My other sites:

Ren Adams Art AIB MFA Blog
Ren Adams Art
Ren Adams Art on Pinterest
Ren Adams Art – Curated Pinterest Gallery “Trace” (the original idea behind the Cascade), culled from pre-existing images
Ren Adams Art on Facebook

For a detailed essay on the concept behind The Cascade Project, please visit the Alchemy of Image page.

This project is constantly evolving.

 The Project – Backstory

My formative years were spent in the Antelope Valley (Mojave Desert, CA), which Frank Zappa referred to as a land with its own lore and mythology.

Just north of Los Angeles, the “AV” and its related environs (a swath of the Angeles National Forest, the San Gabriel Mountains and a horde of rocky, desert canyons) saw explosive growth from the mid-70s, through the early 90s, a population boom that tapered to a slow-steady only recently. The reason for the expansion was partly related to aerospace, but largely a result of increasing costs of living in the LA basin. Hundreds of thousands of people moved to the area over the course of 25 years, treating the rocky expanse as a “suburb” of the valley, entering the quirky land of abandoned gas stations, burned out cars,  Joshua trees and chaparral with urban interests.

Its close proximity to Hollywood invited the production of movies and TV even before the boom. That brown desert landscape you see as a backdrop in almost every A-Team car chase? That’s home.

It was cheap to film there, easy to get to and had pockets of vast open space peppered with cities and almost-forgotten gas station hubs. It wasn’t just the Antelope Valley and the broader Mojave Desert, either. The film zone included a string of nearby locations, notably centered on: Santa Clarita, Acton / Canyon Country, Soledad Canyon, Boquet Canyon, the Vazquez Rocks, Placerita Canyon, Saugus / Newhall, Stevenson Ranch and Elsmere, spreading farther south into Topanga and Malibu and East into the Angeles National Forest itself.

Back-end highways that once served the area before the 14 freeway was built, like Sierra Highway, Soledad Canyon Road, Agua Dulce Canyon Road and Escondido Canyon Road were hotspots, often blocked as crews caught heroes on film.

Places my family frequently roamed–like the Saugus Speedway, Valencia, Magic Mountain and the outskirts of Palmdale became backdrops for all manner of movies and TV spots.

This interconnected system became the location pool of choice for many major television programs and movies produced from the 1960s – 1980s. You’ve seen the Southern California canyon ecosystem whether you know it or not. It blended with popular output, became mythologized as the setting of valiant chases, imagined “Ecuadors” or “Cubas,” the site of alien landings, the range for gun-toting cowboys and slicked-back detectives, the terrifying no-man’s land where a big rig mercilessly chased Dennis Weaver in his 1971 Plymouth Valiant. You’ve seen the landscape that even still populates my dreams as a default backdrop, serves as a reference point for the basest intuition of home, location, place and space.

The Antelope Valley became part of this range of familiar areas used as “Hollywood’s Backlot.” As production moved out of the sound stage, sequences were often shot on-site in areas whose very geological , sociological and ecological makeup had affected my perceptions, guided my aesthetics. In some ways, the backgrounds of popular TV froze a contextual moment for me, capturing the essence of environment within an actual time-sensitive narrative rooted in geography and the progression of time.

As a child completely immersed in popular television culture (the TV was rarely off), the tales I internalized were filmed in areas I frequented. The adventures were built of familiar flora and fauna, recognizable roads, understandable weather. It was a visual vocabulary I inherently understood, composed of a unique kind of relational linguistics. I intuitively understood that these stories involved my own personal geography, my own generation of space and place–filtered through the lens of popular culture as a kind of remix.


The Project – Concept: The Cascade and the Trace

If you’ve ever caught The A-Team, Knight Rider, MASH, Simon & Simon, MacGyver, The Dukes of Hazzard, Big Valley, Star Trek–even Gene Autry, The Monkees, Little House on the Prairie or the Greatest American Hero, you’ve seen it: the color palette, the geographical relationships, the creosote bushes, Joshua trees, tilting rocks. You’ve seen Southern California.

