A biweekly photography blog sharing the moments that compel me to take my next photograph

Zilvinas Kempinas | MOMA | 1.11.19


It's spring of 2018. A slightly younger Jes visits an opening reception at the Herron Galleries in Indianapolis for a new exhibit titled "V Formation".

Things I expected that evening: Trying to appreciate some new pieces; struggling to do so while navigating through a herd of 300+ people; pretending not to see someone I know; eventually coming face to face with them and somewhat believably exclaiming "Dude, seriously, we HAVE to get together soon”; complaining to friends over dinner about how much I dislike trying to take in new art with hundreds of other people, and deciding I'll just have to return on a quiet afternoon. Things I did not expect that evening: Feeling simultaneously motionless and moved; confronted by an exhibit that resembled an echo chamber of my innermost curiosities.

The exhibit contained various pieces not so subtly forcing me to consider everything from Earth's smallest microorganisms to the sky's largest astral collections. At the core of it all though was the eponymous 112' VHS tape installation. It grasped my attention and consumed me in a way few things ever have. Over the next two months I would return to the gallery on four separate occasions to photograph and analyze every line, shadow, glare, shape, and illusion projected from this colossal display.

Now if you know me personally, you've likely not only heard me talking about this magnificent installation and the creativity it provoked, you've also seen the results of these images. What you may be unfamiliar with is that I shared these images with the artist himself. I mean, were it not for his work I may still be struggling to find my own artistic direction for who knows how much longer. And is that not one of the premium sources of validation for all artists alike - to hear that your work, your labor, your vision has served as a fountain of inspiration to another?  And so with a deep sense of gratitude and zero expectations in mind, I fired off a Dropbox link. (Okay that’s a lie, I expected a copy + paste ‘thank you’ email from an assistant promising to pass the message along.)

Once again, my expectations were greatly exceeded. The artist not only responded personally, but did so immediately and with great enthusiasm and appreciation. He wasted no time diving into how he had been long awaiting for someone to not simply document his work as it can be viewed by the naked eye, but photograph it in the way he craved it to be seen. Wait a minute. Could that really be? Was it so transparent, so detectable? Were the hours of uninterrupted shooting and editing really able to convey the emotional bond I’d formed with this piece? Apparently so.

Fast forward to December of 2018. As I begin planning a trip to New York City with few goals and even fewer expectations in mind, I decide to reach out to the artist/penpal and inquire about seeing any of his recent works. Unfortunately, he had suffered an accident which required an intensive recovery process leaving little time to create in recent months. Not to be discouraged, he assured me we’d figure something out.

It’s now the second week of January. Almost completely at random I’ve chosen five days to spend in New York absorbing every bit of art, culture, and $18 craft cocktails the city has to offer. As luck would have it, just a week prior he had been cleared to walk and it appeared I would have an opportunity after all to make a complete fool of myself either by asking too many questions or not enough at all. (This would depend entirely on the amount of espresso consumed that day.)

Which brings us now to January 11th, 2019. We’ve decided to meet at the MOMA, because what better place to come full circle than the heart of all my neon dreams, the Bruce Nauman exhibition. Having exchanged numerous emails over the past few months, we were no strangers and quickly found our rapport through discussing our favorite artists, the dangers of zipping around slick city streets on electric scooters, and the cringeworthy over-analysis of his chosen material, VHS tapes, by 20 year olds. Even in my sitcom of a life, I hadn’t dared to imagine that it could be that simple. But it was. I had successfully shot my friendship shot at my favorite artist. The digital age, what a time to be alive.

Since I hadn’t allowed him time to mentally prepare to look down the barrel of a 50mm lens, we agreed to save a portrait session for my next inevitable visit, and instead I settled for this befitting image. 

Here sits Zilvinas Kempinas; Lithuanian-born kinetic artist; creator of ‘V Formation’, the artwork that allowed me courage to begin identifying myself as an artist.