2-channel video projection, color, sound. 90 minutes, loop. 16 x 39 feet. Captured in Los Angeles in winter 2019–2020. Sound composition by Drew Schnurr.
“Any-Instant-Whatever portrays the daytime sky in its textures and physics of blueness, its range of water formations sculpted by wind and pressures born of our nearest star—forces which, when synaptically processed, transform into emergent sensations of sublime beauty. This is the sky of our closest reach, the sky that most connects us in time to our deep evolutionary past through which we peered into the night’s other and its—until very recently—unreachable horizons.” Excerpt by Stephen Nowlin, director of the Williamson Gallery in Pasadena, curator of SKY exhibition, an immersive examination of how humans have conceptualized the sky throughout history, this group exhibition will demonstrate how the unfolding realities exposed by new science are affecting change in the understanding of ourselves, our planet and beyond.
Any-Instant-Whatever is a contemplation of a day in Los Angeles and a homage to philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson whose ideas around duration and time-space have inspired Méndez’s work for decades.
Méndez documented the sky of Los Angeles in winter 2019–2020 from dawn to dusk. Winter days are precious to Angelinos, as it’s when we receive most of our much-needed rainfall and the city comes to life in the aroma and colors of spring. For this video, Méndez chose to depict one day in early January when the typically blue skies are scattered with clouds—from the low, puffy layers of the ‘Stratocumulus Clouds,’ to the layers of bread rolls of the ‘Altocumullus Clouds,’ the regularly spaced cloudlets, often rippled ‘Cirrocumulus Clouds,’ and the delicate cloud streaks of the ‘Cirrus Clouds.’ All these cloud formations and more may be present in one single day in Los Angeles, as depicted in this video. A Los Angeles cloud-rich sky reminds us of the value of water, as well highlights our good fortune of living on a land enriched by sheer eternal sunshine.
It brings to mind the writer Albert Camus (1913–960), who grew-up dirt poor in the French colony of Algiers. Upon moving to Paris he observed that the people of the North were much poorer than he had ever been on the Mediterranean coast, as there at least he always had the sun, the sea and the open blue sky. Los Angeles is rich in the same way, with on average 186 days of full sunshine a year, and 106 days with partial sunshine, for a total of 292 days. Seventy-three percent of a year’s daylight time, the sun reaches the ground in downtown. The sky and the sun in Los Angeles are both great unifying forces, infusing a certain relaxed Southern Californian style in its people, as well as act as equalizers, whose light and warmth caress everyone. People in Los Angeles from all walks of life experience the same sky—something we all have in common.
The artwork also investigates aspects of color perception. Since blue light is at the short wavelength end of the visible spectrum, it is more strongly scattered in the atmosphere than long wavelength red light. The result is that the human eye perceives blue when looking toward parts of the sky other than the sun.
Any-Instant-Whatever can be understood as a ‘sensate’ or emotional timepiece, serving as a peaceful respite in our busy day, inspiring us to bring together our mind and body as we experience, if just for a moment, the fullness of time expressed in the sky above us.
One of the oldest human inventions is the clock—‘rationally measuring time intervals.’ Water clocks, along with the sundials, were possibly the first time-measuring instruments. Our modern lives are tightly organized around the clock, yet our bodies relate to and are influenced by natural time—night/day/twilight (dusk/dawn)—differently. As the viewer enters the gallery they are greeted by a field of harmonious tones of blue, that announce a more natural rhythm to our daily grind.
The sky is also shared between humans and non-human creatures who, through migration, interconnect Southern California with the rest of the Pacific Flyway, from the far reaches of the north to the most southern skies of our shared globe. As we change how our skies look and what threats we’ve added along the way—from light to noise to structures to pollutants—our skies are also a space of added threats and population declines. Within human communities across Southern California, the pollutants we release and that wander through our skies affect our human and non-human kin, often disproportionately those who are most vulnerable already.
The blue sky of our atmosphere contains a concentration of manmade carbon pollution that is undoing the very stability of our existence. In the words of Sir David Attenborough from a few days ago at COP26, “it’s easy to forget that ultimately the climate emergency comes down to a single number—the concentration of carbon in our atmosphere. We've surpassed 414 parts per million and the safe number is 350 ppm. This single number is the measure that greatly determines global temperature, and the changes in that one number is the clearest way to chart our own story, for it defines our relationship with our world.”
Inside the gallery, and of equal importance to the video presentation, is the sound composition for Any-Instant-Whatever by Drew Schnurr. The sounds are derived entirely from resonating crystal receptacles tuned by water. Much in the same way that water vapor in the atmosphere refracts light, crystals (also a refractor of light into component colors) resonate to produce pure sound spectra built upon natural frequency fundamentals that are akin to frequencies producing visual colors in the sky.
The composition process involved tuned performance and recording of the crystal resonances, sonic processing of the recordings (akin to how textural water vapor and pollution effect light and color in the sky), conversion of the recordings into digital instrument patches mapped to a keyboard, and then composition and performance of music for these original instruments.
The resulting layers and linear musical arrangements of sonic crystal resonance composites unfold according to the video’s designed sequential arrangement of natural visual ranges of frequency (as color spectra in the sky) rendered both simultaneously and over time.
To create Any-Instant-Whatever, Méndez used a commonly practiced technique in photography called Time-Slice Photography. A Time-Slice image is built from the photographs of a time-lapse and each ‘slice’ is a photograph taken at a different point in time, usually a few minutes after the previous slice. Time-Slice Photography and Time-Lapse Photography are commonplace techniques of Chronophotography, which has been the preoccupation of hundreds of thousands of photographers, artists and scientists for over 150 years. As a video artist, Méndez adapted such technique to video, to compress one day, from dusk to dawn, in 90 minutes, alluding to abstract time, and in turn creating a poetic expression of atmospheric time. The 12-hour day is abstracted into 48 moments of atmospheric time, each 15 minutes ahead of the other so one can experience the ever changing sky above.