ROCKLAND COUNTY, N.Y. -- Nyack native Krista Wortendyke found pictures of sanctioned violence from all over the world -- lynchings, beheadings, stonings -- in which an audience posed with the bodies they had just killed. She felt very little reaction, and though she did not know it at the time, the epiphany led the conceptual artist to her latest project.
“Interventions,” an examination of images violence and media representations of brutality, opened Sept. 12 in the Technology Center Rotunda at Rockland County Community College. The exhibit runs through Sept. 30.
The project started when Wortendyke, who graduated from Hackley School in Tarrytown, viewed images on the computer. “I was interested in why I didn’t respond to them,’’ Wortendyke said. “I wanted to give those pictures their impact back, and make people see, slow down their patterns of consumption and think more carefully about what what they see.”
Wortendyke procured the pictures and “blocked out” the bodies in the 19 pictures in her exhibit, but re-drew outlines of the bodies. The technique re-defined the image for viewers.
“It introduced a decorative part to the pictures,’’ Wortendyke said. “It also denied the picture its context in history. That person was gone from the picture. By blocking that image out, it denies that relationship.”
Wortendyke said she started the project while she was in grad school nine years ago. She took time to procure the photos and set about “re-contextualizing” them. She said she looked at hundreds of photos for the exhibit.
“When I started the project, I was looking at the way we consume images and how easy it is to look at them and dismiss them,’’ she said. “We don’t process what’s in front of us. I want these pictures to slow people down and start a dialogue.”
The new images re-centered the focus for people looking at the images. “It takes the gaze off the spectacle of these bodies, and re-focuses the gaze on the spectators,’’ Wortendyke said. “Initially, when you look at an image like that, you don’t see them. The body is such a focus. This puts the focus on the spectators.”
Wortendyke’s “re-contextualizing” work transforms an image from its original meaning to something far different. All of her work is based on violence and mediation of violence in United States culture. Now based in Chicago, she is adjunct faculty member at Columbia College. She received her Masters in Fine Arts in photography from the school in 2007.
One of her signature pieces is “Killing Season Chicago,’’ where the tracked 172 homicides in the city between Memorial Day and Labor Day in 2010. She crafted a 65-foot long installation of the photographs against a caution-orange background and placed them in a chronological graph. Moving left to right in the piece, there is one column for each day the project spans. Stacked photographs in each column reflect the number of homicides that day as well as document each crime scene. Click here for the “Killing Season Chicago” interactive website.
Wortendyke said she developed an interest in photography while attending Hackley. Her mother also attended an art school, and she frequently tagged along.
She has lived in Chicago for 12 years, and she now calls it her home. She did enjoy returning to the area one day last week to speak with the college students about the exhibit and art.
“I think it’s wonderful,’’ she said. “It’s awesome to come back and to share my experience with students from where I’m from. I think they were interested in the exhibit.”