Exhibition Review: Morgan Higby-Flowers, Timestamp(s)

Published August 7th 2023
By Jennifer Gagliardi

The world of new media is in a transitional period. In a recent Artforum article about MoMA’s newest video art exhibition, it was mentioned that there is a fear of video art as we understand it disappearing. The systems used to create these works as far back as the 70s are starting to break down, and artists need to look for alternatives. As many artists move towards experimenting with AI generated images, there is a lust for the analog experimentation of early new media and video. With the presentation of Timestamp(s) at Electric Shed in Nashville, Morgan Higby-Flowers satisfies that desire. His live rendered feedback loops from VDMX have their roots in Glitch Art. For Morgan, audience interaction is crucial, “I’m sharing a time with them” he says of his projections of real time recordings. He enjoys breaking things and finding the edge of what software can do. 

Higby-Flowers started his training as a painter at the Art Institute of Chicago. He comes from a family of painters, but also remembers his mom as “an early adopter of consumer technology.” Growing up, their home computer had Photoshop 1, and his mother attended a conference in which layers were demonstrated for the first time. “I have early members of me on the computer scanning in Calvin and Hobbes strips and coloring them,” said Higby-Flowers, “Technology has always been there but I never really applied it to art at that time.” At the Art Institute of Chicago, he would stay up late at night in his studio coming up with paintings, and being particularly excited about watching the paint move on the canvas. He ended up taking some New Media classes with John Cates, one of them being “Real Time Video.” From here, Higby-Flowers moved into playing with VCR, describing how “Experimenting with real time became my focus, something I would always fall back on.” 

Now, he works at the intersection of analog and digital in his consideration of time, creating work that breaks the mold of medium specificity in relation to what we understand as video/digital art today. In Timestamp(s) we experience a series of abstractions made through coding. These painterly aesthetics bleed down the screen and constantly transform with meditative qualities. Towards the end of the film we get a glimpse at something organic, a flower that has been rendered in the software. The juxtaposition of organic with inorganic brings forth questions about considering objects in a cybernated space, and also makes reference to Higby-Flowers spending time in his garden over the last few months. “These are somewhat pieces of my diary,” he explains, “I wanted to make a connection thinking about yard work and these modes of doing something repeatedly to get something done.”

Just as important as the video in this work is the use of ambient sound. Despite the small aspect ratio of the projection, the light the piece casts takes over the entire gallery space. In combination, these two elements insulate the spectator within the work as the sound happens around them. Higby-Flowers used white noise and car sounds for the ambient noise, looking back to when his children were babies. “Car noises that would put them to sleep and put me to sleep,” he explains, so using them in the work extends the personal narrative. Installed in Electric Shed, it’s as if the audience is entering a closed circuit environment and becoming a part of the piece itself. The experience can be likened to Nam Jun Paik’s Zen for Film in that viewer participation involves patience and reflection as one works through Timestamp(s)

All of the setup for this piece is intentional, from the sound and video to the actual setup. Higby-Flowers is no stranger to having to set up his own work, and for years he has been using a projector he bought in 2011 set on top of a speaker with a fold out table. For him, this is a way of showing the viewer the technology that has made his work possible, right down to the display. “Before it was necessary, now it has become intentional” he explains, “I’m using a table that has been drawn on by my kids, don’t be apologetic about it and keep it in the space.” 

Higby-Flowers’ Timestamp(s) is a series of live recordings, meaning that he did not go back and make edits. There’s an honesty to the work with the total lack of editing, as he says “As long as it takes to watch it is as long as it took for me to make it. As Higby-Flowers experiments with what the code can do, his successes and limits of pushing that media to the edge are on full display. With this understanding, the work takes on a performative quality, and although the viewing is limited to the recording of the event, we are still given the space to consider this as a piece that exists in a fixed moment in time. This element of chance in the work, combined with the meditative experience, harkens back to a Fluxus style ideology. Higby-Flowers is giving us his time spent in Timestamp(s), breaking down the barrier between artist and audience and cocooning them in the environment he has made. He refers to this as “sharing a time with them” as he considers interactive spectatorship in the piece.

“Real time is important. I function better in real time” explains Higby-Flowers of his experiences both in his artistic practice and out in the world. Timestamp(s) is his first public gallery showing of work since 2018. Connection with others is important to him, as well as creating a shared experience through his work. “I show art to make friends, to make connections. My motivation right now is to come back to the community” he says of this exhibition. In this communal space, he has been able to experience the piece in a new way, considering how video and digital art have physical qualities as well, and how “you’re being drawn into the screen or pushed back sometimes.” Timestamp(s) is a mesmerizing example of Glitch Art, with Higby-Flowers inviting you to experience a spreading out of his senses, and a shared meditative state. 

Timestamp(s) by Morgan Higby-Flowers is on view at Electric Shed from Saturday July 29th by appointment. Check Electric Shed’s instagram for updates. 

Author Bio: Jennifer Gagliardi is a curator and Art Historian working in Nashville. Her areas of expertise include video and digital art, and the intersection of photography and new media. She currently works as a gallery assistant at Julia Martin Gallery and a professor of Art History at MTSU.