The Influence of Discourse on the Artwork of Cindy Bernard

Over nearly two decades, Cindy Bernard’s artwork has progressed and she has become one of the truly accomplished contemporary artists of today. Writings and discourses of her work have appeared in LA Weekly, Flash Art, The Serpentine Gallery, and the New Times. For Cindy Bernard, the discourse of her work has not created or transformed her art, but rather, her art has transformed and created the discourse.

Cindy Bernard was born and raised in San Pedro, California. After attending California Institute of the Arts and California State University, Cindy Bernard jumped into the artistic scene and was recognized as a result of a series of photographs she took of security envelopes. During an interview with Mark Selwyn, Cindy explained what it was that intrigued her about the patterns and designs of security envelopes and the reason she chose to take this everyday object and transform it into a source of contemporary art. “I was amused that abstraction was being used to conceal that type of financial information” Bernard said about the patterns used in security envelopes. It is the talents of a contemporary artist that makes it possible to take an object each and every person in America sees on a daily basis and turns it into something that makes us take a second look. In a way, Cindy Bernard proves that beauty can be found in anything. In the past she has done with this with fabrics as well, photographing them in a similar way to that she has done with security envelopes.

It was this amusement that encouraged Bernard to make copies of these security envelopes, then blow up the size of the pattern on a copy machine before taking a picture of it (Selwyn, 111). The technique she used gave these photographs a very unique look, which was enhanced when she decided to make them all a uniform size in identical matting. The effect was absolutely amazing. My making all the photographs unified, she managed not to show favoritism of any one photograph over another. At the same time, they became a kind of all inclusive piece in which they all morphed together to become this one uniform expression. She took something that served the purpose of protecting us from seeing things and made us see that protective pattern as something different entirely. There is a form art in the function of these envelopes, captured by Bernard.

Cindy Bernard’s photographs were more than an oversized reproduction of an everyday item. Bernard was “intimating that there is a certain degree of calculation behind any gesture and that the degree of meaning attached to the artist’s hand is overemphasized in terms of its emotional significance.” She doesn’t simply see a pattern, she sees abstraction as a form of camouflage (Selwyn, 111). With security envelopes, the abstract images support the need to camouflage the images of the pages they contain.

Bernard separated them, enlarged them, and saw them as something more, something abstract, and something artistic. She took more than 100 pictures in this series between 1987 and 1993. Bernard’s adaptation of these patterns that transforms them from a functional object into an artistic expression.

Mark Durden wrote that in this series, “photography pursues a dialogue with abstract painting, bureaucratic camouflage providing the means to make intriguing abstractions and a witty way of contravening modernist notions of photography’s identity: these photos are neither mirrors nor windows” (Durden). It is so interesting that Durden chose to use the word camouflage, because that is precisely a theme Bernard had in mind when taking that series of photographs. Her theory that “abstraction is camouflage” is a consistent theme in her work over the next decade and a half. In this way it seems that Durden’s dialogue is directly influenced by Bernard’s art, not the other way around. If anything, Bernard is encouraged by the discourse because people are completely comprehending her objectives in her art form.

Patterns reappear in a later series by Cindy Bernard called Topographies. In this series, the subject of Bernard’s photographs were rocks and stones she found in nature. These rocks and stones caught Bernard’s attention because of the images and patterns that naturally occurred in them. The things that are depicted in the rocks and stones vary from mushrooms, to people and landscapes. In order to capture these images Bernard recruit’s the assistance of computer generation to give the pictures a three dimensional component. Bernard then takes these images and focuses on one part or one picture, creating a contemporary form of artwork out of an ordinary object with unordinary characteristics. This is not an entirely original idea. In fact, it dates back to Leonardo Da Vinci (Durden).

One of Bernard’s next series was called Ask The Dust. It was abstract in a different way. This series includes a number of landscapes of places depicted in famous movies. Among the movies Bernard draws from are Easy Rider, The Alamo, Vertigo, and Five Easy Pieces. None of these photographs have any characters. Rather, they are representative of a deserted location that was once an important part of popular culture in cinema. As such, each photo evokes a different emotion in each of the viewers. It is that emotion that is the true subject in Bernard’s photographs, not the landscapes themselves. In four years spanning from 1989 to 1992 Bernard took a total of 21 photographs to make the Ask The Dust collection (Durden).

Durden wrote, “such landscape views are symbolic of a particular vision of America: permanent features of the American landscape like ‘The Mittens’ in Monument Valley come to stand for conservative values, banks in Los Angeles like to use them in their advertising, as Bernard pointed out to me.” Durden has captured and come to understand exactly what Bernard was trying to accomplish in this photographic series. The whole view of these locations has changed by not having characters and video equipment present. It is long after any of these movies have been filmed and in their passing, the locations have once again become deserted and back to their original forms. These are the forms Bernard works so hard to capture.

In doing so, the landscapes have a familiarity long with an untouchable characteristic. Through popular culture we have become familiar with landscapes that to us, exist only in that frame of that particular movie. That is not really what the landscape is, just something it was once in. Bernard is able to show us the difference between what we know the landscape to be and what it truly is. The relationship between the two is the true artwork. Cindy Bernard is lucky enough to witness these landscapes in their natural form (Durden).

When talking about the same series, Gillick claims that Bernard “deals with notions of identity, power and investigation” in this series. According to Gillick, Bernard “removes characters and neutralizes context, moving things from film referential to art referential.” Many of the photographs that exist in this series can be combined as a depiction of America. All the pictures she took in this series were selected after a great deal of research (Gillick, 4). There is meaning behind each scene she chose, which was truly appreciated by Gillick.

