MCA Chicago Plaza Project: Amanda Ross-Ho

Los Angeles–based artist Amanda Ross-Ho premieres her first outdoor public art project, THE CHARACTER AND SHAPE OF ILLUMINATED THINGS, in which she explores how photography is a direct analogue to the act of seeing. Updating Joseph Beuys’s famous declaration “Everyone is an artist,” Ross-Ho suggests more specifically that today everyone is a photographer, as the ubiquity and speed of digital photography shapes the way we view and experience the world. In Ross-Ho’s hands, the plaza is transformed into an enormous photo studio, with objects on display for the purpose of being photographed by the public, while the sun serves as a shifting source of light, affecting both our perception of how the objects look in real life and how they appear in our photographs.

My parents were artists and primarily were working in Chicago in the late sixties and early seventies and I grew up in a condition and in an environment where they were making pictures day in and day out for either their commercial work or their artwork. So I was watching this happen and watching the production of that and I actually learned how to print photos from a really early age, for example, and just was – it was just part of our household, it wasn’t, it was almost like another utility. So that personal element is pretty big and so the idea that my family will have access to this object for, or set of objects, or this experience really, for a long period of time, is actually a really nice part of the project and wouldn’t be possible in another city or another, another institution.

The Character and Shape of Illuminated Things originated as a found image from a found book. The book was put together by a photographer named David Brooks who offered technical information particularly lighting information for amateur studio photographers and sort of thinking about ways that they could understand rigorously lighting technique and lighting science. So in the book there’s a chapter called "The Character and Shape of Illuminated Things" in which he sets up a vignette of three objects and performs a series of lighting techniques on the vignette in order to demonstrate its effect on the overall picture. This picture that is not intended for sort of artful purposes it’s really meant to be a stand in or a set of pictures that help you sort of think about the science of looking and the science of taking pictures.

Part of the idea of the piece is that as an outdoor public site, the sun will play the role of the light source and there will be a relationship to those objects and your role as a viewer standing in public space transforming the plaza into not only pictorial space or a place of presentation, but really thinking about that as like an entire visual plane to be considered pictorially as well.

In addition to the three objects, I’ve added a color calibration card or there will be a sculptural rendering of that. What that is, is it’s actually a device in studio photography to calibrate color in a studio lighting, color photography setting. So the role of the card is to be placed into the vignette that’s been looked at and used in post-production of the picture to make sure that there’s a reference point for balancing color in the image.

Hopefully, ultimately it creates a really heightened level of awareness of your own viewership of the piece or not just this work but when you look at any artwork: What happens to your sort of navigational or perceptual kind of apparatus? How do you think about what you’re looking at? How do you navigate it? And really making a sort of a correlation between that and the idea of a really considered gaze such as a still life.