Aspen Mays: Approaching Infinite Limits
Date(s) - October 01, 2019 - November 01, 2019
The Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery is pleased to present a solo exhibition of work by Aspen Mays whose work represents a range of photographic practices. Of the methods used in her work Mays has said “Using analog processes is a way to create a human presence that may be counter to rationalist thinking, or objectivity, or a machine. I want to insert the human back into everything; I’m trying to figure out these systems with whatever is at hand.”
Mays’ work often employs methods of exploring memory and the limits of human understanding through tactility, repetition, and intuition. Much of Mays’ time is spent in the darkroom feeling the materials she works with and conducting repetitive experiments, often without using a camera. In some ways, these methods do not align neatly with the ocular truism “seeing is believing.” As a byproduct of relying on touch more than what might be expected in photography, Mays’ process approaches the infinite limits of knowing through memory and repetition. The term “infinite limits” derives from calculus and implies space is a continuum and is not completable. A limit, by definition cannot be infinite. As such, the mathematical practice of approaching, but never reaching, an infinite limit indicates that practice’s own conceptual impossibility, similar to the paradoxes Aspen Mays investigates in her work. “I’ve always been a curious person and I try to channel that as an artist,” says Mays whose artistic practice revolves around the tension between the human desire to find meaning in the unknown and the human incapacity to understand the unknown. As a result, many of her works originate from or are themselves constructions from multiple sources, materials, and techniques, assembled together, aptly, in the dark.
“Research is often the catalyst for my work,” says Mays whose honors include a J. William Fulbright grant 2009-2010 in Chile, where she worked with astronomers who are using the world’s most advanced telescopes to look at the sky. This experience had a profound impact on Mays’ practice as she worked in an abandoned darkroom while interacting with astronomers in the Atacama Desert who approached the telescope as many photographers approach the camera. Reflecting on that experience, Mays has said “That alone was already an isolating experience because the sky feels so immense, so overwhelming that I remember feeling total disbelief that we are able to see anything at all, find anything that we’re looking for.”
Aspen Mays: Approaching Infinite Limits exhibits work from multiple projects created before, during, and after Mays’ experience in Chile that are all components of an overall artistic investigation into the (flawed) human endeavor to understand something as massive and complex as the universe using scientific tools and methods. Works from these projects are placed in direct dialogue with more recent projects grappling with inter-generational change, personal loss, and the problematic relationship between the social expectations of photography to be a factual, historical record and one’s own fragmented, subjective memories. In Tengallon Sunflower, for example, Mays recreates the starburst pattern of a bandana worn by her great-grandmother through a meticulously repetitive process of folding and hole punching photographic paper in the darkroom to seek communion with something beyond the frailty of human existence and the obsolescence of memory. Indeed, the meticulous, time-intensive methods Aspen Mays employs, in a way, provide for the viewer an artistic approach to questioning the scientific processes of conducting research through data collection and categorization. In light of science’s inability to answer unanswerable questions, it may very well be the role of art, as seen in Aspen Mays’ work, that humanizes the nature of investigation to make some kind of sense of the world or, at the very least, make us less uncomfortable about remaining in the dark.
In conjunction with the opening of this exhibition, Aspen Mays will present an illustrated lecture 5:00pm – 6:00pm in the Department of Art & Art History Lecture Hall (room 133) the evening of October 1, 2019, just prior to the opening reception, 6:00pm-7:30pm in the Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery. Both events are free and open to the public.
We would like to extend our deepest appreciation to Aspen Mays and Higher Pictures for all their efforts to make this exhibition a success. We would also like to thank San José State University (SJSU) Photography faculty Binh Danh, Robin Lasser, and Valerie Mendoza for their suggestions, support, expertise, and guidance from the earliest stages of this exhibition’s conceptualization to the installation of Aspen Mays’ work and the integration of this exhibition’s themes with multiple learning opportunities for SJSU students.
Curated by Aaron Wilder
The Face of God (Stargazer), 2013
Archival Inkjet Print from Found 35mm Film