Flight Lines by Ellie Irons and Dan Phiffer / Heng-Gil Han
It was late summer last year when Ellie and Dan came out to JCAL and installed a tiny camera on the rooftop of the facility. The camera lens was placed to aim at the sky to record the celestial body. Any movements in this infinite space, such as clouds, birds, and colors or planes, satellites, and drones, were digitally captured and the data was transmitted to the website of the artists via wifi. Jamaica, Queens was only one of several places where the artists installed this high-tech and simplified version of a contemporary observatory.
Born and raised on the West Coast, the couple misses the more open skies and access to natural landscape of California. When they were telling this to me, it reminded me of the painting, The Wanderer above the Mists (1817–1818) by Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840). A sense of Romanticism is present in the work, Flight Lines. Though a sense of Minimalism is stronger in the work as we, the viewers, barely see any rapid changes, but only a monotonous screen in the work. Meditative in nature, Flight Lines invites us to stop our routine (thoughtless) activities in our hectic urban life and take time for contemplation. The idea of watching a blue screen for hours sounds absurd; however, it does point out a possible future that some science fiction writers often imagine.
Recording the state of the celestial body presumes (and proves at the end) that our universe is evolving and we are the ones who cause spatial pollution with our technological advancements. The artists utter the term “anthropocene,” suggesting that the work engages in a dialog with today’s large political movement to raise the public awareness of environmental issues and climate changes. By documenting the landscape of the sky, the artists are able to demonstrate what is in that space — “from machines and animals to puffs of plant matter and the occasional plastic bag.” Pointing out man-made elements flying around in our sky adds to the criticality of the work and invites us to reflect on what we have done or are doing to the nature of which we are only a part.
Based on the recorded flight lines of the objects in the sky, Ellie produces animations and paintings of compositions that are sometimes energetic and reminiscent of gestural action painting. However, her pictorial plane is overall frugal and ascetic; thus, closer to Minimalism than Abstract Expressionism. With a series of multidimensional implications, Ellie and Dan show the complex state of evolving contemporary art and our environment, both of which are influenced by our technological progress.