Micah Danges is a Philadelphia-based artist, whom I first met while we were both active members of the non-profit artist collective, Vox Populi. Over time, I have enjoyed quietly watching Micah’s body of work transform, evolve, question, and mesmerize my sense of perception. About a year ago, I had asked Micah if he would take a turn for Title Magazine’s Studio Visit series. Little did I know that a few weeks before we wrapped up this interview, Micah would be awarded a 2015 PEW Fellowship for his talents, much-deserved in the eyes of Micah’s peers and colleagues.
Linda Yun: Your work for me has a wonderful, subtle (yet profound) ability in nudging viewers to reconsider the physicality of the “print,” whether through the simple gesture of a crease made within a poster, to more complicated works, which emerge into space from the floor. Can you discuss the impulse to work in this way, and its evolution over time?
Micah Danges: About eight years ago, I first shifted away from producing traditional prints; the images I was working with demanded a new approach. My method now involves making prints while experimenting with scale and different forms of presentation, allowing the photographic subject to determine the work’s final form. I’m interested in pushing the limit of what a photograph can be in order to bring into focus the fundamental elements that define the medium. Most recently I’ve been using unconventional printing materials such as silk, cotton and iron-on cotton decals, finding these to be the most effective tools to push this limit.
LY: I love the quote by you: “I don’t want the viewer to reach out and touch the work, but I want them to want to.” Can you speak about your process of considering the viewer when making a work of art?
MD: The element of touch is central in determining which materials and processes that I use beyond photography. This aspect of surface and touch is another way to make the work less about freezing a moment and more about constructing an artwork. I want the merging of materials to be distinct and precise, to work in service of joining imagery and material, but not so that it overrides the core imagery and composition. The tension between material and image creates a disorienting moment and elicits the desire to physically touch the work to distinguish where one plane ends and another begins, and draws the eye closer to that pivotal moment.
LY: One of the things I most appreciate about the work is an exploration into ways of making, and letting the process yield new directions for you. Can you speak about your studio practice, and what you find most helpful in terms of discovering new areas of exploration?
MD: My drive to take photographs is rooted in the unpredictability of such a seemingly predictable process. I use the precision of the camera in conjunction with the limitations of its mechanics to generate a series of inspiring problems that I can solve. I know that the assumptions I make while shooting the photograph—about how life will translate onto film—will be proven wrong after it is developed and printed. This shift compels me to slow down, study the printed image and isolate key moments of transformation. From there, I consider the surface of the print and build a material relationship with the image that celebrates its singularity.
LY: On occasion, you have worked collaboratively with other artists, such as James Johnson on the installation Staging and Binding for the University of the Arts Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, or with Luke Stettner in errata at Vox Populi. What are some of the interesting things you have discovered working collaboratively with other artists?
MD: Collaboration has been a great excuse to take time and get to know someone. An opportunity to share ideas, experiment, and learn from each other. My approach has always been a casual one. I try to remain flexible and open to possibilities, which seems to be most rewarding. I had admired both James Johnson and Luke Stettners’ artwork for a while, so the opportunity to work with them was exciting. The medium of photography helped bring ideas together, somewhat naturally. I know that’s not always the case. I’m also looking forward to upcoming collaborations with Marc Zajack, Christopher Gianuzzio, and Becky Suss.
LY: Could you speak about the process of paring your photographic work with objects? Do you feel a connection with other artists who are experimenting with the physical potential of images?
MD: Today, placement, framing, staging, deconstructing and rebuilding are fundamental elements of my process. A typical installation of my work consists of conventional photographic prints, collage-based pieces, and understated photo-based sculptures. Often, each piece in the installation derives from the same original photographic image that has been deconstructed, re-organized, and ultimately reconstructed in ways that best serve the very specific aspect of the original image I find so compelling. The sculptures and collages are always in service of the image. I am interested in pushing the limit of what a photograph can be, and in producing a completed work that is subtle, simple, and elegant, while, at the same time, challenging and slightly disorienting. Narrative content is often absent from these works; I use the camera as a platform for staging and organizing abstract compositions.
The work of Michael Snow, particularly in light of his recent exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is very relevant to my practice. I relate to Snow’s methodical approach to making prints and experimenting with scale and different forms of presentation, and how he allows the content of his subject to determine the work’s final form. Where Snow’s subject is most often items within an artist’s studio, my work tends to focus less on such specifically placed content and more on everyday subjects: a towel, a plant, a door.
My practice of joining other materials to the surface of photographs is shared with a new generation of picture makers like Marlo Pascual, Elad Lassry and Letha Wilson, who complicate photography in a way that viewers can easily understand. The image’s physical potential influences each of these artists’ experiments with how the photograph is presented. They intervene with the surface of the print in ways that include piercing, wrapping and tearing, and attaching various objects and materials to the print, all gestures that tend to move the work farther away from being a photograph presented on a wall and towards being an object found in a room. Although I share and use some of these techniques within my work, I prefer a more subtle merging of materials. I am not interested in stepping farther away from certain elements of traditional photography. I am interested in exploring how both the strengths and shortcomings of the medium can be used to support the needs of each artwork I make.
Micah Danges (b. 1979) received a BFA from Kutztown University in 2001. Recent exhibition venues include Abington Art Center, Pageant Gallery, Cabrini College, Radiator Arts, Ice Box Project Space, The Print Center, Fleisher Art Memorial and Vox Populi Gallery. He was recently awarded a 2015 Pew Fellowship in the Arts.
Danges’ solo series exhibition is on view through August 29th at Abington Art Center.