Alex Lee & Nick Witchey (EFA Project Space Interns)


How did your work develop over the course of the residency?

The two-week intensive that occurred at the start of the program really allowed me to sit down and learn the software component of my project. It is a very complicated piece of software and I couldn't have begun to learn it without a serious amount of dedicated time and space. The project developed further throughout the residency as we discussed the project as a peer group.


Did the experience of working alongside the other SHIFT residents affect your approach and final work?

Yes, I found that the feedback that I received from the group was very helpful in how I shaped the project. Also, meeting and explaining myself to a new set of peers help me to see how others experienced my ideas without knowing my history and interests.


You used such an unusual imaging process in A Machine in the Garden. Can you describe what’s going on? And why did you choose to alter the video in this way?

Actually, the piece is not altered video but rather two different types of video/data; one created with a traditional camera, and the other created using a virtual camera. The first data type is high-definition video shot at a specific location with a DSLR camera, the second data set was collected at the same location but using an infrared device that maps a grid of points onto a designated space which can be interpreted as a 3D object or space. I used consumer modeling software called Cinema 4D to interpret this data as virtual space which allowed me to apply a “skin” of images taken during the “mapping” (which paints the object/space with its color and perceived texture) as well as create a video of that space/object using a virtual camera. 

So, basically, the piece is made of two videos: one recorded with a camera in real space and one recorded by a virtual camera in virtual space. Ultimately, I am very interested in exploring new ways to perceive and interpret natural spaces that stand out to me. I use this technology as an optical apparatus to try to see that space through a different lens. I want to find out how my imagination interprets the qualities of a specific environment and I use technology as a way to expose both the realities and the fictions inherent to my perception. In other words I want the technology to confirm, as well as enhance, my fantasy of nature as a space, as an object, and as fiction. I want to make or capture images that look like the way a place feels when I dream about it rather than when I stand within it. 


                                           A Machine in the Garden (2016)

The pacing of the piece is both jarring and relaxing, moving from one lethargic scene to another with quick, grating transitions. Is there an underlying narrative or progression in the video? 

There is definitely a narrative that determined the architecture of the video’s editing and the number of locations presented. With that being said, I don’t find this narrative to be critical to understanding the work. The video presents two ways to perceive a very real space that is important in my life. As I said earlier, the video taken with a DSLR depicts a natural space in a specific way that we are used to seeing, and the second video was created from data collected from the 3D scanner that sees and presents the same space using a different set of eyes and possibly a different way of seeing. The transitional video that bridges this binary was created from the real time video that is generated when the 3D scanner is perceiving the space; it is a component of the 3D space and it interrupts the passive acceptance of the scene as a familiar place. The speed and color of this transitional video is actually determined by the machine recording the data, which explains why it seems both uncomfortable in its speed and foreign in its colors. I am not entirely comfortable talking about the actual narrative that helped determine the shape of the piece because I don’t believe it is critical to understanding the work nor is it particularly easy to explain but I will say that it is based on my real-life experiences onsite at the location that the video was made. The four sites presented in the video are four locations connected by an old trail. During the summer months, when there is a full moon, I spend the night walking this trail. It is a very magical experience each time that I do it and I guess I was interested in how the apparatus would interpret a space that I am spiritually connected to. 



Where was A Machine in the Garden filmed?

The video was recorded outside of Madison, Maine–a fairly rural town in the center part of the state. I work for an artist residency nearby so I have access to about 600+ acres of woodland.


What is your relationship to nature?

Nature as a space is very important to me. It is where my imagination lives. I depend upon it, and I will eventually end up buried in it, or scattered across it. It is a part of me or I will be a part of it. It is also dying because of my actions and the actions of my species. Simultaneously, it is foreign to me and I am uncomfortable in it. I do not possess a strong enough body or a sharp enough mind to survive it without assistance. I am interested in nature as a reality and nature as a fiction and where those two ideas meet.

Furthermore, I have been a resident of New York City for many years now, and my day-job has given me the opportunity to live and work in Maine during the summer season. The opposing nature of the mechanical environment of New York and the agrarian setting of rural Maine require me to constantly adapt my sense of location and environmental perspective. The instability created from balancing these two environments gives me unique insight into both locations, but simultaneously prevents me from fully identifying with one or the other. The distance created from my feeling out of place in familiar environments has led to my current infatuation with re-visualizing external spaces as well as internal psychological spaces.


A little birdie told us that you believe in ghosts. Does this inform your practice? 

It’s not that I believe in ghosts but rather that I am haunted by them. I don’t mean to put it so melodramatically but for me to simply say yes to this question would suggest a more simple narrative to my very complicated relationship to the invisible, to nature, and to the occult. My relationship to a reality that is equal parts visible and invisible is paramount to my practice as an artist. I don’t necessary choose to put this on the surface of my artworks but it is within and directly underneath it.


Which artist(s) or cultural producer(s) would you cite as a major influence for you?

I am heavily influenced by a number of artists and cultural producers and have always found it difficult to cite. When I was in graduate school in Boston (2008-2010) I was very influenced by Leo Marx and his book The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (after which I named my recent project). I have also been more recently influenced by writers like Mitch Horowitz who wrote the book Occult America which helped open my interest on the subject and to other more well known authors like Crowely, Fortune, Lon Milo DuQuette, etc… I have trouble citing visual artists as there are too many but to simply list a few off the top of my head that I am thinking about now: Paul Pfeiffer, Daniel Bozhkov, Sally Mann, Elijah Burgher, Marcel Dzama, Lilly McElroy, Guy Maddin, Michaël Borremans, Andrew Wyeth, etc…


In what way is the title NO ATLAS reflected in your work?

To me it invokes the idea of exploring. NO ATLAS is an exhibition of works made by artists who are exploring without a map or who explore as a map-maker would.


                                     A Machine in the Garden (2016)