Individual Work

In 2014 Shelley Jackson started writing a short story on snowy surfaces around her home in Brooklyn, documenting the project with her Flickr and Instagram profiles. This was her second attempt at designing the story. In the interview for the article in "The Guardian", she admits she tried to perform the story on the snow for the first time in 2010 but the endeavor proved to be more difficult and challenging than she had previously thought. As of May 2017, the story is almost halfway there (it allegedly has 802 words, and the Instagram stream currently has 386 posts, the last photograph to date was uploaded to Instagram on March 28th, 2017). There are some minor differences between the two versions on Instagram and Flickr—the former is entitled Snow: A story in progress, weather permitting, the latter just Snow: A story, weather permitting. The respective streams are also currently suspended at different points (they end up with different words). Snow does not easily conform to established literary categories or interpretative strategies—words written in the snow are evanescent and fragile, vanishing as soon as the surface on which they are inscribed melts away. Profiles on Instagram and Flickr are slightly more tangible and in fact this is the only way the reader can follow the story. Interestingly, both photosharing services are primary examples of cloud computing which presents its own logics of the fluidity of digital objects existing in the realm of informational capitalism, prone to the contingency resulting from the business strategies based on the users' illusions of ubiquity of access and free use. It was best exemplified by the popular sticker saying that there's no cloud computing, there's just someone else's computers. Therefore, the photo documentation of the project presents the sort of middle ground in terms of tangible materiality: it is more stable than the words written on the snow but at the same time far less solid than if they were stored as traditional photography. Additional meanings stem from the captivating analogies forged between instability of weather in the age of climate change and contingencies of cloud computing, named after meteorological phenomena observed in the natural world.

Hence the work can be read as an exploration of different modes of materiality as well as the tension between the tangible and the ephemeral. There are at least two arguments supporting such interpretation. Firstly, it seems that both themes are important for Shelley Jackson's work in general and can be also found in her previous project, Ineradicable Stain: Skin Project (2003-). It was a story tattooed on the skin of volunteers, one word at a time, the full text of which is known only to participants. The story is "alive" and "readable" as long as the participants live, yet this considerable time span will end abruptly when anyone of the carriers of the words passes away. So the story - although inscribed on the real people's skin - is as ephemeral as the life of human being. The tension is visible when both projects are compared to one another, but also within each respective project. This is especially the case with Snow, where—as mentioned above—the transient substance of the writing surface (snow) collides with the dynamics of the networked database, both existing in different states of tangibility.

Secondly, the way Snow employs the photography exceeds the function of the straight documentation. In this regard, Jackson seems to follow the intermedial strategies introduced by the land art pioneers, including Robert Smithson, Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, Nancy Holt. The meaning of their artwork was conveyed across the whole set of phenomena and media objects: from the most ephemeral (performance of the outdoor actions like walking or the sculptures in the almost inaccessible places) to the more tangible (photographs or a documentary movies) and discursive (often taking the form of photoessay published in the art journals which was Robert Smithson's favorite means of expression). Looking closer at the possible affinities, Andy Goldsworthy’s oeuvre seems especially appropriate as a point of reference. Jackson became inspired by Goldsworthy while working on her SKIN project. A British artist is known for creating artworks out of natural elements: the leaves and stalks of various plants, different types of mud, stones and rocks, ice and . . . snow. Often these elements are purposely left to decay, as passing time slowly but steadily changes their structure and appearance. At the same time, often his works are known to the wider public mostly (or exclusively) as the photo albums or documentary films (including Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time by Thomas Riedelsheimer). Goldsworthy is also known for his diligence in carrying out the extensive photographic documentation of his work (in fact, archiving the photographs is a very important part of Goldsworthy’s artistic practice, to the extent that he devised his own archive system, "Slide Cabinet Index").

In the case of both land art and Jackson’s Snow, photography is also related to the temporality of the projects at hand. Such works develop according to a logic of experimentation. The spirit of experimentation is clearly visible in Jackson’s description of her creative process and the motivations behind it. Jackson wanted her words to have a “printed” feel, so she eventually modelled the font after the Courier typeface. This proved to be difficult, and it slowed the process down, eventually resulting in the renewed attempt of writing on the snow in 2014. Even if Jackson’s work follows the intermedial strategy employed by land art, performance and installation art, Snow is nevertheless meant as a story, where the semantic component is crucial. Judging from what is already available (considering the word count, this amounts to roughly half the story) the work is tightly interwoven with the more general question of the materiality of substances. As is clear from the opening sentences, the lines unveiled so far enumerate various sorts and kinds of snow, something which, at times, plays the role of an extended metaphor.