Martha Rosler is a New York-based artist and activist who has used the photomontage format to explore power, gender, and war in American society—themes that are as present today as they were when she first began experimenting with these ideas in the mid-sixties. From the inception of her career, which has spanned media, Rosler has maintained her investigation into the distribution and reception of mass-produced images, using the collage format to layer disparate images—from fashion, advertising, lifestyle, politics, and war—to suggest the simultaneity and indeed co-dependence of seemingly distinct realities. Her groundbreaking early work, including Body Beautiful (1966–1972) and House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (1967–1972), established a firm visual foundation in which the “ugliness” of violence—initially the Vietnam War, then Afghanistan, and now encompassing other atrocities—punctures the veneer of domestic perfection as staged by lifestyle magazines and mainstream advertising.
Three weeks ago, I had an intimate and frenzied encounter with a wild bobcat as it was chasing my chickens. We locked eyes for a moment, and I quickly glanced down at its large, impressive paws. Tawny, speckled fur contrasted starkly with razor-sharp black claws. It ran off to the edge of the woods, first stopping to glance back at me before disappearing into the thicket. I began to think of a series of intaglio prints that would capture the essence of this feral fury.
“The painter wanders and loiters contentedly from place to place, always on the lookout for some brilliant butterfly of a picture which can be caught and set up and carried safely home.”
– Winston Churchill, 1948, Painting as a Pastime
Where do your shapes come from? This is a common question I encounter.
I dislodge shapes stored in my body through the act of drawing. These shapes originate from a vast matrix of experiences. There are typically three categories of overt reference: art and archeological objects I seek out through research and travel; landscape; and direct physical experiences (floating on a lake, running in the woods, dance, aging, sex).
“I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless emptiness.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Jonathon Keats has been described by The New Yorker as a “poet of ideas.” Keats’s latest project is the Millennium Camera, a custom-built pinhole camera with a one-thousand-year exposure time that will remain inside Amherst College’s Stearns Steeple until 3015. In May 2015, the college’s Mead Art Museum documented the intellectual and material creation of Keats’s camera, displaying its blueprints and predecessors alongside the camera itself in an exhibition titled Jonathon Keats: Photographing Deep Time. To commemorate the opening of the exhibition, Keats spoke with Vanja Malloy, the Mead’s curator of American art, about deep-time photography and about the rapidly changing nature of humanity’s relationships with its environment and its descendants. This essay has been adapted from that conversation.