alludes to the site of another natural "body", or at least, to a body of water that could serve as the vision of an oasis in the Arizona desert. Only the vanishing act performed by this mirage concerns the fact that not only does this body of water not exist anywhere near our current local, but it is actually located halfway around the world in the Middle East. This makes Deckert's Joining Two Horizons into a dialectic study in contrasts when compared to our current water crisis in the Southwest, which may eventually turn us into a "Dead Valley" rather than a Dead Sea. By providing us with a study in affective textures and embodied experience, we are drawn into thinking about the socio-political implications that are associated with this particular body of water as well. Much like our Grand Canyon, the Dead Sea is a repository for so many projected meanings, which is why it was considered for inclusion as one of the seven wonders of the world in 2011, making Deckert's piece a rather timely intervention in terms of connecting two disparate locals vis-a-via the geo-politics of wonderment.
Done while the artist was on residency in Israel, this video piece shows Deckert enter the frame of the camera only to take up a position which could be likened to that of a floating yogi sitting at the crossed horizon of heaven and earth, arms outstretched, connecting "that which is above with that which is below". Whether thought of a sacred symbol of this very same hermetic axiom, a religious symbol for "the man of the cross", the Piscean symbolism of the end of an age or as a reference to another set of symbolic commitments altogether, Deckert's work returns us to thinking about the commencement of primordial symbolism, i.e., all the forms of religious belief that make this particular part of the world an ongoing source of religious tension and conflict. As such, Deckert's use of his own body, or of the figure of the artist as the observer, pays homage to an unforgettable place and a specious sense of space in much the same way that Dyspnea focuses the constant rhythm of cosmogenesis as the living breath of all of existence. In this way we can say that sky and earth, or sun and water, are the valances that set Deckert's dialectic operations in motion.
Part Three: The Uncanny Moment of Eupnea.
Thus, when we encounter Deckert's third video work, Eupnea, which provides us with an infrared image of the slow expansion and contraction of our own 'inner sun' by way of imaging the human heart, we should not be at all surprised to find ourselves contemplating the hidden meanings associated the spectrum of light and the human body, which is itself, largely composed of water. By using infrared technologies to give us a synthetic image of the 'breath of life' and/or 'the living waters of the spirit', which are traditionally brought together in the sacred symbol of the glowing heart in Christianity, Deckert reveals the many ways in which chromatic symbolism is also a living reality of sorts, even if only in the abstract. Whether one thinks about the colors produced by visible light as carriers of meaning related to the Kabalistic sephiroth, the color symbolism of the energy vortex's associated with the Chakras, or any system of sacred symbolism for that matter, Deckert manages to once again provide us with a living, breathing image of the missing material correlate behind such systems of belief.
In this way, the video piece known as Eupnea is an uncanny way of making the heart visible in a manner that is not unlike the Kirlian photography of auratic and/or energetic effects, only Deckert's infrared imagery give us a picture of the chromatic composition of the human heart in real-time. Thus, Eupnea, which means to breath at a normal pace, may in fact be the clearest picture we have on record of the transcendent reality of the heart-center of corporeal life. And in this series of video works, this very real heart-center could be said to mirror the heart-center of our universe depicted in Dyspnea, and the heart-center of our world religions that serves as the backdrop for the figurative symbolism in Joining Two Horizons. In many ways, we could say that Deckert is providing us with the photographic evidence of a contemporary trinity of sorts, one that exists somewhere between thinking about the universe as a vital life force, the land of religious conflicts over what exists in the heavens as well as here on Earth, and the immanent experience of the heart as an immediate spiritual and physical reality, i.e., the house of the inner monad, or the 'coloring' of our mortal character.
Part Four: Technocracy and Tachypnea.
If this is indeed the case, then Deckert's Tachypnea, which offers us an intimate inner view of the cityscape by providing us with an infrared image of a widow that looks into the closed world of our constructed environment, follows on this trinitarian outlook by pointing to the fact that the monadic essence of a thing was really Leibniz’s theory of how the eyes are a window to the soul. Only here we can say that the geometries presented in this fourth piece, while being refractory and angular, do not play so much with readily identifiable architectural motifs as with the form of the diamond, which is the classical symbol for the inner unbreakable aspect of the soul, or what the ancients called the inner daemon.
