This article originally appeared in Issue 02 of Boston Art Review, Field Work.
Featured image by Tony Luong.
Photographs on a page of Clint Baclawski’s sculptures can’t prepare you for a real-life encounter with them. There are two reasons for this discrepancy, the more obvious being that his work invites investigation that’s best done in the flesh. His recent “Lightbulb Series” comprises a number of works composed of film image fragments stuffed inside polycarbonate tubes, propped onto mirrored plexiglass and backlit by LED lights. This setup makes the photograph become and unbecome as you move around it, bending and obfuscating the images at their center with no more than a shift in your vantage point.
The less intuitive, yet perhaps more potent reason for the fixation his pieces inspire is that he knows how to take and present an image that piques your interest but leaves just enough to the imagination to make you want to take a deeper look. Baclawski holds a Bachelor’s in advertising photography, but his studies gave him a glimpse into the decadent advertising world that deterred him from pursuing it as a career. It was difficult for him to abandon his advertising education in his artistic practice, though, and his pursuit of a Master’s in photography at MassArt found him creating light boxes of scenes where crowds and advertising converged to highlight the overexposure brands employ to attract consumers. He came up with the tube installations in the “Lightbulb Series” when he realized he could attach a print directly to a bulb while making one of these light boxes, allowing him to create a new version of the backlit imagery he so often had to pore over during his undergraduate career.
Through this new method, he establishes the antithesis to the maximalism of a world so consumed by advertising. The works in his “Lightbulb Series” treat subjects as varied as an abandoned RV deck in Greener Pastures, a houseboat he discovered at a friend’s wedding in Oasis, and a tepee his father-in-law lived out of in Dwelling the same way. Despite their disparate locations, Baclawski’s fascination seems to lie n these uniquely American living situations. One might surmise that it’s because they typify a willing separation from society at large in favor of living for oneself; after all, the only image in the “Lightbulb Series” he deliberately sought to capture was Thoreau’s cabin. His images of rural and Western areas feel foreign to the coastal urban landscape of Boston, and the isolation they suggest summons a nostalgia for an Americana that feels impossible to replicate in the city’s confines. With his work, Baclawski reorients what urbanites might see as vestiges of a bygone America as deeply real and present, scrubbing it clean of nostalgia and allowing its ingrained beauty to unfurl.