Greenpoint Gazette
Michael Kushner

Pictures that Talk: New Art Installation Evokes Oregonian Farm Life Through Image and Sound

BY Tanay Warerkar

On a recent Wednesday evening, black and white images of a man walking through his garden, picking up tools for construction, and sitting leisurely at the base of a construction project, lined the wall at Milk and Roses on Manhattan Avenue.

Through a row of speakers along the wall, observers heard the pictures come to life, broadcasting the sounds of vegetables being picked in the garden, hand carvings of spoons, plaster being slapped and lathered over a wall and peacocks mewing – all relating to the activities and the environment of the subject of images, Casey Slezak, a natural builder who lives and works on a farm just outside Eugene, Oregon.

The installation, Peacock Farm, is the first such project for Justin Valls, a location sound-mixing engineer who works on film and television productions during the day, and has lived in Greenpoint for the last three years.

“A lot of my work is computer digital based or uses audio recording instruments. This project was a release for me back into the tactile world,” said Valls. “In my free time I really enjoy the escape into analog photography and analog development.”

Valls immersed himself in film and photography when he directed and produced a feature documentary about the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He was attracted to this latest project because Slezak, unlike a conventional builder who buys materials in stores, searched the forest surrounding his farm for trees and studied the soil to create plaster for walls.

Valls spent a week with Slezak shooting the Milk and Roses display, but the images and sounds in the installation are meant to highlight the various processes that make up a single day in the life of Slezak.

“I recreated it to depict a day in his life where he largely lives off the land,” said Valls. “He grows most of his food, he produces most of his shelter, and that was a refreshing escape, as well, to be in that field and environment where you’re providing your own most basic needs.”

His inspiration for the project was also an interest in the interactions such projects produce; the way people interact with each other in the space, and the way they interact with such a project.

On Wednesday, admirers of Valls’ installation peppered him questions about the photos’ setting, the amount of time it took to shoot, and even whether the image of Slezak seated on the floor of one his construction projects, was a publicity still for Valls himself.

Others asked whether his pictures were on sale.

For the moment, they are not. Valls said he is hesitant to think about that aspect presently, and would instead like to focus on collaborating with other photographers and sound engineers on similar projects. He wants to take his work to other spaces and cities, a favorite destination being Art Basel in Miami. But for now he is content that every observer of his installation takes away a different experience, a different understanding of his project as they walk out the door.

“For me it was the actualization of the storyboard imaging sound to see what the social response would be,” said Valls. “It is my first time hearing and seeing it myself. I needed feedback to see in what direction to take it.”

The images will be on display for a few more weeks. To get the full experience of the installation along with the sound stop by at Milk and Roses, 1110 Manhattan Avenue, on Wed., Feb 26th, 6-8 p.m. For more info on Valls visit!intro/.


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