An Interview with Ela Boyd

February 15, 2012

Expanded Space from ela boyd on Vimeo.

Ela Boyd is a Los Angeles native, currently working in San Diego. She creates immersive installations that fragment and decentralize our understanding of space, time, and the self in reference to the subjective qualities of perception. Her installations have been on view at various spaces including the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego alongside the Pacific Standard Time exhibition Phenomenal. By choreographing the viewer’s experience, the installations involve the viewer in the space, reordering their understanding of common phenomena that are easily overlooked. Unconventional concepts of time emerge in spatial and visual experiences that prompt the viewer to question whether they know what they are seeing at all. Boyd’s influences range from the artists of the California light and space movement of the 1960s as well as experimental filmmakers such as Maya Daren and Chris Marker that tackle disorienting investigations of perception and reality. —Max Karnig

Expanded Screen // MCASD Phenomenal TNT// Pacific Standard Time from ela boyd on Vimeo.

MXK: You’ve noted experimental film as a specific influence to your work. What themes or continuities seem to emerge between the two?


EB: As an example, Maya Daren’s Meshes of the Afternoon plays with themes of multiplicity and multiple selves and how time becomes interchangeable and inverted. This idea of simultaneity is a theme that emerges in my installations as multiple perspectives and images occur at once that aren’t necessarily caused but are simply occurring at the same time, bringing into question our understanding of causation in time and space. I’m also inspired by artist’s like James Turrell and how they created perceptual anomalies. His piece “Afrum (White)” in particular is fascinating in the way that you can’t tell what is two or three-dimensional. Although there is an illusion of a cube, it is purely two flat projections in a corner, which makes the viewer question what they are seeing from their limited vantage point.


MXK: In regard to your cinematic influences, it is interesting to see how they translate into spatial installations. What are some moments in these films that inspire your installation work?


EB: Within Daren’s Meshes of the Afternoon, there are many different visual planes. With the way time is used, there is not really a causal structure. It's the same in the installation. While looking at the installation, questions arise such as, “Did the reflection of the refraction cause the other refraction?” In the films, simple moments of the figure being reflected in the window or walking in the door and seeing two of herself in the dining room are inspiring in the way they confuse the viewer to whether this is a dream, parallel moments overlapping or multiple iterations of the self.



MXK: Can you explain some of your thoughts behind your approach to installation?


EB: I like to spatialize the image rather than reading the image. The strings in the space become components of the image as a three dimensional drawing. Where a cinematic screen collapses space, the installations extend it. The various Mylar panels open up the space and expand it rather than compress it. In the installations, the space is confused- am I seeing a 3d form, an image, something tangible or intangible? These layered images also relate to consciousness in the sense of dream, memory, and how we bring forms into being by talking about them, thinking about them, or even googling them. Having the internet constantly available, forms are continuously traveling through media existing in multiple places at once. In the installations a varying combination of projection, string, video and apparitions of figures in space decentralize the object and confuse what it actually is. With the participant's position in the matrix of planes, along with their shadow silhouette, reflection and image in live feed video they become enfolded into the overall composition visually. Additionally, their movements trigger videos of bodies in space. Overlapping panels of bodies in space form ephemeral dynamic compositions. As the participant moves within the space they experience occurrences of parallax–the abstract geometric shapes change shape. These strategies are meant to generate a causal inversion of spatio-temporality. Are these ontological shifts instantiated in our consciousness or are the forms revealing themselves to us simultaneously as we focus on them?


MXK: How do the figures function in your work?


EB: The figure goes beyond image and acts as a body in space along with the participant in the installation. Moving forward I might use more cinematic images instead of ambiguous apparitions to move toward content that is more focused and specific.


MXK: There seems to be an ongoing disorientation of the perception of reality and actuality in your work.


EB: While reading about Kant’s theories of actuality I was particularly interested in the idea of misperception. There are moments we may dismiss as misperception that are therefore assumed as not actual, but Kant claims that in the moment of apprehension the illusion is actual for you. These things are actual because they are empirical and perceptual; they exist in the real world. My work is not creating a simulation, but referring to actual phenomena that are part of our reality.



MXK: Your work has many similarities with the California space and light movement in the 1960s. What differentiates your work from this movement?


EB: The images within the installations can never be recreated. The people in the space become part of the composition. As people trigger videos and cast shadows within the installation they generate the piece by engaging with it. Utilizing new media and theorizing about a decentralized presence that spans time and space vis-a-vis media and consciousness goes beyond “seeing the self seeing” or becoming aware the self in space.


The light and space artists have more reductive methodologies whereas I work additively, combining layer upon layer to confuse one's visual perception. I also take on issues of representation, positing the image as an actual presence (non-symbolic) as opposed to stripping any representative elements that might distract from proprioceptive phenomenological experiences.



MXK: Any new directions or projects in mind?


EB: I’ve recently been making prints based on the images created within the installations. The prints are supported on top and bottom by beams and illuminated by little LED lights on specific spots of the image. I’d like to push what the print is and combine the various mediums of video, print and sculpture together. Moving forward I’d like to create sculptural video installations that are more cinematic and involved with time, continuing to push the notion of an object that transcends itself and creates a decentralized form.



MXK: Tell me a little about your process in creating these works.


EB: The work becomes very reflexive. I take photos. Then project them. Then photograph the projection of the photo, and then project them on the Mylar and photograph them once again. It continues to recreate itself and then it becomes about how there is no real discrete object because it keeps transforming and mutating between image object and light. As it moves from actual light to an image of light then back to actual light as it's projected, it brings into question what is real and what is representational. There is a constant back and forth between what is the image and what is tangible and what is intangible.


I write a lot about how these forms exist digitally, in our consciousness and as well as in the physical version. I think there is this whole paradigm where we see this fixed object and we have this one to one ratio of perspective but we're actually in the middle of the object. That's why I like some of the James Turrell immersive installations wherein you are inside the object but because it's about your own perception–the object is also inside of your own consciousness. You're in the object and you can’t tell exactly where the object is.