Magenta Plains is proud to present Someone to Watch Over Me, our first solo exhibition with Barbara Ess. Ess is renowned for her haunting pinhole photographs and for performing in experimental bands in New York City’s 1980s and 90s downtown art scene. She is the founder and editor of the legendary mixed-media publication, Just Another Asshole, and has exhibited her work in solo and group exhibitions worldwide. Someone to Watch Over Me focuses on Ess’s recent projects in photography, video, and sound dealing with themes of boundaries, distance and separation.
Ess has long used unconventional methods to underline the subjective nature of experience and representation. Employing lo-fi optical devices and image systems, small telescopes, and a toy microscope, Ess embraces the glitches and unintended artifacts resulting from her processes, seeking to depict the uncertainties of perception and uncover ambiguous perceptual boundaries between the “in-here” and “out-there.”
Central to this exhibition are Ess’s Surveillance and Remote photographs. Having signed up as an online “Deputy Sheriff” for an internet surveillance site on the Texas-Mexico border, she accessed a network of low-resolution and heat-sensitive cameras. This live stream program was designed for home computers as a “virtual community watch” to empower the public to monitor suspicious activity, possible drug trafficking, and border crossings. Fascinated by the feeling of being present at the border from such a distance, Ess recorded events witnessed in real time happening thousands of miles away without reporting her observations.
She later began making use of other live feeds available via television and the internet, such as weather, traffic and vacation cameras. These apparatuses continued to allow her the experience of collapsed space and distance between the viewer and the viewed, the watcher and the watched. After discovering a UHF channel broadcasting local pedestrian and traffic activity, Ess spent late nights observing a couple hanging out in Times Square, cars whizzing down Victory Boulevard in Staten Island at sunrise, a yellow taxi waiting for a light to change on Canal Street, and a man stranded on a highway in the midwest, etc.
Her most recent series, Shut-In, chronicles an experience of being holed up in her apartment for more than a month while ill with bronchitis. Unable to continue her normal routine, she began photographing details of her daily life such as domestic objects and the changing light on the fire escape outside her window. Ess made small prints, enhanced them with silver, black and white crayons, and then later scanned and enlarged the photographs. Barbara Ess uses mediation in her photography as a means to investigate the relationship of personal experience to the manifest world, foregrounding looking itself, acknowledging the artifacts of representation, and embodying a sense of longing in that gaze.