Icons of the Collective Unconscious
Across cultures, you can find echoes of the same song — myths and rituals, images and icons that vary aesthetically, but speak to a shared human inheritance. These are tokens of collective ideas, shaped and made manifest through the cultural forms available to us. Through a prolonged awareness, connections between disparate icons begin to emerge, revealing some piece of our cumulative experiences. In my work, I’m interested in the different forms that collective ideas take, and in finding connections between otherwise distinct iconographies.
I often start with existing archives, or alternatively, I design frameworks through which new archives can be generated. I started using search terms in my work as a way to parse through the otherwise incomprehensible mass of information that was available to me. This method of looking not only helps me find what I’m searching for, but also allows me to see how others (or an algorithm) interpret the same search terms (for example, an image search for “the cutest dog ever” produces half a billion results of specimens of various breeds). In a project called “Moving from East to West on Main Street, USA”, I collected hundreds of Google street view images (of the tens of thousands available) of Main Streets throughout the United States. I then made a website that allows you to travel across the country through the series of screenshots, as if traveling on one endless Main Street. Moving through the hundreds of variations, a particular, American vernacular begins to take shape.
In several other projects, I was interested in creating my own set of parameters through which others could respond. With no clear end-goal in mind with these parameters, I could then respond intuitively to what was generated, seeking through lines in the various images and ideas that were collected. Last year, I asked friends and strangers online to send me one-sentence descriptions of their earliest memories. As I read through the dozens that I received, I was struck by how evocative these brief descriptions of memory could be. In a strange way, reading them felt as if they had happened to me, and I wanted to find a way to inhabit these memory scapes further. I selected a few of the memories, and modeled them in 3D space in order to move through them. I collected screenshots of my experience in these spaces and printed them at Walgreen’s photo lab as 4”x6” prints.
At the core of my work is the belief that we are more alike than different. Often, we invoke our distinct cultural and personal iconographies as a means of distinguishing ourselves from each other, creating spheres of solidarity which extend only as far as our biases take them. If we compare these spheres at a distance, the edges between them begin to grow and blur. These projects are my rough attempts to do so.
Last edited by: Dan Michaelson
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