A recurring subject in Cindy Bernard’s pieces are roads. In her artwork, roads serve as a metaphor. “It symbolizes freedom, and confinement” said Bernard in an interview (Durden). She went on to explain that “it promises infinity yet it is a part of a grid defining space.” Her pictures aren’t really about the roads, they are about the places roads lead. They are about finding that place of infinity, all the while knowing that there is no such place. Durden completely understood the meaning in the roads with the discourse in his piece.

In 1991 Bernard took two photographs titled, Two Roads. The first was a photograph of the road famous for it’s place in To Catch a Thief. It is the point on the road where Grace Kelly pulls over and kisses Cary Grant. The second road photographed was of the place where the famous actress lost her life in a fatal car crash. Bernard’s photos incorporate so much more than the landscapes that are her subjects. Her true subjects are the emotions and the stories behind those landscapes. The Two Roads photographs are a perfect example of this deeper meaning behind simple places (Durden).

Photography may be Cindy Bernard’s medium as an artist, but it is certainly not her limitation. In 1999 Cindy Bernard became interested in music as not only a form of artistic expression, but a way to enhance visual art. Bernard organized her “sound” series which featured the collaboration of music and visual art as a new medium (Strong, 64). Strong wrote, “Cindy projects colors and light upon a scrim while Joseph creates relational aural montages from a variety of vintage magnetic-audio gear including modified oscillators and reel-to-reel tape loops.” As all of her other showcases, Bernard’s “sound” series received wonderful accolades, being called “a cutting-edge event well worth experiencing” (Strong, 64).

Nothing about Cindy Bernard’s art is predictable or easy. When she was working on her sound series Bernard was quoted in saying “I only produce shows in places not designed for them. I did a show at the Giant Rock in the Mojave, where aliens are said to have visited a cafÃ?© owner, and a show at a meeting hall in San Pedro, which came out of a series of things at an old, abandoned furniture factory” (Gardetta). The importance of these locations to Bernard could be in consistence with the importance of abandoned landscapes in her photographs. She finds beauty and meaning in solitude and desertedness, and makes something extremely special out of these places.

Peter Frank wrote an article in LA Weekly in which he made the statement that Bernard’s work “brings in not just other sensations but other artists which is perhaps the most dramatically extra-photographic thing in Bernard’s latterday redefinition of son et lumiere.” Cindy Bernard is not only an artist, but someone who truly appreciates all form of art and is willing to collaborate with other artists in order to create the most unique and interesting art she can. This form of art is successful in appealing not only to visual senses, but to audio senses as well.

Something about Cindy Bernard’s visions of art has made her one of the most widely acclaimed contemporary artists of her time. Her instincts throughout the past fifteen years have proven interesting and successful with the vast appreciation for a number of her different series. Gardetta stated that the shows in her “sound” series “quickly sell out.” Bernard has embraced herself as an artist, which is evident in the fact that on her website she includes a complete resume of her works along with copies of most discourse written about her pieces. Cindy Bernard is constantly redeveloping herself as an artist and adapting photography as the medium for her art. In doing so, she builds upon previous themes while showing the world that sometimes, there are beautiful and meaningful things where we are least likely to look for them.

Perhaps she has gained confidence in her artwork as a result of numerous grants, awards, fellowships, exhibits, and performances. Perhaps part of her confidence is a result of numerous review praising her edgy work. What is more likely is that she has such an amazing appreciation and knowledge of art that it is no longer something she does, but something she is. Cindy Bernard is an artist first and foremost, confident in her ability is not the least bit afraid of trying new things and evolving as an artist as the years continue to pass.

Throughout the years, Cindy Bernard has become a very respected contemporary artist whose shows are always pushing the envelope and absolutely successful at doing so. Cindy Bernard is an artist with a clear vision that is not afraid of doing unconventional things in the artistic world. With each new venture she takes she is incredibly successful and it is portrayed in the many things that have been written about her as an artist and her pieces in general. Peter Frank said that Bernard “has been venturing beyond the accepted boundaries of the photographic art, and even beyond the film medium with which she is also associated” (Frank, 166).

For fifteen years there has been a plethora of information written about the wonderful artwork of Cindy Bernard. Throughout those years those discourses have tracked the progression and evolution of the themes and strategies in her work, all the while documenting the things she had done rather than influencing future artistic endeavors to come.

Perhaps the reason Cindy Bernard has remained uninfluenced by the discourse and reviews written about her pieces is because no one can predict the next direction she will take her art, even though that progression makes sense in retrospect. From taking pictures of envelopes to pushing the envelope in photographic art, Cindy Bernard is a contemporary artist that is clearly on the rise, even after fifteen years as an influential artist in Los Angeles, California.

Works Cited

Durden, Mark. Cindy Bernard, Manchester: Viewpoint Gallery and James Hockey Gallery at the Surey Institute of Art and Design with English Arts Council funding 40 pp., illus.

Frank, Peter, Installation of the Week, LA Weekly, February 11-17, pg. 166, illus.

Gardetta, Dave. The Gong Show- Avant-garde Concerts at West Hollywood’s Schindler House, Los Angeles Magazine, September 2001.

Gillick, Liam. Exhibit A, Trading Places: The Work of Cindy Bernard and Catherine Yass, London: the Serpentine Gallery, 1992, Vol 1 pp. 6-7, 22; Vol 2 pp. 1-12, 24-27.

Selwyn, Marc. New Art L.A.: Eight Young Artists Discuss Their Work, Flash Art, Summer 1988, pp.109-115, illus. Pg. 111.

Strong, Gabie, Nightstick: Cindy Bernard and Joseph Hammer, New Tiems, July 15-21, 1999, pg. 64.

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