Miles Coolidge presents two of his latest photographic projects for this exhibition. Both works recognize photography’s importance in visual and popular culture, embracing the medium as a conceptual and surrealist tool in the history of art. Coolidge works between traditional photographic genres and strategies, de-familiarizing our accustomed approach to our surroundings.
His most ambitious project to date, Wall of Death, is an installation of 20 color photographs that replicates a complete and full-scale representation of the performing surface of the traveling carnival act, “Don Daniel’s Wall of Death Motorcycle Thrill Show,” operated by the California Hellriders, who are based in Swansea, Massachusetts. Each photograph corresponds to one of the Wall of Death’s wooden panels, and the images are mounted edge-to edge on the gallery wall, echoing how the structure appears when fully assembled. Coolidge shot the images on the grounds of the Iron Horse Saloon, Ormond Beach, Florida, during “Biketoberfest 2006”.
The Wall of Death is a vertical wooden cylinder in which trained motorcycle and go-kart riders perform for audiences. The riders are held to the sheer surface by the centripetal force generated by their velocities of 35 mph or more. Coolidge’s 20 images depict the 7’ wooden surface on which the riders perform.
Currently there are 3 Walls of Death in operation in the United States that travel between motorcycling events in the South, the Midwest and the Northeast, in addition to others based in Great Britain, Europe and perhaps elsewhere. Walls of Death are made from wooden panels bolted together and girdled by cables, designed for easy setup, breakdown and transportation. Their basic, modular construction (designed to be continually assembled and reassembled) recalls the functionalism of the early Modernists.
Each of Coolidge’s photographs measure 7×3-1/2’, and are printed with pigment-based archival inks on glossy inkjet paper overlaid with a UV-protective matte laminate. The prints are then mounted to 26 gauge galvanized steel plates. In the gallery each panel is adhered to the wall with flexible magnetic strips and then positioned edge-to-edge in one row measuring 70’ in total.
Borrowing its title from an architectural term for permanent street fixtures, Coolidge’s second project, Street Furniture, is a more discreet series of ongoing photographic images that depict obsolete household furnishings abandoned on sidewalks as trash in the artist’s neighborhood. Each image from the ongoing series isolates one found item, presenting it as exemplary of its type; together the works flesh out a description of the kinds of furnishings commonly found in contemporary homes. The items chosen for reclamation were those whose horizontal axis did not match that of the horizon line, and therefore were photographed frontally with their geometry aligned to the camera’s image rectangle. The effect is to reveal the arbitrariness of our collective understanding of the world, an intention that links this work with aspects of the Surrealists’ project.
Constructing a body of work that ranges from the banal to the uncanny, the artist’s twist on the pared-down, documentary aesthetic, creates clear but complex, and ultimately compelling, layers of meaning. Transforming three-dimensional objects onto flat picture planes, Coolidge balances the worlds of art and life in such a way that a simple change of perspective produces images that are inventive and unexpected.