And of course, it follows that in talking about corporate architecture we are also speaking about another pressure filled and soul hardening substance, for which the diamond acts as a perfect metaphor, not simply because of the unbreakable pace of corporate existence, but because the pressure of corporate life also produces an inner hardening of the figure we call 'modern man'. Afterall, what better image is there of the demiurge in modern times than the diamond/daemon of corporate architecture, which not only houses the inner life of technocratic culture, but which acts as the inner energetic impulse of our society, or the heart center of our political economy. Thus, we can say that in the journey of inner and outer space, Deckert has moved us from the center of our cosmos, to the central place of religious conflict, to the center of the human magnetic field, and finally, to the energetic center of society. And all of this is accomplished by way of a series of visual meditations that aim to hold our attention by imaging time, and by imagining the distance traveled from the origins of our solar system to our present form of civilization and its attending conflicts.
Part Five: What Remains Hidden by the Light of Day.
So when Deckert makes a turn to providing us with a series of Street Views of downtown Phoenix, which act as documents about the accumulation of heat in our urban landscape, he is once again retuning us to the question of energy, time and cyclical influences. This is because these works capture how our built environment is caught up in a vicious cycle of perpetual overheating that mirrors our larger concerns with global warming, showing us how a local problem is reflective of a larger crisis. By enfolding micro-political concerns with macro-political conseqeunces, and even cosmological themes, Deckert's images confront us with a rather precipitous match of form and content. What begins with a kind of breathless awe at creation, or a reference to the breathless consumption of air by fire, seems to conclude with pictures of humanity holding its collective breath about the effects of its own creations on the earth and water, giving us a hermeneutic outlook on the connected nature of four classic elements of existence.
But what is most interesting about Deckert's later video's, which came out of the artists own investigations into claims about how urban structures don't manage to cool down enough at night before beginning to heat up again the following day in Arizona, is how Deckert's independent research allows us an entre into thinking about the real world consequences of our actions as a real-time problematic. This is due to the fact that in all of his video pieces, Deckert continually returns us to the material site of conflict, be it solar, religious, human, concrete or otherwise, to show how material reality has become a spiritual concern in the early twenty-first century.
Conclusion and Consequences: Cosmography as an Art Practice.
Thus, we can say that if the sun was the starting point in Deckert's cycle of work during 2011, and the dead sea his place of connection between the sky above and the watery Earth below, then urbanism became the heart of his late interventions by always playing in concert with the concerns of the human heart as a metaphor for our greater humanity and our common place of cohabitation, not to mention being the site we are most likely to experience constriction, complications and the need for direct material interventions. By bringing all of these intersecting themes together in unexpected ways, Deckert's work provides us with the widest possible perspective in thinking about the conflicted nature of the present. We might even say that Deckert's video works are a kind of document about so many emanations of consequence, and sites that might otherwise go unseen.
But as with all of Deckert's projects, both in video and photography, we are allowed to bath in the afterglow of our all-too-human preoccupations, while confronting an uncertain future about the implications of overproduction and environmental degradation. And for all of this we can say that Deckert's work is a sign of the times pictured as a period of absolute consequence; a real-time reflection on transcendental contradictions from cosmogenesis to the laws of thermodynamics; from the diaristic to the thermo-realistic; from religious symbolism to urbanism as a kind of architectural embolism; and that with each new body of work Deckert only deepens his commitments to seeing past the surface of things and right into the heart of the matter.
In this way, we can say that Deckert's work takes us on a journey that collapses our registers for thinking about visible and invisible phenomenon, or animating forces and concrete realities, such that the measured and hesitant breath of contemporary living is no longer quite so hidden from view. This is not only a rather timely contribution to contemporary art, but it also marks a rather incisive intervention into the signs and symbols that circumscribe the language of the cultural imaginary, be it postmodern, modern or premodern. And for that reason, Deckert's collection of video works provide us with a kind of still space for reflecting about the very greatest forms of measure, be they infinite, finite or purely immanent.
Bio: Sean Deckert is a visual artist based in Los angeles. He Gradauted from the Katherine Herberger Insitute for Fine Arts at Arizona State University in 2012 with a Bachelors in Photography. He received the 2012 Contemporary Forum Emerging Artist Award from the Phoenix Art Museum. His work has been featured in Photo District News, Arid Journal, Art Ltd., Visual Art Source and the State Press. He has exhibitied at Phoenix Art Museum, SF Camerawork, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, ASU Art Museum Combine Gallery, Tempe Center for the Arts, Eye Lounge and Northlight Gallery. He currently maintains a full-time art practive in Los Angeles.