SCAD MFA student P Seth Thompson embarked on a hero's journey for his thesis exhibition The Tannhauser Gate, opening Sat., May 19. Thompson, who's also the curatorial assistant to Michael Rooks, curator of modern and contemporary art at the High Museum, discusses his background and inspiration for the show, including Freddie Krueger, Blade Runner and quantum physics.
What's your background? How'd you get started making art?
I grew up with a mom as an artist. She worked at the Atlanta College of Art, and so I was constantly around college students and I think it made sense to me rather than the sports route or band route. On top of that, I was always really into fantasy and science fiction and horror films. Those things combined melded into my aesthetic in my photography.
What are some of your favorite horror films?
The one film that started it all for me was Nightmare on Elm Street 3. I saw it in the theater way too young — I was like 7 — and I was terrified at the beginning of the film and I wanted to leave but we didn't. At the end of it I was just blown away by the whole idea of being a dream warrior and hiding demons in your dreams.
Would you explain the title of your show, "The Tannhauser Gate?"
It's originally from Blade Runner and there's a scene that's, in my opinion, one of the best scenes ever in a film. At the end of the film, one of the characters recites this monologue before he dies and he mentions he's seen the Tannhauser Gate and he's referencing stargaze, where you can travel to other star systems, and so for me when I saw that and the combination of the music, the monologue, the acting, the visuals of the whole thing, it was just amazing.
For some reason, I don't know how I connected it, but I started to think about when I saw the Challenger explosion on TV when I was in first grade, 1986. How that was so impactful because up to that point I understood television to be fake, so anything that existed in television didn't exist in our world. And when the Challenger exploded, and my teacher was crying, it was so confusing because I didn't know why she was crying. And then I realized that the explosion actually happened and the people were all dead. So kind of like this metaphor, at that moment this gate opened up between our world and the television and the image.
What was your process of making these digitally manipulated photos?
Late at night, when everyone was asleep or if I was staying somewhere or anytime I was walking around the city, I would just start shooting textures. Whenever i saw a texture I loved, I would just shoot it with my iphone or whatever and I would zoom into it. Then I started doing self portraits and overlaying the textures with the portraits to make this kind of connection to me to the micro world of these textures and it was all done in photoshop. I would photograph anything from the microwave door, to the bar at Mary's.
Could you talk about the textures in the piece "The Tannhauser Gate"?
The shape is actually the plume of smoke after the Challenger exploded. I blurred it out a little bit — I didn't want to make it really crisp. And the textures there are just some digital imagaes that i appropriated from the web. Iinitially I had appropriated still images from the movie Weird Science where they're about to make Kelly LeBrock and they go through this weird ’80s computer graphic stuff, but unfortunately I could just never make it work. I was searching for this technological look that seemed like you were going through a black hole or a wormhole into another universe.
So what have you learned about the "slowly vanishing boundary between images and our reality" from your work in this show?
There's always this talk about how we're this image-consumed society and every artist statement has it if you're a photographer. But it became really interesting to me when I started to learn about quantum physics, and I won't go into because it's like people's eyes glaze over and I am just now beginning to wrap my head around it after about a year or two of reading about it. But the coolest thing to me was that through these experiments, physicists have learned that the observer actually creates reality. Like that question "If the tree falls in the forest and no one's around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Well, according to quantum physics, it doesn't make a sound because the tree doesn't exist if there's no one around to see it or hear it.
So I started thinking abut that in terms of photography and how we as photographers and amateur photographers constantly freeze reality and we have these moments where we go back to our photographs to remember these moments from the past and we aren't really remembering those moments, we're remembering those moments based on who we are presently. So it's this false reality we live in and on top of that because we're so consumed with all these images then what does that mean - are we just images? That was the coolest part about this project - really trying to understand these different theories that aren't photography-based or art-based.
The Tannhauser Gate Opens Sat., May 19, 6-9 p.m. Ontologic (former Solomon Projects Gallery), 1037 Monroe Drive. Visit the event's Facebook page for more info.
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