A Few Diffuse Notes On “We Did the Best We Could With the Knowledge We Had”
Despite the rise of machine learning, VR, driverless cars (now orbiting the Earth), and the digital torrent of social media, looking around the buildings and landscapes of pedestrian Los Angeles, it all seems frozen circa 1979. The passage of time only comes into focus when, maybe, you’ve thrown your aging smartphone at the sidewalk because it froze one-too-many times. In that moment, looking down, you suddenly notice the multitude of haphazardly patched cracks and cauterized tree roots from a decades-long battle to make the sidewalk flat.
Embedded in endless post-dated facades (out of style before I was born, likely out of style before it was finished being built) the flow of time is marked out in the subtle details of wear and repair: the patched, the amended, and stuck back together. More specifically, it is the visible patchwork—good enough for now, but neither capable nor bothering to hide the seams—that stomp out time the loudest.
These ad hoc renovations are joined in chorus with a pair of other small details: advertisements and food litter. “Coming soon! Buy me!” But also a banana is rotting beside the digital images and their meticulously rendered plastic colors with surreally smooth skinned body parts. Then the next ad takes its place, and you can’t even remember what the old one was pitching, but whatever the case, time has moved on.
Duct tape, congealed French fries, and HDR billboards, give a peek past the frozen-in-time facades into a churning world that is merely too busy getting on with life to update its outward aesthetics. After all, once night settles over the ocean, flickering electric blue floods outward through all my neighbors blinds; ultra-cheap flat screens enmeshed in infinitely complex webs of wi-fi signals, connected devices, and wearable technology, a phosphorescent manifestation of the pulsing digital lifeblood.
In this informal pondering of the show, I bring up the subjects found in the photographs first because it was in their surfaces that I discovered the larger project. This image-world of the patchwork details demarcating the flow of time is but an echo of the deeper interests of the project, starting with the way it enacts a very similar tension with both the production methods and emotional core.
Yes, at first glance the images look like all those digital snapshots of quotidian moments shared in passing, the kind of quick images that cell phone cameras have flooded onto social media platforms, liked and moved past in seconds. But in person, the works luxuriate in an uncanny level of detail, indicating a certain high level of care and precision, and a correspondingly slow methodology—slow looking.
Produced with high-resolution digital cameras on heavy-duty tripods, printed on the highest-fidelity inkjet printers, this combination of cutting edge photographic technology is capable of a nearly-psychedelic level of sharpness, texture, and color. Contemporary digital imaging technology, often blamed for the devaluation of photography but passing well beyond our mundane optical experience, simultaneously contains the extremes of the fleeting and the fussy, of the banal and the monumental, of being a droplet in the deluge of images and providing a capability for unprecedented sustained looking.
You might notice I keep talking around and around these haphazardly repaired surfaces and these technical details. Ultimately, it is because in this writing I too am trying to catch a glimpse into the depths of the project. And I can’t help but come to the conclusion that what I find so attractive in these twin echoes is that they render tangible, almost mundane, the tension between these grand and lofty seeming pillars of human life that we call past and present, surface and inside, moment and monumental.
At this point it is probably important to explain that my love of the poetics of urban spaces, cutting edge photographic technology, and esoteric art theory aside, the original thing that threw me out into this neighborhood—that pushed me out of the house with a desperation to make sense of this banal patch of the world—was struggling on the road to recovery that my girlfriend, Callie, was undertaking after a terrible car accident resulted in severe traumatic brain damage. After spending the better part of a year in hospitals and at her familial home recovering and rehabilitating, she had returned to try to restart her life in Los Angeles, and this neighborhood was where we restarted time after a long and abrupt pause.
As two young people trying to navigate such a life-changing event, it was (and still is) tremendously challenging, confusing, and often frustrating, but also filled with plenty of semi-successes and borderline failures that could only elicit that gallows-humor laughter. “We did the best we could with the knowledge we had” became a kind of mantra when we fucked up, when we were asked about why something went wrong, when friends didn’t understand what we were going through, when I helped her try to do something so normal, like walk up the stucco stairs to our apartment, but which still ended with her falling and skinning her knee.
Even the unwieldy nature of the phrase, eleven words, mimics the content. Both banal and heroic in one it takes the seeming crumbling details—these unkindnesses of self that we can so easily fixate on, leading to seeing a frozen past as better time—and wryly inverts them into markers of our forward momentum (and maybe even learn to be a bit more aware and compassionate to our own lack of capabilities). That is why I didn’t want to share a traditional artist statement, because this show is about appreciating the hidden wound, the incomplete thought, the effusive body, the discursive repair. The unsaid. The lingering. The faint echo.
“We Did the Best We Could With the Knowledge We Had” is a more than a literal illustration of a glib mantra. It is a collection of image-icons that are searching for places of unreduced complexity we can use to focus our attention on contemplating uncertainty. The works in the show, titles included, are attempts to shake free of the isolation of the past, and damn just get moving forward. Ultimately, for me I want the work to serve as an aid in restoring our humanity (and our humor) against the media-distended flow of time that seems so desperately to goad our self-criticism to such a frenzy that we stagnate in the granular trauma, anxiety, conflict, and disconnection rife in the digital era.
—Eron Rauch, May 2018