The only two-sided sense (2017)
Rebecca Solnit’s “The Blue of Distance” (2006)
We have access to so much online, it seems as though we’ve seen it all—or we could if we wanted to. But in all our searching and sharing, what are we actually gaining? We don’t really share our experiences, we simulate them, and with simulations our minds must work to fill in the gaps. But when most of our visual understanding is predicated on lived experience, what gets lost through the barrier of screens?
Rachael Starbuck approaches her work as an epistemologist, testing how we come to know things. She explores touch, distance, and scale, and their attendant feelings of desire, longing, and frustration. On our homepage, she presents two nested videos. Washing (2017) depicts the artist’s hand applying water to a dry blue surface. Over time, matte blue becomes shiny and reflective, and eventually dries back to its original luster. The surf’s disguise of beginnings (2016) is a macro-photography survey of golden fur that undulates as the camera traverses its textural landscape. Both videos lead to confusing experiences of time and scale: the blue surface extends off the edges of the screen, vast like a sky or ocean, while the fur’s repeating patterns of hair embody the infinite.
For Tête-à-tête’s July 2017 exhibition, Starbuck has paired these videos with an audio recording of her reading “The Blue of Distance,” an essay from Rebecca Solnit’s book A Field Guide for Getting Lost that has garnered a cult following among artists since its publication in 2006. “Solnit’s essay has, for me, forever linked the color blue with the feeling of distance and the sometimes sweet, indulgent futility of something forever far away,” says Starbuck. Through poetic language, Solnit explains that we will never be able to overcome or fully grasp atmospheric distance, its intangibility so often expressed metaphorically through the color blue. She suggests that we should instead embrace the feeling of longing and appreciate its peculiar sensations—because even if you could span the distance, it would lose its blue hue upon arrival.
Both of Starbuck’s videos stimulate this type of longing by triggering tactile memories. In Washing, Starbuck’s hand acts as a surrogate for the user’s finger: in order to see a hand wipe over the smooth blue surface, the user must rub the surface of her phone or trackpad. And while the user can see Starbuck’s hand wiping down the surface, and performs a similar rubbing action herself, the slick wetness of the artist’s hand is lost on dry fingers across screens or trackpads. Similarly, as the user’s finger moves over The surf’s disguise of beginnings the camera acts as a proxy for the hand, but the desire to touch the soft fur is left unsatiated by petting glass or plastic. When negotiating between the virtual and real, the feeling of distance is felt even at close proximity.