Allan McCollum’s new series, Lands of Shadow and Substance, builds on his earlier series, Perpetual Photographs, started in 1982, in which the artist photographed pictures hanging in the background in television scenes, trimmed the frames and context away, then enlarged and reframed them, literally and metaphorically.
The art object–prop was originally chosen by set designers to suggest a social milieu without distracting from the action taking place downstage. When the scene was broadcast, the object was transformed into electrical waves transmitted over the airways and recast as evanescent spots of light and dark on the small screen of a television (McCollum’s subjects are all black and white). These transformations of context and materiality have all occurred before the artist intervened.
McCollum begins with that last stage—freezing the fleeting televised moment, isolating the integrated work of art. Blown up from a small background detail on a small television screen, the image is a fuzzy analogue of the original. He accepts the loss of color and resolution imposed by its past, but then seems to roll back the clock, reframing it and rehanging it, only this time in a gallery. The incidental prop is now the focus of attention. The drop-away of visual information is a byproduct of both technology (the resolution of old broadcast television) and intent (the picture’s importance lay not in its pictorial content but in its status as a social marker for a certain kind of space).
The Lands of Shadow and Substance prints are all taken from episodes of The Twilight Zone, whose opening monologue announced, “You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.”1 While in the Perpetual Photographs the subject matter is often unrecognizable, the new prints all suggest landscapes, banal and benign. These formerly comfortable images have been recast as something strange, echoing the basic plot device of the Twilight Zone.
The gray mats and frames that enclose the Shadow and Substance prints, echoing the appearance of the photographed screen, extend the confusion between televised world and real life into three-dimensional solidity. The reduced contrast, coupled with the loss of resolution within the image, prompts the desire to rub one’s eyes.
What started as framed art on a wall is reincarnated as framed art on a wall. But this isn’t a line coming full circle, it’s a three-dimensional coil where every return is displaced by an unresolvable distance.
- The monologue appears in the fourth and fifth seasons of the show (1963-1964).