Dan Powell Flow Chart
Fine Art Photograph Collections
Dan Powell: Flow Chart series
Black & white negatives, hand marked and colored prints, 1979-80
"Flow Chart" series, 1979-80, 18x18"
This series was not a break from the "Wall Complex" series but rather simply an evolution as the ideas refined themselves. The work became more about information and even less sense of place or space was signified, however evidence of the wall (it's texture and geography) remained important. On occasion part of a fern or plant would be evident in the bottom of the frame to infer the location of office or lab, a place where charts and maps are found. The term 'Flow Chart" is a borrowed term from the world of business and other institutional statistics, suggesting an assemblage of information, a schematic.
"Flow Chart" series began with my being a victim of an auto accident in Champaign, Illinois during my first year of graduate school. In receiving insurance forms that seemed to be written in some foreign tongue, I became aware that I was seeing the beginnings of a new system of information dispersal; the sprocket driven computer readout. I began gathering this material (piles of it could be found in dumpsters around town, along with other pieces of paper with notations, markings, pictures). The computer readout served as a model for the work, in that information was clear and readable, but completely incomprehensible (in code) and so it was left up to the reader to create a text out of the information-to transform this code or language in any way that he or she could. This was a true postmodern text, one whose meaning was dispersed and fluid, information that held certain meaning for one who was aware of the system, but was interpretable only through wanderings of the imagination by a pedestrian viewer. So I became enamored with information that spoke clearly but was completely ungrounded and coded. I began collecting mass amounts of these readouts, and many other pieces of paper with some obscure text or image, fractured and fragmented messages of any sort that seemed interesting.
A composite of pieces of paper with information and pictures, strings, pushpins (connective tissue) and other elements were created on the walls of a hallway outside my upstairs apartment. The hallway had skylights so natural light aided by tungsten lights were used. The hallway soon became plastered with new composites and the remains of old ones, as I would let them stay up after I had made the image. Some images took days to get right, others were very quick. It was all stream of consciousness and intuitive, but always started out with one or more pieces of information that seemed compelling together, and then developed through adding others, much as a painter might work in building a canvas. The sets were much fun to build. My mind would wander with the building of the set and the particulars of the information in them, and I would sometimes write words that kept obsessively flowing through my mind, such as 'board bird chart check'.
The images were shot when I felt they were complete in some way, and printed 18x18" on resin coated matte surface paper, sometimes sepia toned slightly. Printing followed the same procedure as 'wall complex' images. When dry, hand with with pencil, oils, and acrylics on surface of print. This layering of information was consistent with what the work was about, a layering of various terms, markings, images, information, which in the end, created a composition of these elements for contemplation (images were read as well as viewed). These images are made of bits and fragments of information, extracted from different systems, to form a separate whole system (composition) which the photograph contained. In a sense the work both literally and figuratively was about mapping, or was a map, of disparate parts brought together to form a new unity. These densely composed pieces appeared seamless, without beginning or end of information. There was a bit of a "Tower of Babel" quality to the pieces. It was much about mixing of signs, mixing the languages within an image-to tear at it's seamless representation-to create a cross fertilization of symbols and meanings and events. I thought of the work as a reconstruction of a new space or language out of the residue of disparate spaces and languages. Though I wasn't particularly aware of it at the time, it was about subverting the informational status of the photograph. All these characteristics I speak of were immensely important to all my work after this, although with more or less success, and performed in very different ways. Even much of the work done in the landscape was ironic in character, mixing signs of nature and human presence. Juxtaposition, mixing languages, became something that was ingrained in me after the flow charts.
This series was very successful as I gained entry into numerous national exhibitions while in graduate school and won several awards for the work. It led to my first teaching job, as Reed Estabrook who taught at the University of Northern Iowa saw the work and encouraged me to apply for an opening there, where I eventually taught for seven years. In my first year of teaching I also won a National Endowment for the Arts, Emerging Artists Fellowship, which was prestigious and further enhanced my career.
Image shown: The image shown above is "Flow Chart #6/Special Details ," 1980, a black and white image with markings in pencil, oil and acrylic paints, from the Wall Complex
series, Dan Powell photograph collection, , Special
Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon, Eugene,
Oregon 97403-1299. All rights are reserved.