Ally Christmas (b. 1991) is a time-based artist from Northern Virginia. In 2013 she received her BA in Studio Art from the University of Virginia, where she was also awarded a Fifth Year Aunspaugh Fellowship for the 2013-2014 academic year. While at the University of Georgia, she has received numerous awards, including first place in the 4’33” Spotlight on Scholarship Competition, a Graduate Research Award from the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, and most recently, an Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award. Her art practice focuses on notions of the split self, performance of identity, and the breaches to be found between the present moment and the virtual past. She is about to graduate from the University of Georgia with her MFA in photo and video, which Christmas plans to use for pursuing a career in higher education.
PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: CAN YOU SEE ME NOW
2017 – 2018
My artistic practice and research inquiries seek to question the ways in which I experience life through a split subjectivity as my body and mind are stretched across opposing planes: the present moment of embodied reality and the virtual past of memory. As an artist working with visual media like photography, video, and the Internet, my practice can be situated within a growing web of makers who deal with identity creation through or despite our performances of self, the complexities and consequences of social media, and both our psychological and physiological relationships with technology. I deal with these inquiries in my work through the combined use of language, the glitch, digital video collage, and editing techniques that expose my mediums’ underlying structures in order to draw attention to the false dichotomies posed between the present and the virtual. Building primarily upon the theories of Henri Bergson, Homay King, Nathan Jurgenson, and Curt Cloninger, I mean to trace the connections between those two planes and speak to how they unfold, collapse, and breach into one another in my work. In what ways have my experiences with technology and the performance of my identity affected how I move, speak, and act through our material world? My primary intentions with this project, overall titled CAN YOU SEE ME NOW, have been to investigate the notion of how to BE in a world seemingly torn between the online and the offline — another false dualism that I seek to expose and deconstruct — and to question how that exploration may take shape visually by experimenting with personal imagery in a number of time-based artworks.
The works included here as part of the CAN YOU SEE ME NOW project are: (A) Overwrite, 2017; (B) The Extended Self(ie), 2017; (C) Somatic Noise (I Hate The Cloud), 2017; (D) Nonplaces, 2017; (E) I’m Watching The Loading Bar, And I Hate The Way The Blue Fills Up The Space Because It Reminds Me Of Drowning, 2018; and (F) Syncing, 2018. To grapple with the notion of one’s selfhood — indeed, one’s very existence within the world, as a place in which one is embodied and experiences the time and movement of life — has been no easy task. I admit to still having questions and to lacking certain resolutions, but this has been an incredibly generative space within which to work. In CAN YOU SEE ME NOW I try speak to and embrace the ambiguity and fluidity accessible within that space, and lean earnestly into the gravitational pull of its gray areas.
When and where did CAN YOU SEE ME NOW begin?
My work has continued to follow similar trajectories since I was pursuing my undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia back in 2013, but the primary launching point of my thesis work, shown here, stems from the phenomenon of the split subject: the subject whose subjectivity is split multiple times, who performs multiple selves, and experiences embodiment across both physical and virtual planes. This idea relates to (is an updated version of) the Lacanian notion of the split subject — someone who is dislocated from themselves upon encountering their mirror reflection for the first time, and whose selfhood is therefore constituted across the gap between themselves and their reflection. The subject identifies this reflection as the self-as-ideal-other, as-projected-self, and as-object; self-consciousness is born from this moment. In the context of my work, this reflection marks the division of my subjectivity and represents a mirror-image (or, seemingly identical copy) that both illuminates and obfuscates how I am seen and how I see myself. The first piece I created for my thesis, Overwrite, is an experimental video essay that contemplates this conflicting split. At odds with my current understanding, Overwrite represents this self-division as one that occurs between my ‘real’ and ‘digital’ selves, demonstrating an overly dualistic interpretation of the split self, in addition to a more narrow grasp on the performance of self as resulting in only two selves. However, making this piece largely established the theoretical frameworks and aesthetic methods for my later works — most particularly: the notion of split subjectivity that occurs between one’s self and one’s mirror image, using the glitch as a metaphor to speak to the points of breach and overlap between those two resulting selves, and using the medium of digital video collage for a new kind of world-making within which this can all occur.
While making this project, I have developed much greater understandings of how I approach art-making and why I’m even making to begin with. I approach it with a rigorous research practice, normally beginning with a primary question about something I don’t understand, then I make in order to reach answers to those questions (or, at least to attempt to understand the reasons I’m asking those questions in the first place). I began CAN YOU SEE ME NOW by thinking about the story of Jean Claude Romand - a Frenchman who created an entire second life in order to get away with a deceitful plot of pretending to be a doctor, but when he was faced with the possibility of being exposed, he murdered all but one of the closest people in his life. Upon reading about this curious case in Jean Baudrillard’s book “Impossible Exchange,” I immediately began to question whether or not I had also created some kind of double life - hiding in plain sight within my digital presence. Now, as I approach the end of the work, I’m thinking about a much older story of a doubled character - that of Ovid’s Narcissus.
Where do you see this project going?
I believe the project is approaching an end, though I’m sure I’ll continue to work with similar theories, questions, and ideas. But as I think about how to move forward with this work and what future forms it may potentially take, I am once more brought back to Narcissus and his reflection. Upon looking at the water’s surface, he finally found a desire that had eluded him up to that point: a desire for the ideal other, whom he could never quite grasp no matter how hard he tried to breach their mediating boundary. In my process of embracing the future, I contemplate Ovid’s original text:
You simple boy, why strive in vain to catch
a fleeting image? What you see is nowhere;
And what you love — but turn away— you lose!
You see a phantom of a mirrored shape;
Nothing itself; with you it came and stays;
With you it too will go, if you can go!
… On the false phantom, staring endlessly,
His eyes his own undoing.
Will my eyes also be my own undoing? Is my other self — that “false phantom” Ally I strive to catch and sync with — nothing more than a fleeting image? I’m left with more questions than answers, and I’m not even sure which “me” wrote these words.
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
I am currently finishing up my Masters in Fine Arts at the University of Georgia, where I’ve been studying a variety of media practices and critical art theory. Being surrounded by so many other critically engaged artists and thinkers has created an incredibly generative environment within which to work. When I don’t have the benefit of a studio program to be involved in, I sustain my practice largely by reading and listening to and watching everything I can get my eyes and ears on - this doesn’t just involve theory and art history but also fiction, other artists’ work (to an extent), art films and mainstream nonsense, podcasts, internet-based texts, and documentaries (among many other things). Thinking beyond graduation, I have a couple collaborative projects in the works and I'm thinking about how I might be able to start incorporating new technologies into my work like AR, VR, and 3D modeling. I'm also hoping to get back to my roots with some color medium format film!
What’s next for you?
Graduation is in just a few short weeks (yikes!). I’m currently navigating between a couple potential job opportunities, so I’ll have to get back to you on this in a couple weeks... but I plan on pursuing a career in higher education, hopefully teaching lens- and time-based mediums. I have no idea where I’ll be in five years (or even five weeks for that matter), but I am incredibly excited for whatever the future may bring!
What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?