“Episteme” By Collin McKelvey and John Davis, Published by Little Paper Planes

by Monique Delaunay, Editor on 01/31/2013

In Plato’s philosophy, “Episteme” is termed as knowledge that is justified true beliefs, in contrast to “doxa,” which relates to common belief or opinions. As such, the visual and aural arts project Episteme by Collin McKelvey and John Davis, and published by Little Paper Planes, captures traces of life and living within SFMOMA through a response that does not yield to personal reflections, but rather highlights fragments of the museum through photographs, abstract images, and ambient sounds that in many ways are investigations into universal truths of habitation, labor, and passages of time. Comprised of a 7″ vinyl record of collaborative sound recordings as well as a full-color 59 page book, Episteme is a thoughtful, poetic interpretation of the workplace environment within the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as both a major cultural institution and a place of personal and professional activity nearing almost complete physical transformation.

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Episteme by Collin McKelvey and John Davis. Image courtesy Little Paper Planes

Both McKelvey and Davis’ artworks primarily lie within sound and film, but their practices might be best described as a combination of site-specific and ephemeral art making. The final product is often only secondary to the experience, an evidence or archive of an artistic moment already passed. McKelvey says, “My work is very ephemeral. Location is a huge influence on my practice. It is also important to me that when I perform that I present something new and specific to that time and place.” Davis concurs: “In my way of thinking, things exist in their true form only through my experience of them… I experience a thing I am connected or drawn to, and then try to capture that thing through documentation via photography, film, or sound recording equipment…. Cameras and sound equipment are documentation tools, different from media like paint or ceramics.”

The opportunity to perform Episteme within the walls of a major San Francisco cultural institution was by coincidence, as the two artists are employed at SFMOMA and have access to private areas of the museum. However, as the first stage of the project ended, the artists realized the significance of their project in light of the museum’s imminent closure. Davis explains: “After completing the first phase of the project’s sound, knowing that the museum was about to close, I thought about what would change most, or never be the same again. As I got to thinking about that, I realized the staff and their imprint behind the scenes was really what was interesting to me, especially how that takes form by way of personal flourishes, creative displays, territoriality, etc.” McKelvey’s interest lay within its site-specificity, “exploring the museum building with a specific intent,” but he offers a personal reflection: “I grew up on the East coast and particularly living in Charleston, South Carolina there is a distinct link with the history of place. I feel like the history of the West is defined by new beginnings, tearing down the old for the new.” Both artists found a significant way to give poetic visuality to the private areas of the museum, or areas overlooked by many of its visitors.

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Episteme by Collin McKelvey and John Davis. Image courtesy Little Paper Planes

A perfect-bound, 8”x 8” book of photographs paired with colorfields is an intriguing addition to the sonic phase of the project as the greater exploration ensued into the private and public spaces of SFMOMA. McKelvey’s interest in how objects and experiences can be serialized many times in different mediums gave rise to the colorfield images, which are actually video stills of colored ambient colored light waves recorded within and around the museum. Davis’ photographs, focused tightly onto personal and technical objects, is a focused examination to the touches of human habitation, mark a return to the medium for the artist, as well as his interest in cultural anthropology. Says Davis, “Prior to getting my MFA in visual art I studied cultural anthropology, and I maintain a deep interest in the ways in which we publicly and privately imprint our surroundings… The images were a way to further examine the museum, and investigate its unique cultural and social aspects in a visual way.” McKelvey says of the project in retrospect: “The book and the record can each stand on their own, but the intention is for an immersive experience; this is an attempt to somehow bring all those elements together for others to experience.”

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More information about Episteme by Collin McKelvey and John Davis, published by Little Paper Planes can be found here.

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 Episteme by Collin McKelvey and John Davis. Image courtesy Little Paper Planes