Thursday, June 6, 2013

saul melman: untitled redux

Saul Melman returned to BoxoHOUSE in April, 2013 for a two week expansion of his earlier project which involved turning the former garage, now finished studio space, into a camera obscura.  

The new project was expansive in every way. For weeks ahead of his arrival, Saul's materials began to be delivered. Large quantities of silver gelatin and developing chemicals. Large boxes of large papers - one batch the result of Saul's residency at Dieu Donne in New York City. Large sheets of handmade paper on which he was to paint silver gelatin making handmade photographic paper. And boxes containing black light absorbent cloth.

Saul had been inspired by Giotto frescoes and the new direction for the project involved his donning garb to create images that responded to those works from an earlier time. He arrived, brimming with enthusiasm, and proceeded to pull various iridescent cloths and other props from his bag like a conjuror relishing the making of magic.

Saul started with making the studio light tight - made easier by the insulation and drywalling yet challenging in terms of not wearing too much on the finished surfaces. The other upgrade was running water in the studio and then again the challenge of not putting chemicals directly into the sink to avoid killing the septic system. We debated these points for a while and reached an agreement on what was necessary and tolerable.

As the papers were oversized - 40 x 30 and larger - Saul had to build baths for developing and fixing from scratch. He also built a black grey water tank which we put out behind the studio to hold the used chemicals until they evaporated. And he built a light tight container for the papers - several iterations of which were trialed. A photographic project of sorts that also involved a lot of sculpture. Within three days, the studio was transformed into a functioning lab with pounds of heavy duty black plastic everywhere to protect surfaces as well as protect papers from the light.

The production process then began - tests with different props and positions.Saul fashioned halos of sorts from cardboard and silver tape. As the images were actually negatives, anything white appeared black and vice versa. Luckily, the hot weather was not yet on tap as Saul spent most the performance time wearing a black ski mask with the halo velcroed to the side of his head, a large black cloth draped around him and black rubber gloves. Ultimately, he determined a sequence of three images he wanted to create and then cycled into producing multiple versions of each to shift the variables and witness the results.

The exposure time for each image was a lot less than last year - six to eight minutes vs. the sixteen to eighteen previously. This meant that production could speed up - a mixed blessing for Saul as the preparation of the papers and subsequent development still took a fair amount of time. Ultimately, this meant falling back into the schedule he had developed last year of shooting in the morning into the afternoon, developing into the late evening and then preparing papers into the early hours of the following morning.


I worked with Saul at agreed times, primarily in the mornings, to adjust the drapery and halo he was wearing, over and over. Early one morning, we had a visit from Edie Nadlehaft, a New York artist passing through with her husband on motorcycles. They were quickly drafted into the working team. Brian Leatart, a Joshua Tree stalwart and artist, also came by to document the process of dressing and posing. On the penultimate evening of the residency, thirty plus people came for a gut expanding dinner prepared by the El Dorado Supper Club team. Some of the images were mounted and the props were displayed on a shelf. The studio  converted from working environment to restaurant in a flash.

Saul is still developing some of the images and I look forward to seeing final works. Selections from the work will be exhibited at BoxoOFFICE in the Fall. You can read more about Saul's process in this article.

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