Artist Profile: Joe Winter


The Stars Below, 2011. Mixed media installation

One thing I like about your work is the fact that you seem to operate like a hacker, taking things apart, finding new ways to misuse technology. But throughout your approach appears to be deliberately poetic, wherein you bring out these singular moments of beauty. For example, when you first started working on your scanner films during a residency at the MacDowell Colony, you mentioned that you began by simply placing a scanner outside of your cabin at night. The footage became a kind of accidental biological study, as the scanner intrigued light-seeking moths and other bugs, resulting in a time-lapsed nighttime sample of the various critters in the forest. I’m wondering if you can comment on how you “hack” technology in your work, and what you hope to achieve in that process. Are you guided by a kind of poetic hacking? How so?

In most of my works that involve a technological device (printer, scanner, photocopier, etc.) the technology itself is actually fairly un-altered. I tend to adjust the context in which the object is placed, or introduce variables or conditions that exist outside what I might call the area of expertise of the device. To use your example of the scanner: whether I'm scanning documents or moths in the woods, the scanner is still executing its function in exactly the same way; I've simply adjusted the expected input. I'm interested in looking at a given system and seeing what else it has the potential to speak about aside from its narrow band of acceptable usage, and how its native landscape (office, classroom, computer lab) might be related to other sorts of spaces, systems, or sets of ideas.

Since you brought up the topic of systems, I’m wondering if you could discuss that further. How do you approach the notion of “system” in your work? How do you reveal the presence of these systems, is it simply an act of mimesis or a disturbance or something else?

At different moments, I might describe my work in terms of systems, structures, frameworks, rules, and/or devices. I think there are a few things at play for me on that page of the thesaurus. The first is that I am always looking for various sorts of engines to move a project forward. Just like a physical device I take up may immediately describe a set of material and procedural constraints, I'll often involve a secondary framework--south polar exploration, the history of astronomy--that will both move a material system beyond itself and help to select supporting materials, an installation’s logic, etc. The second is developing a relationship between the system immediately at work and the secondary framework through a third, usually less visible system. To use my recent piece, The Stars Below, as an example: I first developed the material process. A series of solenoid valves release drips of water onto upright sticks of chalk,  slowly eroding them. The secondary framework--an installation space suggesting something between an office and a classroom--arises from the materials involved (what is the domain of a stick of chalk? Where does this drip of water originate?) and provides a context in which to situate the erosive activity. Between these two things is a conception of Deep Time, of which slate and chalk are both products, which complicates the scales of time at play within institutional spaces. So, the work tries to establish a series of interrelations between a set of materials, landscapes, and ideas. In short, a system. Whether or not the audience is able to unravel all of that immediately is not as important to me as their awareness that there is a sense of order, an underlying logic at work.