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Interview with Jan Tichy, Part 1

title of piece, medium, year. Image courtesy of…

Tempestt Hazel: I’m curious about your decisions for laying out the East Gallery with the videos. How much of this was your decision?

Jan Tichy: All of it. Everything was my choice. It was clear to me that this was the darkest space, and many times when I’m doing work in these dark spaces people relate to them as these dark photographic spaces in which images are being created. It felt natural to create something like what you see here with Installation No. 15 (Siskind). And even the relationship between the street, this gallery and the other gallery is a sort of camera obscura. But I wasn’t interested in recreating that. I’ve had previous pieces dealing with that specifically. But here there is the notion of the dark space that the image is being created in, like in a camera or in our eye.

I did think about the space specifically because it’s not a typical white cube. There is this presence of a wall, and it came together with Siskind who was taking pictures of walls. There were a couple of things that came together [with this space] that made me work with Siskind and these particular pieces. I love abstract expressionism. When I do my own projections, if they are totally abstract like the piece that is now at the Art Institute, or if they work with photographic images, I’m accustomed to working with spaces, entire walls, floors, etc. So, it was different to come into a collection of only photography where the photographs can be very small and the biggest one is actually not so big. There is something interesting with abstract expressionism where you see these painters with these huge canvases. Then there’s always Siskind there with his small frames. There was a frustration in the 20th century photography with the size. So, I started thinking about what would happen if you really blow it out. I was looking at his work and the pictures of the walls, the murals—some from Chicago. I worked a lot with architecture and urban environment.

But there’ is something very flat with these works. They need light to bring out the textures in them. But they aren’t really images where you feel the light there. It’s all layers of marks—the human marks and the marks of weather and nature. What I’m doing here technically is a technique that I evolved a couple years ago of changing digital thresholds through a digital image.

TH: What do you mean by digital thresholds?

JT: A digital image has 255 shades of gray. If you open levels in Photoshop and look at the histogram, the histogram goes from zero to 255. There is a feature in Photoshop called thresholds. When you use it the image becomes black and white, no grays. So, you decide where the threshold is between zero and 255. Everything lower goes to black and everything higher goes to white. [For this video], I took this image and exported it 255 times from Photoshop.

TH: And that’s what makes up the 11 minutes of the video—the transition from black to white through the thresholds?

JT: Yes, I bring it into a video editing software frame by frame, making each frame 2.5 seconds. I can control the speed. I could make it faster. But there is a revealing, exposing and erasing happening at the same time.