You may have even grown accustomed to the arid outlay of folded rock balanced by urban density, commercial signage; the brown-yellow dirt, the dead desert brush, the dry turn-outs and canyon highways. Even if you’ve never set foot in Santa Clarita, Palmdale, Acton or California, you may also have visual memory of the aesthetics of the area, such that if I showed you a screencap like this:


…you would know it’s Star Trek–that the strange, alien rocks are inherently Star Trek. It is a landscape permissible to the Star Trek universe, an expected geologic disturbance on an alien planet. The rocks are so characteristic, they’ve cropped up in several episodes of the original, as well as later Star Trek series, three Star Trek movies–and even as outside referents to the Star Trek universe itself! An episode of The Big Bang Theory, “The Bakersfield Expedition,” finds the main characters on the way to ComicCon. The gang goes to the site (Vazquez Rocks, Acton, CA), dressed as Star Trek: The Next Generation characters, to take photos at the legendary location. Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey similarly refers to the rocks and their habitation of a science fiction geography as Bill and Ted reenact the famous fight scene between Kirk and the Gorn, a battle about to take place in the screen cap above. The rocks themselves have become a rhythmic motif in the Star Trek franchise, acting as referents to the original episodes, while also becoming referential to an unreal, imagined geographic space, a cultural recognition of their fanciful use.

The rocks inhabit the very real, the imagined and the transient place of recollection, iconographic of a collapsing space between personal history, geologic reality and cultural production.

Though I admittedly find the nostalgia of recognizing landscapes that are both geologically familiar and historically poignant personally exciting, I’m not aiming for descent into the nostalgic.

The fact that snippets of my experience can be gleaned from the backgrounds of popular television and films fascinates me, because it also implies other cultural products contain trace landscapes from the lives and interactions of others–that popular culture generates stories (and memories of the fictional tales) that overlay the very real, the very concrete, and the literally enacted as a kind of remix. It also speaks to the idea of the integration of public and private, online and offline, cultural and personal. Someone watching Star Trek, for example, might have visual familiarity of the fictional events of the “Arena” episode, may have also been on family picnics at the Vazquez Rocks National Park and may have a blended understanding of the popular and personal, the cultural and  representational aspects of the episode, its original cast and crew, its place in American history, its reception in cultural circles and its impact on the physical world.

These blurred edges, stemming from the cascade of images and information that inhabit popular culture, and now digital culture, are representative of the ways we blur the real and unreal in our own understandings. Do a Google search for the “Vazquez Rocks.” Watch the image cascade. You’ll see screencaps from movies and television, shots of people reenacting those same fictional narratives in the “real” or “official” location. You’ll see nature photography catching the scenic reality of the park , and all manner of parody and pastiche: https://www.google.com/search?q=vasquez+rocks&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=nHXcUc2HCKiSyQGv44DwCg&ved=0CEkQsAQ&biw=1600&bih=732

The transitory landscape found in rapidly moving television images itself is sometimes hard to focus on, as scene changes and action tend to preclude wide, sweeping vistas. Yet, the landscape punctuates these television adventures, knitted into both production and reception. `

The Cascade freezes a trace of these physical settings in an instant, as a screencap, once removed from their physical location by the original filming and again removed by the act of capturing a temporary instance with a cell phone. The screens are not pre-paused. Instead, rapid decisions to catch individual moments happen in real time, during viewing.

Emphasis is not placed on the characters or commerciality of the moments. For the sake of continuity, I am limiting the pool to television from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and excluding film. In the act of selecting and capturing these transitory events, I’ll also be removing the imagery yet again, by taking the screencap as fuel for another mutation, another separation, another remix. The actual nature of the mutative removal will change as the semester goes, as I will be experimenting with an investigation of the found image in other mediums, including video, sound, printmaking, paint, image transfer, sculpture and web-based art.

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