In a second-hand store, Ruehlen came across a set of flash cards titled “The Library of Vernacular Photographs: Furniture”. Each flash card had a straight photograph of a singular piece of furniture, located in its “proper” place in a domestic situation, or in cold, isolated portraits with blue or grey backdrops. A total of 55 cards were contained within this grouping, and on the backside was a dull white surface with the term used to describe the object in the corner, such as, “arm chair”, “china cabinet”, “end table” or “bowl”. The terminology was as basic and distilled as one could possibly get with each item while maintaining its particularity; but elements of privilege and cultural specificity covered the surface of each image, under the radar of what one might presume to be the audience of such flash cards. There were no people present in these photos, but remnants of activity in the rooms photographed seemed somewhat lived, and somewhat staged.
Immediately after acquiring the flash cards he began to re- contextualize the images by indexically looking up each item as it was stated on the backside of the image (ex: chaise lounge). A text document of dragged and dropped chunks of words on each item was formed. Some words gravitated towards multiple meanings or playfulness; one being “mirror” in which the basic defining traits of mirror were layered with a child discovering it’s Self (ego) in the mirror and the discomfort and alienation had in that moment of cognition. Gazing, which the camera operator who captured the furniture enacts, is the primary perceptual tool of these flash cards, and one may find, if looking hard enough, small hints of exotic fetishism and cultural misappropriation laced through many of the images in this index.
Upon creating a text file that corresponded to each photograph, the files were printed without any manipulation and then moved along the scan-light as it slowly shook across the bed of the scanner. The final poetic structure of the text is not arbitrary or random, but considered specific to each image paired with the warped, textual space. Each page is framed by a swatch of color that was sampled from the photograph assigned to a given document. In the overall 55-page book, the reader will encounter a field of colors that illuminate the ambience of the era that these photos were taken in.
The slit scan was a way to shift the text around and unveil hidden poetic substance or clues that highlight the power structures behind the furniture displayed in each photograph. Artist Bill Viola, in his essay on the relations between signal and receiver titled “The sound of one line scanning” states:
“The video image is a standing wave pattern of electrical energy, a vibrating system composed of specific frequencies as one would expect to find in any resonating object. As has been described many times, the image we see on the surface of the cathode ray tube is the trace of a single moving focused point of light from a stream of electrons striking the screen from behind, causing its phosphor coated surface to glow. In video, a still image does not exist, in fact at any given moment a complete image does not exist at all. The fabric of all video images, moving or still, is the activated constantly sweeping electron beam – the steady stream of electrical impulses coming from the camera or video recorder driving it. The divisions into lines and frames are solely divisions in time, the opening and closing of temporal windows that demarcate periods of activity within the flowing stream of electrons. Thus, the video image is a living dynamic energy field, a vibration appearing solid only because it exceeds our ability to discern such fine slices of time.”
Viola is speaking predominately to video-based media and how we experience a slit in time, albeit compressed as to receive multiple, single images as a whole thing rather than its fragmented parts. In expanding this thought, one might even consider furniture similarly in relation to the human body. Is furniture a slit-scan of the body’s extended comforts and needs? Is an armchair a slice of space that mimics and captures the body in recline and solitude? Is the armchair, in these photographs particularly, a scan of Western lifestyle afforded through the removal of the violence required to host such leisure and docility?
By splicing a noise poetry Susan Howe, and her indexing and fracturing of words, comes to mind. In order to get closer to an acoustic or psychological field Howe writes, “Interleaves used to separate the title page from the engraved portrait or color illustration following. The interleaf is a relic, fragile but tough. It’s blank and semitransparent at once, like a scrim—always between. A bridge between intuition and the law. The paper relic rustles when turned. It could almost be a wing.”
The vernacular photographs in this project are imbued with law; they proclaim, “This is real—this is what a home looks like.”. To follow this logic, then the noise-filled text, a kind of mid-80’s television glitch, becomes the intuitive body that attempts to align or separate from the law. The warbling text in this vertically bound book, moving like water, or in-between two channels (frozen like furniture) carries a musicality with it—follow the text with one’s eyes and a feeling of disorientation and shaky rhythm abound. Often, the text doubles over itself, creating a flicker effect or even lyrical prayer, something to be said once, and then re-produced through an after image effect, similar to the TV screen’s light burning an after image on to the retina when flipping through channels or turning it off and on.