Everything is Collective: Expected Image at Utah Museum of Contemporary Art | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City Weekly

Everything is Collective: Expected Image at Utah Museum of Contemporary Art 

Artists collaborate on how we understand the landscape through institutional images.

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In Utah, the landscape and the natural world form a huge part of the state's identity. Yet while we think we know what that landscape looks like—and what we expect it to look like—that idea is one shaped by a wide range of factors. And that idea can even determine how we decide what a particular place is "worth."

Currently on display at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Expected Image finds the artistic collective Everything Is Collective—made up of UMOCA marketing & graphic design staffer Zachary Norman, Texas-based Aaron Hegert and Chicago-based Jason Lukas—exploring in part the way the Bureau of Land Management's Visual Resource Management (VRM) system determines the scenic value of America's public lands. For the three photographers, it's a way to help understand how their art form is part of a process that doesn't just capture an image, but helps shape what we expect that image to look like.

According to Norman, the trio behind Everything Is Collective first met when they were all graduate students at the University of Indiana-Bloomington, working on their MFAs in photography. "We were all doing in-studio photography, kind of bumping into each other, looking for ways to collaboratively produce a single photograph," Norman recalls. "And that was an interesting problem to solve. We'd upload to a server, then we'd forget who was responsible for what image."

After graduation, Norman, Hegert and Lukas all went their separate geographical ways, but remained interested in continuing to work together. While Norman can't recall the specifics behind how the Expected Image project originated, he says it stems from the group's members finding it interesting how photography has been used not just as a creative form, but for many other purposes. "We've always been interested in how different disciplines use the medium of photography," he says. "There's a long history of fine art photography, but there's also this bureaucratic or institutional use of photography."

That includes the use of photographic images as part of the attempts by people to claim and exploit the landscape's natural resources. Norman notes that historically, people might visit a location that they thought might have minerals worth mining, take pictures, "mark [them] up with a marker, and submit these photographs to the proper organization to get a lease on the land. They were documenting their desire with a camera. And we thought this was a fascinating use of the medium."

As Norman, Hegert and Lukas investigated the history of those processes, they discovered the VRM system, and how it was used through that process on the land, specifically the terminology of an "expected image" as it applies to what a visitor expects to see when they visit a given location. Yet they also liked the idea of playing with that term in the context of fine arts, where the goal of the creator is generally to deliver something unexpected.

One challenge with this project, however, was that they were dealing with the products of government entities—and not surprisingly, there was already a certain overly-convoluted component to the way those entities operated, which could confuse potential viewers. "We worked on this project for so long, employed so many different solutions to the idea of sharing this process for people," Norman says. "It's already such a sophisticated, byzantine, complex system, that for us to try to reinterpret it would be even more complex. So a lot is just appropriation. It is kind of absurd the amount of bureaucratic language and infrastructure built around the image of beauty in the landscape."

The exhibit then consists of a variety of materials, including documents created by the BLM and the photographers' own images. There's also a two-channel video piece with one image representing a Google Earth studio flyover of locations in Western states, juxtaposed with video of the artists on the ground, according to Norman, "dealing with the landscape in a real way: dealing with the contours of the landscape, running into things. There's the world of images and data, and the world of reality."

The resulting cumulative effect is one that conveys both where the worlds of fine-art images and functional governmental images diverge, and where they overlap. "The thing that stuck out initially," Norman says, "is we're all artists and art educators, we've taught Photography 101 classes, and the foundations of the BLM's system are these art terms. They have a list of this art vocabulary. This is art creating nature; there's a feedback loop here. We're projecting our expectations of photography back onto nature."

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About The Author

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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