Liz Wendelbo

03.11.11

Left: View of “Opticks,” 2010. Right: Liz Wendelbo, Opticks XIX – Sets & Lights, 2010, still from a film in 16 mm, 3 minutes.


Liz Wendelbo is an artist who primarily works in film and photography. With Sean McBride she also plays in the Minimal Wave band Xeno & Oaklander. Wendelbo has recently shown her films at the New Museum and Microscope Gallery in New York, and she has a selection of pieces on view at Agns B./Galerie du Jour in Paris as part of a group show titled “Musique plastique,” which explores connections between art and music. The exhibition is on view until April 2.

THE WORK I AM SHOWING at Galerie du Jour debuted last November at Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn, and it takes as a departure point Isaac Newton’s book Opticks [1704]. It was a singular gesture on Newton’s part that inspired me: One day he simply held a glass prism up to the sun. The sun refracted through it and a full spectrum of color appeared on the wall of the room. I was attracted to the fantasy of what Newton’s room felt like at that precise moment––its furniture, the angle of the sun, the ambient sounds coming in through his window; I wanted to reenact his experiment for myself. Especially since it was so hard to comprehend his writings.

In the 1800s, physicist J. C. Maxwell attempted to make the first color photograph based on Newton’s color theory, and his efforts further inspired me to stage these reenactments in my studio, and using simple means. My reenactments for the series “Opticks” were done by hand with media that I know well: 16-mm film, Polaroids, and paper. Through doing these experiments over and over and by using my own tools, I began to understand more surprising things about Newton’s singular gesture. While making the series, I noticed that fetishism plays an important part in the process: The gear used to make the work becomes the subject of the work.

My films emphasize a direct and “live” approach to the filming process. I used a film camera registration test chart as the singular visual image in these works. Color and lighting effects are created through a process of superimposition, whereby I rewind the film inside the camera and expose again what I’ve just shot. This creates layers of images, sometimes as many as four in one scene. Other technical limitations and aspects affect the outcome: stopping and starting the camera, which exposes the film, results in flash frames––a moment of bright white or yellow. The grain and trembling of the film are also important to me. The works are shot with a vintage 16-mm H-16 Bolex camera from 1955. I am captivated by the fetishistic appeal of the gear––the camera, the film, the backdrop, and the lights.

All of my activities are informed by a punk sensibility. One of my other main projects is the band Xeno & Oaklander, a project that aesthetically parallels my art in many ways. We play minimal electronic music and use analog synths and record our music in our home studio in Brooklyn. Using analog musical gear comes with its fragilities, its shifts, its limitations, and its obsessions. Again, it’s gear fetishism.

— As told to T. J. Carlin