FEATURE.INTERVIEW: Lora McPhail and Michael Jantzen interview electronic artist Ellen Jantzen about her new body of work entitled “Artificial Evolution”

Lora McPhail and Michael Jantzen (L&M): Briefly introduce us to the key formal and thematic issues in this current body of images.

Ellen Jantzen
(EJ): My most current body of images, a series titled Artificial Evolution, thematically deals with creating hybrid life forms; life forms that may include manmade elements in the mix. The key formal element is symmetry. I have use symmetry in earlier works to some degree but feel my use here directly reflects the symmetry seen in most life forms.

L&M: What do you think are some of the most important things in life that inspire you to do the work that you do? How do you develop your hybridizations and/or elemental relationships?

EJ: First of all, I create to give meaning to my life. I draw inspiration from the natural world; rock formations, seedpods, nests; shapes that resonate with reproduction, growth and repetition. I feel compelled to work in ways that create meaning. I pull from somewhere deep inside, not from a purely analytical space, so my hybridizations are very spontaneous and uncalculated. They are developed subconsciously then meaning is assigned as I refine and title each piece.

L&M: Can you describe how the relationship between the original photo-shoot set-ups and the final digitally enhanced images has evolved in your work, as you have become more invested in the medium?

EJ: I do a lot of playing around, testing different relationships and locations. I take dozens and dozens of photographs of my set-ups and may end up only producing a few final pieces from that abundance. As I become more invested in the medium, I have come to better understand what the out comes of my set-ups will be. For instance, I have become fascinated with translucency and find that more and more I include some translucent element in my set-ups. This allows me to control and direct light in interesting ways. While I am becoming more “skilled” at understanding the relationships and possibilities of each set-up as it pertains to my image making process, I sometimes purposefully create random set-ups for their unforeseen potential.

L&M: Referring to your own experience as a designer, what aspects of the media best serve your vision and/or process? Is there something uniquely inherent about the computer (and how you use it to create your work) that urges innovation, if so, what do you think this is?

EJ: As a designer, I have been drawn to working in a hands-on manner with three-dimensional forms. All along I have also been drawn to two-dimensional work, especially graphics. With the advent of the personal computer and ever increasingly sophisticated computer graphics software, I have been able to combine my desires into one direction. The computer allows me to see in new ways; it allows me to be surprised by the outcome and the possibilities. The computer urges innovation by presenting almost limitless options; it is up to me to say “stop” when I deem something new and different is worthy of saving. Again, because I have so many source photos to draw from, I save, initially, hundreds of images. From these the selection, the editing, begins.

L&M: What kind of equipment and or technologies do you wish you had access to that you don’t, and how might these things help to advance the integrity of your work?

EJ: Well, I could always use a more powerful computer with a larger screen, a higher mega pixel camera, a bigger format printer… on and on, but these wouldn’t really advance the integrity of my work, just make what I currently do quicker. What I would like to investigate next is animation. Of course I’d need software and time to learn. I feel that I could successfully create short animations of my hybrids where they would take form right before your eyes.

L&M: Have you thought of experimenting with similar themes and aesthetics in other media? How do you feel scale, dimension and time influence your work?

EJ: Yes, animation as I mentioned before would be a new direction I would like to experiment with. I also would like to experiment with creating three-dimensional sculptures based on some of my hybrid images. I think this would be rather interesting; to go from a three dimensional set-up to a two dimensional image and back to a new three dimensional hybrid object where I would have had to interpret the full three dimensionality of the flat image.

The scale of my work, currently, is quite intimate. Both my images and set-ups are under three feet or so and the dimensions accommodate the photo format to some degree. I can foresee creating some grand scale set-ups using large landforms as more that backdrops. Perhaps my hybrids would become human scale. I would then want my images to be quite large also, mural-scale perhaps, to emphasize the human scale aspect allowing viewers to interact with the images.

Time influences my work in several ways, time of day and time of year (seasonal changes and light angles). I also like to use the time advancement of a given situation. For instance, a series of photo set-ups I took right after a thunderstorm that goes from a very gray sky and muted look to a rainbow to sun rimmed clouds with sunbeams illuminating the set-up. Also, conceptually, I am speeding up time by “evolving” my hybrids in a matter of hours.

L&M: How consciences are you while you are working, that what you finally present as your art, may have any political relevance? And, if your work is perceived by some to be politically relevant, how important is this to you?

EJ: I have varied political concerns from poverty and hunger to issues of war. These are in the background as I create, influencing but not directly guiding my directions. I am concerned with GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) and how corporations are controlling more and more of plant and animal life. I am concerned with indigenous people being bullied into purchasing their seed rather than saving seed from the year before. But, I feel there are activists much more gifted politically than I am who can address these, and so many other issues, straight on intellectually. I want to deal with the emotional side of charged issues through my art by addressing them in an allusive manner. I also have written poetry, trying to put feelings into words but found that my medium is mainly the visual.

L&M: How might you see your work developing to address these concerns ever more directly? How do you hope other people will most be influenced by you, and your work?

EJ: I don’t want to develop a more direct approach, at least not in the near future. Again, I feel what I have to offer is a unique vision that includes my concern with living entities and the natural world without being preachy or specific. I hope my work inspires others to create in their own way, to address their issues of concern in personal terms that are unique to them.


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